Following a challenging budget process and politically charged impasse, Pennsylvania finally brought its fiscal 2015-16 budget to closure in March of this year, making it nine months overdue. This put state advocates, including Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC), in the unique position of having to simultaneously conduct advocacy work on the incomplete 2015-16 budget and ramp up efforts leading up to the June 30 deadline for the 2016-17 budget.
For fiscal 2016-17, only a handful of line items received an increase in this year’s budget given limited revenue growth options – but Pennsylvania Partnership for Children successfully advocated for several key, targeted investments.
The $30 million increase for Pre-K Counts and Head Start was a result of strategic advocacy. Using PPC-generated data, fact sheets were provided to policymakers demonstrating the unmet need and benefits received through high-quality pre-k and were critical in garnering legislative support. A cornerstone of our communications effort was the release of PPC’s The Case for Pre-k report in January and we worked with non-traditional partners to gain media coverage on the issue, including the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United Way. PPC worked with our partners in the Pre-K for PA Campaign to target legislators for education efforts and we conducted visits with more than 100 state representatives, senators and staff.
In addition to early learning appropriations line item increases, the budget bill for fiscal 2016-17 also contained a $200 M increase in basic education funding and a $20 M increase for special education. PPC was key in advocating for the passage of a basic education funding formula for K-12 education across the state. The formula, which was forwarded by the bi-partisan Basic Education Funding Commission in 2015, was finally signed by the governor in June 2016. Until the enactment of this law, Pennsylvania was one of only three states in the nation without a predictable, fair funding formula for basic education.
Other highlights of the spending plan include $10 million in additional funding for Early Intervention, which provides individualized services and supports to families of children birth to school-age who have developmental delays or disabilities.
Additional Investments Needed
While PPC was successful in securing increases in some line items, there are a few areas where limited revenue growth precluded further investments. This includes a $10 million proposed increase in home visiting services. This would have been the first significant state investment in home visiting programs in many years and would mirror Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) in that all 4 evidence-based home visiting models would be eligible to receive the state funds. (Currently only 2 of the models receive state dollars.) Even though the proposal did not pass, a solid educational groundwork was laid with legislators and we are hopeful momentum will build in increasing these appropriations. Additionally, Gov. Wolf proposed $12 million in new child care funding to serve approximately 2,200 more children in fiscal 2016-17 who are currently on the Child Care Works Waiting List. With the limited potential to bring in additional revenue, this was also not included in the budget passed by the legislature.
Moving forward, PPC will continue to underscore the work that remains in ensuring all children have the necessary resources to succeed and that they have a voice when it comes to Pennsylvania’s budget priorities. We know funding increases in high-quality pre-k must grow at a much stronger pace if we hope to reach the more than 120,000 at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds who miss out on pre-k opportunities each year, and additional attention must be paid to home visiting and child care budget appropriations. While the legislature is set to return to Harrisburg in September for a limited fall session, we will ramp up efforts after November’s elections and set our sights on securing additional investments in our children for fiscal 2017-18.
-Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children
(July 20, 2016)