Altoona Mirror: Pre-k Programs Facing Shutdown
Pa. budget impasse straining funding that supports low-income families
November 2, 2015
By Russ O’Reilly

If the state government’s budget impasse crawls through the next two months, pre-kindergarten students from low-income families could see programs shut down, child care directors said.

The PA Pre-K Counts program is unfunded because of the 120-plus day budget stalemate between the state’s Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, and Republican legislators.

“It is extremely difficult to operate ‘state-funded’ early-learning classrooms with no state funding,” said Louise Ketner, executive director of Huntingdon County Child and Adult Development Corp.
Pre-K Counts classrooms are open to children eligible by family income. Statewide, Pre-K Counts classrooms serve nearly 14,000 children.

The Huntingdon agency has already closed its adult education and family literacy programs, and it is currently attempting to secure a third loan to keep its pre-kindergarten program operating.

Employees and families made sacrifices to operate Head Start and Pre-K Counts programs administered by Child Advocates of Blair County Inc., said Erica Peterson, the agency’s planning and development specialist.

Between its Pre-K Counts and state-funded Head Start programs, 110 children weren’t able to start classes until Oct. 13 – five weeks later than planned.

The agency’s board of directors authorized the use of a line of credit to start state-funded programs.

“We can’t keep running on credit,” Peterson said.

That line of credit will only last until Dec. 31, she said.

“We are looking to have to shut down if a budget isn’t passed and state funds aren’t received by then,” she said.

In addition, the line of credit used will result in an interest charge that will be taken from the agency’s 2015-16 budget, penalizing the agency for trying to be proactive and providing services to children and families, she said.

About 60 percent of children in Blair County do not have access to quality pre-K education, according to figures from the Pre-K for PA coalition. And the impasse is making it more difficult for families, said Jolie Cover, executive director of Begin With Us Child Care and Preschool in Altoona.

“We have 60 students in Pre-K Counts classrooms, and 20 children are on a waiting list,” she said.
The agency can’t establish another classroom without state funding, she said.

For now, the school is operating on a line of credit and will have to pay back interest.

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