Governor’s Budget Proposal Advances Portions of PA’s Early Learning System

 Proposal includes increase in pre-k, utilizes federal funds to boost child care rates and level funds home visiting programs

HARRISBURG, PA (February 4, 2021) – The principal partners of Early Learning Pennsylvania (ELPA), a statewide coalition of advocates focused on supporting young Pennsylvanians from birth to age five, commend Governor Wolf’s 2021-22 budget proposal’s emphasis on Pennsylvania families. As a coalition that focuses on greater access to the Commonwealth’s continuum of high-quality early care and education services, we applaud the governor’s continued commitment to growing state funding for pre-k, however additional effort is needed to boost the availability of quality child care and home visiting services that are essential to Pennsylvania’s working families and our economic recovery.

ELPA operates three issue-based advocacy campaigns: Pre-K for PA, Start Strong PA and Childhood Begins at Home. Reaction statements from these respective campaigns regarding the governor’s proposed 2021-22 budget follow.

PRE-K

“During a difficult budget year, Governor Wolf deserves credit for his continued support of expanded access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k in PA. The $30 million funding increase for these programs in the proposed 2021-22 PA budget ($25 million for Pre-K Counts; $5 million for Head Start State Supplemental Assistance Program) continues the tradition of expanding this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to thousands more 3- and 4-year-olds.

“A new study by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill confirmed that the Commonwealth’s investment in pre-k is paying dividends for the children fortunate enough to access pre-k through Pennsylvania’s Pre-K Counts program. In language and math skills, the study showed that these kids outperformed their kindergarten peers who did not enjoy access – an advantage that equated to four to five months of learning gains, which is a substantial difference in development at that age and a meaningful advantage during the COVID-19 era.

“In Pennsylvania, almost two-thirds of children enrolled in Pre-K Counts attend these classes at a high-quality Keystone STARS 3 or 4 child care provider. As such, the overall stability of our child care system is of paramount concern to serving more pre-k eligible children.”

CHILD CARE

“Start Strong PA commends the Wolf Administration for utilizing existing federal child care funds to increase subsidy base rates. For a sector struggling to survive in the wake of COVID-19 and the economic shutdown, increasing base rates to move towards paying programs the actual cost of the care they provide is important.

“Pennsylvania’s working families struggled to find and afford high-quality child care prior to the pandemic. Today’s economic downturn has only exacerbated this problem. Start Strong PA urges Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania General Assembly to address these child care needs by quickly utilizing federal funds to serve 3,000 additional eligible infants and toddlers in high-quality slots through contracts, which provides greater financial stability to providers. This proposal would implement the Governor’s Workforce Command Center recommendation to increase access to high-quality child care. Serving more eligible infants and toddlers, coupled with a smart investment strategy of new, incoming federal child care stimulus funds to first address under-enrollment in programs due to the pandemic, would not only be a win for children and families but will address a critical workforce support essential in our economic recovery.”

EVIDENCE-BASED HOME VISITING

“The Childhood Begins at Home campaign is disappointed that the governor’s 2021-22 state budget proposal does not include an increase for voluntary, evidence-based home visiting programs in Pennsylvania for the second year in a row. Given the current environment, the decision to not increase investments so more families are able to participate is perplexing, because families need home visiting now more than ever.

“Beginning in the 2017-18 budget through 2019-20, the campaign saw momentum and support building in the form of steady funding increases to connect more pregnant women, children and families to voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services, and Pennsylvania was becoming a national leader for delivering services that improve maternal health, child well-being and family self-sufficiency.

“Even before the pandemic, Pennsylvania parents struggling to make ends meet and juggling the challenges of raising their young children benefited from voluntary visits that provide parent education and support. Under the crush of the current public health crisis, isolation, stress and unemployment have made home visiting more essential than ever. Not including funds to reach more families with young children makes little sense when these programs uniquely meet families’ needs in the early care and education continuum.

“Only 5% of the pregnant women, children and families who would benefit the most from evidence-based home visiting programs are served currently. The campaign sought a combined increase of $12.4 million in the Community-Based Family Centers and Nurse-Family Partnership line items in the 2021-22 budget.

“The governor’s remarks spoke to the challenges faced by young families just starting out in the Commonwealth – their challenges and dreams for their children – and how we can remove barriers to provide for a brighter future. We hope to work collaboratively with the administration and legislature to expand evidence-based home visiting services to match that commitment with the resources to make it a reality.”

Governor Wolf’s state budget proposal included:

  • $25 million in additional funding for the state’s Pre-K Counts program.
  • $5 million in additional funding for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program. Together, this $30 million expansion would serve approximately 3,270 additional young children. Currently more than 106,000 eligible three- and four-year-olds do not have access to high-quality publicly funded pre-k programs.
  • $87 million in existing federal child care funds to increase child care base rates.
  • Level funding for home visiting.

Pre-K for PA launched in 2014 with the vision that every 3- and 4-year-old in Pennsylvania will have access to high-quality pre-k. Learn more at www.prekforpa.org.

 Start Strong PA launched in 2019 to support healthy child development, working families, and the economy by increasing access to and affordability of high-quality child care programs for young children. Learn more at www.startstrongpa.org.

Childhood Begins At Home is a statewide campaign to help policymakers and the public understand the value of evidence-based home visiting and support public investments in the programs.  Learn more at www.childhoodbeginsathome.org

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