Lancaster Online: State Budget Impasse: How are Pennsylvania’s Littlest Learners Being Affected?

By Kara Newhouse November 23, 2015

By the Numbers

Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program allow preschools to open spots for children from low-income families. Funding for both programs has been on hold during the state budget impasse.

Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts

Children served in Lancaster County: 352
2014-15 funding to Lancaster County: $2.5 million
2014-15 total state funding: $97 million
Wolf’s 2015-16 proposal: $197 million
Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program

Children served in Lancaster County: 15
2014-15 funding to Lancaster County: $146,000
2014-15 total state funding: $39 million
Wolf’s 2015-16 proposal: $59 million

As owner of Little People Daycare School in Columbia, Sam Bhattacharya is responsible for the paychecks of 16 employees.

But in recent months, he’s missed a few — his own.

Bhattacharya has skipped paying himself and also taken loans to keep the center open during the state budget impasse, according to school director Laura Hess.

If lawmakers don’t pass a budget by January, Little People Daycare School will have to eliminate 20 full-day pre-kindergarten spots, Hess said.

The center is one of many across the state and within Lancaster County that are trying to stretch limited dollars as state funding for early-childhood education is held up by the budget stalemate.

Pennsylvania’s budget has been delayed more than four months.

Funds on hold

One of the main early-learning programs affected by the budget impasse is Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, the state’s free pre-kindergarten program for low-income families. Last year, the program got $97 million, with $2.5 million going to Lancaster County.

At Little People Daycare School, 20 of the 75 enrolled children are supported by Pre-K Counts funding. Those are the ones who would be dropped if a budget doesn’t come through by January.

Pre-K Counts classes in Lancaster city are in a slightly better position. The School District of Lancaster receives Pre-K Counts funding for 233 children and works with five partner organizations to provide those classes. The district has been floating funds from elsewhere in its budget to keep pre-kindergarten classrooms open during the impasse, according to a district official.

That’s helped pay staff, said Lucy Stauffer, director of children and family services for Lancaster Recreation Commission, which is one of the district’s partners. The Rec Commission has 40 Pre-K Counts slots in its early childhood centers.

Though they’re receiving the district funds, the program is still feeling the squeeze. Stauffer said the budget impasse also has held up Keystone Stars grants — a state funding source that’s used for stocking classrooms.

That has prevented Stauffer from purchasing supplies “beyond the bare minimum.”

She has replenished cleaning products and safety items, as well as markers and crayons. But science and math materials that cost a little extra?

Those had to wait.

So did gardening equipment.

“We’re going to miss out on being able to plant for the fall the stuff that will come up in spring,” Stauffer said.

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