Gov. Wolf's proposed 2017-18 state budget calls for a total of $32.3 billion in state spending that provides for targeted investments to improve the quality of life for Pennsylvania's children and make Pennsylvania one of the top 10 states to be a child and to raise a child. The plan represents an increase of $571.5 million, or 1.8% over the 2016-17 state fiscal year.
The Governor is not proposing a broad-based tax increase, but his plan does call for notable changes to the operations of state government, including merging the Departments of Human Services, Health, Aging and Drug and Alcohol Programs into one entity, which would be called the Department of Health and Human Services.
Below is PPC's recap of the more notable areas of the Governor's budget proposal that impact the Commonwealth's children:
Building off the newly enacted basic education funding formula, which was signed into law in June 2016, Gov. Wolf proposed an increase of $100 million for basic education funding in the 2017-18 state budget. The increase would be driven out through the student-weighted formula that would increase the state's fair share of providing basic education services to students. If enacted, the increase would bring total state spending on basic education to approximately $6.4 billion.
PPC, as a leading partner in the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, is appreciative of the continuing commitment to fund public schools during a difficult budget year. However, to achieve fair and adequate school funding, the state must continue to increase its investment in public schools by nearly $3 billion over the next several years.
The Governor's proposed budget also calls for a $25 million increase to special education funding, also driven out through the enacted Special Education Funding Formula. If enacted, this increase would bring total state spending on special education funding to approximately $1.12 billion.
As part of the Department of Education's ongoing efforts to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the proposed budget includes an additional $2 million for school improvement efforts, specifically targeted at three to-be-determined low-achieving school districts. The proposal would allow for $1 million in federal funds to be leveraged. PPC will monitor this proposal over the coming weeks and months to determine its overall impact on accountability in the public school system.
In addition, an initiative to offer alternative methods of school breakfast is included in Wolf's proposal. Citing research demonstrating the impact of child nutrition on academic performance, the Governor is calling for a $2 million investment in state funds, which would also allow the leveraging of up to $20 million in federal funds, to provide for competitive grants for schools to adopt alternative breakfast delivery models, such as "grab-n-go" or "breakfast after the bell."
The Governor's budget positions early learners as big winners by proposing substantial funding increases to meet large unmet needs.
The Governor proposes a $75 million increase in pre-k programs ($65 million for Pre-K Counts and $10 million for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Act or HSSAP) that will allow 8,400 more children to benefit from high-quality, publicly funded pre-kindergarten next school year. This builds on expansion in both programs over the last two budget cycles and brings the appropriations to more than $212 million for Pre-K Counts and more than $59 million for HSSAP.
PPC is a principal partner in the Pre-K for PA Campaign that lauded the increases. More than one in five or over 112,000 children who are eligible for high-quality pre-k still don't get to attend. The proposed increases will help to expand access but the Campaign is committed to ensuring that all eligible children have access by the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The Governor also proposed an increase of $35 million in state child care funding that included a $10 million initiative to reduce the waiting list for Child Care Works by 1,800 children. The waiting list has recently topped 10,000 children. Families who face long child care waiting lists often are faced with losing employment opportunities or putting their children in unreliable care.
The child care funding increase is also designed to offset approximately $10.6 million in reduced federal funding and help support on-going program costs such as tiered reimbursement and extended eligibility for families for a full year of service and as family income reached the program limit. These strategies, required under federal rules, provide for a more reasonable transition from child care assistance to families fully paying for their child care services.
While PPC and other advocates were pleased to see these increases, we remain committed to working with the administration and the legislature to address child care rates of reimbursement that are set at rates that fail to support high-quality programs and have been stagnant for many years.
The Governor proposed nearly $9 million to expand evidence-based home visiting services. Four evidence-based home visiting models, through a mix of state and federal dollars, are currently serving the Commonwealth's most vulnerable children and families. The funding as proposed by the Governor would be accessible to all four evidence-based home visiting models: Early Head Start, Healthy Families America, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Parent as Teachers. Additionally, funds from the early literacy Parent-Child Home Program were transferred to the Nurse-Family Partnership appropriation. The Governor's home visiting initiative would support an additional 1,700 families.
Early Intervention programs received funding increases as well. The 0-3 program saw an increase of more than $7 million to offset more than $5.6 million in reduced federal support and the 3-5 program received an $11.7 million increase.
The proposed budget includes a more than $57 million increase to support county child welfare Needs Based Plans & Budgets. These funds will help counties manage increasing caseloads and investigations into reports of child abuse and neglect, and will provide essential services to families in need of support.
It is important to note that while the specific county child welfare line item in the proposal appears to reflect a reduction in funds, the Governor is in fact calling attention to excess county dollars. The Needs Based Plans & Budget, developed by the counties, covers two fiscal years – the current fiscal year and a budget plan for the following fiscal year. Given that a portion of the Needs Based Plans & Budget requires counties to project future services and anticipated costs, counties may have under- or over-spent at the end of any given fiscal year. Traditionally, the Department of Human Services has reallocated funds of counties who under- or over-spent from their Needs Based Plans & Budget requests. In the Governor's proposal, what may look like a reduction, are funds that counties previously projected for but did not spend and will not be carried over to the next fiscal year. In all, this increase to county Needs Based Plans & Budget will support county child welfare agencies in their work to ensure all Pennsylvania children are raised in safe and stable homes and part of a loving and permanent family.
The Governor's proposed budget includes state funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and projects that the current 89% funding level from the federal government will continue. The decrease in CHIP federal funding is a combination of reflecting the transfer of information technology costs to the information systems appropriation as well as the fact that additional monies had been placed there in 2016-17 as a contingency in case unanticipated expenses arose with the shift of CHIP to DHS. Federal CHIP funding is currently authorized through September 30, 2017, so Congress will need to authorize additional funding before that time. This is critical since without it, federal funding is only currently guaranteed for the first quarter of the 2017-18 state fiscal year. The budget also projects an increase in enrollment of approximately 18,000 children. In addition, state reauthorization of the CHIP program is needed by December 31, 2017, and will likely be on hold until funding activity on the federal level becomes more clear.
The Governor's proposal also includes funding for Medicaid, which currently insures approximately 1.2 million children in the state. Federal funding for newly eligible individuals resulting from the 2015 expansion of Medicaid dropped from 100% to 95% beginning January 1, 2017 before further decreasing to 94% beginning January 1, 2018.