Governor’s 2020-21 Budget Proposal Fails to Prioritize Limited Revenue Available
At PPC we seek results that are achievable and part of that is working with policymakers from both sides of the aisle to make Pennsylvania one of the top states to be a child and to raise a child.
This budget season, we have our work cut out for us in some of our key policy areas as Governor Wolf’s 2020-21 state budget proposal misses the mark by not prioritizing investments in programs benefitting kids, including evidence-based home visiting services, high-quality child care, career and technical education, and county child welfare. In other areas, such as high-quality, publicly funded pre-k and basic and special education funding, while proposed increases are more measured, they still fail to put us on a competitive path compared to neighboring states.
While the fiscal environment for the state is a challenging one and making the FY 2020-21 budget come into balance – which is a constitutional requirement – will require restrained spending across the board, PPC is steadfast in its belief that in this environment we can still wisely invest in programs that benefit children in a targeted manner to produce long-term positive outcomes. Unfortunately, such strategy was not advanced by the Governor.
In the coming months, we will work with the General Assembly and our coalition partners to see how we can strategically advance our work in the state budget to benefit the 2.8 million children in Pennsylvania.
From birth to age 5 Pennsylvania families need access to high-quality early learning opportunities for their children in developmentally appropriate settings. Although the Governor’s budget proposal does allocate $15.3 million in new federal funding toward child care subsidy base rates, the proposal is woefully insufficient in addressing the list of children waiting to gain access to subsidized care or improve the quality of that care. It also remains to be seen whether elements contained in the recently released Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center report will be prioritized and see momentum in the coming months legislatively, including pieces that were elevated in the budget proposal such as a $12 million grant program in the Department of Community and Economic Development to support building non-traditional child care hours into business models..
And while the Governor’s proposed $30 million in new state funding would provide 3,200 young learners the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend high-quality pre-k (the proposal allocates a $25 million increase for the Pre-K Counts program and a $5 million increase for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program), a greater investment would mean greater access for eligible preschoolers. PPC’s recently released report The Road to Success Includes High Quality Pre-K makes the case for these investments, citing Pennsylvania’s ranking of 19th out of 28 states compared with similar quality standards when looking at those investing in high-quality, publicly funded pre-k programs. States with varying political landscapes, including deep red states like Georgia and Alabama outrank us at 2nd and 5th, respectively, and politically similar states, such as Michigan and North Carolina also are faring better at 4th and 11th.
We hope that during budget negotiations policymakers will recognize that investing in high-quality child care and pre-k will help all children grow, learn and succeed.
Over the past three years, Pennsylvania has become a national leader for delivering voluntary, evidence-based home visiting programs that ultimately improve maternal health, child well-being and family self-sufficiency.
The Governor’s proposed “increase” of $2.4 million ($1 million in the Community Based Family Center line in the Office of Child Development and Early Learning and $1.4 million in the Office of Medical Assistance Programs) is disappointing because it does not build upon the steady progress of evidence-based programs to expand services to additional children and families.
The allocations in the state budget are nothing new: they amount to 1) the use of state funds to preserve federal slots through the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program (MIECHV) due to fewer federal dollars being received than anticipated, and 2) financial support for Medicaid managed care organizations offering short-term in-home services to first-time mothers, a project which was announced by the Department of Human Services last fall.
The proposal is a missed opportunity, as only 5 percent of the pregnant women, children and families who would benefit the most from evidence-based home visiting programs currently receive services. While we’re not losing ground, we’re not gaining it either, and building successful families by providing healthy and safe home environments through consistently demonstrated, evidence-based home visiting programs takes a greater commitment than maintaining the status quo.
High-quality early learning programs have a proven positive impact on a child’s future success, beginning when they enter kindergarten. Pennsylvania’s long-term economic growth is greatly dependent on how well we prepare our students for an increasingly competitive global workforce.
The proposed line item increases in Basic Education Funding ($114.6 million, with $100 million dedicated to basic education funding driven through the basic education funding formula and $14.6 million going to school districts for social security payments) and Special Education Funding ($25 million) are scraping the bottom of what school districts need to help offset mandated costs.
Absent in the Governor’s proposal was any increase in career and technical education (CTE), which was included in his last two budgets. This doesn’t help local school districts, who are responsible for over 90 percent of the cost of sending a student to a career and technical education center, with the state picking up only 8 percent of the cost. Workforce development is key for Pennsylvania’s economic development, and prioritizing funding for career and technical education will help ensure more students who wish to be career-ready after graduation are prepared and no student lacks appropriate access to these programs. With support for CTE in the legislature, the business community and elsewhere at an all-time high, the failure to build on the momentum achieved in the past two budgets makes little sense.
Separate from funding, PPC will follow policy-specific initiatives that were announced in the Governor’s proposal, including plans to expand access to full-day kindergarten, increase minimum teacher salaries to $45,000 – and determine its impact to early childhood educators (both proposals were also included in his plan last year but did not come to fruition) – and his ongoing mission to reform charter schools absent the ability of the General Assembly to pass a bill over the past several sessions. The Governor noted in his proposal his plan would save $280 million should his charter legislation pass.
Notable in the Department of Human Services budget is the lack of funding afforded within the Office of Children Youth and Families to the County Child Welfare line item. Essentially flat-funded, the line is provided with only a $2 million increase that is due to the Governor’s proposed minimum wage increase. No additional funds for services delivered by county child welfare agencies would realize an increase. This is a unique situation, as the legislature typically funds this line in accordance with what counties submit as part of their needs-based budget. Last year, this line received nearly a $34 million – or 3 percent – increase. While counties may have unspent funds available should the proposal move forward, PPC will be following developments in this area of the budget.
Also of note, is that the budget narrative produced by the administration is largely silent on the impact of the impending implementation of the Family First Protective Services Act. With a looming October 1, 2020 opt-in date and a variety of fiscal implications for the state with its emphasis on front-end prevention, among other things, the administration’s lack of detail will prompt questions from the legislature and other stakeholders.
Due to federal action in 2018, the state was required to pick up additional costs associated with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beginning with the FY 2019-20 budget, and again with the FY 2020-21 budget. As such, the Governor’s proposal for FY 2020-21 shows a commitment to covering those added costs so that there is no interruption in health care coverage and the benefits CHIP provides to children. The proposal specifically contains $55 million in additional state funds to cover the anticipated move back to the previous state match rate for the CHIP program of 66.54 percent. This is the last adjustment the state will have to make to go back to the original rate.
The administration has demonstrated its commitment to developing a comprehensive prenatal-to-age-three policy agenda as part of the Pritzker Children’s Initiative 9-month planning grant process in partnership with PPC, particularly in the area of lead exposure. This commitment was shown in the budget proposal with the investment made to lead screening, abatement and other services. Using some funds from CHIP’s Health Services Initiative ($4.4 million), the Governor proposed to expand testing and abatement for lead. In addition, the Governor’s lead plan would allow for an expansion of eligible projects in the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) to include schools (with $1 billion in funding for lead and asbestos remediation projects) as well as having PENNVEST provide grants for lead service line replacement.
There is no safe level of lead exposure – even the smallest amount can damage a child’s ability to learn – and children are most at-risk of lead’s toxicity. The first step to understanding whether kids have been exposed is through testing blood lead levels; however, approximately 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s youngest children are not being tested. The Governor’s proposal is a step in the right direction for creating a lead-free environment for children.