State Officials Defend Wolf Budget in Appropriations Hearings
As we mentioned previously, Governor Wolf’s FY 2020-21 proposed budget fell short due to its lack of prioritizing increased investments in evidence-based home visiting, child care, career and technical education and child welfare. Over the last several weeks, the House and Senate appropriations committee members have questioned Wolf administration officials about several aspects of the budget proposal.
The departments PPC follows most closely during this process are the PA Department of Education (PDE) and the PA Department of Human Services (DHS). Highlights of the major issues to benefit children in the Commonwealth are below.
In questioning PDE personnel, the most relevant topics to PPC were early learning, specifically Pre-K Counts (PKC) and Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP), and K-12 education including basic education funding (BEF), special education funding, and career and technical education (CTE) funding.
- In answering a question about pre-k, PDE Secretary Rivera said the proposed $30 million for PKC and HSSAP will serve an additional 3,270 children (2,800 for PKC and 470 for HSSAP) in high-quality publicly funded pre-k. It was also mentioned that PA ranks 19th in per-capita spending out of the 28 states that publicly fund pre-k and more investment is needed to increase that ranking, citing PPC’s recent report The Road to Success Includes High-Quality Pre-K.
- Several members highlighted the lack of an increased investment in CTE, which is typically popular and garners bi-partisan support. Members asserted that by not increasing this funding, PA’s workforce would not build the skills it needs to be competitive. In addition, members asked about the $20 million increase for PA Smart funding, some of which will go to increasing dual enrollment according to PDE. PPC and our partners in the PA Schools Work coalition will continue to advocate for a $10 million increase in CTE funds during the 2020-21 budget process.
- Members asked about BEF and Secretary Rivera noted that state funds only make up about one-third of the total cost of K-12 public education. Members said that more investment is needed and that the state must do a better job in funding education. PPC supports the $100 million increase in BEF and $25 million increase in special education funding.
Among the items of interest to PPC during the DHS budget hearings were evidence-based home visiting, child care funding, and county child welfare. The hearings also focused on large supplemental payments – mostly for Medicaid – in the DHS budget well over the designated amounts approved during the regular budget process.
- Senate Chairman Pat Browne asked Secretary Miller about the department’s proposal to use Medicaid Managed Care Organizations to provide consultations for new mothers. The appropriation for this service is $1.4 million and confusing when comparing the proposal against the six evidence-based home visiting models operating in Pennsylvania that already provide many services to new mothers and families with evidence-based criteria. In the House hearing, a question was asked about the $1 million in the Community-Based Family Centers line which will go to maintain, rather than expand, caseloads due to a reduced amount of federal funding. Secretary Miller responded that PA has experienced a shortfall in federal dollars before and that other states are experiencing fewer federal home visiting dollars as well. PPC will continue its dialogue with OCDEL on why this is occurring through our work in the Childhood Begins at Home campaign.
- There was a lot of discussion on child care issues, specifically around the workforce and Gov. Wolf’s $12 minimum wage proposal; whether federal child care funding will be spent between increasing quality and increasing rates, or reducing the Child Care Works waiting list. Rep. Lynda Culver asked what DHS would do with the federal funds allocated to an increase in the minimum wage and Secretary Miller stated that there was no back up plan because the administration fully expects their proposal to be passed with this year’s budget. Work continues through the Start Strong PA campaign on a push for both an increased investment in state dollars as well as utilizing $30 million in federal funds through CCDBG dollars.
- Relative to the $2 million increase in the County Child Welfare line, far from the typical $30 million to $40 million increase, DHS said that there will be enough funding to meet the needs that the counties specified in their budget requests. The $2 million allotted is only specified to cover the governor’s minimum wage proposal. Multiple members also raised the issue of grandfamilies and the Kinship Navigator program. This is yet another area where PPC will work with stakeholders to ensure the child welfare system is not short-changed during the budget process.
PPC will continue to provide updates as the budget process unfolds and will continue to fight for increased investments to benefit Pennsylvania’s 2.8 million children.