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State Budget Hearings Wrap-up for 2022 with PDE, DHS, and DOH Appearances

The Pennsylvania House and Senate Appropriations Committees held state budget hearings with various department secretaries over the last several weeks, including a marathon session last week where both chambers met with DHS, DOH, and PDE. Department secretaries testified and were questioned by Appropriations Committee members on both the governor’s budget proposal and department policies enacted over the past year.

The PDE hearings focused on learning loss caused by school closures and the recent release of delayed PSSA scores showing a decline in both participation and performance during the pandemic. Multiple questions were framed around public-school usage of federal pandemic relief, questioning the need for the governor’s $1.25 billion increase for Basic Education Funding. During the House PDE hearing, Rep. Lee James asked the department about the $6 million proposed increase for CTE. Sec. Ortega and Deputy Secretary Smith informed the committee that PDE shifted funds from the PAsmart program to CTE programs over the past two years. The proposed $6 million increase would maintain the current program service levels rather than provide for more student slots for CTE. Both Reps. Culver and Schroeder asked about the proposed $70 million increase for pre-k programs, with PDE sharing the increase would provide an additional 2,300 slots for the Pre-K Counts program in addition to a rate adjustment for providers.

The DHS hearings fixated on the increasing costs of the state’s Medicaid program and the end of the Public Health Emergency, which poses significant budget and policy considerations as an eligibility redetermination will need to be conducted by the department for the first time since the Medicaid disenrollment freeze occurred at the outset of the pandemic. Specific to child care, Sen. Collett asked about the department’s efforts to help working families who need child care and questioned why a state increase was not proposed for the Child Care Works program. In addition, Sen. Kearney asked the department about what has been done to address the needs of the child care workforce, where recruitment and retention remains a significant concern. In the House, both the Republican and Democratic Chairs of the Children & Youth Committee, Reps. Delozier and Delissio, noted support for sustaining the child care sector but noted a recent policy change causing concern where children are required to obtain a doctor’s note to return to child care settings with the pandemic. Several members also discussed child welfare elements, with Rep. Zimmerman asking for an update on the implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act, and Reps. Delozier and Delissio noting the complexity of a state-supervised, county-administered system.

PPC most closely followed testimony from DOH pertaining to maternal health as well as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, or WIC. Sen. Schwank asked about WIC and efforts to modernize the program, making it more akin to standards in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. DOH offered information on switching to an online electronic benefits card, where the current offline version does not allow for things like enrollees virtually receiving their updated benefits. DOH indicated making this switch could take a minimum of three years to complete. In the House, Reps. Bullock and Kinsey asked similar questions about the WIC program, including an update on the competitive RFA rescinded last year and DOH noting it does not anticipate a re-issuance. Sen. Schwank followed-up with a question about maternal depression and anxiety screening and tracking as well as when to expect approval for COVID vaccinations for children under age 6. In the House, Rep. Schroeder asked a similar question, wondering about the impact of the pandemic on maternal depression. Physician General Johnson noted how doula services and telemedicine have aided these efforts. Rep. Cephas brought up maternal mortality, citing a 14% rise during the pandemic, asking for recommendations to reverse the trend, which included substance use disorder and mental health treatment improvements. Finally, Sens. Saval and Hughes also asked about lead testing and remediation efforts of the administration.

Following the wrap-up of the appropriations hearing process, the House at this time is expected to return to session the week of March 21st, with both the House and Senate expected to be in session the week of March 28th.


FFY 2022 Spending Deal Finally Reaches Finish Line in Washington

Following months of short-term spending bills and intense negotiations between Republican and Democratic leadership, a massive omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government has finally been signed into law. The $1.5 trillion spending package provides a $46 billion increase for domestic programs and a $42 billion increase in defense spending. To pass the budget with bipartisan support, most of President Biden’s domestic policy priorities outlined in the Build Back Better Act—including PPC priorities of universal pre-k, comprehensive fixes for the child care system, and needed policy elements for maternal and child health—were removed.

The bill contains the following budget items that PPC supports:

  • Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program: $254 million increase over FFY 2021
  • Head Start and Early Head Start: $289 million increase over FFY 2021 (includes a $234 million COLA)
  • IDEA Part C Grants (Early Intervention for infants and toddlers): $14.5 million increase over FFY 2021
  • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): $835 million increase over FFY 2021
  • Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) State Grants and Community Based Child Abuse Prevention (CB-CAP) programs: $10 million increase over FFY 2021
  • Title 1 Grants to Local Educational Agencies: $1 billion increase over FFY 2021
  • Career & Technical Education (CTE) State Grants: $45 million increase over FFY 2021

This federal spending package will fund government operations through September 30, 2022. In the interim, PPC will work with its state and national partners to continue the push for needed congressional action on critical pieces of early care and education as well as maternal and child health.


PDE Releases 2020-2021 State Assessment Scores

After significant pressure from the Legislature, PDE released the results of the 2020-21 school year state assessments, including the PSSA, Keystone Exams, and the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment. These annual, federally required state-level assessments are one measure to understand student academic achievement. Testing was waived in the 2019-20 school year, with growing concern that student achievement and learning loss were unknown without assessment. While the 2020-21 school year included tests, school entities could delay them from the spring to the fall of 2021 to account for COVID challenges, including conducting on-site testing. Significant additional flexibility in receiving waivers from taking the PSSAs was also granted to parents and students during this time.

Results are on the Future Ready PA Index, with PDE cautioning the interpretation of the results. Participation decreased approximately 25% from the last year of testing, largely due to the additional flexibility for opting-out or decreases in eligible student populations. Additionally, data limitations prevent cross-year and locality comparisons.

While challenges exist in interpreting the results, state assessments are one of the most significant indicators in evaluating student learning loss during the pandemic. Under the American Rescue Plan, a portion on funding was allocated to PDE for the purposes of in-depth analysis of learning loss and identifying strategies to supporting students.

PPC is monitoring the release of the state's evaluation and the General Assembly’s response, particularly through the budget session where there may be increased pressure to address the findings with an as-yet unidentified legislative remedy. Republicans in the majority will also use the drop in student performance to push back against the more than $1 billion proposal for increased education funding from Gov. Wolf.


IRRC to Review Final Form Regulation on Charters

PDE’s final form Regulation #6-349 pertaining to charters and cyber charter schools will go before the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) on March 21st. IRRC will review the proposal as the next step in the process after providing questions and feedback to PDE following a public comment period in the fall of 2021. PPC submitted comments supporting the proposed regulations and continues to support final approval. The proposed regulation aims to create a standardized application form, uniform and equitable enrollment processes, and improve transparency of charters’ governing practices, among other things.

This week the House Education Committee expressed their opposition to the regulation, both on content as well as their opinion of the process bypassing legislative involvement. Charter reform bills have failed to gain enough traction to reach the governor’s desk for numerous sessions. The vote to submit a letter to IRRC notifying them of their disapproval of the regulation passed on a party-line vote with all Democrats voting in the negative.


Happening TOMORROW—WIC Webinar with Thriving PA and CHOP PolicyLab 

Register for a virtual conversation featuring health care providers and policy and research experts tomorrow, March 16 from 12-1 pm, focusing on improving WIC policy in the commonwealth.

Hosted by PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Thriving PA, panelists will include: 

  • Brian Dittmeier, JD, senior director of public policy at the National WIC Association
  • Berry Kelly, MBA, director of the Bureau of Community Nutrition Services (CNS) and State WIC director at the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control
  • Laura Stephany, MPPM, health policy manager at Allies for Children
  • Aditi Vasan, MD, MSHP, faculty member at PolicyLab and pediatrician and health services researcher at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)
  • Danielle Cullen, MD, MPH, MSHP, faculty member at PolicyLab and assistant professor of pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine at CHOP and the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine (moderator)

* Data provided by: Office of Child Development and Early Learning.


KIDS COUNT® Data Center Indicators

Check out our Pennsylvania KIDS COUNT® Data Center webpage to access updates to the poverty and uninsured indicators within the Economic Well-Being and Health categories. The updates include research-based context under the supporting how this data is important to tracking the well-being of children.


In Case You Missed It...

  • Spotlight PA’s article, Waning signups for PA child care program could forecast weak economy, highlights the decline of low-income children participating the state’s Child Care Works program since the beginning of the pandemic and what it may mean for families looking to return to work.
  • A recent article from the Williamsport Sun-Gazette speaks to administrators from Lycoming County Children and Youth Services on the important role of the child welfare system, including its emphasis on preventing abuse and neglect.
  • The Center for the Study of Social Policy recently released a report, Systemically Neglected: How Racism Structures Public Systems to Produce Child Neglect, which outlines the history of how child welfare policies were developed to over-surveil families of color, examines how policies push families of color into the child welfare system today, and offers recommendations for supporting and keeping children and families of color together.
  • The Administration on Children, Youth and Families released a memo that offers guidance for child welfare agencies serving LGBTQI+ children and youth involved with system.
  • New federal legislation has been introduced — the Treatment Family Care Services Actwhich aims to improve home-based health and mental health services for children. The bill would increase access to quality care by clarifying a Medicaid policy that directly impacts youth—including foster children and vulnerable children living with kinship and biological caregivers—with special behavioral health needs and/or medical disabilities.
  • The Lead-Free Promise Project created an easy-to-use Parent Resource Toolkit to assist parents with finding services for a child who tests positive for lead. The toolkit walks parents through six steps to help their child get healthier through 67 county specific downloadable PDF’s – one for each Pennsylvania county and contains detailed contact information for important resources and services.
  • PPC board member and retired neonatologist Dr. Robert Cicco recently contributed to  a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, Under a new threshold, the number of Pa. children with high lead levels is expected to almost double.
  • OCDEL extended the deadline for the Family Support Services RFA from Friday, March 11th to today, March 15th. PPC is working closely with our partners in the Childhood Begins at Home campaign on next steps once applications are submitted and as we continue our advocacy work to secure an additional $15 million for the Community-Based Family Centers line and $1.2 million for the Nurse-Family Partnership line in the FY 2022-23 budget.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau confirmed children were again undercounted in the 2020 decennial census, particularly young children under 5. More to come from PPC on data, as March 17th is the anticipated date the Bureau will release additional information, including standard five-year estimates not provided during its usual timeframe last September.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children
200 North Third Street 13th Floor
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17101
(717) 236-5680

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