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Congressional Leaders Close-in on Deal for Smaller Scale Reconciliation Bill

House and Senate Democrats in Washington, DC are closer than ever to making a deal on the multi-trillion-dollar omnibus budget package that will contain several pieces of President Biden's domestic policy agenda. The bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, can be passed via the budget reconciliation process, which requires simple majority support in Congress. The bill had stalled in past weeks due to fiscal disagreements between progressive and centrist Democrats. President Biden outlined a scaled-back version of the bill last week during a trip to Scranton.

Many of the policy priorities PPC has supported remain in the lower-cost version of the plan, including:

  • $200 billion to establish a universal pre-k program for 3- and 4-year-olds.
  • Funding to make child care more affordable for parents making up to 200% of the state median income and increased funding for the child care workforce.
  • A one- or two-year extension of the enhanced child tax credit.
  • Four weeks of paid family and medical leave for individuals making under $100,000.
  • $35 billion for child nutrition programs, allowing 9 million more children to receive free school meals.

Several notable provisions were dropped from the bill, including free community college and dental coverage for Medicare recipients. Some perinatal and children's health care coverage policies – such as making the CHIP program permanent and providing for 12 months of continuous Medicaid coverage for children – might be included in the final bill; however, there is no reporting on the final details yet.

PPC sent a letter to Pennsylvania's Democratic Congressional Delegation urging them to prioritize policies that positively impact children and families in the final version of the Build Back Better Act.

PPC will continue to update our reconciliation bill summary page as new information is released this week, given the published accounts that Congressional leaders want final activity on the Build Back Better Act and the bi-partisan supported infrastructure bill by this weekend.

PPC Submits Comments to Independent Regulatory Review Commission on Proposed Charter Regulations

After years of stagnancy in the legislature to address long-overdue amendments to the state's charter law, the Pennsylvania Department of Education recently submitted a proposed rulemaking to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC), which was then opened for a 30-day public comment period closing on October 18th.

Proposed rulemaking 6-349 outlines several proposed changes to ensure consistency in the application, enrollment, and payment redirection processes for brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools. PPC believes in the right to choose an education program that meets the needs of children and youth, and the proposed rulemaking will implement many pragmatic changes primarily aimed at improving transparency. However, in comments submitted to IRRC that were largely supportive of the draft, we did note further efforts are still necessary to apply specific accountability and performance measures to ensure that programs are high quality and meet state standards.

Education Bills Received Attention During Light Session Activity Last Week; Momentum Picks Up this Week in Harrisburg

The state Senate was only in session for two days last week, leaving little time for any big-ticket legislative items as Harrisburg's fall legislative session continues. The House of Representatives was not in session. This week both the House and Senate are back in the capitol with a slightly fuller agenda.

In the light activity that did occur last week, Senate leadership moved a bill through a committee that the Wolf administration opposes. In our previous edition, we told you about HB 1332, which would require school districts to publish curriculum on the Internet and passed the House on a largely party-line vote. Last week HB 1332 was considered and reported as amended through the Senate Education Committee, meaning the measure could be considered by the full Senate this week. PPC sent memos to the House and Senate standing committees opposing the legislation. It allows for subjectivity at the local level that could leave open for interpretation of what is or is not allowable in curriculum relative to race, ethnicity, gender, and ideology, or other populations. It could further invite challenges to curriculum, textbooks, and materials that recognize the inequities children face in our communities.

Another bill on its way to the opposite chamber is SB 786, which adds charter schools to Pennsylvania's Open Campus Initiative. As written within the Public School Code, the Open Campus Initiative permits school districts to enter collaborative partnerships where a student from one participating district can attend classes at another and receive credit for that course. In late September, the legislation was amended in committee to clarify that a digital course may be free of charge, but that information must be shared if there is a negotiated fee established to cover the costs of staffing, technology, or content and curriculum development. SB 786 passed the Senate last week on a 29-20 party-line vote.

Looking at this week's agenda, PPC is following these proposals:

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee sunshining a vote on SB 705, which seeks to regulate telemedicine by the state's professional licensing board and provide insurance coverage for services received via telemedicine. The measure has been debated in the General Assembly for several consecutive sessions, including Gov. Wolf's veto of the bill last session, due to a provision related to abortion services amended into the bill in the 11th hour.
  • The House Children and Youth Committee will meet tomorrow to vote on three bills, including HR 119. The resolution would direct the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study and make recommendations on developing an integrated information system for child welfare programs under the purview of the Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF) in the Department of Human Services (DHS). The development of an integrated system to replace the current Child Welfare Information System (CWIS) has been in the works in OCYF for several years without full implementation. PPC supports the measure. Also on the agenda are HB 159 and HB 1737, which would implement the "Family Advocacy Program" established by the U.S. Department of Defense. These bills address child abuse and domestic abuse in military communities. They would allow county children and youth agencies to petition the court for an order to compel drug screenings when there is evidence that substance use may be a contributing cause of child abuse or neglect, respectively.
  • Also, this week, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee is set to vote on HB 764, which would provide parity in the 45-day provisional hiring window for employees of both child-care providers and any other employer who hires and supervises employees who have direct contact with children. The bill passed the House unanimously in June.

With additional session weeks for both chambers scheduled into December, stay tuned for further state legislative updates from PPC in future newsletters.

Thriving PA Webinar Educates Legislators on the Importance of Perinatal and Child Health

Thriving PA recently hosted legislators and staff for a lunch n' learn webinar to introduce them to the campaign's work and the importance of investing in perinatal and child health. Thriving PA's goal is for birthing people, infants, and toddlers in Pennsylvania to thrive by ensuring our prenatal-to-age-three (PN-3) population has equitable access to high-quality health care and nutrition supports. Its four core policy areas are perinatal health, children's health insurance, nutrition through the WIC program, and lead screening and abatement.

Learn more about the Thriving PA campaign and our policy goals by watching a short video here.

Prioritizing investments in the PN-3 years helps support the development of infants and toddlers who are most impressionable in the first three years of life. Their brains form more than 1 million new neural connections every second. They also develop social-emotional, physical, and cognitive capacities that play a huge role in later success in school, the workplace, and the larger community. And these investments make sense economically for the state because by investing upfront, we can avoid more costly interventions down the line for children. Research from Professor James Heckman of the University of Chicago found investments in high-quality programs that support young children starting at birth deliver a 13% annual return through better education, health, social, and economic outcomes later in life. 

We want to see Pennsylvania's children thrive! Join us in supporting the work of Thriving PA by signing up to be an endorsing organization or sharing our resources with your networks. You can also like us on Facebook and Instagram!

October 24 - 30 is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week

Lead is toxic: 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 toxicity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, children are commonly exposed to lead from hand-to-mouth activities involving contaminated dust and soils around older homes that contain lead-based paint or from eating paint chips that contain lead.

While lead-based paint is the most widespread source of lead exposure for young children, other sources can include water, consumer products such as toys, cosmetics, jewelry, and home remedies such as folk medicines.

Check out the Lead-Free Promise Project for more resources, and don't miss the Lead Safe Allegheny Coalition's virtual Summit, Life without Lead: Envisioning a Lead-Safe Community for All, on October 28th from 8:30 am to 5 pm, with optional evening sessions from 6 pm to 7:30 pm.

Data made possible by the Pennsylvania KIDS COUNT Data Center, home to more than 130 child well-being indicators related to education, poverty, health, and youth risk factors.

Changes Announced to Child Care Works to Lower Costs for Families and Incentivize Participation

Last week, Governor Wolf announced changes to Pennsylvania's subsidized child care program, Child Care Works, which will decrease costs for families participating and encourage more providers to participate in the program. Pennsylvania received $1 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to support the state's child care industry. Using $354 million in Child Care Development Fund federal support, the following proposed changes are due to take effect January 1st, 2022:

  • Lowering the maximum copayments for families eligible for Child Care Works to no more than 7% of their family's overall income – currently, percentages range from 3-11%. This will cost $121.9 million.
  • Supporting rate incentives for Child Care Works providers that offer child care during non-traditional hours. This change will incentivize providers to offer at least two hours of care for families during non-traditional hours – before 6 am or after 6 pm. This will cost $16.8 million.
  • Increasing base rates for providers participating in the Child Care Works program to the 60th percentile, up from the 40th percentile. This will cost $213.7 million.

The Administration is also dispersing Pandemic Relief Awards of $600 to 38,000 child care professionals for serving children throughout the pandemic. Additionally, $382 million is earmarked for approved providers for stabilization grants made available through ARPA funding.

Read the full press release.

In Case You Missed It...

  • Watch a newly-released video from Start Strong PA, the child care campaign of which PPC is a partner and is a broader part of the Early Learning PA coalition. The video highlights the stress endured by the child care sector exacerbated by the pandemic and now the nationwide labor shortage.
  • PPC joined a letter led by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and 85 child-focused organizations across the country to weigh in on a new definition of the public charge rule. In addition, we wrote to ensure the Department of Homeland Security applies child-specific considerations, such as excluding children's use of benefits when making a public charge determination. This new definition will be important in helping to reverse the chilling effect caused by the previous public charge rule on the use of public benefits by children in immigrant families.
  • Georgetown University Center for Children and Families (CCF) spotlights new research from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) on the role of Medicaid and CHIP in providing health insurance access for children with special health care needs. Pennsylvania was one of the 19 states included in the report covering more than half of the children with special health care needs through Medicaid/CHIP.
  • Also, please read the latest blog from our partners at CCF that handily recaps the provisions focused on maternal health and improving maternal mortality and morbidity currently contained in the Build Back Better Act. Kay Johnson and Laurie Zephyrin authored the blog.
  • While negotiations continue on the federal Build Back Better plan, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee is moving budget bills to increase funding to the Department of Education by $25 billion, including increases in career & technical education.

PPC is a principal partner of several statewide advocacy campaigns within Early Learning PA!

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

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