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More investments are needed to give PA children birth-to-age-5 the foundation they need to succeed

A coordinated early care and education system ensures infants, toddlers, and preschoolers succeed in school and allows parents to work while knowing their children are safe and learning in high-quality care. Yet, inequities exist, causing too few children to have access and a historic early learning workforce shortage, as shown in our first-ever State of Early Care and Education report.

Working with Pre-K for PA and Start Strong PA as part of Early Learning Pennsylvania (ELPA), a statewide coalition of advocates focused on supporting young Pennsylvanians from birth to age five, the report uses data and research to show that without new investments in the child care workforce, Pre-K Counts, or the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program, early learning providers will continue to lose teachers and close classrooms.

The growth and development of young children in high-quality early care and education is the start of a continuum with benefits that last into adulthood. Providing every child—regardless of race, ethnicity, geography or income—access to high-quality early care and education programs ensures an equitable start to their academic careers.

A coordinated child care system serving infants and toddlers is vital to the economy, allowing parents to work while knowing their children are safe and learning in high-quality care.

According to the report, inadequate funding for the child care system has led to issues of supply and demand that impact a family's ability to find affordable, high-quality child care, and child care providers' ability to be compensated fairly to pay their teachers and maintain business expenses:

  • Unlivable wages of less than $12.50/hour are causing a historic workforce shortage that is closing classrooms and driving up wait lists for working mothers and families.
  • Child care providers can't raise teacher wages because families are already struggling to afford the costs of care. On average, costs for infant child care comprise approximately 17.5% of the Pennsylvania median family income.
  • Only 21% of eligible children under three are served by Child Care Works, leaving over 83,000 eligible infants and toddlers unserved.

The next step in the academic continuum for children is access to high-quality pre-k programs, but only 43% of eligible 3- and 4-year-olds participate in high-quality, publicly funded pre-k, leaving over 87,000 without access to a high-quality program.

The workforce is essential for delivering high-quality pre-k. Yet, while the level of quality expects and demands the appropriate knowledge and credentials of professionals, the compensation for pre-k teachers remains significantly lower than their colleagues in K-12 settings.

Unlike child care, publicly funded pre-k programs in Pennsylvania rely on annual state budget funding appropriations. High-quality pre-k has historically been a consensus issue, aligning political parties and enjoying a decade of growing investment. However, policymakers have flat-funded pre-k in the 2023-24 state budget, which is baffling. 

The report shows inequitable access to early care and education opportunities for children in Pennsylvania:

  • As of March, only 1 in 4 income-eligible infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are Black, Indigenous, and children of color participated in Child Care Works, with only 40% enrolled in a high-quality child care program. Of the 12% of income-eligible non-Hispanic white infants, toddlers, and preschoolers participating in Child Care Works, 51% were enrolled in a high-quality child care program.
  • Only 23% of all children served in Pre-K Counts and Head Start Supplemental Assistance Programs in Pennsylvania are Non-Hispanic Black, compared to 41% of children identifying as Non-Hispanic White.
  • Researchers at Penn State University found white preschoolers accounted for the majority of program participants in Pre-K Counts, and white children were increasingly more likely to be enrolled in a high-quality pre-k program compared to Black children. Recommendations from the report specifically called for Pennsylvania to increase funding for pre-k access and to serve more Black children from urban and high-poverty communities.

And compared to the K-12 and post-secondary education systems, the sector is the most diverse yet the lowest paid.

  • Racial disparities exist within the professional child care sector, with Black educators earning approximately 2% less than their white counterparts. Hispanic educators earn approximately 5% less than white educators, exacerbating the already low wages of the sector and deepening inequities and gaps in pay.
  • There is a pay gap between pre-k and kindergarten teachers, but an even larger wage gap between Black and non-Black educators. A $1/hour wage gap exists between Black and non-Black teachers at the preschool level.

The evidence is clear that access to a high-quality early care and education system positively impacts the lives of Pennsylvania children. Unfortunately, the state is falling short for children, families and providers across the commonwealth. Comprehensive policy solutions and increased investments are needed to change the system's trajectory. Working together, we can build Pennsylvania's early care and education system as a leading model.


Governor Signs Budget Bill, Outstanding Spending Authority Remains

The state budget impasse cleared a hurdle earlier this month when Gov. Shapiro signed budget bill HB 611 into law. The governor line-item vetoed $100 million for a private school voucher program, keeping a promise made to House Democrats but walking back support he expressed on the campaign trail in 2022.

Despite these advancements, additional code bills are required to direct at least $1.1 billion to programs included in the budget bill. Without budget-enabling language, there is uncertainty about how the increases for programs like CTE and child care will be spent. Check out our special budget update for more details on what was included in the budget bill.

The number of seats in the state House is again tied at 101 to 101—Democrat Rep. Sara Innamorato resigned from her seat to run for Allegheny County Executive. The special election to replace her will be Tuesday, Sept. 19th, just one week before the House returns to session. While the seat is unlikely to flip, the uncertainty ensures that no code bills will be passed before the end of September. The Senate returns to session on September 18th and the House on September 26th. Leaders in both chambers say they want to pass the final pieces of the budget as soon as possible.


How Medicaid Unwinding is Impacting PA Children

Since Medicaid renewals started back up in April, following a three-year pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, PPC has been closely watching its impact on children going through the yearlong renewal process.

During the first four months of the unwinding process, more than half of the children reviewed so far have been able to keep their Medicaid coverage. On the other hand, 38,408 Pennsylvania children have lost Medicaid coverage. Over half of those children who lost coverage were due to procedural reasons (i.e., outdated address or paperwork not returned or completed), not eligibility. It is concerning to have a large percentage of children who lost coverage for paperwork reasons, as they may very likely still be eligible for Medicaid.

PPC is also monitoring whether children no longer Medicaid-eligible get connected quickly to CHIP (or to the state-based marketplace Pennie™). The DHS data tracker shows that 628 children who lost Medicaid coverage have enrolled in plans through Pennie™ so far (and we would expect that number to be small); however, we don't yet know how many of the children who lost Medicaid have since enrolled through CHIP. DHS is still working on a system fix that would allow that part of the tracker to populate.

This is still an early picture of what's happening since only 19% of the total child population to be reviewed has been completed.

PPC will continue to stay on top of the unwinding process as more data comes and continue to meet regularly with DHS alongside other advocates to lift the importance of coverage for children.

Related news stories:

WHYY: Pennsylvania cuts at least 137,000 people from its Medicaid program as some participants fight paperwork denial


Did You Know?


In Case You Missed It...

  • The Basic Education Funding Commission, reconstituted earlier this summer following the landmark legal decision on Pennsylvania's inadequate and inequitable school funding system, has released its schedule of hearings through the fall.
  • As part of his budget signing press tour, Gov. Shapiro is touting funding for universal free school breakfast. The governor's office has a county breakdown of how many students will qualify for free breakfast under the 2023-24 budget.
  • The Office of Children, Youth, and Families issued final guidance for counties on implementing Act 118 of 2022, clarifying responsibilities in eliminating APPLA as a goal for children under 18, requiring additional ID of positive, supportive connections, and new data collection for older foster youth.
  • Caseworkers in Lackawanna and Adams counties have been charged with neglect in handling cases. These allegations will likely further damage a workforce already in crisis and fail to resolve underlying issues.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights determined that Northumberland County Child and Youth Services discriminated against foster parents receiving treatment for substance use disorder.
  • The Senate Aging and Youth Committee recently held a public hearing to discuss funding for Child Advocacy Centers. In addition to various CAC's testifying, remarks were also offered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the Cumberland County District Attorney.

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

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