With budget season looming, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is keeping an eye on the happenings in Harrisburg. They recently commented on the education funding in Governor Wolf’s proposed 2015-16 budget and in February released a brief detailing the state of school readiness among the Commonwealth’s youngest residents. According to their analysis, less than 19 percent of 3- and 4-years-olds have access to quality, public pre-K programs, and 7.5 percent of youth up to age four have high-quality child care. The data briefs on school readiness factors for Allegheny County (and all counties) are also available on the PPC website.
The Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University formed the 74% Project to explore the lives of women leaders in the nonprofit sector. Wage inequality in nonprofits throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania is their current research focus – one that resulted in some interesting data on the salary disparities of male and female executive directors. Their debut fundraiser, “The Great Debate” will be held on Equal Pay Day April 14, 2015 from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. at the Twentieth Century Club in Oakland.
On the other side of the state, nonprofit leaders are, by their own reports, stressed out. A survey conducted by the Nonprofit Center at La Salle University’s School of Business found that half a decade after the official end of the Great Recession, 51 percent of Philadelphia nonprofits are still struggling to bounce back, with little or no economic recovery reported. Of those leaders who reported some recovery, the majority (75 percent) attribute it to individual giving. Long term financial stability and finding the budget to hire additional staff (to meet in the increase for services since the late 2000’s) were the top concerns among nonprofit executives. Exhausted and stressed were the top responses (tied at 22 percent) describing how the respondents felt as leaders, but 19 percent reported feeling optimistic. The complete report is available at the Center’s website.
Pennsylvania Senate Bill 4 continues to be debated in both the press and the Legislature. The bill would grant power to legislators to determine what charities are eligible for tax exemptions through an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. Rich Lord and Chris Potter of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette look at the impact of this change and why many nonprofits back the amendment in their article Pennsylvania bill debates definition of taxable charities.
The most recent School Readiness report
from Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children
paints a cautious picture of future academic success for students in the Commonwealth. The report examines several family and community level variables including access to medical care, early learning /pre-K programs, and family income – all critical in preparing a young child for entry into school at age six, and often predictors for future success.
In Pennsylvania as a whole:
- The percentage of children under the age of 4 lacking health insurance (5 percent) had little to no change from the 2011 report, although the amount of children enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) declined by over 40,000
- The amount of young children receiving early intervention services and quality child care increased, both by approximately 6 percent, however, Head Start and other public pre-K programs served fewer children than the year prior
- About 38 percent of children under the age of 5 live in low-income families
- 16.5 percent of children ages 4 and under attend publicly funded pre-K, down from 17.6 percent in the 2011 report
- Child abuse and neglect reports and substantiations for children under 5 years old decreased
Only time will tell if the sluggish trend in critical school readiness factors will continue, or what (if any) the eventual impact will be on the Pennsylvania children just beginning their educations. Hopefully, accommodations can be made to maintain these programs as research has found demonstrable cognitive benefits of daycare and pre-K. Even when factors related to a child’s emotional and social development offset some gains, typically, the overall impact is not diminished.
Got the comparative analysis blues? Need more or better data? Well, difficult-to-find data on pre-K programs just got easier to access thanks to a combined effort from the Early Education Initiative and the Federal Education Budget Project (FEBP) of the New America Foundation. An expansion of the FEBP database added 2007 through 2011 enrollment and funding information on public early education programs at both the state and local levels – including Head Start and federally mandated special education services to young children.
Alex Holt gives an overview of this valuable resource at the Foundation’s website, and discusses the serious deficit in reliable pre-K data reporting in the brief (with Lisa Guernsey) Counting Kids and Tracking Funds: Falling Short at the Local Level.
Data from a spring 2012 survey of school districts across the Commonwealth indicate increased class sizes, the possible elimination of art, music and gym classes as well as field trips, and deep cuts to tutoring programs and summer school as the result of an $810 million reduction in state funding. Reductions in local funds coupled with these cuts at the state level and increased health care and retirement costs have already resulted in staff and teacher wage freezes and furloughs in many districts, but now educational programming is on the chopping block.
The assessment, conducted the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) notes that 19 percent of the responding districts plan to reduce or end early childhood education programming, including Kindergarten. This is disturbing news as not only does early childhood education result in improved educational outcomes and is linked to future employability and wage earning potential; it is also an industry that employs tens of thousands of people per state and generates impressive gross revenue figures.
Governor Corbett has suggested that districts use their reserves to avoid cutting programs or academic subjects in the upcoming year. No word on how that tactic ensures that those same cuts will be not made once the “emergency” reserves (already being used by some districts) are gone.