Research shows children who attended high-quality pre-k are more likely to read proficiently in third grade, graduate from high school, attend post-secondary education and become successful in the workplace. Additionally, investments in high-quality pre-k have a high return on investment, leading to savings in K-12 resulting from reductions in the need for special education and grade repetition as well as savings in criminal justice involvement and incarceration. A recent analysis on pre-k investments shows every dollar invested in high-quality pre-k returns at least $4 in savings and benefits. Despite these savings and benefits to the state, approximately 113,000 eligible three-and-four-year-olds lack access to publicly funded high-quality pre-k this year in the commonwealth. To learn more about the state of pre-k throughout the commonwealth and how Pennsylvania compares to other states, please refer to the Pre-K for PA site and these numerous reports highlighting pre-k benefits.
(1) As Governor, what would you do to make sure all of Pennsylvania’s at-risk 3- and 4- year olds have access to high quality pre-k and Head Start programs? What are your plans to secure the resources needed, and what is your timeline to achieve your goals for pre-k access?
Wagner: Funding for Pre-K has increased under the last 5 Governors, yet 60% of children who would most benefit from these programs are still not enrolled. The most effective way to ensure there is adequate funding for such programs is to harness private funding. As Governor, I would expand our current Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program. We must incentivize eligible private businesses to drive their funding towards these vital Pre-K Programs. We must also ensure that the amount of funding available is no longer capped at such a small a fraction of our General Education Budget. Currently, there is only $175 million that may be made available for grants from private funding through the EITC program, yet our General Education Budget is over $6 billion. By expanding a program already in place, we can fast-track this funding and drive these necessary dollars where they are most needed. I would also support legislation to create social impact bonds. These bonds would inject private sector dollars and accountability into the pre-k process and allow state taxpayers to know that they will only be on the hook for investments that have worked.
Wolf: When I was elected governor, my Republican predecessor had cut one billion dollars in education funding. The first thing I did when I came to Harrisburg was draw a line in the sand. I refused to balance the budget on the backs of our children and I stood up to Harrisburg politicians who were used to doing things a certain way.
And now, together, we’ve restored Governor Corbett’s one billion dollar cut to education and passed a fair funding formula to take politics out of school funding once and for all. Through these investments, we have increased the number of children attending pre-kindergarten by nearly 50 percent.
But there is still more work to be done. That’s why I’ve called for an additional $185 million dollar investment in public education, including a $40 million increase in Pre-K Counts and Head Start in my 2018-2019 budget proposal. I’m confident that continued investments in early childhood education will have long lasting positive impacts for Pennsylvania’s children and communities.
Students who participate in high quality out-of-school time programs have better grades and conduct in school, more academic enrichment opportunities, improved emotional adjustment and fewer incidences of drug use and pregnancy. Unequal access to summer learning programs accounts for about two-thirds of the overall achievement gap between students from low- and middle-income families. Students from low-income families fall about two months behind their middle-income classmates over the course of the summer, also known as the summer slide. You can learn more about the benefits of out-of-school time programs in this brief here.
(2) What strategies would your administration support or promote to close the achievement gap between low and middle/high income students?
Wagner: Pennsylvania receives federal funding to participate in the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Unfortunately, while demand has increased, federal funding has remained flat. I am aware that over the last 10 years, over $4 billion in local grant requests were denied due to competition and lack of federal funding. As multiple studies have shown, participation in these programs has a significant benefit for the students involved, including better school attendance, improvement in grades as well as higher graduation rate. As Governor, I would lobby the federal government and request that they increase their funding so that we are able to increase access to these beneficial programs statewide. Even with additional federal funding, this too is an area where access to private funding would be most beneficial. Incentivizing local businesses and individuals to donate to these valuable programs will keep the money local and enable these programs to continue to be successful for all. We can expand the current EITC program to include summer and after school programs.
Wolf: When I became governor, Pennsylvania was one of only three states in the nation without a fair funding formula. I signed House Bill 1552 into law, which established a fair funding formula to take the politics out of education funding and provided emergency funds to two of Pennsylvania's financially distressed school districts. The formula accounts for factors such as the wealth of the district, the district's current tax effort, the ability of the district to raise revenue, the number of children in the district who live in poverty, the number of children enrolled in charter schools, and the number of children who are English language learners. I will continue to fight to make sure that low income districts are getting their fair share of funding to help them succeed.
Not everyone wants to go to college, but people want the skills to get a job and advance their careers. At the same time, businesses are growing and need a pipeline of talented people for emerging industries.
My 2018-2019 budget included a first-of-its-kind $50 million strategic investment in job training and the launch of PAsmart, a realignment of workforce development from K-12 education through career programs so students and workers gain the 21st century skills to get good jobs that employers demand.
My administration also piloted two summer youth employment programs focused on low-income youth. These pilots helped youth age 16 and older in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions learn about the world of work and the myriad education and career opportunities available to them in Pennsylvania as they leave high school in a few short years.
High quality child care programs across the state provide care and education to low income families using government subsidies for which rates have not increased in 10 years. Today only 30 percent of subsidized children are accessing high-quality STAR 3 and 4 care, families are waiting almost 25 days to access subsidies they need to work, 43 percent of child care staff are receiving public assistance and child care subsidy reimbursements do not cover the cost of quality care.
(3) If elected Governor, what would you propose the Commonwealth do to address these issue and ensure high-quality child care programs are available for working Pennsylvanians and their families?
Wagner: Our system is so broken right now that we have too many politicians who measure their success on things like how many people are on public assistance. I will be a Governor who measures my success on the number of people I can get off public assistance and into the workforce with good family sustaining jobs. A key thing that prevents people from going back into the work force is their inability to afford child care. I am in favor of doing everything we can to increase aid to Star 3 and Star 4 facilities and also make the subsidies expedited.
Wolf: It's critical that we improve access to child care for all Pennsylvanians. I am committed to protecting the children of Pennsylvania and making it easier for working families to access care. I have fought to increase child care line items in the budget because thousands of Pennsylvanians depend on child care assistance in order to work and provide for their families.
Increasing funding for child care is important to help child care centers improve quality and serve more children. My 2018-2019 budget proposal includes:
● $30 million in additional funding for the state’s Pre-K Counts program and an additional
● $10 million for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program. This $40 million expansion would serve 4,400 additional young children. Currently more than 106,000 eligible three- and four-year-olds do not have access to high-quality publicly funded pre-k programs.
● An additional $6.5 million investment in evidence-based home visiting programs expands home visiting for 800 eligible families and includes a cost of living adjustment for the two long standing home visiting models (Nurse Family Partnership and Family Centers – Parents as Teachers) who haven’t had a rate increase in nearly a decade.
● Investing $10 million more to expand access to 1,600 additional families waiting for access to the child care subsidy.
● $10 million in state funding coupled with $5 million in federal funding for increased tiered reimbursement rates for Keystone STAR two, three, and four child care providers.
● $3 million for a pilot program serving infants and toddlers in high quality child care
Under my leadership, Pennsylvania became one of the first states in the nation to implement a change in our Child Care Works program. This change helps families who experience temporary disruption in employment continue to access quality child care by re-determining eligibility every 12 months instead of six. As governor, I will continue to look for similar opportunities for expanding access to quality child care and call for increased investments in early childhood education and child care.