PSSA Test Scores Continue to Fall Short of Pre-pandemic Levels (December 5, 2022)

On November 28th, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) released results from the 2021-2022 school year administration of state-level assessments: the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA), and Keystone Exams. 

PSSA data from the 4th and 8th grades showed proficiency levels down between two and 10 points from 2019 to 2022 in language arts, math, and science. In 4th grade, proficiency in English and language arts was 52.2% compared to 63.3% in 2019. In science, proficiency was 73.7% compared to 77.8% in 2019. Math proficiency showed improvement, increasing to 42.3%. However, that is still below the 46.2% mark set in 2019.

In 8th grade, language arts proficiency was 55.6% compared to 57.9% in 2019. Science proficiency was 51.1% compared to 58.2% in 2019. Math proficiency was 22.6%, which is nearly 10 points below the 32.2% mark set in 2019.

The lower tests continue to be an effect of the pandemic.

For more from Fox 43 News, click here.

To view the PDE press release, click here.

Free COVID-19 Testing Offered at Select IUs in Preparation for Holiday Gatherings (November 29, 2022)

As people are preparing for holiday gatherings this season, the PA Department of Health (PDH) is offering free COVID-19 testing and take-home tests at nearly a dozen locations across the state.  

The testing is free and open to everyone. COVID-19 community-based testing sites are operated in partnership with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare (AMI) offering three forms of testing:    
-point of care tests where tests are performed and results are analyzed on-site,   
-distribution of at-home COVID-19 antigen tests, and   
-administration of the mid-nasal passage swab PCR testing.  

Individuals do not need to be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to be tested. Patients are encouraged to bring a photo ID, but ID is not required to be tested. Appointments are not necessary as registration will be completed on-site. 

Tests can be picked up at the following IUs: 1, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 14, 17, and 19

Gov. Wolf Announces $9 Million For Substance Use Disorder Crisis Stabilization Services (November 29, 2022)

On November 28, 2022, Governor Tom Wolf announced ​the availability of more than $9 million in state grant funding for Single County Authorities (SCAs) to establish or expand crisis stabilization services for individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders (SUD).

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for enhanced and coordinated behavioral health services in Pennsylvania,” Gov. Wolf said. “This funding opportunity will make use of Pennsylvania’s share of the federal Opioid Distributor Settlement to build on our existing programs and initiatives.”

Grants of up to $3 million will be awarded to eligible SCAs and can be applied toward a range of activities including construction and building infrastructure, staffing, and programming.

“These grants will help expand or establish services to provide a much-needed component to the continuum of care; reduce the burden on first responders, law enforcement, and emergency departments, and provide timely care to individuals in need,” said state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Jen Smith.

The administration’s goal in offering this funding opportunity is to provide an additional mechanism for counties to invest in infrastructure, staffing, programming, and other necessary components to establish or expand crisis stabilization services.

SUD crisis stabilization services must have the capacity to recognize and manage individuals presenting with a wide range of SUD-related symptoms, mental health disorders, and developmental disabilities. Additionally, services include assessment and stabilization of acute physical and psychiatric symptoms which may include medical management and behavioral interventions, induction on medication-assisted treatment, level of care assessments, short-term stays, and connections to supportive services.

For more information on this Grant Initiative Funding Application, visit the Funding Opportunities page on the DDAP website. Applications must be submitted to RA-DAGrantsMgmt@pa.gov by 12 PM on Wednesday, December 28, 2022.

Questions regarding the funding and the application process should be emailed to RA-DAGrantsMgmt@pa.gov

Ag Workforce Tour Highlights Apprenticeships, Education Preparing Pennsylvanians for Rewarding, In-Demand Ag Careers (November 19, 2022)

PA Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding recently kicked off an Ag Workforce Tour during a visit to Pequea Valley High School in Kinzers, PA, and farms in Chester and Lancaster counties. The tour celebrates the agriculture jobs that will be available post-graduation and Pennsylvania’s programs preparing them for these in-demand, rewarding careers.

“It’s not a surprise that Pennsylvania has the highest percentage of agricultural producers under 35 years old in the nation,” said Redding. “You can’t feed the world without first nourishing young minds. That starts with solid agriculture education that inspires students to apply their interests in a field that has plentiful opportunities for meaningful, rewarding careers, then connecting them with those opportunities through hands-on experiences in the classroom and in learn-while-you-earn apprenticeships.”

At Pequea Valley High School in Kinzers, he toured a hands-on, award-winning program with classes in ag mechanics, animal science, plant science, food science, and environmental science.

Then at the creamery at Birchrun Hill Farm in Chester Springs, the tour demonstrated sustainable crop production and innovative, processing supported by training through AgConnect Industry Partnerships.

Pennsylvania’s $132.5 billion agriculture industry fuels more than 593,000 jobs across the commonwealth, paying nearly $33 billion in wages each year. As the industry innovates, and current workers retire, new opportunities are continually available, with jobs ranging from farm managers to high-tech equipment mechanics, and from field biologists to entomologists to veterinarians. All must be equipped to adapt to changing consumer needs, new technology, and climate challenges.

Through the Commission for Agriculture Education Excellence, the Pennsylvania Departments of Agriculture and Education have produced a comprehensive agricultural education report for schools across the commonwealth. In coordination with the Departments of Agriculture and Education, the 15-member commission is charged developing a statewide plan for agricultural education. In addition to the commission, the Wolf Administration invests in future generations of agriculturalists through Pennsylvania Farm Bill programs, including the Ag & Youth Grant Program, Farm to School Program, and Farm Vitality Grant Program.

“During our first Ag Workforce Week, we honor the individuals and families involved in agriculture throughout the state and also the programs that help support the industry,” Redding continued. “Programs like Industry Partnerships and state registered apprenticeship programs are critical to building stronger, more competitive industry through training, networking, recruitment, and collaboration – taking careers in ag to the next level.”

At one point, Pennsylvania anticipated a workforce deficit of 75,000 workers as farmers and laborers retire and new technology-based positions become available. This concern was addressed by creating and funding agriculture education opportunities through the PA Farm Bill and supporting agricultural apprenticeships that are preparing the next generation of agriculture and food workers. Also, as part of the PAsmart initiative, seven state-certified agriculture apprenticeships, two pre-apprenticeships were created.

Farmworkers are the backbone of the agricultural industry. Learn about Pennsylvania’s farmworker data through this new tool from the Department of Agriculture, Team Pennsylvania, and Econsult. Data from this tool are intended to help guide policy decisions and also inform diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts of the department.

To learn more about ag workforce development and related programs, visit the department’s website.

Wolf Administration Highlights Resources For Grandparents Raising Grandchildren During Family Caregivers Month (November 18, 2022)

On November 16, 2022, the Pennsylvania departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), Human Services (DHS), and Aging (PDA) highlighted available resources for grandparents who are raising grandchildren and discussed the need for additional supports for these grandparents because of the overdose crisis.

“We know that the overdose epidemic and substance use disorder has impacted Pennsylvanians of all ages, races, and demographics, touching nearly every family. For some, it has resulted in grandparents assuming the role of parents once again due to their child participating in a substance use treatment program, incarceration, or worst-case scenario, loss of life to an overdose,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “Having the right resources available to help both grandparents and grandchildren alike who are in this situation is vitally important.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016, there were more than seven million grandparents living with their grandchildren, and over two million were responsible for their grandchildren’s basic needs. In Pennsylvania, it is estimated that nearly 260,000 children live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives.

November is National Family Caregiver Month. Around the country, it is a time to recognize and honor family caregivers. The month offers an opportunity to raise awareness of caregiving issues, educate communities, and increase support for caregivers.

“While older relative caregivers often find the care that they provide to be a meaningful and rewarding experience, the demands of being a primary caregiver can be stressful physically, emotionally, and financially. If an older adult becomes a caregiver for their grandchildren due to either the loss or incarceration of their own child due to substance use disorder, those stressors may be magnified,” said PDA Secretary Robert Torres. “We want older caregivers to know that the Department of Aging has resources and supports that focus on their well-being by helping to alleviate those stresses.”

PDA’s Caregiver Support Program (CSP) provides resources and assistance to individuals who assume primary responsibility as a caregiver of their loved ones. The program, administered by the 52 Area Agencies on Aging, provides access to respite care, addresses the need for formal and informal supports, and offers financial reimbursement of eligible out-of-pocket costs associated with caregiving-related services and supplies.

DHS coordinates work across Pennsylvania to support the nearly 83,000 grandparents in the commonwealth who are caring for their grandchildren. PA KinConnector is a resource that provides information, referrals, and education programs for kinship caregivers in Pennsylvania. Kinship caregivers – such as grandparents, aunts or uncles, adult siblings, or a close family friend – are blood and non-blood relatives who care for children when their biological parents are not able to for various reasons. Kinship care arrangements help maintain family bonds and reduce trauma experienced when children cannot be cared for by their own parents.

“Caring for a child, especially in a kinship care situation, is both rewarding and challenging,” said Deputy Secretary for the Office of Children, Youth, and Families Jonathan Rubin. “DHS strives to provide grandparents and other kindship families with the information and resources they need to take care of themselves and children in their care, including links to physical and mental health care, financial assistance, legal referrals, and much more. Kinship caregivers can be an invaluable line of support and stability for children, and we are committed to helping people who step up to fill this role for children in their lives.”

KinConnector also runs a helpline that can be reached by calling 1-866-KIN-2111 (1-866-546-2111). The KinConnector helpline is staffed by knowledgeable, compassionate social service professionals prepared to help kinship care families understand and access resources that may be able to help them and children in their care. The helpline is available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The KinConnector helpline can support callers needing assisting in English and Spanish.