Gov. Wolf Touts Historic Education Budget (August 10, 2022)

Governor Tom Wolf joined students, educators and elected officials in the Erie School District to celebrate the administration’s historic $3.7 billion investment in public education over the past eight years.

“I promised the people of Pennsylvania that I would make education and the future of our children a priority again for the commonwealth. And I have fought every day to do just that,” Governor Wolf said. “This year’s budget includes a massive investment in our kids, our schools and our future. It’s also an investment that could free up local communities to reduce property taxes.”

This year’s budget alone includes a record $1.8 billion in education investments.

Speaking at Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy today, Governor Wolf recalled that proper funding for education was his top priority when he took office in 2015. That priority held true in this year’s budget talks, resulting in:

  • $525 million increase through the Fair Funding Formula. On average Pennsylvania schools will see their funding increase by 8 percent. 
  • $225 million increase for Level Up to provide targeted support to the 100 most in-need school districts, ensuring that every child in Pennsylvania has the opportunity to thrive and succeed through equal access to a high-quality education no matter their zip code. 
  • $100 million increase for Special Education. 
  • $79 million increase for Early Education through Pre-K Counts and Head Start. 
  • $220 million for public higher education. 

The investment in education includes $850 million in recurring funding to allow school districts to invest in student learning while simultaneously cutting local property taxes.

Level Up, first funded in last year’s budget, initially provided a $100 million equity supplement to the state’s 100 most underfunded school districts. The 2022-23 budget increases Level Up funding by $225 million.

“Governor Wolf’s commitment to Level Up funding is powerful recognition that inequity among Pennsylvania school districts must be addressed,” said Kate Philips, Level Up Coalition spokesperson. “This funding, which slowly begins to level the playing field, temporarily eases the burden that superintendents, school boards, and educators – and students – in rural, urban, and suburban school districts are faced with every day due to chronic funding disparities.”

Even before the 2022-23 budget was finalized, the Wolf administration had:

  • Invested more than $1.9 billion in education from pre-k through college, including the largest single-year education funding increase in state history in 2021.
  • Created the Level Up initiative to provide $100 million to the 100 most underfunded school districts.
  • Established the Public School Fair Funding Formula to help address chronic inequitable and inadequate funding for school districts in the commonwealth.
  • Invested $116 million in science, computer science and technical education, including $80 million in the innovative PAsmart program, and $36 million in apprenticeships and workforce training.
  • Modernized standards for science education.
  • Invested more than $130 million in School Safety Grants to make schools and school communities safer.
  • Reduced the age when students must start school to 6 and raising the high school dropout age to 18 to set students up for a lifetime of success.
  • Launched first-of-its-kind “It’s On Us PA” Campus Sexual Assault Prevention initiative to combat sexual assault and make colleges and universities safer.

Click here to view the press release.

LEAs Notified of Annual CHIP Notice Requirement (August 9, 2022)

In an August 9, 2022 Pennlink memo from PA Children’s Health Insurance Program Executive Director  Nicole Harris to all LEAs,  School Superintendents and Chief Administrators are notified that the Pennsylvania ACT 84 of 2015 requires that public and nonpublic schools receive electronic notice of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) on an annual basis no later than August 15. A flyer has been created and is to be shared with every parent or guardian of every student enrolled in the district during the school year.
CHIP covers uninsured kids and teens up to age 19. With more than 128,000 uninsured children in Pennsylvania, this is great news for families!
CHIP provides quality, comprehensive health insurance for routine doctor visits, prescriptions, dental, eye care, eyeglasses, mental health and much more. CHIP covers uninsured kids who are not eligible for Medical Assistance. For most families, CHIP is free – for others, it is low cost.
School Superintendents and Chief Administrators are advised to forward the CHIP flyer to each school under their jurisdiction at the beginning of the school year. The flyer can be sent directly through email, posted to a school website with a link distributed to students’ families, printed or distributed with other information that is being sent as caregiver packets, or prepared for students to take home. The flyer and many more resources can be found on the CHIP website at www.CHIPcoversPAkids.com, under CHIP Resources.

PDE Revamps Certifications Webpage to Better Serve Educators (August 9, 2022)

In a continuing effort to better serve the educator workforce, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has revamped its website to allow current and prospective educators to more easily access information related to certifications.

“Throughout the extensive feedback we solicited from educators and administrators, PDE heard loud and clear that both its certification process and webpage needed to be improved, and the department acted expeditiously to make the process more seamless and easier-to-use,” said Acting Secretary of Education Eric Hagarty. “Along with dozens of action steps woven into the department’s Educator Workforce Strategy, these changes will improve customer service and help educators more easily obtain the services and resources they need.”

The site restructure used analytics to determine which pages were most highly visited and prioritized them in this effort. The Certification page is consistently one of the most visited pages on the PDE website. Since January 1, 2022, the page has had more than 209,000 unique visitors.

Changes to the Certification page include more easy-to-follow breakdowns on common topics that educators are searching for; condensed and updated frequently asked questions; a step-by-step guide and instructional YouTube video for first-time users; and more.

This effort responds to feedback received from the field and supplements PDE’s recently released strategic plan to recruit and retain more educators across the commonwealth, The Foundation of Our Economy: Pennsylvania Educator Workforce Strategy, 2022-2025.

Some participants in the feedback sessions noted that the current website for certification and the Teacher Information Management System (TIMS) are not intuitive and are hard to navigate. Some complaints were shared regarding the difficulty in remembering the login to the site.

Additionally, as noted in Pennsylvania’s ARP ESSER State Plan, PDE is in the process of identifying upgrades for both the Pennsylvania Information Management System (PIMS) and the TIMS to better anticipate educator staffing needs at local education agencies (LEAs) across Pennsylvania.

The educator-workforce plan builds on the Wolf Administration’s efforts over the past eight years to ensure a high-quality education to learners of all ages across the commonwealth. The administration has increased education funding by more than $3.7 billion since 2015, with an historic increase of $1.8 billion in this year’s final budget.

For more information about Pennsylvania’s education policies and programs, please visit the PDE website.

PDE, PDH, and DHS Encourage Immunizations as Part of Back-to-School Planning (August 8, 2022)

The Pennsylvania departments of Education, Health, Human Services and Insurance are reminding families to ensure their children’s immunizations are up to date as part of back-to-school preparations.

Vaccine-preventable diseases, such as chicken pox, meningitis, measles, whooping cough, and others are still seen across the commonwealth. Keeping children up to date on vaccinations is the best way to keep them healthy and reduce unnecessary absences from school. Staying up to date with immunizations provides the best protection against disease and is essential to individual and population health.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans, including those bought through Pennie®, as well as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid, are required to cover school vaccinations as a free preventive service without charging a copayment or coinsurance.

These immunizations are covered regardless of whether or not the yearly deductible has been met. However, it is important to make sure that the doctor or provider who administers the immunization is within your health insurance plan’s network, or you may be responsible for the cost.

Immunization-preventable diseases can be very dangerous, may require hospitalization, and can even result in death. A discussion with your doctor or your child’s doctor can help determine which vaccines are needed.

“Getting vaccinated and staying up to date is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to prevent disease,” said Acting Secretary of Health and Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson. “Vaccines help protect everyone, including people with compromised immune systems who cannot get vaccinated. It is essential that everyone, especially children, are up-to-date on all recommended immunizations before heading back to school.” 

In recent years, a change in state regulations altered the provisional period in which students could attend school without their vaccinations from eight months to five days. Children in grades K-12 need the following immunizations for attendance: tetanus, diphtheria, polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), hepatitis B, and chickenpox. Children entering the seventh grade also need additional immunizations of meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV) and tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis (Tdap). If a child does not have at least one dose of the above immunizations, they risk exclusion from school. Additionally, while the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory to attend school, the Wolf Administration encourages Pennsylvanians ages 5 and older to get the COVID-19 vaccine to help ensure their safety during the 2022-2023 school year.

Health coverage is available for all children in Pennsylvania. No family makes too much money to purchase coverage through CHIP, and families or children may qualify for coverage through Medical Assistance. CHIP and Medicaid can ensure parents can access affordable health coverage and care for their children. Immunizations and well-child visits necessary to help kids stay healthy are covered through both of these programs.

“As a parent, I want to do everything I can to protect my kids and keep them safe. By vaccinating my kids, I am sending them off to school this fall knowing that they are as protected as possible from preventable diseases, and I encourage other parents to do the same,” said Acting DHS Secretary Meg Snead. “DHS administers programs like Medical Assistance and CHIP so that families and children don’t have to go without health care coverage, including important and potentially life-saving vaccinations.”

More information on CHIP can be found at www.chipcoverspakids.com. Families can apply for coverage through the CHIP program and determine their eligibility for Medical Assistance and other public assistance programs online at www.compass.state.pa.us. Those who prefer to submit paper documents can print from the website or request an application by phone at 1-800-692-7462 and mail it to their local County Assistance Office (CAO). Families do not need to know their own eligibility in order to apply.

Anyone looking to visit a local immunization clinic to receive vaccinations should call 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258) to schedule an appointment. Pennsylvanians should have their vaccination records available when they call to make an appointment. A parent or legal guardian must accompany a child receiving immunizations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes August as National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). This annual observance highlights the importance of getting recommended vaccines. Whether children are homeschooled or attend a public, private, charter or religious school, state laws require they stay up to date for certain vaccinations based on their age, as recommended by the CDC.

Additional information on immunizations can be found on the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website at health.pa.gov.

New PA Child Care Tax Credit Program to Support Working Families (July 30, 2022)

Pennsylvania’s new state child tax credit program, modeled after the federal program, is designed to support Pennsylvania’s working families and help ensure unbarred access to high-quality early childhood education. In his capstone budget, Gov. Wolf secured $25 million for the Child and Dependent Care Enhancement Program. Modeled after the federal child care tax credit program, this state-level child care tax credit program benefits working families with children in daycare who already qualify for the federal program. It’s estimated that nearly 221,000 Pennsylvania families will benefit from this refundable tax credit. The state child care tax credit is for 30% of the federally approved expense.

Pennsylvanians paying for child care services will be able to claim the credit when filing state taxes starting in 2023. Families could be eligible for:

  • $180 (one child) or $360 (two or more children) for households earning above $43,000, or
  • $315 (one child) or $630 (two or more children) for households earning less than $43,000.

With the average cost of childcare in Pennsylvania being nearly $12,000 annually, according to the Economic Policy Institute, it’s a growing burden for working families also struggling with rising inflation and gas prices.