PDE & PHEAA Host FAFSA Completion Workshop (February 21, 2024)

On February 20, 2024, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) joined the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), local postsecondary students and families, and legislators to host a FAFSA® completion workshop, highlighting the importance of applying for financial aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first, and most critical, step in applying for financial assistance for the 2024-25 academic year.

The FAFSA completion workshop gave local students and families the opportunity to correctly and successfully fill out their 2024-25 FAFSA form in person with the help of higher education experts. New this year, the new 2024-25 FAFSA form expands eligibility for federal student aid, including Pell Grants, and provides a streamlined user experience. Applicants will be able to skip up to 26 questions, depending on their individual circumstances. The new and improved FAFSA form could take applicants as few as 10 minutes to fill out.

Filling out the FAFSA opens doors for current and prospective postsecondary students, in addition to federal, state, and institutional aid, including the PA State Grant Program, which has provided over $13 billion in awards to almost 8 million students since its inception. Financial Aid Awareness Month, occurring each February, is celebrated by the higher education community in an effort to provide crucial information to students and families about access to federal, state, and institutional aid. This Financial Aid Awareness Month, students across the country can begin the process of applying for financial aid through the newly updated FAFSA form.

Digging into the Details: Budget Hearings Begin Today (February 20, 2024)

Following the budget proposal offered by Gov. Josh Shapiro earlier this month, the House Appropriations Committee will begin the process of dissecting the plan at budget hearings starting today.
Today, the committee will take testimony from the Department of Community and Economic Development beginning at 10 a.m. and from the Department of Revenue at 1 p.m.
Other agencies slated to testify next week include the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, and the departments of Aging, Agriculture and Corrections.
The budget hearings will be streamed live at PAHouseGOP.com.
For a full schedule, click here.

PDE Announces More Than $1.6 Million to Make Higher Education More Affordable for Parents (February 13, 2023)

On February 13, 2023, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) announced more than $1.6 million in grant funding to help eligible postsecondary institutions fund scholarships and programming for undergraduate students with children. Making higher education affordable and accessible for Pennsylvanians of all means and all backgrounds is a key priority of Governor Shapiro’s blueprint for higher education.

Postsecondary institutions can apply on eGrants from February 13, 2024 to March 12, 2024.

The 2024 Parent Pathways Grant offers institutions the opportunity to apply for competitive funding:
-To expand parent programming, resources, and supports or to implement parent programming, resources, and supports. Funding can be used, but is not limited to, wrap-around services for students, expansion of childcare facilities, staffing salary support for parent navigators, transportation supports, and other expansion of work already being accomplished on campus. 
-For scholarships covering tuition, fees, housing, meals, books, childcare, etc.
-For the use of stipends/emergency funding up to a maximum amount as determined by the institution.

Studies indicate that one in five undergraduate college students is balancing the responsibilities of raising children while pursuing a postsecondary education, and nearly half of them do not earn a degree. Parenting students bear significant burdens and need additional support to navigate through their academic program successfully, and the Parent Pathways Grant Program provides funding to institutions to directly support the persistence of these students in the form of tuition assistance, emergency funding, and wrap-around services.

In December 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services released a policy report following consultations with parenting students, postsecondary institution staff, subject matter experts, various state agencies, and community leaders. The Parent Pathways Learning Network (PPLN) concentrated on addressing the necessary support for food, childcare, housing, and financial aid. The results underscored the importance of integrating the firsthand experiences of parenting students into statewide policymaking.

During his 2024-25 budget address, Governor Josh Shapiro proposed a blueprint for higher education to re-imagine Pennsylvania’s postsecondary sector and support more learners. After decades of disinvestment that have put postsecondary education out of reach for many Pennsylvanians, this plan will dramatically increase state funding for colleges and universities, unite PASSHE universities and community colleges under a new governance structure, and cap tuition costs for eligible students. The budget proposal invests $975 million in the community colleges and PASSHE universities that will comprise this new system – a 15 percent increase in the amount of funding those institutions received last year – and substantial investments next year to make higher education more affordable and accessible for all.

For more information please visit the PDE website.

DHS Releases Interdisciplinary Blueprint Workgroup Recommendations to Address Children’s Physical and Behavioral Healthcare Needs (February 12, 2024)

On February 12, 2024, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) released recommendations from its Blueprint Workgroup, an interdisciplinary group comprised of representation from state and local governments, health care, education, service providers, managed care, and family advocates. The workgroup sought to evaluate challenges children and youth with complex, co-occurring physical and behavioral health care needs and their families experience like accessing care and services that adapt to a youth’s changing circumstances and needs, lessening the likelihood of child welfare system involvement, reducing trauma experienced by instability, prioritizing emotional well-being, and supporting family- and youth-driven care and choice.

One in six children have a diagnosed behavioral or developmental disorder, and rates of depression and anxiety are growing among children and young adults. Youth with co-occurring physical health, behavioral health, and/or intellectual disability or autism-related needs are considered complex cases because they require close coordination between multiple care and service providers in order to ensure the child and their family are receiving comprehensive supports and services that meet their unique and evolving needs.

Care coordination for these cases involve multiple county and state-level entities that coordinate health care, education, and disability services, and, at times, the child and their family may be involved with child welfare, foster care, and justice systems. Children and youth with complex needs are also more likely to have experienced abuse, neglect, and trauma, disruptions to their education, communications challenges, and a complex diagnostic history causing delayed or incorrect services. These circumstances create opportunities for confusion and lack of communication that can affect care. 

Children and youth with complex needs deserve access to the care and supports they need without barriers, delays, or risks of new or additional trauma, and their families and guardians deserve support as they navigate systems of care for their child. The Blueprint Workgroup was established to help guide systems of care towards a renewed focus on youth and family engagement, respect for individual choice, support for the caring workforce, better collaboration and integrated planning between systems that serve youth with complex needs, and timely, accessible, and coordinated service delivery for youth that is responsive to their evolving needs.

Recommendations from the workgroup include:
-Prioritizing prevention through early identification of needs, accurate and timely diagnosis, and prompt service intervention;
-Improving information sharing and resource navigation among child-serving systems of care;
-Developing clear and strong guidance to inform multi-system case planning and management that prioritizes family engagement, evidence-based practices, peer supports between families, streamlining processes for families, and avoids trauma or re-traumatization that can occur when a case information has to be presented by the youth or their family repeatedly;
-Supporting a qualified, dedicated workforce, assessing payment models, and increasing efficiencies for people working in this system where appropriate;
-Conducting a system needs and gaps analysis across child-serving systems to determine opportunities for improvement and establishing multidisciplinary care coordination teams where needed; and,
-Building further understanding of trauma and embed trauma-informed care and principles across systems that serve and interact with children and youth with complex needs and their families.

Moving forward, DHS and Blueprint Workgroup members will begin work to determine work necessary to implement recommendations and identify barriers to implementation at the state and local level. The recommendations outlined in the workgroup’s report are a first step to strengthen supports for children and youth with complex needs and their families. Pennsylvania was also recently selected as one of eight states participating in a children’s behavioral health policy collaborative organized by Health Management Associates, the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, the National Association of Medicaid Directors, the Child Welfare League, and the American Public Human Services Association. The convening will build on this work by helping better align multi-system work to support youth with behavioral health needs. 

To learn more about the Blueprint Workgroup and DHS’ work to support children and youth with complex needs, visit https://www.dhs.pa.gov/Services/Children/Pages/Complex-Case-Planning.aspx.

Gov. Shapiro Announces Blueprint for Higher Ed. (February 11, 2024)

After decades of disinvestment that have put postsecondary education out of reach for many Pennsylvanians, Governor Josh Shapiro recently announced his blueprint for higher education—a plan that dramatically increases state funding for colleges and universities, unites them under a new governance structure, and caps tuition costs for eligible students. Gov. Shapiro’s 2024-25 budget proposal invests $975 million in the community colleges and PASSHE universities that will comprise this new system, a 15 percent increase in the amount of funding those institutions received last year.

For the press release, go to https://www.media.pa.gov/Pages/Education-Details.aspx?newsid=1439.