Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG) – Over the summer, a coalition of ten Allegheny County organizations came together and has worked endlessly to introduce a voter referendum in the November election with the intent of funneling resources towards addressing early learning, after school programming, and good nutrition for kids across the county. With the slogan “Our Kids. Our Commitment,” the coalition launched the concept of creating approximately an $18 million Allegheny County Children’s Fund, funded by a .25 millage increase to homeowners, through paying an additional $25 annually on each $100,000 of assessed property value. In Allegheny County, the average median home price is around $137,000 meaning that on average, homeowners would pay around $30 per year toward the Allegheny County Children’s Fund. Want to estimate how much your annual commitment would be as a homeowner, if this ballot initiative passes? Check out this Funding Calculator.
Living in a commonwealth state, Pennsylvania residents living outside of the only first class city/county, Philadelphia, are restricted to using the voter referendum process for only funding issues they care about through passing a property tax increase via the election ballot. Residents living in Allegheny County seeking to use a sales tax or other tax mechanism would then require state-level legislation to be passed and this is neither immediate nor a guaranteed, locally controlled process.
At first glance, many people will quickly turn away from the idea of having to spend more money on paying local, state, and/or federal taxes. However, with a little additional research and digging, it becomes apparent that there is a definite need for allocating funds toward kids programming, particularly for early learning programs and nutritious meals since neither receive dedicated funding. On average, Allegheny County currently allocates $8 million of funding towards after school programs, but according to an Urban Institute report titled “Poverty and Income Insecurity in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area”, there were 41,697 kids under the age of 18 living in poverty in Allegheny County as of 2012 . Suddenly, $8 million seems massively insufficient to serve all the kids in need across the county.
So what are other cities doing to address gaps and funding deficiencies around kids programming and what outcomes have they experienced after introducing these funds? To provide some additional context and make the case for why establishing the children’s fund in Allegheny County is a positive idea, here are some case studies to consider ahead of the November election:
1) City of San Antonio, Texas – PRE-K 4 San Antonio
- Established the full-day pre-kindergarten program for four-year-olds in 2012 after passing a ballot initiative
- Year 4 of the program ended in 2017; evaluation and monitoring of the program has occurred over this time in conjunction with the National Institute for Early Education Research and Rutgers University
- Results show double-digit increases in literacy and math, as well as an improvement in behavior
2) Pinellas County, FL – Juvenile Welfare Board
- Mission of investing in partnerships, innovation, and advocacy to strengthen Pinellas County children and families
- Four strategic focus areas developed as a framework to help kids in school and out of school: school readiness, school success, prevention of child abuse and neglect, and strengthening community
- Funding consists primarily of ad valorem property taxes (less than 1% or .8981) and other revenue streams including interest and contributions; the Juvenile Welfare Board is authorized to levy the tax based on the Juvenile Welfare Board Special Act
- Saw notable success in helping provide healthy meals to children and nearly all the kids served were on track to be ready for school
3) St. Louis County, Missouri – Children’s Service Fund
- First established in 2008 and making its first allocation in 2010, the Children’s Service Fund has invested in over $300 million in local nonprofits and governmental agencies to provide behavioral health and substance abuse treatment services for children and youth ages 19 and under across St. Louis County
- Service areas include temporary shelter services, transitional living services, services to teen parents, respite care services, crisis intervention services, prevention services, home and community based intervention services, individual, group, and family counseling services, outpatient substance use treatment services, and outpatient psychiatric services
- The Children’s Service Fund is funded by a ¼ cent sales tax measure (Proposition 1 or Putting Kids First) which created a community children’s service fund