Allegheny County kids could soon have a better opportunity to excel in life.
All that’s needed is for taxpayers to agree to a countywide tax increase that would cost about $30 a year for the average homeowner.
A citizen-led group just launched ”Our kids. Our commitment.” The initiative would transform the way Allegheny County funds early learning, after-school and nutrition programs.
Utilizing the referendum process, the group will set out to gather more than 40,000 signatures between June 19 and Aug. 7. If successful, a question will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot asking county residents if they’re willing to support a .25 mill tax increase. That amounts to about $25 a year for a $100,000 assessed property.
A majority vote would establish the Allegheny County Children’s Fund, generating about $18 million a year.
“This is asking: Do we want to do well by the kids of today? They’re the future of our society,” says Dave Coplan, executive director of Human Services Center Corporation and a steering committee member for Our Kids. Our Commitment.
Local service providers and leaders have spent nearly two years looking for new and innovative ways to help youth in Allegheny County. It became clear that funding was an issue.
Most of the funding for early learning, after school and nutrition programs – all of which have a large impact in shaping a child’s life – comes from state and federal dollars, says Patrick Dowd, executive director of Allies for Children and a steering committee member for Our kids. Our commitment.
“Really, the whole goal of this has been to think about how can we make stronger investments in our kids?” Dowd says. “We all believe that by investing in our kids, we’re not just investing in them, but we’re investing in the future of our region. We’re providing kids better opportunities. We’re providing a brighter future for the region.”
In the end, it’s about providing more access, he says. While there are great programs in Allegheny County, there’s not enough supply.
The first step is to include the public in the process. Beginning with a kick-off event at the Children’s Museum on June 19, the group has 49 days to gather the needed signatures. Expect to see clipboards at community days, festivals, service centers and anywhere else that draws a crowd.
“This is an illustration of participatory democracy at its finest,” Coplan says.
“This is historic,” Dowd says. “We’re going to be having tens of thousands of conversations all summer long talking to people about this.”
If all goes as planned, they’ll get those signatures and a question will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot that will leave it up to the voters.
More than 30 counties across the country already have children’s funds in place. That includes several in Missouri, Florida, Texas, California and Ohio, including the Cleveland region.
“I do believe there’s not a Pittsburgher that wants to think Cleveland is doing something right that we’re not,” Coplan says with a laugh.