Photo by Di Lewis, via Pixels.
Although the outcome of “Our Kids. Our Commitment.” initiative was not what proponents wanted, key stakeholders are looking toward the future and finding some victory in the vote.
During the recent election, over 513,000 Allegheny County residents cast their vote on a proposed amendment to establish the Allegheny County Children’s Fund through an increase in property taxes (0.25 millage rate, an estimated $30 increase per year for the average household). The fund would have supported early learning opportunities for children, after-school programs and nutritious meals. The amendment was defeated, with 48.31 percent of voters in support and 51.69 percent against.
“What I heard from my constituents was that they liked the idea of increased and specific funding for early learning, after-school programming, and nutrition programs,” says Councilwoman Deb Gross. “But they had concerns about the governance of the fund.”
Advocates of the Children’s Fund say, despite the vote’s outcome, the need for these programs is still there, and that the vote showed that there is great public interest in finding a solution to funding these programs for our children.
“What this tells us is that just over a half-million people in Allegheny County care about this issue,” says Patrick Dowd, executive director of Allies for Children. “There is wide consensus that these types of programs are something we should be supporting, and clearly a number of people care about this issue. That part to us is helpful and inspiring.”
James Doyle, executive director of Higher Achievement, Pittsburgh, appreciates the number of people who did vote yes.
“The people are saying they care about these three critical things enough to support a small increase in their taxes,” he says. “That sends a strong message for us to continue our work.”
Advocates agree that the vote shows people care about this issue and people want to see some sort of funding be provided for this type of early childhood support.
The defeat means that Allegheny County still does not dedicate any funding to early learning programs and nutritious meals but does allocate approximately $8 million to after-school programs.
The 10 organizations that came together to form the Allegheny County Children’s Fund Initiative will continue to advocate for these programs in the day-to-day work of their organizations. The path to move forward, Dowd says, is through continued conversations with supporters, as well as listening very carefully to those who weren’t supportive.
The group plans to create a space for people to re-engage as they sift through many ideas and other feedback they received. A future source of funding will need to have a transparent means of reporting back to the public, they say, but the source of that funding remains to be seen.
Allegheny Children’s Fund supporters will continue to advocate for these initiatives in the day-to-day work of their organizations, as well as through their continued collaboration to create a source of funding that will support these programs in the long-term.
“Our organization’s mission has been and will continue to be one that focuses on advocating on behalf of the needs and rights of children,” says Cara Ciminillo, executive director of Trying Together. “The needs remain and the needs are great.
“I am hopeful that the state will continue the pattern of the past few years with incremental increases to funding for these programs, but this has not been enough to fill the gap,” she says. “We will be continuing the effort to look for local revenue to help support some of that gap.”
To keep up with the next steps and ways you can contribute, follow the initiative here.