Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pa. advocates call for education spending alongside release of 'Kids Count' report

 Two children with backpacks walk away from the camera.
Matt Rourke

Proficiency in math among Pennsylvania’s eighth graders fell from 39% in 2019 to just 27% in 2022, according to a new report on child well-being from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The annual Kids Count examines children’s health, economic security and education. The latest edition, released Wednesday, confirmed what many educators, parents and child advocates already knew: The COVID-19 pandemic set back learning among the Commonwealth’s kids.

“The long term impacts of the pandemic are not going to be one-time,” said Kari King, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. “We're not going to see them go away any time soon.”

King’s organization contributed to the report, which ranked Pennsylvania 22nd among states in terms of overall child well-being, compared to 17th in 2018.

King said while the Commonwealth has not hit the bottom of the list, its ranking demonstrates a lack of progress.

“With new leadership in the governor's office and the executive branch — a lot of new faces in the legislature — I think it's a really great time to prioritize kids and [invest] in kids so that we can kind of get out of this lack of momentum and see some better gains,” King said.

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

That includes in reading: proficiency among the Commonwealth’s fourth graders fell from 40% to 34% between 2019 and 2022.

King and other advocates have called on lawmakers to invest in education as they negotiate the next state budget, which is due at the end of the month.

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s proposed budget includes approximately $1 billion of additional funding for the state’s public schools. The deal passed by House Democrats last week, however, adds $900 million to Shapiro’s proposal for education spending, including another $225 million for the state’s 100 poorest districts.

"If we're not investing in our schools now, when are we going to invest?" House Speaker Joanna McClinton said Tuesday alongside education advocates in Harrisburg. "If we don't decide that our children in every single zip code deserve a fully-funded school now, what exactly are we waiting for? We're not going to wait any longer."

But King pointed to other gaps in child well-being that still remain to be addressed, like the approximately 126,000 children without access to affordable, quality health care coverage.

While enrollment in the Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program improved from 2019 to 2021, according to Kids Count, the pandemic-era rules that protected people enrolled in Medicaid from losing their coverage ended April 1.

“We're worried that those numbers might start to trend in the wrong direction,” King said. “So we're working very closely with the State Department of Human Services to make sure that no child unnecessarily loses coverage and really reinforcing the importance of health care coverage in terms of overall healthy development and thriving into adulthood for children.”

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.