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Fitzgerald Names Director For New Allegheny County Children's Department

Rebecca Becky Meratoris
Ashton Jones
90.5 WESA
Becky Mercatoris addresses reporters at a news conference Tuesday, May 25, 2021.

Rebecca "Becky" Mercatoris will head the newly-created Allegheny County Department of Children Initiatives, an agency charged with getting more kids into early education and after-school programs.

The early childhood education professional is the department’s first hire.

“Today is a great day for children and families of Allegheny County,” said County Manager William McKain, speaking at an event at the courthouse to announce the hiring.

Tuesday’s announcement was years in the making. The agency grew out of a failed 2018 ballot measure that aimed to provide about $18 million annually for early learning, after-school programs, and meals for the county’s children; the money would have come from a property tax increase.

After the defeat at the ballot box, the following year, a group convened by County Executive Rich Fitzgerald concluded the county should create a department with the aim of improving pre-K education and after-school programs.

“As a longtime Allegheny County resident, working mother, early childhood educator, advocate and policymaker, I am immensely proud that Allegheny County has created the Department of Children's Initiatives. All of Allegheny County's children and families deserve comprehensive, equitable and high quality early learning and out-of-school time services if we are to continue to build our county's reputation as a great place to live, work and raise children,” Mercatoris said Tuesday.

Rich Fitzgerald
Ashton Jones
90.5 WESA
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald during a meeting in downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday, May 25, 2021.

About $400,000 in funding for the department was included in the county’s 2021 budget.

Mercatoris has held a number of positions related to early childhood education, including for Pennsylvania’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning and with the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children. She is a resident of Ben Avon.

She will have her work cut out for her. The 2019 working group’s report found a shortage of both early-learning and after school programs for kids in many geographic areas of Allegheny County; the COVID-19 pandemic has further battered child care providers.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said potential sources of funding could come from the state or federal government, or other non-government sources.

“And Becky knows them better than anybody, that can potentially be drawn down to be able to use in funding some of the initiatives and some of the shortfalls that are that are there…So the one thing I have seen over the years I've been doing this is when we show success, the dollars will come in, the political support will come both from the private entities, the corporate community, the philanthropic community and other groups that will be part of this. So, our job and Becky's job will be to identify this and show success and show the political support that is needed,” Fitzgerald said.

Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at kgiammarise@wesa.fm or 412-697-2953.
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