By EMILY NEFF
The November 2018 midterm elections mark a critical moment to show up to vote for candidates who support and further the issues we value at the Thomas Merton Center. If you reside in Allegheny County, there is another crucial vote to consider as you prepare to head to the voting booth.
The “Our kids. Our commitment.” initiative, composed of local education, health, and human services organizations, believes children must be a priority in our region. The initiative collected nearly 64,000 signatures to qualify for a ballot question that proposes creating an Allegheny County Children’s Fund through a property tax increase of $25 on each $100,000 of assessed property value. The slight increase in property tax will raise approximately $18 million dollars annually. The funds will be solely directed to children all across Allegheny County in order to provide increased access to early learning programs, after school programs, and nutritious meals.
Investing in our region’s children, beyond being a social and moral imperative, provides brighter opportunities for our youngest citizens and ensures a stronger future for all. The Allegheny County Children’s Fund initiative seeks to fund efforts proven to ensure the health and wellbeing of kids.
Early learning lasts a lifetime. Ninety percent of brain development occurs before age five. Kids who attend pre-k receive a solid foundation of academic, emotional and social skills. In addition to school and life success, pre-k saves families, schools, and taxpayer money. However, more than half of eligible three- and four-year-olds lack access to high-quality pre-k. Our kids deserve a strong start so they can reach their full potential.
Learning and development continues after the school day ends. After-school programs increase school attendance, reduce drug use, and help fuel our children’s passions while keeping our kids and neighborhoods safe. In Allegheny County 70% of parents say they would enroll their kids in after school programs if one was available. Our kids deserve enriching after school opportunities so they can stay safe and engaged even when the school day ends.
Every child should have something to eat. One out of every six children in Allegheny County faces hunger. Kids can’t focus on school work if a basic need isn’t being met and without proper nutrition they are twice as likely to repeat a grade level. Our kids deserve nutritious meals so they can learn without worrying about when their next meal is coming.
While TMC does not work directly on issues of children or education, the Center’s mission and work focuses on causes that impact the health and wellbeing of children. In the pursuit of social justice and peace, and to ensure the dignity of all human beings, we owe it to our children to put them first and give them the opportunities they deserve.
The ballot measure statement is as follows:
“The Allegheny County Home Rule Charter shall be amended to establish the Allegheny County Children’s Fund, funded by Allegheny County levying and collecting an additional 0.25 mills, the equivalent of $25 on each $100,000 of assessed value, on all taxable real estate, beginning January 1, 2019 and thereafter, to be used to improve the well-being of children through the provision of services throughout the County including early childhood learning, after-school programs and nutritious meals.”
If a simple majority vote ‘yes’ and the measure passes, the Office of the Allegheny County Children’s Fund will be established and guided by a volunteer citizens’ advisory council. While not directly determining allocation of the funds, public officials — and their constituents – will provide oversight, including participation in establishing the strategic plan and goals. Funding will be distributed throughout Allegheny County based on need, effectiveness, and fair and equitable allocation.
Are you willing to spend a little extra per year to build a strong future for our kids? Make a commitment to our kids.
Vote ‘yes’ on the November ballot measure.
Emily Neff is a board member of the Thomas Merton Center. She is a public policy associate at an early childhood education non-profit, Trying Together, which is a member of the Our kids. Our commitment. steering committee.
(TMC newspaper VOL. 48 No.8 October 2018. All rights reserved)