July 6, 2023

State Budget Fails to Significantly Invest in Early Care and Education Amid Historic Labor Shortage

The principal partners of Early Learning Pennsylvania (ELPA), a statewide coalition of advocates focused on supporting young Pennsylvanians from birth to age five, recently issued the following statements regarding House Bill 611, which still awaits the signature of the Senate President Pro Tempore and Governor to become the enacted 2023-24 Pennsylvania state budget.

ELPA operates four issue-based advocacy campaigns: Pre-K for PA, Start Strong PA, Childhood Begins at Home and Thriving PA.

First Budget in a Decade to Not Expand Pre-K Counts and State Funding for Head Start

“The Pre-K for PA campaign is deeply disappointed by the failure to expand the state’s publicly funded pre-k programs – PA Pre-K Counts and the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program. When nearly 90,000 eligible 3- and 4-year-olds do not have access to these once-in-a-lifetime early learning opportunities, and pre-k and Head Start programs can’t keep teachers in their classrooms because of inadequate reimbursement rates, this budget bill is simply unacceptable.

Public investment in high-quality pre-k has historically been a consensus issue in Pennsylvania; aligning political parties, rural, urban and suburban communities, and families across the commonwealth on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that improves the life chances of Pennsylvania’s children. In fact, a February 2023 Susquehanna Polling and Research poll showed that 98% of PA voters believe that early learning is important, and 78% of PA voters support increasing state funding to serve more eligible children in pre-k programs, which was an increase from 65% in 2022.

Unfortunately, HB 611 is a noticeable departure from a decade of growing investment in high-quality pre-k and threatens the stability of the early care and education sector and the futures of the 90,000 young children that lack access.”

With no new funding and all PA Pre-K Counts contracts up for renewal as part of a complete competitive rebid in FY 2023-24, Pre-K for PA urges the Shapiro Administration to maintain (to the greatest degree possible) the current per county slot allocation to ensure stability in access for our youngest learners.”

Budget Fails to Address Historic Labor Shortage & Furthers Impact on Working Families

“With a child care sector that is on the brink of collapse, the Start Strong PA Campaign is shocked by the lack of investment to address the child care teacher shortage in the state budget bill. Policymakers ignored calls from chambers of commerce, working parents, child care providers, military leaders and others to stabilize the sector by investing in child care wages. Failing to invest in the workforce, which supports all other sectors, will continue to harm the commonwealth’s children, working families and the overall economy.

HB 611 currently allocates slightly more than $100 million in new state funding to maintain the status quo in the child care system. This includes supporting the current child care subsidy caseload and utilization, as well as maintaining the increase in subsidy rates as one-time federal funding lapses. While maintaining the 60th percentile of market rates is important to help alleviate inflationary pressures on child care providers, it has not stabilized the child care workforce. This maintenance of effort of the subsidy system is simply woefully inadequate given the scale of the commonwealth’s child care crisis.

Across Pennsylvania, child care providers are closing classrooms and entire programs due to this historic child care teacher shortage. According to a February 2023 Start Strong PA survey of more than 1,000 child care providers across the state, 85% of responding providers had open and unfilled positions amounting to more than 3,600 open staff positions resulting in 1,500 closed classrooms, and a combined waitlist of more than 35,000 children.

Low wages within the child care sector are driving this staffing shortage. The average wage of a Pennsylvania child care teacher is less than $12.50/hour. At this earning potential, 21 percent of the child care workforce relies upon Medicaid for their health care coverage and SNAP to put food on the table. There is no county in the commonwealth where this wage covers the cost of living.

For families with young children, access to child care is a critical factor in their ability to go to work and ensure their children are in a safe and nurturing environment. Nearly 70 percent of all households with children younger than age 6 have all available caregivers in the workforce—that’s over 537,000 households.

For all other business sectors, the child care sector is the workforce behind the workforce. When families can’t get child care, their children suffer, their income drops and the state’s economy is shortchanged. In a time of severe labor shortages and billions in state budget surplus, the commonwealth’s failure to ensure parents have access to child care is a tragic outcome.

For all Pennsylvanians, when businesses aren’t fully staffed, or staff are unreliable due to lack of child care, they cannot produce goods or provide services, creating shortages and increasing prices. So, whether one has young children or not, Pennsylvania’s child care crisis should matter to all of us.”

Infant and Toddler Early Intervention and Maternal Health Increases Included in Budget

“The budget bill also contains an increase of $15.4 million for Infant and Toddler (Part C) Early Intervention in the Department of Human Services budget. This is short of Governor Shapiro’s March budget proposal, which called for a $20.2 million increase. While the additional $15.4 million will serve more children and sustain a rate increase initially achieved through one-time federal stimulus funding, Thriving PA is disappointed more was not done to support the Early Intervention system holistically. This includes solutions to address workforce shortages needed to create a viable and sustained service delivery platform.

Additionally, Preschool (Part B) Early Intervention received a $10.4 million increase in the Department of Education budget, which was what Governor Shapiro included in his March request.

A $2.3 million increase in the Department of Health budget was included in HB 611 in order to implement recommendations included in the Maternal Mortality Review Commission report. Thriving PA appreciates support for these funds, which will help address maternal mortality and morbidity in Pennsylvania.”


House Bill 611, which is not yet the enacted 2023-24 Pennsylvania state budget, includes:

  • Level funding for the state’s Pre-K Counts program.
  • Level funding for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program.
  • Increase of $103,747,000 to maintain the status quo in the child care subsidy program (increases of $13,370,000 million for the state
  • Child Care Assistance line item and $90,377,000 million for the Child Care Services line item).
  • Level-funding for evidence-based home visiting in the Community-Based Family Center line item and $25,000 for the Nurse-Family
  • Partnership line item, which is a technical adjustment from previously enhanced federal matching funds.
  • $15.4 million for the Early Intervention Part C (infants and toddlers) program through DHS.
  • $10.4 million for the Early Intervention Part B (age-three-to-five) program through PDE.

Start Strong PA Message to Early Care and Education Professionals, Families, and Advocates

Early Care and Education Professionals, Families, and Advocates:

You raised your voices time and time again. Our data was strong and compelling, but policymakers have ignored calls from working parents, child care providers, chambers of commerce, military leaders, and others urging investment in child care wages to stabilize the workforce.

We feel your frustration and will soon give you an efficient way of communicating with your elected officials about how our child care crisis continues to impact you, your program, the families you serve, and our communities at large.

Learn More

To learn more, visit the websites for any of the ELPA campaigns:


Information for this post was taken directly from the Pre-K for PA press release. Some text may have been added, paraphrased, or adapted for readability and comprehension.

Related Content & Resources


February 10, 2022

2022-23 Pennsylvania Budget Proposal Response

On February 8, 2022, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf released the 2022-23 state budget proposal.

The principal partners of Early Learning Pennsylvania (ELPA), a statewide coalition of advocates focused on supporting young Pennsylvanians from birth to age five, are pleased with proposed investments in pre-k, evidence-based home visiting, and perinatal and child health. However, the proposal fails to adequately invest in child care.

ELPA operates four issue-based advocacy campaigns: Pre-K for PA, Start Strong PA, Childhood Begins at Home, and Thriving PA

Governor Wolf’s state budget proposal included:


  • $60 million in additional funding for the state’s Pre-K Counts program. 
  • $10 million in additional funding for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program.

Together, this $70 million expansion could serve approximately 2,300 additional young children. 

In a press release, ELPA states, “This funding continues the Commonwealth’s tradition and Governor Wolf’s unwavering commitment of expanding access to high-quality pre-k. This $70 million proposed expansion could provide this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to more than 2,300 additional young learners.

“Research shows that high-quality pre-k benefits children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and confirms the Commonwealth’s investment in pre-k pays dividends for the children fortunate enough to access it. This investment is not only essential for our children, but high-quality early education supports labor force participation, healthy families, and a globally competitive workforce of the future. By increasing pre-k access and opening the door to more families, our economic recovery reaps the benefits.”

Child Care

  • Level funding for the state Child Care Assistance and Child Care Services line items.
  • $77.7 million in federal funding to sustain child care subsidy base rates.
  • $44.3 million in federal funding to sustain the reduction in out-of-pocket family co-payments.
  • $6.1 million in federal child care funding to sustain the incentive for providing non-traditional hour care.
  • $30 million in state funding to provide state employees with increased access to and affordability of child care through the Department of General Services.

“The Wolf Administration’s budget proposal is an inadequate response to the current child care crisis and misses an important opportunity to help working families in search of affordable high-quality care,” ELPA representatives stated. “Furthermore, failure to fully stabilize the child care sector jeopardizes the efforts of Pennsylvania businesses trying to rehire their labor force. Child care programs are closing classrooms and entire facilities due to teacher and staff shortages. Child care staff are overworked and underpaid with the average child care teacher making less than $11 per hour.” 

While the budget proposal does utilize federal funds, ELPA believes it is not sufficient in light of flat funding for Pennsylvania’s Child Care Services and Child Care Assistance line items for the third consecutive year.  

Start Strong PA is urging state policymakers to allocate a portion of the projected year-end surplus of $2.8 billion to address staff recruitment and retention, and increase access to quality care for working families, specifically for infants and toddlers.

 Home Visiting

  • $15 million in additional funding for evidence-based home visiting in the Community-Based Family Center line item (this will serve an additional 3,800 pregnant women, children, and families), as well as $8 million in one-time federal stimulus funds specified for home visiting.

“Following two years of level funding, the [Childhood Begins at Home] campaign is pleased to see Governor Wolf’s proposed investment restarts his commitment to increasing service levels beyond the 5% of Pennsylvania families currently served,” ELPA stated. 

Perinatal and Child Health

  • Funding allocated for postpartum coverage extension for women in Medicaid from 60 days to 12 months.
  • $11.5 million in increased funding for the Early Intervention Part C (infant and toddler) program through DHS, with $1.2 million allocated for children eligible for tracking when their mothers have a positive screen for postpartum depression or anxiety.
  • Level-funding for the Part B Early Intervention program (age three to five) offered through PDE.

ELPA stated, “Medicaid is a significant source of insurance for Pennsylvania women and birthing individuals— especially for women of color— so expanding coverage to a full year postpartum is a vital step towards closing racial and health disparities.    

“Additionally, we must ensure all children from birth through age five with developmental delays are identified, referred to, and accepted for the services they need to reach their fullest potential.” 

More Information

Read ELPA’s full budget response statement for details. The Pittsburgh-based early childhood nonprofit Trying Together and other partners of ELPA will continue to advocate for these investments as the budget process continues. Stay up-to-date on how to advocate for these issues by signing-up to support Trying Together’s public policy agenda.