Five Reasons to Vote NO on the Allegheny County Children’s Fund

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You can’t raise taxes without a plan of how to spend the money.

 

But that’s exactly what voters in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are being asked to approve this Nov. 6.

 

Come election day, all voters in Allegheny County will be confronted with what’s been called the Children’s Fund, a referendum asking for a voluntary 5% property tax hike that allegedly would go to pay for early learning, after-school programs and healthy meals for kids.

 

But there are no details about who will provide these services, who will be responsible for the money, exactly what else the money might be used for or almost anything substantive about it.

 

It’s just a check with “For Kids” scrawled in the Memo and everything else left blank.

 

The plan is highly controversial drawing criticism from across the Mon Valley including school directors, education advocates and even progressive groups like the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN).

 

Here are the top five reasons you should vote NO on the referendum:

 

1) It Raises Taxes Without Stipulating Where the Money Goes

 

Here’s what we do know.

 

The Children’s Fund would be financed by 0.25 mills of property tax — $25 on each $100,000 of assessed value, beginning Jan. 1.

 

That’s expected to generate roughly $18 million a year that would begin to be distributed in 2020.

 

If approved, it would change the county Home Rule Charter to establish the fund as part of county government. It would create a new office under the supervision of the county manager.

A Citizens’ Advisory Commission would “review and advise” the work of the new office, according to the proposed charter amendment.

 

However, County Council and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald would have to do the work of actually creating all this stuff. They’d have to pass an ordinance establishing how this all works, what powers the advisory commission has, etc. They would have to determine whether the money goes to existing programs or new ones. They’d have to set up audits of the money every five years, conduct a study to recommend goals and a focus for how the funding is spent.

 

That’s an awful lot left undecided.

 

It makes no sense for voters to hand over the money BEFORE we figure all this other stuff out.

 

It’s not at all how good government works.

 

You’re supposed to define a problem or need and then come up with a plan to meet that need. You prepare a budget that justifies raising taxes and then you vote on it.

 

This is exactly the opposite. We’re getting the money before the plan of how to spend it.

 

That’s a recipe for fraud and financial mismanagement.

 

 

2) It’s Unclear Who Would Be In Charge of the Money

 

Who would be accountable for this money?

 

We know who gets to decide this – County Council and the Chief Executive. But we don’t know who they will pick or what powers they’ll delegate to these people. Nor do we know what kind of oversight there will be or what kind of regulations will exist for how it can be spent.

 

This is a blind statement of trust.

 

It’s like saying – “Here’s $18 million. Go buy us something nice.”

 

What if they mismanage the money? And what would that even mean for money with so few strings attached? And how would we know? How transparent would this process be?

 

It’s kind of hard to approve such a plan with so many variables up in the air.

 

3) The Campaign was Not Grass Roots

 

To hear supporters talk, you’d think this was a bottom up crusade created by, organized by and conducted by everyday citizens from our communities.

 

It wasn’t.

 

Sure, volunteers for the Children’s Fund went door-to-door to collect more than 40,000 signatures from voters last summer.

 

But they weren’t all volunteers.

 

 

Financial documents show that the whole initiative has been funded by various nonprofit organizations that could, themselves, become beneficiaries of this same fund.

 

 

According to the Children’s Fund’s own campaign finance report, as of June there were three nonprofit corporations who donated $427,000 to the campaign: the Human Services Center of Turtle Creek gave $160,000, Pressley Ridge Foundation gave $150,000, and Allies for Children gave a donation of $45,000 and another for $72,000.

 

That’s like McDonalds spending a hundred thousand dollars to fix up the school cafeterias so it could land a multi-million dollar annual contract!

 

It’s a huge conflict of interest.

 

At very least, it’s purposefully misleading.

 

Many of those “volunteers” gathering signatures weren’t working for free. They were part of the $100,000 spent by the campaign to hire Vote Goal Organizing for paid signature collectors.

 

That doesn’t look like charity. It looks like philanthrocapitalism – when corporations try to disguise grabs for power and profit as philanthropy.

 

Corporations – even so-called nonprofit corporations – rarely do things out of sheer goodness. They’re acting in the best interest of the company.

 

I see no reason to think this “Children’s Fund” is any different.

 

4) It Works Around Instead of With Local Government

 

Though almost everyone agrees with the stated goals of the Children’s Fund, many organizations and government officials complained that they were not consulted and made a part of the process.

 

 

Two Pittsburgh Public School directors went on record in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about a lack of communication.

 

“First and foremost, we have not had any conversations with the organizers of the referendum,” board president Regina Holley said. “There are lots of ifs and whats that have not been answered.”

 

Kevin Carter, another city school director added, “In my role as a school board member, they didn’t talk to us about this at all.”

 

“When you leave your largest school district in the region out of this conversation, are you doing this around children?” he asked, citing that the district serves 25,000 students daily.

 

This has been a common thread among officials. No one wants to say they’re against collecting money that’s ostensibly for the benefit of children, but it’s hard to manage the money if you’re not part of the process.

 

And it’s not just protocol. Many are worried that this lack of communication may be emblematic of how the fund will be run. If organizers aren’t willing to work with local governments to get the job done, how will they know what each community needs? How will they meet those needs? Is that even what the fund will really be about?

 

Richard Livingston, Clairton school board president, noted concern that the money collected might not be spent evenly throughout the county. For all he knows, it could just be spent in the city or in select areas.

 

Indeed, this is not the best way to start any endeavor funded by all, for the benefit of all children.

 

 

5) It’s Redundant

 

While it’s true that the county could use more funding to meet the needs of students, numerous organizations already exist that attempt to provide these services.

 

 

There are a plethora of Pre-K, after school tutoring and meal services in the Mon Valley. In fact, much of this is done at the county’s various neighborhood schools.

 

If organizers were only concerned with meeting these needs, why form an office within county government that would have an appointed advisory commission? Why not just increase the funding at the local schools and/or organizations already doing this work?

 

In fact, this is exactly the reason the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network is against the initiative.

 

According to the organization’s statement:

 

 

“At PIIN, we believe that the faith community is a sacred partner with our public schools, and we have long been supportive of both the community schools model and increasing state funding to provide an excellent, high-quality education to every child in our region. We believe in funding for early childhood learning, after school programs, and nutritious meals. However, we cannot support a ballot initiative that creates an unnecessary entity, with an unknown advisory board, and an unclear process for directing our tax dollars.

 

This is why we are urging our membership to reject the Allegheny County Children’s Fund Initiative at the polls this November.”

 

 

 

Another related organization, Great Public Schools-Pittsburgh, also released a statement with “several specific concerns” about the potential fund. These include how the money would be distributed, which organizations would benefit from it, and questions about its redundancy.

 

Several pre-K programs already exist but are not fully funded, the organization noted. Why don’t we just fund them?

 

The group is a coalition of the Education Rights Network, One Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, PIIN, and the Service Employees International Union.

 

The group’s statement noted concerns but fell short of urging an outright NO vote.

 


The bottom line is that many people are concerned about inadequate funding for children’s programs.

 

But this “Children’s Fund” is not a solution to that problem.

 

This is the creation of another bureaucracy that can take our tax dollars and do almost whatever it wants with them.

 

There is no guarantee it will help kids.

 

In fact, it looks a lot more like a power and money grab by corporate interests, many of whom would prefer to privatize our school system.

 

This November, when you go to the polls, do the right thing for our kids.

 

Vote NO on the Allegheny County Children’s Fund.

 

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12 thoughts on “Five Reasons to Vote NO on the Allegheny County Children’s Fund

  1. “Several pre-K programs already exist but are not fully funded, the organization noted. Why don’t we just fund them?” – This is exactly what the fund is supposed to do! You are completely wrong on this. Your main argument makes no sense. Most of the organizations on the steering committee aren’t even service providers.

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    • Christine, respectfully, the Children’s Fund does NOT fund already existing organizations. It creates a new county level office that can use the money in any way it sees fit. None of the laws governing this new county office have been written yet and the Children’s Fund charter stipulates very little. All of this could have been avoided but organizers wanted this to be something separate and new. That’s no accident. It offers the opportunity for lots of nefarious people to cash in on our tax dollars without helping our kids.

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  2. Steven, Thanks for your views regarding Our Kids. Our Commitment. The Allegheny County Children’s Fund initiative. I appreciate you comments but would respectfully disagree with your characterization of the fund. This fund would dedicate the revenue (an additional 0.25 mills of real estate tax, which would generate approximately $18 million annually) to early childhood learning, after school programs and meals for children. You and I both know there is a shortage of funding for these programs and thousands upon thousands of kids simply do not have access. The Allegheny County Children’s Fund would be a great way to support these programs and, at the same time, the work that great teachers, like you, are doing in the classroom each day. In other words, it is a smart compliment to the investments we are already making in public education. This fund is a public fund and fully accountable to the residents of Allegheny County. Every decision about the fund would, according to the proposed amendment to the Allegheny County Home Rule Charter, be made through public process and by elected county officials, specifically the County Executive and County Council, who are held accountable through democratic elections. The idea of a new and separate office is smart; it keeps overhead down, increases public visibility and, thereby accountability. The proposed amendment to the Allegheny County Home Rule Charter calls for annual audits, which helps ensure proper use of the funds, and a report to the public on how well the fund is serving children. With all that in mind, I would respectfully suggest you reconsider the notion of a slush fund.

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    • Thanks for responding, Patrick Dowd. I know you’re a major force behind this initiative. Perhaps you could help clarify something: why isn’t the plan to give this money directly to the public schools and other service organizations already doing the work the Children’s Fund is meant to support? Why create a new county office that then decides where the money goes and how specifically it is used?

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  3. Steven, I wrote pretty much the same thing on your FB page.

    I do sincerely appreciate that you weighed in. We — and that is defined on the website — wanted this to be a public fund from its creation through implementation and beyond. We value the public discussion most and having folks take it seriously, as you and others have, is most important. I don’t want to get into a tit-for-tat with you about the policy. You have stated your position unequivocally and somewhat harshly. That is not a criticism, it is just clear you have made up your mind. Steven, please know that the folks who have been working on this are as passionate about kids, education, public education and public process as I believe you are. Knock the policy, attack it logically or otherwise, but the use of the term slush fund implies malice or ill will. Nothing could be further from the truth of our intentions. Let’s agree to meet up in November. At that time we can either have a discussion about the long and very public implementation of this or we can talk about how you and others want to generate $18 million or more for our kids here in Allegheny County. And, before you shoot back at me, I mean that with the utmost of sincerity. Thanks again.

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    • Patrick, you can’t have it both ways. You don’t get to tone police critics and then refuse to answer their questions and concerns. There are a lot of grassroots organizations questioning this initiative – The Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, the Education Rights Network and Great Public Schools – Pittsburgh. There are a lot of activists, community members and lawmakers questioning this. If you really want to remove doubts, why not answer our questions beginning with the ones I mentioned above: why isn’t the plan to give this money directly to the public schools and other service organizations already doing the work the Children’s Fund is meant to support? Why create a new county office that then decides where the money goes and how specifically it is used?

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    • Moreover, I’d really like an answer to Rachel Fielder Schlosser’s comment from a Facebook thread on this issue.

      She writes:
      “Patrick Dowd – you keep saying that the fund would go to pay for early childhood learning, after school programs and meals. And while the amendment does state that these three areas will be “included” it does not say “limited to.” Therefore, can you tell us some of the other areas you expect the fund to be directed to as well?”

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    • Then why were l the principals serving these needs not involved? Why were so many stepa not fleshed out? Why leave a new tax so vague? Not due dilligence in my book, not transparent enough.

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  4. These programs for children have government funding . why should we as homeowners have to pay. Let the slumlords with all their rental properties pay.

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  5. They’re running the same game in Oakland CA. Here’s what I wrote about it:

    I am opposed to The Children’s Initiative of 2018. I don’t believe that we should increase taxes on housing while we are in the midst of a housing affordability crisis, especially to create a fund that will be under the Mayor’s control, with no plan on how this money will actually improve early childhood education in Oakland.

    This tax is a regressive tax. Every parcel of land in Oakland will be assessed a tax, commercial parcels based on their size, single residence units $198, and multi unit residences $135 per unit. Although this tax will only be levied on property owners we know that most landlords will pass this cost on to their renters. Any tax that adds to Oakland’s skyrocketing housing costs is ill-advised at this time.

    Oakland already has two early childhood education systems. We have a federally funded city-run head start program and we have Early Children Education Centers and Transitional Kindergarten programs run by OUSD. This initiative does not go directly to fund either of the existing programs, instead 62% will be used to create a Children’s Initiative Fund and 31% to create an Oakland Promise Fund.

    It is hard to determine how this money would be used. There is no language in the initiative about who will manage the Oakland Promise Fund, but we can assume it will be managed by Oakland Promise. Oakland Promise is run by the Oakland Public Education Fund, which like GO was started and is heavily funded by the Rogers Family Foundation. As a private non-profit there is no community control or oversight over Oakland Promise, they are not required to report to the community. Oakland Promise supports and promotes charter schools and privatization. Currently, although Oakland Promise receives some funding from the city and OUSD, but most of its funding comes from philanthropy. It is not proper to fund Oakland Promise directly with tax dollars. The Children’s Initiative Fund will be managed by a committee appointed by the Mayor for 3-year terms. Committee members are not required to be Oakland residents. This mayoral committee will have the sole authority over how this fund will be used. If passed this parcel tax will raise millions of dollars a year and instead of it going directly to OUSD or Oakland Head Start it will be controlled by people and organizations politically connected to the Mayor.

    I encourage everyone to join me in voting no on Mayor Schaff’s The Children’s Initiative of 2018. We cannot afford a regressive tax that will increase housing costs in order to fund the Mayor’s pet project that continues to fund the privatization of public education with no community oversight.

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  6. If I vote yes in November, I want my money to go to buy the YMCA IN WILMERDING, and turn it into a Community Facility, to be used for pre school, after school programs, Children’s Shelter, Family Shelter, Health Care Center for People and Families in need. Plus a Community Use Center. Big Ideas for Big Great Community.

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