HARRISBURG — As part of The Incline‘s elections coverage, we want know what *you want to know* about voting and the midterms in Pennsylvania.
We put a call out for questions earlier this week and have already received some great ones. Keep ’em coming until Nov. 6 (Election Day), and remember to register or check your voter status before Oct. 9.
Now, on to the questions.
“If I want to vote libertarian, can I be registered Independent, or is it like the primaries where I have to affiliate with Democrats or Republicans?”
You can vote for any candidate you want, regardless of your affiliation, in a general election.
If you don’t believe me, here’s a spokesperson for the Pa. Department of State saying the same thing: “All registered voters may cast ballots for the candidates of their choice — whatever party — in the general elections.”
As the question asker correctly noted, Pennsylvania has partisan primaries — meaning to vote for a Republican or Democrat, you have to be registered to that party. There’s a move happening in the General Assembly to open primaries to third-party and non-affiliated voters, but there’s no chance that could happen before Nov. 6, 2018.
“What do state-level candidates (gubernatorial/legislators) say about early learning?”
We went back to the question asker to narrow this question and landed on universal, free pre-K. For the sake of this piece, we’ll focus on the gubernatorial candidates’ stances.
Democrat Tom Wolf
Wolf made education the cornerstone of his first run for governor. In his 2018-19 budget proposal, he called for a $40 million increase for pre-K programs.
In the end, the General Assembly passed a bill with a $25 million increase: $20 million more for Pre-K Counts and $5 million more for Head Start.
Pre-K Counts is a grant program administered by the state Department of Education to benefit low-income families. The department awards grants to school districts, high-quality childcare and Head Start programs, and nursery schools, which in turn allows families whose income is at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty rate. (That’s $75,300 for a family of four.)
Head Start is a federal program that awards grants to providers who primarily serve kids from low-income families. Pennsylvania provides additional money to grantees through Head Start Supplemental Assistance.
Republican Scott Wagner
Wagner released an education plan this summer that said he “will work with the General Assembly to continue this increase in funding for Pre-K, working toward early education access for all Pennsylvania children.”
In a questionnaire returned to the United Way, Wagner’s campaign wrote, “The most effective way to ensure there is adequate funding for such programs is to harness private funding.”
That would include expanding the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, which allows private businesses to get a tax break of up to $200,000 for funding pre-K scholarships.
Wagner’s education plan also calls for the creation of a social impact bond “that will provide upfront financing to support and expand those Pre-K programs that have been ranked by DHS as a 3 or 4-star educational facility, guaranteeing these vital learning centers have the support they need to enroll more students.”
In the United Way questionnaire, Wagner added that these bonds “inject private sector dollars and accountability into the pre-k process and allow state taxpayers to know that they will only be on the hook for investments that have worked.”
Social impact bonds are a little controversial. In Utah, Goldman Sachs and the J.B. & M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation agreed to fund 3,500 pre-K seats for a $7 million investment. In turn, the school district and other parties involved agreed that success would be measured by the number of “at-risk” students who avoided special education services in elementary school. Critics have questioned whether this is truly a measure of how well the program works or whether private entities should have a say in setting standards for public education.