Image courtesy of Our kids. Our commitment.

UPDATE, Aug. 8, 2018:

Yesterday, the Our kids. Our commitment. initiative turned in 63,499 signatures (well beyond the required threshold of 40,000) to meet the legal requirements to place the Allegheny County Children’s Fund on the next General Election ballot.

“We are so incredibly grateful for everyone who raised their hand to be part of this countywide conversation,” said Colleen Fedor, executive director of The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA and a steering committee member for Our kids. Our commitment., in a statement about getting the initiative on the ballot.

“The support has been amazing,” Fedor said. “This is just the beginning, but thanks to the nearly 64,000 people who signed their name, we are one step closer to creating an even brighter future for all kids in Allegheny County by ensuring they have better access to after school, early learning and nutrition programs.”

If the initiative is approved by voters in November, a fund will be created to offer kids living in Allegheny County increased access to after-school programs, early learning support and healthy meals.

See our original story, published May 30, 2018, below.

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Would you spend a little extra per year to help local kids grow up healthier and improve their well-being? Organizers of the new Our kids. Our commitment. Allegheny County Children’s Fund Initiative hope your answer is “yes.”

This citizen-run initiative launched today to begin collecting more than 40,000 signatures to qualify a question for the Nov. 6 general election ballot: Will you vote the Allegheny County Children’s Fund into law, requesting an amendment to the county’s Home Rule Charter creating a 0.25 millage rate increase to property taxes?

If the question makes the ballot and a simple majority votes “yes” in November, the measure will pass.

The cost is small, but the potential positive impact is large: A $25 increase annually on each $100,000 of assessed value, so someone owning a home at the county’s average market value of $137,000 would pay less than $30 toward the Fund each year.

That would generate approximately $18 million annually for early childhood education, after-school programs and good nutrition.

“This is about our kids,” said Patrick Dowd, a steering committee member of the initiative and executive director of Allies for Children, in a statement about the launch. “We believe that by giving our kids every opportunity to succeed, we’re giving our region a brighter future. Investing in our kids is an investment that will pay dividends for generations to come.”

If the Fund is voted into law, the Office of the Allegheny County Children’s Fund will be established with a small staff guided by a diverse citizens’ advisory council comprised of volunteers. The staff would develop a strategic plan, goals and a competitive process for the distribution of the funds.

Each year, the County Manager would incorporate the spending of the Allegheny County Children’s Fund into the annual budget of the County Executive, approved by the County Council. The fund would be financially audited by a third-party and all funding allocations would be reported online for the public to see.

Similar funds exist in about 30 counties across the country in states including Missouri, Florida, Texas, Ohio and California, according to the Fund’s organizers.

“When PUMP was presented with an opportunity to be involved in an effort to create more access for kids to start learning earlier, attend after-school programs and have healthier meals, we were absolutely all in,” said Lindsay Cashman, advocacy and public policy coordinator at PUMP and a steering committee member of Our kids. Our commitment. “We believe our future starts now. It’s time to make a commitment to all our kids across the county by creating the Allegheny County Children’s Fund.”

Here’s how the ballot question will read if enough signatures are gathered:

“Shall the Allegheny County Home Rule Charter 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?”

On June 19, the group will host a kick-off signing event. Community members are invited to attend and sign the petition. Additional signing events are planned through Aug. 7, the cutoff date for signatures.

“We need everyone to raise their hands and commit to supporting our kids,” said Shenay Jeffrey, a board member at PUMP and the organization’s advocacy and public policy committee chair.

Advocates of the Fund say they have broad support from throughout the community, but reservations about the plan also exist: The Post-Gazette reports today that while Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald believes in the value of finding additional funding for early learning, he “disagreed with funding it through increased property taxes.”

They also quote Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner urging “caution” and suggesting that the county council should have the opportunity to weigh in on the subject.

And the Mayor? “In discussions with Mr. Dowd, Mayor Peduto has said his preference would be that the fund be proposed for the city only, and if successful be scaled up over time to include Allegheny County,” the P-G writes, quoting Timothy McNulty, Mayor Peduto’s spokesman.

Melissa Rayworth

Kidsburgh Editor Melissa Rayworth specializes in stories about culture, gender, design and parenting. She has written for a variety of outlets in the U.S. and Asia, and is a frequent contributor to The...