Children’s Fund supporters raise more than $1 million in advance of election

Pittsburgh Post Gazette – The campaign for an Allegheny County Children’s Fund is approaching $1 million in spending, thanks to six-figure donations from advocacy and social service agencies, plus nearly that much from a local bank.

The proposed fund — which would pay for early learning, after-school programs and nutritious meals for kids — will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot in Allegheny County. It would raise an estimated $18 million annually via a proposed 0.25-mill property tax increase, or $25 per every $100,000 of assessed value.

Campaign finance reports show that backers of the fund have raised more than $1 million and spent more than $856,000 in its efforts, as of last week.

Financial supporters of the initiative include nonprofits PUMP, YWCA Greater Pittsburgh, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Pressley Ridge Foundation and the Turtle Creek-based Human Services Center Corp., which all contributed more than $100,000.

Filings also show a $75,000 contribution from PNC Bank.

North Side-based Allies for Children, which advocates on education and health policy issues for children, also made more than $70,000 worth of in-kind contributions.

Other nonprofit support came from Pressley Ridge, which provides mental health, foster care services and residential treatment facilities; early childhood organization Trying Together; The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania; and after-school and summer program Higher Achievement, according to filings from the Allegheny County Board of Elections that cover May through Oct. 22, the final filing prior to the election.

Supporters of the fund have said it would aid programs proven to help children where there is currently not enough state and federal funding to cover every child who needs services. They have also pointed to a number of other cities and counties with similar funds.

“We have supported [this initiative] because we know from research and those we work with daily that early learning, after-school programs and nutritious meals are services that are critical to the success of our children,” Bob Nelkin, president and CEO, United Way of Southwestern PA, said in a statement Friday.

According to financial filings, the group’s expenditures included Washington, D.C.-based Vote Goal Organizing, Inc. for “field consulting costs,” local lobbying and consulting firm The Carey Group for communications costs, Downtown law firm Cohen & Grigsby and marketing firm Blender.

Critics such as Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, have said they do not support funding such programs through a property tax increase.

A number of public school and education advocates have also said they do not oppose the programs at issue, but have said they haven’t heard from backers of the measure or question the proposed structure of how the funds would be overseen — by a county-run office with an appointed advisory board.

It is also opposed by the conservative Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, which opposed the measure because of the proposed tax increase, as well as questioning how the money will be distributed and asking why the county should be involved with services that are provided by school districts.

Jesse McLean Jr., executive director of Western Pennsylvania for Pressley Ridge, said his organization is involved in the effort because if the fund is approved, it could aid the foster children his agency serves, though it would not directly financially aid his organization, he said.

“It wouldn’t financially benefit our organization, but it would create a certain level of success for the kids we serve,” he said.

Patrick Dowd, executive director of Allies for Children and a leading advocate for the proposed fund, said the steering committee of 10 organizations advocating for the fund aimed to have a large number of organizations that did not have a financial self-interest in its approval. A number of the advocacy organizations on the steering committee and who contributed financially to the campaign do not provide direct services. Those providers that do, Mr. Dowd said, would not have any advantage in providing those services if the fund is approved by voters.

“We see this as a fully competitive process,” he said.

The Human Services Center Corp., which serves 37 Mon Valley communities, runs an after-school program, among other services, but Executive Director Dave Coplan said his organization would not directly benefit necessarily from the fund.

The organization’s after-school program serves about 100 children, and 150 in the summer.

“It’s possible that we could be an applicant for funds in the future if this passed,” though it is also possible that they wouldn’t be, depending on the request for proposals process, he said.

Mr. Coplan said his organization supports a Children’s Fund for the needs of the kids in Allegheny County, “recognizing that we might not ever get a penny of money from a fund if it is established.”

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