EPLC Education Notebook – Friday, March 25, 2011

Content in this edition:
Pennsylvania Policymakers
– House
– Senate

State Board of Education
Reports

EPLC News
Announcements
Datebook

The EPLC Education Notebook (current and past editions) also is available by visiting the EPLC website at http://www.eplc.org/category/education-notebook/.

PENNSYLVANIA POLICYMAKERS

House

On March 15, the House Democratic Policy Committee held a public hearing in Erie on school vouchers.  Lawmakers received testimony from representatives of the Erie City School District, REACH Alliance, Institute of Justice, Students First, and Montessori Regional Charter School.  In addition, the committee heard presenters speaking on behalf of the Erie branch NAACP, ACLU of PA, and the Northwest PA Chapter of United for Separation of Church and State. The Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Erie, Erie First Christian Academy, Girard Alliance Christian Academy, and the Leadership Christian Academy also provided testimony on behalf of private and parochial schools.  For more information, click here.

On March 22, the House Labor and Industry Committee held a public hearing to discuss the prevailing wage law in Pennsylvania.  Among the testifiers, the committee heard from representatives of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) and school superintendents, who support repealing the “Prevailing Wage Act” entirely as well as legislation that would exempt school districts or give them an opt- out provision.  For additional information on the hearing or to request a copy of the testimony, contact Chairman Ron Miller (R-93) at 717-783-8389 or email rmiller@pahousegop.com .

Senate

On March 16, the Presidents and Chancellor of the four State-Related Universities (University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University, Temple University and Lincoln University) testified at a budget hearing before the Senate Appropriations CommitteeAnn Weaver Hart, President of Temple University, Dr. Ivory Nelson, President of Lincoln University, Mark A. Nordenberg, Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, and Graham Spanier, President of Penn State University spoke to the negative impact of the Governor’s proposed budget for higher education on Pennsylvania students, families, and economy.  Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart remarked that if Governor Corbett’s budget proposal is approved, it would mean a 44% increase in tuition for their undergraduates. . Likewise, Dr. Ivory Nelson, President of Lincoln University noted that the 50 % reduction in state support represents 11% of their overall operating budget.  Lincoln University would have to increase room and board fees by 17.4%.  Mark Nordenberg, Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, said that the cuts to higher education are “deep and disproportionate and they are damaging to some of the most productive institutions in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”   Graham Spanier, President of Penn State University, reminded lawmakers that appropriations for the state-relateds in actual dollars have been flat over the last decade and have had three midyear rescissions since 2000.  He, like the other university presidents and chancellor, predicted that if the proposed budget passes, Penn State would also increase tuition and in addition need to make very deep cuts to programs such as Agriculture Research and Cooperative Extension which would result in the elimination of over 400 jobs.
On March 21, representatives from the two state pension systems, the State Employees Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS), testified before the Senate Appropriation Committee. Later the same day, SERS and PSERS testified at the House Appropriations Committee hearing. This summary includes issues that were raised at each of the legislative budget hearings.  Legislators questioned the impact of freezing teacher salaries and how that would affect the PSERS fund.  Melva Vogler, Chairman of PSERS, indicated that it would not have much impact.  Members asked what impact Act 120 of 2010 and the elimination of Option 4 had in terms of saving money.  Brian Carl, Chief Financial Officer PSERS, said that it will save $5.87 billion over thirty years.  He noted that Act 120 deferred $276 million in FY 2011-2012, which is divided among the state ($152 million) and schools ($124 million).  For FY 2012-2013, $2.52 billion is deferred with a split of $1.386 billion for the state, $1.134 billion for the schools. In addition, lawmakers wanted to know how well the- systems were doing with their investment returns.  PSERS testified that their rate of return was 14%. Compared to other similar size systems in other states, PSERS ranks in the top 15th percentile. Committee members wanted to know the effect of the reduced employer contribution rate down to 5% from the expected 8% had on the system.  PSERS responded by saying that it is selling assets to pay benefits, as $3.2 billion more is going out than coming in. To read PSERS report on the financial, actuarial and investment operations and budgetary projections for FY 2011-2012 presented to the House Appropriation Committee, click here.

On March 22, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on Keystone Exams, Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS) and the new Four-Year Cohort Graduation Rate.  Representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) presented a status report on the Keystone Exam development and implementation through 2010-2011.  Under the Governor’s proposed budget for FY 2011-2012, Keystone Exams will be placed on a one-year hold.  According to the testimony, this decision was made for two reasons:  costs associated with exam development and the fact schools need more time to align their curriculum and instruction to more rigorous assessments.

Committee members were then briefed on PVAAS, which is a statistical analysis of PSSA assessment data, and provides districts and their schools with value-added (growth) and student level projection information.  PVAAS reports provide indicators of the effectiveness of a district/LEA/school in making academic progress with students.  The newly released format, according to PDE, is a more objective and precise way to measure student progress.  

In addition to making PVAAS data available to the public, PDE has also recently published all district, charter and cyber charter high schools’ Four Year Cohort Graduation Rates.  This new calculation represents the number of students who graduate in a given year with a regular diploma divided by the number of high school students who entered four year earlier with adjustment each year for students who transfer in an out. 

To watch the video of the hearing and to read the testimony, click here.

On March 22, the chairmen of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Jeff Piccola (R-15) and Senator Andrew Dinniman (D-19), announced the introduction of an 18 bill package aimed at providing mandate relief for school districts.  The following bills were introduced: 

Senate Bill 202 (Sen. Dinniman, D-19) would allow alternative certification pathways for principals and teachers;
Senate Bill 293 (Sen. Eichelberger, R-30) would increase the thresholds for bidding contracts to $25,000;
Senate Bill 296 (Sen. Brubaker R-36) would increase the thresholds for bidding contracts to $25,000;
Senate Bill 329 (Sen. Dinniman, D-19) would suspend non-essential reports from districts to PDE in years in which state education funding declines;
Senate Bill 537 (Sen. Rafferty, R-44) would require a 2/3 vote by school boards to raise property taxes;
Senate Bill 612 (Sen. Folmer, R-48) would allow school districts to furlough for economic reasons and require proportionate reduction of administrators;
Senate Bill 801 (Sen. Waugh, R-28) would allow districts to bid single prime;
Senate Bill 802 (Sen. Piccola (R-15) would allow school districts to hire either school certified nurses or registered nurses;
Senate Bill 803 (Sen. Piccola, R-15) would allow districts to advertise from a menu of options including the internet;
Senate Bill 814 (Sen. Corman, R-34) would reauthorize the Mandate Waivers program and allow bidding for school construction projects both multi-prime and single prime;
Senate Bill 844 (Sen. Dinniman, D-19) would allow districts that are making AYP and showing adequate PVAAS growth be waived from PILS administrator training requirements;
Senate Bill 857 (Sen. Smucker, R-13) would repeal language that requires school districts to use increases in basic education funding for new programs and expansion of existing programs;
Senate Bill 858 (Sen. Waugh, R-28) would allow districts to hire certificated superintendents or candidates who have degrees in business or finance;
Senate Bill 869 Sen. Alloway (R-33) would no longer require school districts bordering Pennsylvania to provide transportation for students to attend out of state private schools;
Senate Bill 870 (Sen. Eichelberger, R-30) would repeal sections of the School Code that require 10 paid sick days and paid sabbatical leaves;
Senate Bill 871 (Sen. Brubaker, R-36) would suspend continuing education and professional development for teachers for 2 years;
Senate Bill 872 (Sen. Brubaker, R-36) would remove requirements for the establishment of concurrent enrollment committees and quarterly meetings;
Senate Bill 873 (Sen. Brubaker, R-36) would require the Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education to review and overhaul the PlanCon process for school construction and reimbursement.

The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to consider this package of bills on April 5.

On March 23, John Cavanaugh, Chancellor of the State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee.  Cavanaugh said his first priority is to ensure that the educational opportunities and the education of PASSHE students are not disrupted by the drastic cuts as proposed by Governor Corbett.  The Governor’s proposed budget would take the PASSHE back to the level of funding that it received in 1983-84, the year it was created by the legislature.  Committee members expressed concern about the impact of the Governor’s proposed budget on tuition, program/ course offerings, and faculty layoffs.   Others wanted to know about the effect this proposed budget would have on teacher training and basic education reform initiatives since sixty percent of teachers in Pennsylvania come from PASSHE schools.  Cavanaugh responded that the proposed cuts translate to about $2,200 per student.  According to the Chancellor, the gap is too large to close with just a tuition increase.  He also noted that 2,600 jobs would need to be eliminated and curriculum offerings would need to be curtailed or cut, resulting in students taking longer to graduate.  Cavanaugh testified that the PASSHE has considered differential tuition policies, changing out- of- state tuition fees, and increasing distance education offerings.  A mandate relief package of bills for higher education which would address certain regulatory constraints on such practices like purchasing consortia and fund raising is expected to be introduced next week in the Senate.  For additional information on the Senate Appropriation Committee budget hearings, click here.   

STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION

Dr. Carolyn Dumaresq, Deputy Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education gave an update on the pilot program testing the newly developed teacher evaluation system, the recently released data on the 4-year cohort graduation rate, and this spring’s Keystone Exams in Algebra I, Literature and Biology.  Reports were also given on the Common Core Transition outlining the activities associated with aligning the existing academic standards to the PA common core standards.

The Council of Higher Education heard from Sandra Edmunds, Deputy Secretary for Postsecondary and Higher Education, who highlighted the changes to the new certification programs under Chapter 49.2 regulations and the planned review of the teacher preparation programs.  Details were provided concerning the impact of Act 104 of 2010 which requires post-secondary institutions to implement sexual violence awareness education programs.  An update was also given on the Advisory Committee formed to address the issue of textbook affordability which will include efforts to support the availability and use of digital textbooks by 2020.  Act 104 also provides for institutions of higher education to develop a program to permit older adults to enroll in higher education at no charge.  The Department of Aging will be implementing this program in collaboration with the Department of Education.

The Council also heard reports about the alternative certification program funded by the Gates Foundation at the Pittsburgh School District, and details were provided on the college transfer and articulation program.  This program is designed to allow students to move smoothly among the Commonwealth’s institutions of higher education without losing time and money by reducing the loss of credits earned.  An update was given on the 2+2+2 Education and Workforce Development Initiatives.  This program was started in 2002 to develop integrated and seamless educational programs across secondary, two-year and four year post-secondary programs as a means to create a pipeline of highly skilled technical workers.

The State Board for Vocational Education heard a report which focused on student achievement at the Career and Technical Education Centers. The results were based on the 2010 PSSA of 11th grade students.  Although there is still significant room for improvement, the gains statewide in the last five years, particularly in math, have outpaced those of all 11th grade students statewide.  To review the materials distributed at the board meeting, click here.

REPORTS

A statewide Franklin and Marshall poll conducted in the days immediately following Governor Corbett’s    2011-12 budget proposal shows overwhelming opposition to his proposed cuts in public school funding.  The poll asked respondents which of 14 measures they support “as a way for the state of Pennsylvania to balance its budget.” 

“Reducing state funding for local school districts” came in last with support from only 19 percent of respondents.  Half the choices involved increasing taxes or fees and half involved cutting programs, services, and state employees. There was more support for all the options, including raising taxes and fees, than there was for cutting school funding.

To view the summary of findings in the Franklin and Marshall poll, click here.

EPLC NEWS

EPLC will host the State College Region Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum on the Governor’s Proposed Budget for Early Education, K-12 and Higher Education on March 30 (State College).  Visit www.eplc.org for more information. 

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Americans for the Arts Action Fund, in honor of the national Arts Education Month, is asking advocates to testify on behalf of arts education at your local school board meeting.   Supporters that sign up will be forwarded a link to a 35 minute training webinar on board of education advocacy.  To sign up, click here.

DATEBOOK

The Pennsylvania House will reconvene at 1:00 PM on Monday, April 4, 2011.

The Pennsylvania Senate will reconvene at 1:00 PM on Tuesday, April 5, 2011.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold a state budget hearing on the Department of Education on Tuesday, March 29 at 9:30 AM.

The House Appropriations Committee will hold state budget hearings as follows:

State-Related Universities on Monday, March 28 at 10:30 AM
State System of Higher Education on Monday, March 28 at 1:30 PM
PHEAA on Monday, March 28 at 2:30 PM
Department of Education on Tuesday, March 29 at 1:00 PM
Community Colleges on Wednesday, March 30 at 10:30 AM
Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology on Wednesday, March 30 at 11:30 AM

Senate Education Committee will hold a meeting on April 5 at 10:30 AM in Room 8, East Wing to consider the following mandate relief  bills: SB 202, SB 293, SB296, SB 329, SB 537, SB 612, SB 801, SB 802, SB 803, SB 814, SB844, SB 857, SB 858, SB 869, SB 870, SB 871, SB 872, and SB 873.

April 18 is the deadline for registering to vote in the Primary Election (Tuesday, May 17).

The 5th Annual national Student Teaching and Supervision Conference will be held Thursday, April 28- 29 at Slippery Rock University.  For more information, visit http://www.student-teacher-supervision.org.

For information on upcoming events, please visit www.eplc.org and click on “Events Calendar”.

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