By Kevin Zwick
HARRISBURG (Feb. 11) – The House Education Committee on Monday approved a bill to set up a special education funding commission, a proposal identical to a measure last year prior to divisive charter school language was added to it that stalled the bill.
House Bill 2, sponsored by Rep. Bernie O’Neill, R-Bucks, was reported out of committee unanimously, with bi-partisan calls for the bill to move cleanly through the Legislature.
“I hope that this bill will be able to move forward in the House and ultimately in the Senate without having a lot of other things that really aren’t germane to it amended into it,” said Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks. “That was the problem we had in the last session, and I hope we won’t have it this session because this is needed legislation.”
O’Neill, who worked with Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, last session to shepherd the proposal, said there is an agreement with those working on the issue in the Senate that the bill would move forward with no amendments.
“They told me to get it over to them as soon as possible,” he said.
During the fiscal year-end flurry to approve a budget in June, the House passed a charter school bill, with which the Senate disagreed, and amended its own language to the prior version of the special education funding commission bill. Both chambers remained at an impasse regarding charters, and instead of holding up the state budget to pass charter school reform, Gov. Tom Corbett and legislative leaders agreed to discuss the issue at a later time.
As a result of the kerfuffle over charter school language, the proposal to create a special education funding commission was sidetracked.
The bill would create a 15-member commission to develop a funding formula to determine the distribution for any increases in special education funding over the level of funding for the 2010-11 school year.
The formula would include three funding tiers, based on the severity of a student’s disability.
The commission members would include majority and minority chairs of the House and Senate education committees, two legislators from each of the four caucuses, the Secretary of Education, the Budget Secretary and the Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. The commission would issue a report by the end of September 2013.
According to a bill summary supplied at the meeting, current special education funding assumes that 16 percent of the average daily membership of each school district needs special education funding, with 15 percent with mild disabilities and 1 percent with severe disabilities. The summary says that presumption is based on the special education funding enrollment statewide average of 15.5 percent, not on actual education funding needs of each school district.
In other business, the committee unanimously approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Justin Simmons, R-Lehigh, to require school districts to include the Megan’s Law website on any transportation-related communication distributed to students, parents and the public and on the district’s webpage.
Simmons said House Bill 555 would give parents information of where registered sex offenders live relative to where students are dropped off by school buses. He said the bill was spurred by complaints of a parent in his district who said children were being dropped off at a bus stop in front of the home of a registered sex offender.
“While I do believe we need to address this growing problem throughout our commonwealth, it is clear that we don’t yet have an enforcement mechanism for determining safe bus stops with regard to amount of registered sex offenders in each municipality,” he said. He said he proposed legislation last year to include homes of registered sex offenders in definition of a hazardous walking area.
PennDOT reviews requests about hazardous walking areas, but its regulations do not address hazards other than road or traffic conditions, according to its website.
The committee also unanimously approved House Resolution 53 to create a commission to gather information and produce a report by the end of September 2013 regarding school safety in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“I know that the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School when it was reported horrified each of us, and each of us wanna act quickly,” said sponsor Rep. Gary Day, R-Lehigh. “We have different remedies each one of us. But this select committee will allow the Legislature to develop the best conclusions. I think reasonable governmental action on this should be receptive, inclusive and apolitical.”