EPLC Education Notebook – Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Content in this edition:
Transition to Corbett Administration
Pennsylvania Policymakers
– Legislature
– Senate
– House
Research and Reports

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


Governor-Elect Tom Corbett named Pittsburgh attorney Bill Ward to serve as his chief of staff.  Ward served as Corbett’s top deputy during his first stint in the Attorney General’s Office, and from 1997 to 2003, as chairman of the Board of Probation and Parole for Governor Tom Ridge.  Governor-Elect Corbett continues to make other appointments but has not indicated an appointment for Secretary of Education.



January 4 was swearing-in day for the legislature.  All members of the House and 25 members of the Senate were sworn in for the 2011-12 legislative session.  The largest new contingent belongs to the House Republican caucus, which welcomed 21 new members as part of its majority.  Republican state Rep. Sam Smith (R-66) was elected House speaker.  Eight freshmen Democrats also joined the state House.  Three newcomers took the oath in the state Senate, all Democrats.  Senator Joe Scarnati (R-25) was re-elected as Senate President Pro Tempore.   Republicans hold a 112-90 (one open seat) majority in the Pennsylvania House and a 30-19 (one open seat) majority in the state Senate.


Republican Caucus leaders in the Senate have announced committee chairs for the new legislative session.  The Republican chair of the Senate Education Committee remains the same as last session — Senator Jeff Piccola (R-15).

On January 4, Senator Jeffrey Piccola (R-15), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee was interviewed in a podcast and he previewed the committee’s education agenda.  Sen. Piccola confirmed that the two major matters that the committee will be considering are an opportunity grant program – also referred to as a voucher program – and expansion of the charter school law.  He went on to address other issues and programs that he feels will address accountability concerns.  Sen. Piccola said that the committee will be looking at mandate relief for schools affected by the “dramatic cuts in education [that are expected]”, and a new voucher program that will dovetail the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. 

Senate President Pro Tempore and Lieutenant Governor Joe Scarnati announced on January 5, that the special election for the 11th Senatorial District previously held by State Senator Michael O’Pake will take place on March 15, 2011.  Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Lieutenant Governor is responsible for announcing the date of a special election.  Senator Michael O’Pake (D-Berks) passed away on December 27, 2010.

The Senate is in recess until 10:00 a.m. on January 18, 2011. 


The House is in recess until 11:00 a.m. on January 18, 2011.


Six Pennsylvania colleges and universities are among the 100 best values in public colleges nationwide, according to a report released January 4.  The annual list by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine ranked the University of Pittsburgh 28th, the highest ranked Pennsylvania school.  Other Pennsylvania schools in the top 100 and their national rankings: Penn State University at University Park, 44; West Chester University, 71; Bloomsburg University, 88; Temple University, 94; and Millersville University, 99.  Kiplinger’s selects what it says are four-year public institutions that deliver the best education at the best prices.  The magazine considered such criteria as tuition; average student-loan debt of graduates; financial aid availability for in-state and out-of-state students; test scores of incoming freshmen; student-faculty ratio; four and six-year graduation rates; and admission rates.

The Boston Globe recently published a series of articles on bullying and its impact on children, adults and institutions. According to the article, research indicates that “despite good intentions and feverish competition to pinpoint a solution, anti-bullying programs have shown, at best, mixed results, and what has worked in one school has not always worked in another.”  Citing a 2009 study by Cambridge University in which hundreds of individual anti-bullying programs were reviewed, researchers deemed just 44 programs to have reliable evaluations, and of those –only 19 showed significant reductions in bullying. 

According to a recent article published in Education Week, online Advanced Placement (AP) courses are being re-tooled by their creators to include more robust content, with an emphasis on the development of 21st century skills.  With the rise in the number of online AP courses being offered and more high school students participating in the college level courses, the College Board is placing less emphasis on memorization of facts and more on accessing, evaluating and properly applying the information. The sciences with their lab requirements present the greatest challenges because of their hands-on approach.  Initially, these courses offered simulated and virtual labs, but now offer a mix of live and virtual experiences.  


EPLC will again conduct a series of regional workshops for school board candidates and other voters interested in education issues early in 2011.  The all-day workshops will be held on Saturdays during February and March (Montgomery County – 2/26; Lehigh Valley 3/5; Monroeville 3/12; and Harrisburg 3/19).  Look for agenda and registration details soon at www.eplc.org.


New data on rural education in the United States are now available on the Rural Education in America website, hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the Institute of Education Sciences.  NCES is a part of the U.S. Department of Education.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has just published Know Your Rights: A Handbook for Public School Students in Pennsylvania.  The handbook addresses timely issues affecting public and charter school students: the right of free expression (clothing, speech, materials and student groups), religion in school, student use of the internet, student privacy, school security and policing, discipline, immigration, language access, students with disabilities, enrollment, student contact with the military and sexual health and education.  This booklet discusses student rights, when they can be exercised, and when school officials can limit them.  You can download a PDF of the handbook or order copies here.  A Spanish version of the handbook will be available in February 2011.

The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia is holding the next segment in their Hot Topics in Special Education Law.  The seminar Assistive Technology: Leveling the Playing Field for Children with Disabilities, will be held on January 25, 2011 from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Register for the session here.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is holding a 2011 Minority Leadership Training Conference March 4 – 6, 2011 at the Marriott Lancaster at Penn Square in Lancaster.  The registration deadline is February 7.


Next week…

The Pennsylvania Department of Education is hosting its annual convention (“Making a Difference: Educational Practices that Work!”) January 11 – 14, 2011 at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center in Hershey.

The Pennsylvania State Board of Education is having its bi-monthly meeting January 12, 2011 at the Community College of Philadelphia, Center for Business and Industry in Philadelphia.

The Pennsylvania State Board of Education is hosting its College Textbook Policies Advisory Committee meeting Thursday, January 13, 2011 at the Community College of Philadelphia, Center for Business and Industry in Philadelphia.

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


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