EPLC Education Notebook
Friday, April 15, 2005
Pennsylvania Legislative Activity
- The Senate Education Committee approved reporting
requirements for scholarship and educational improvement
organizations that receive funding through the Educational
Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC) that would pare down the
new reports sought by the Department of Community and Economic
Development (DCED). At a hearing Tuesday, DCED
outlined new reporting criteria that asks scholarship
organizations to submit the number of students who received
scholarships, how many awardees attended public schools during
the previous year, the number of schools to which scholarships
were provided, and the average household income of families
receiving the tuition assistance. Reporting is optional this
year but would become mandatory next year. Additionally, the
Department of Education wants performance information collected
for the innovative education programs funded through educational
improvement organizations to learn which programs are effective
in improving student achievement.
Some Education Committee members questioned whether DCED has the
legal authority to solicit information that is not specifically
required by state law. Committee members who oppose DCED's new
requirements say the information would have no impact on the
agency's ability to administer the EITC program and creates
burdensome paperwork for funding recipients. Following
discussion, the Committee adopted
Senate Bill 507, which
delineates reporting requirements for organizations that receive
funding through the EITC program. Under SB 507, scholarship
organizations would report only the number of scholarship
recipients and the total and average amounts of scholarships
awarded. Educational improvement organizations would report the
programs to which grants are awarded and the grant amounts, a
description of the programs and demonstrated or expected
educational improvements, and the names of public schools and
districts that received grants.
The EITC provides state tax credits to businesses who donate to
approved scholarship and educational improvement organizations.
The state currently awards $45 million in tax credits annually
($26.666 million to scholarship organizations, $5.000 million to
pre-kindergarten scholarship organizations and $13.333 million
to educational improvement organizations).
- The Senate Education Committee also passed
legislation that increases the state reimbursement rate
for school construction and renovation projects; rates
for state reimbursement to school districts have not been changed
Senate Bill 417 increases the reimbursement
for elementary school construction projects to $4,700 per pupil
and secondary school construction projects to $6,200 per pupil.
The bill provides additional reimbursements for buildings that
use a design pre-approved by the Department of Education, meet
certain energy efficiency and environmental design standards, or
undertake alterations or additions in lieu of new construction.
The Committee also adopted
Senate Bill 390, which exempts retired
educators who return to teaching for up to 180 days from the
state's professional development requirements; retirees who
teach for more than 180 days would be subject to the
requirements. Additionally, SB 390 changes the status of
retirees' teaching certificates from inactive to active.
Currently, individuals with an inactive certificate may only
teach for up to 90 days. Committee Chair James Rhoades said
maintaining a retiree's certificate as active will help
alleviate districts' need for substitute teachers by allowing
retirees to work for more than 90 days. Finally, SB 390
requires the Department of Education to provide access to free,
online professional development courses to all educators, not
just those currently employed by a public school entity. Both
bills await consideration by the full Senate.
- The Senate Appropriations Committee moved
forward legislation that details information to be reported on
the State Report Card (
Senate Bill 151). The Committee also moved
Senate Bill 327, which reimburses school
districts for mailing costs associated with Act 72 (The
Homeowner Tax Relief Act) and legislation appropriating FY
2005-06 funding to the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement
Senate Bill 609). All three bills now go to the full
Senate for further consideration.
- The House passed a FY 2005-2006
state budget bill on Wednesday (
House Bill 815). Almost 300 amendments
were added to the bill that now heads to the Senate. Once the
upper chamber passes its version of the budget, the legislation
will go to a conference committee to hash out a final 2005-06
spending plan. For more information on the proposed state
budget, and to access a copy of the amended House budget
legislation, see EPLC's Education Policy Information
This budget amending process in the House has become an annual
exercise that has hundreds of amendments offered over two to
three days with practically every one of them being approved,
usually by a nearly unanimous vote, and typically with no
debate. In other words, all House members get to vote in favor
of well-intentioned and politically attractive amendments, but
with little likelihood that the final state budget will look
anything like the amended budget approved by the House this week.
- The House passed legislation establishing
the Independent Higher Education and Community Financing
Program within the Department of Community and Economic
House Bill 616 authorizes $50 million in
bonds per year for five years to assist independent colleges and
universities with capital projects for educational facilities
and facilities that have an economic development benefit to the
local community. The state would provide funding for 50 percent
of the debt service on up to 30-year bonds.
- On Wednesday, the House Education Committee
passed multiple bills that address student health and nutrition
House Bill 185 regulates contracts for the
sale of food and beverages sold in competition to a school's
cafeteria (such as contracts with soda vendors) and contracts
for advertising in schools.
House Bill 191 requires school districts to
establish advisory health councils to assist with developing a
health and wellness plan. Councils would address issues related
to physical education, health education curriculum, the
nutritional value of food and beverages sold in the district,
and more. HB 191 also designates the executive team of
Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition and Advocacy as the
Pennsylvania Child Health and Nutrition Advisory Committee. The
Advisory Committee would draft a child health and nutrition plan
and advise state authorities on issues related to child obesity
and related illnesses.
House Bill 100 increases the state
reimbursement to school districts for school lunch programs
(from ten cents to twelve cents per meal) and breakfast programs
(from ten cents to eleven cents per meal). The Committee also
House Bill 586, which defines
extracurricular activities. All four bills await consideration
by the full House.
- On Tuesday, the House Education Committee
House Bill 628, which requires school
boards to make proposed school budgets available in the format
required by the Department of Education and to make those
budgets available for public duplication. The bill requires
duplication fees to be reasonable. Individuals who do not
comply with the law could be charged with a summary offense.
The bill now awaits consideration by the full House.
- On Monday, the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency
Preparedness Committee passed legislation that defers
student loans awarded through PHEAA for active duty members of
the armed services (
House Bill 1173). The Committee also
House Bill 1259, which extends the time
period for receiving student assistance grants beyond five years
for individuals who serve active duty in a combat zone. The
bills now await action by the full House.
No Child Left Behind
- The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small
Schools (PARSS) and The Education Policy and
Leadership Center (EPLC) co-sponsored a public hearing
on the impact of No Child Left Behind on rural
schools on Thursday. The hearing is part of a series
being conducted in approximately 20 states by the
National Rural Education Association.
Representatives of rural school districts and intermediate units
spoke about the challenges of NCLB for rural schools and offered
suggestions for improving the law. Panelists identified
assessment of special education students as the number one issue
that needs to be addressed and suggested assessing students
using assessment aligned with each student's Individual
Education Plan (IEP) or a method that measures each student's'
annual academic growth. Panelists also discussed overarching
assessment issues and said that rural districts are subject to
significant year-to-year variations in assessment results
because of the schools' small sample size. They suggested
holding rural schools accountable for achievement over a
multiple year average to account for this potential variation.
Rural administrators also expressed concerns about the
uncertainty of future grant funding for initiatives districts
undertake using, for instance, the Accountability Block Grants
or Reading First grants. They fear that if grant dollars
disappear their districts will be left with the financial burden
to continue those valued initiatives, such as expanded
kindergarten programs. They said some districts are already
bracing for the potential loss of federal Title I funds next
year due to updated Census data and a new definition of poverty
that is being used to distribute funding. Finally, panelists
expressed concern about the impact NCLB has caused for "tightly
staffed" rural districts.
Testimony from the hearing will be presented to the National
Rural Education Advocacy Coalition (NREAC) for use in meetings
that are being held with Congressional and U.S. Department of
Education staff to discuss changes needed in the law or in
department policies and practices. PARSS will also use the
testimony as a focus for work with the Pennsylvania Department
of Education and the State Board of Education to see that
Pennsylvania's state plan does not place unrealistic, or unfair,
barriers in front of rural special needs students. For
additional information, contact Joe Bard, Executive Director of
PARSS, at (717) 236-7180.
Research and Reports
- The Mid-Atlantic Regional Advisory Committee delivered its
final report on the educational challenges and technical
assistance needs of the mid-Atlantic region to the U.S.
Department of Education. The report will be used to guide the
Department's development of new regional technical assistance
centers. Find the report at
- A special task force of the Pennsylvania State System of
Higher Education released recommendations for improving K-6
teacher preparation at the system's 14 universities. In "
Teachers of Tomorrow: Recommendations for the
Preparation of Highly Effective Elementary Teachers,"
the group suggests changes around five themes: knowledge and
skills of elementary teachers; assessment of elementary teacher
candidates and preparation programs; development of clinical
skills; professional growth for all teachers; and university and
public policy. Read the recommendations at
- Next week...Tuesday: The
House State Government Committee holds a public
hearing on House Bill 130, which provides limited windows for
early retirement for educators with at least 30 years of
service. Wednesday: The House
Education Committee holds an informational meeting on
dual enrollment (high school students taking college courses).
The House State Government Committee holds a
public hearing on House Bill 339, pertaining to sharing of
annuitant information. EPLC hosts two Pennsylvania
Education Policy Forums on Wednesday, April 20 (Capital
Breakfast Series) and Thursday, April 21 (Western Pennsylvania
Breakfast Series). For details about these and other upcoming
events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.
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