EPLC Education Notebook

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

  • February 15 was the first day for candidates for school board in Pennsylvania to file nominating petitions to get their name on the May 17 Primary Election ballot. The last day to file petitions is March 8. There are 500 elected school boards in Pennsylvania. More than 2,000 school board members will be elected this year.

    EPLC hosts a Western Pennsylvania School Board Candidates Workshop on Saturday, February 26. Another workshop will be held in Valley Forge on Saturday, March 5. For details, including registration materials, see www.eplc.org/news.html. Additional workshops are being planned for the York and Lancaster-Lebanon areas.

  • Senate Activity: Last week, the Senate passed Senate Bills 146 & 147, which require Intermediate Units and the state Department of Education to provide technical assistance to school districts in which one or more schools did not meet the state's academic performance targets. The Senate also passed Senate Bill 148, which requires such districts to craft targeted professional development plans. All three bills have been referred to the House Education Committee.

    Eighty-two percent of current public school teachers have met or exceeded the state's professional development requirements, according to Education Secretary Francis Barnes. Barnes addressed the Senate Education Committee on February 15 at an informational meeting on Act 48 of 1999, which requires individuals licensed by the state Department of Education to complete 180 hours of professional development every five years. Those licensed before July 2000 must fulfill the requirements by June 30. The 147,000 educators who have not met the requirements face having their certificates inactivated (this group includes many retired teachers and individuals with a teaching certificate who work in other fields). Barnes said the Department is considering granting a grace period for educators to complete the requirements until April 30, 2006, though it is unclear whether PDE is legally authorized to grant an extension. Educators who have not met the requirements also may request voluntary inactive status for their certificates. By law, PDE is required to notify educators of their Act 48 compliance status at the four-year mark, however, the Department's database did not contain addresses which hindered PDE's ability to send out notices as required last June. The Department worked with the Pennsylvania School Employees retirement System (PSERS) to locate addresses for about half of the educators in PDE's database, and Barnes said compliance notices will be sent next month to individuals for whom the Department has addresses.

  • House Activity: The House Finance Committee passed legislation that establishes a demonstration project through which senior citizens in selected school districts can receive a property tax reduction in exchange for school volunteer work. House Bill 246 has been re-referred to the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee.

    The House Education Committee held an informational meeting with Secretary of Education Francis Barnes on February 16. For more information about the meeting, contact the office of Committee Chair Jess Stairs at (717) 783-9311.

    The House Appropriations Committee met with representatives of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) and Sallie Mae on February 17 to discuss Sallie Mae's proposed purchase of the state higher education financing agency's student loan operations. Sallie Mae has offered $1 billion to acquire a piece of PHEAA's loan operations under a five-year, rolling contract. Student grant programs would remain under PHEAA's control.

  • There seems to be very little appetite among Pennsylvania lawmakers to dismantle the well-regarded PHEAA agency in favor of the proposal from the for-profit Sallie Mae corporation. Members of the Legislature as well as Governor Rendell have noted the value of PHEAA to Pennsylvania and its families. PHEAA recently announced it will contribute an additional $55 million in non-taxpayer grant aid to Pennsylvania students during the 2005-2006 academic year and will make additional funding available over the next five years. Funding for the grants comes from the Agency's growing earnings and surplus. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Foundation will contribute $40 million over four years to address the shortage of nurse educators.

  • Last week, EPLC completed its series of three regional Education Policy Forums (Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Valley Forge) that featured presentations and discussions about the 2005-06 state budget recently proposed by Governor Rendell. Although it is still early in the budget review process, there appears to be much consensus about several points:

    • This is likely to be a tough budget year;
    • The steep decline in federal funds received by the state is creating major fiscal headaches for Pennsylvania with hundreds of millions of lost federal funds needing to be replaced by state tax dollars in the next fiscal year;
    • K-12 education is treated better than many budget program areas with an overall proposed increase of about 2.5%;
    • An increase of only 2.5% for K-12 education promises to accomplish very little toward making the state's inequitable funding system more fair when comparing wealthy and poor school districts; or toward improving the overall share of K-12 costs paid by the state, among the lowest state shares in the nation;
    • The school district initiatives funded with the new and well-received Accountability Block Grant Program, funded with $200 million this year, are at-risk of stalling since the Governor proposed no increase for this Program;
    • Community colleges may begin to get more appropriate attention and support as a result of the proposed ten percent increase in funding, following two consecutive years when state government failed to honor the funding formula currently in state law;
    • Any proposals to rollback the increase in the state's personal income tax enacted in December 2003, if taken seriously, are likely to make the budget-making process much more difficult.

  • There is increasing discussion about how to increase state support for community colleges, the formula for distributing state funding, how to better integrate community colleges into the state's workforce development plans, and proposals for a statewide community college board.

    At a news conference today (Tuesday), Representative Jess Stairs (R-Westmoreland), chair of the House education Committee, discussed legislation that would create a Pennsylvania Board of Community Colleges. The legislation is intended to strengthen the voice of community colleges in the state's annual budget-making process. The legislation ( House Bill 8), introduced last week, has 62 sponsors and has been referred to the House Education Committee.

  • This week...The Institute for Community Leadership in Education Western Pennsylvania site meets Wednesday. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to discuss regulatory changes to Chapter 12 (Students & Student Services).

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