EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, June 24, 2005

    Pennsylvania Senate Activity

  • The Senate moved forward legislation authorizing funding for FY 2005-06 on Wednesday. In contrast to days of budget amendment debate in the House, the Senate moved quickly to approve House Bill 815 that now goes back to the House for concurrence in the Senate's amended version of the 2005-06 state budget. Very predictably, the House will reject the Senate version and the bill will be in position to go to a conference committee that will hash out a final state spending plan. June 30 is the constitutional deadline for budget passage.

  • The Senate passed the following legislation this week (all bills await referral to a House Committee):

    Senate Bill 361: Requires school districts to allow home education students to participate in extracurricular activities. Currently, local school boards decide whether home education students may participate in a district's extracurricular activities.

    Senate Bill 652: Allows funding for tutoring programs provided through the educational assistance program or accountability block grants to support tutoring that is offered during the school day, as long as it does not interfere with a student's normal course of instruction.

    Senate Bill 672: Requires school districts to prepare proposed annual budgets using the uniform form provided by the state Department of Education (PDE). Also, requires the school board president to certify to PDE that the district's proposed budget has been prepared and made publicly available using PDE's uniform form and prohibits school boards from taking final action on a proposed budget if such preparation has not occurred. Additionally, SB 672 requires that proposed district budgets be made available for duplication upon request at a reasonable duplication cost.

    Senate Bill 686: Clarifies changes to funding and auditing procedures of approved private schools and chartered schools for the deaf and blind that were enacted by Act 70 of 2004.

    Senate Resolution 76: Directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of all state services provided to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. The LBFC would identify all state services, their expenditures and funding sources, the number of individuals served by each program, areas of overlapping or duplicate services, and areas of need for new services. Pennsylvania currently funds the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, in addition to the Scranton School for the Deaf and myriad other special services in Intermediate Units and in public schools.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the following legislation this week:

    Senate Bill 150: Creates a separate fund in the State Treasury to provide grants to school entities to support dual enrollment programs. Funding would defray higher education tuition costs for high school students taking courses in core academic subjects to earn both high school and post-secondary credit. To qualify for grant funds, school entities (including nonpublic and private schools) would be required to form concurrent enrollment committees which would develop dual enrollment agreements with higher education institutions. School entities would receive funding equal to half the higher education institution's tuition rate (not to exceed the tuition rate charged by the State System of Higher Education) multiplied by the school entity's aid ratio for each student enrolled in the program. SB 150 provides supplemental funding to cover the entire tuition charge for low-income students; supplemental grants are limited to 2% of the total amount available for the program. Grant funding would be distributed based on a pro rata share of the amount allocated annually by the General Assembly. SB 150 was amended to address accumulation of state or public school system retirement credits for postsecondary faculty who teach concurrent enrollment courses. SB 150 has been re-referred back to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

    Senate Bill 511: The Committee passed an amended version of SB 511, which makes changes to the Technology Work Experience Internship Program. The bills revises the definition of "emerging technology companies," delineates responsibilities for educational institutions participating in the program, outlines terms and conditions for interns participating in the program, and opens the program to graduate students. SB 511 awaits consideration by the full Senate.

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee amended and passed Senate Bill 297, which allows intermediate units to establish pools of educational advisors who will be available to provide technical assistance to schools and school districts identified for school improvement or corrective action as designated under the No Child Left Behind Law. Educational advisors will be available to help with duties such as coordinating professional development programs, mentoring teachers, and developing and implementing school improvement plans. To serve as an educational advisor, an individual must have taught satisfactorily in a Pennsylvania public school for at least five years. SB 297 was amended to further clarify the process through which charter schools may receive funding directly from the state, rather than receiving payments from individual school districts. SB 297 awaits consideration by the full Senate.

  • School property taxes could be paid in installments rather than one lump sum if Senate Bill 709 becomes law. The Senate Finance Committee passed an amended version of the bill on Wednesday that allows school taxes to be collected in either four quarterly, six bimonthly or twelve monthly payments. All school districts would be required to enact an installment collection system by the 2006-07 school year. SB 709 awaits consideration by the full Senate.

  • Pennsylvania House Activity

  • The House passed the following legislation this week:

    House Bill 185: Requires school districts to provide reasonable public notice or hold a public hearing prior to signing or renewing a contract for the sale of food and beverages sold in competition to a school's cafeteria (such as contracts with soda vendors). The bill was amended to require residential developers to notify school districts of the potential fiscal impact their developments may have on the district. School districts would have 30 days to submit comments on the planned development to the authority responsible for granting development approval. The bill also was amended to tighten the definition of district residency for cyber charter school students. A student would be considered a school district resident if the student's parent or guardian lives in the district and the student sleeps in the district at least 183 nights of the school year. The amendment also allows cyber charter schools to charge tuition for students who do not meet the residency requirements. Additionally, in order to enroll a child in a cyber charter school, the student's resident school district must certify that the student is in compliance with the state's compulsory attendance law. Finally, HB 185 was amended to provide supplemental state funding for free and reduced-priced school lunches. HB 377 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 189: Requires school boards to adopt nutritional guidelines for foods and beverages sold in competition to a school's lunch and breakfast program. HB 189 also expands school health services to include computation of a student's weight-for-height ratio. The bill was amended to require school districts to include physical education in their curriculum for all students; districts may establish policies that exempt student athletes from the physical activity portion of gym class during the season in which they are competing upon parental request. HB 189 also requires schools to provide instruction in the causes and effects of obesity and directs the state Department of Education to develop a curriculum districts may choose to use for this instruction. Finally, a provision relating to cyber charter school enrollment was amended into HB 189. The bills requires that in order to enroll a child in a cyber charter school, the student's resident school district must certify that the student is in compliance with the state's compulsory attendance law. HB 377 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 191: Establishes a statewide Child Health and Nutrition Advisory Committee. The bill, as amended, requires the Advisory Committee to draft a child health and nutrition plan and to advise state authorities on coordinating state efforts to combat child obesity and related illnesses. HB 191 also permits school districts to establish advisory health councils and requires districts to develop local wellness policies that address child health, nutrition and physical education. HB 191 was amended further to require that in order to enroll a child in a cyber charter school, the student's resident school district must certify that the student is in compliance with the state's compulsory attendance law. HB 377 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 377: Reduces the compulsory school age for children in the Philadelphia School District from age eight to age six. The change would not apply to homeschooled children. HB 377 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 586: Defines "extracurricular activity". HB 586 was amended to require scholarship organizations and educational improvement organizations that receive funding through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC) to annually report: the number of scholarships awarded and the total and average amounts of scholarship awards, the names of schools that received educational improvement grants, a description of how each grant was utilized and demonstrated or expected education outcomes, and the number of grants and scholarships awarded on a county-by-county basis (if county level information is available). The Department of Education would be required to compile an annual report of this information, as well as information on the number of businesses that made contributions for which they received tax credits through the EITC program. The bill also was amended to provide supplemental state funding for free and reduced price school lunches. Finally, HB 586 was amended to further restrict the authority of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission to suspend the requirements of the school code and regulations of the State Board of Education related to student transportation. HB 586 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee passed the following legislation (all three bills have been re-referred to the House Rules Committee):

    House Bill 321: The Committee passed an amended version of HB 321, which makes resident foreign nationals with immigrant visas eligible for permanent teacher certification. This would modify current state law which allows resident aliens to obtain only provisional certification.

    House Bill 1291: Adds an additional requirement for federal criminal background checks on all prospective school employees in public and private schools, except those who have no direct contact with children. Currently, only individuals who have lived in Pennsylvania for less than two years must undergo federal background checks.

    House Bill 1512: Establishes the "Science Technology Partnership Program", which permanently places the "Science in Motion" program into state law. Science in Motion focuses on improving science instruction by providing state grants that make high-tech scientific instruments available to students, supplement science curriculum, and provide professional development to science instructors. Science in Motion grants are awarded to partnerships between institutions of higher education and public school districts.

  • On Tuesday, the House Rules Committee passed the following legislation (all three bills have been re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee):

    House Bill 564: Allows colleges and universities to conduct criminal background checks of potential full-time faculty and staff and to use those records in making hiring decisions based on the institution's written policy for use of such information. THIS APPEARS TO BE MEANINGLESS LEGISLATION THAT WILL PERMIT COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES TO DO WHAT THEY ARE ALREADY PERMITTED TO DO. HB 564 also allows colleges and universities to require job applicants to self-disclose criminal history information related to sex offenses, misappropriation of funds and felony convictions.

    House Bill 876: Authorizes the state Department of Education to directly reimburse tutors who provide services through the educational support services program, rather than providing funding to purchase tutoring services directly to students. Currently, eligible students receive state grants of up to $500 to purchase tutoring services from state-approved providers.

    House Bill 1408: Imposes a misdemeanor offense for improper use of bond proceeds.

  • On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee passed legislation that establishes the Pennsylvania Education Network Fund through which the Department of Education (PDE) would make education technology grants to school districts, intermediate units, vocational-technical schools, libraries and museums. These entities may collaborate to apply for grant funds as a partnership. Non-public schools and higher education institutions are eligible to partner with these organizations to participate in grant-funding opportunities. Grants authorized by House Bill 1223 would be used for: equipment to connect to the Pennsylvania Education Network; applications, software, or other services that utilize the Network for programs such as curriculum support, distance education, data management, or student assessment; Network connectivity; and programs approved by PDE to enhance education. Funds would be made available through an appropriation by the General Assembly and federal funds designated for broadband connectivity. HB 1223 awaits consideration by the full House.

  • On Monday, the House Subcommittee on Basic Education held an informational meeting on House Bill 1007, which allows for the teaching of both intelligent design and evolution in public schools. For more information, contact the office of Subcommittee Chair Sam Rohrer at (717) 787-8550.

  • All legislation from the Pennsylvania General Assembly, including bills cited in this Notebook, can be found at www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/session.cfm.

  • Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The state Supreme Court upheld most of the law authorizing slot machine gambling at 14 sites in Pennsylvania (Act 71). In December, a suit questioning whether the parliamentary process the Legislation followed in enacting the law was constitutional. The Court ruled that the Legislative process was legitimate, but struck down the provision of Act 71 that placed all authority on casino location decisions with the state Gaming Control Board, allowing the Board to supersede local zoning ordinances. Revenue from the slot machine gaming will be used to fund the state's property tax relief program (Act 72). Read the Court's decision at www.courts.state.pa.us/OpPosting/Supreme/out/J-19-2005mo.pdf.

  • Voters would have an opportunity to overturn the decisions made by school boards not to participate in the state's property tax relief program (Act 72) under a proposal unveiled by Democratic leaders of the Pennsylvania House and Senate on Monday. The Democratic Caucus leaders proposed revisions to Act 72 that require referenda on the state tax relief program, as well as other changes to the law. Specifically, the proposal:

    • Requires the 389 school districts that chose not to participate in Act 72 to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters if they want their school district to participate in the tax relief program. Act 72 trades state gaming funds for local property tax relief;
    • Eliminates the 0.1% increase in the local earned income tax (EIT) that is currently a condition for receiving state gaming funds. One effect of removing the state-mandated EIT increase means renters will not be hit with a wage tax increase while receiving no benefit from the congruent property tax relief;
    • Provides additional state funding to districts that already opted in to Act 72 and adopted the EIT increase as a prerequisite for participation. Districts would receive additional state funding to cover what they would have received from the EIT increase;
    • Reduces the amount of gaming revenue needed to begin providing property tax relief. Currently, the state must have $500 million in gaming revenue in the bank before funds for tax relief are distributed. The governor's office estimates that will not occur until 2007. By reducing the amount needed to trigger tax relief to $150 million, Democratic Caucus leaders hope to begin providing property tax relief in 2006, and;
    • Distributes all gaming funds collected for property tax relief among the school districts that opt in to the program.

    For more information, see www.pasenate.com/Feature_Reports/Act72/tax_page.htm.

  • The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released a "Performance Study of the Administrative Operations of the Pittsburgh School District" on Wednesday. The analysis, conducted by MGT of America, makes 120 recommendations for improving the "financial, organizational, and operational effectiveness" of the district's non-academic functions. Among its major recommendations, the report says the district should: annually evaluate the superintendent, reduce the number of assistant principals by 21 positions, and consider closing 13 elementary and six middle schools. The district's enrollment has been declining and, according to MGT, closing 19 schools would leave the district's facilities at 90 percent capacity. The report also commends the district for its "well-organized, research-based" strategic planning process, financial payment and record-keeping tools provided to administrators, automated online purchasing system, and 29 other best practices identified in the report. School District officials present at the report's release said the district has already begun to implement some of the report's recommendations. An analysis of the Pittsburgh School District was mandated by Senate Resolution 331 of 2004. Access the report at http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/.

  • The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) approved a new formula for distributing student grants at its Board of Directors meeting on Thursday that will provide greater assistance in covering a larger portion of college costs for the neediest students. The new formula looks more closely at a student's overall ability to pay by taking into account factors such as family size, family contribution, and overall college costs. Sen. Jake Corman, who cast one of two dissenting votes, argued that the new formula disproportionately provides the largest grants to students who attend private institutions. Corman felt more money should go to students attending public universities. Sen. James Rhoades said the special task force assigned to develop the new formula sought to balance access and choice for students. For more information, contact PHEAA at 800-692-7392.

  • High School Reform

  • Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC) has released a fact sheet on "The Graduation Gap in Pennsylvania" that reports that 21.7 percent of students (about one in five) who entered ninth grade in 2000-01 failed to graduate from the same district four years later. The study is based on data from school districts annually submitted to the state Department of Education. PPC compared the 153,523 high school freshmen of the 2000-01 school year to the 33,349 students who failed to graduate from the same district they started in four years later. Moreover, the probe found that while the graduation gap was wider in urban school districts than in suburban and rural ones, it is evident that this statewide dilemma is not limited to any one region. The analysis is limited, however, by the absence of data in Pennsylvania that tracks the academic experience of individual students. In short, we don't really know what happened to the nearly 20% of students who did not graduate from the school district in which they enrolled as a ninth-grader. Certainly, many dropped out. But some moved and graduated from another school district, while others may graduate from a charter high school. Despite these shortcomings with the data, the PPC report highlights a problem that is of growing concern to educators and policymakers in Pennsylvania and across the nation. In addition to the graduation gap fact sheets, PPC also provides data on graduation gaps by county, student characteristics, and more on its web site. For more information, see www.papartnerships.org/dropouts/index.asp.

  • The Educational Testing Service (ETS) recently released "Ready for the Real World? Americans Speak on High School Reform", part of ETS' series of annual nationwide surveys of public opinion on key education issues. Survey results indicate that Americans are becoming more and more concerned about the quality of education in U.S. high schools. The majority of respondents (comprised of parents, teachers, students and high school administrators) indicated that they believe American high schools need to dramatically improve in order for the U.S. to compete in the international academic scene and, moreover, that the country will suffer without some sort of high school reform. To read an executive summary of the survey results, visit: http://ftp.ets.org/pub/corp/2005execsum.pdf.

  • "Remaking Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century: What Role for High School Programs?", a report from Jobs for the Future (JFF) and the Aspen Institute Education and Society Program, summarizes what we do and do not know about the value of career-focused education and proposes an agenda for reforming high school career and technical education. Among their conclusions, researchers discovered that even though it's a shrinking enterprise, career and technical schools are still a vital part of the American high school system because they help less-motivated, at-risk students graduate from school where they otherwise might have dropped out. Furthermore, employers hire career and technical school graduates second only to those with postsecondary academic credentials - making it easier for career and technical graduates to find jobs out of high school than those with a regular high school diploma and no college or trade school experience. To access the report, go to www.jff.org/jff/kc/library/0252.

  • Teacher Quality and Supply

  • Teachers in Pennsylvania made an average $51,835 in 2004, according to a report from the National Education Association (NEA). Nationally, the average teacher salary was $46,752. According to the NEA, salary increases for teachers did not keep pace with inflation in the 2003-04 school year; the average increase was 2.1 percent, while the inflation rate in 2004 was 3.3 percent. Teacher salaries "have remained flat" for the past decade, says the NEA, "growing just 2.9 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars." The NEA's annual "Ranking & Estimates" report also contains data on population changes, school enrollment, faculty, school revenues and expenditures, and more. Access the latest rankings at www.nea.org/edstats/images/05rankings.pdf.

  • Other

  • Next week... Next week…The House Finance Committee meets Tuesday to consider House Bill 958. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider Senate Bill 148, House Bills 1278 & 280, and House Resolution 177. The Pennsylvania State Board of Education meets on June 29-30. Good Schools Pennsylvania hosts a legislative update and strategy session on Thursday in Bryn Mawr. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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