EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, June 6, 2005

  • The Pennsylvania Legislature returns to session today, and faces a June 30 deadline for the completion of the 2005-06 State Budget. Look for important legislation affecting education to be considered along with the budget legislation during the next several weeks.

  • Memorial Day was the deadline for school boards to opt-in to participate in Act 72 (The Homeowner Tax Relief Act). According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, 111 districts opted to participate in the program that trades state gaming funds for local property tax relief and places a back-end referendum requirement on future school district budgets; 390 districts by formal action or by inaction opted out of Act 72.

  • The House Education Committee held an informational meeting on May 25 to discuss legislation related to student safety. House Bill 143 requires all current and prospective school directors to submit a state criminal history record to the PA Department of Education and makes individuals ineligible to serve on a school board if they have been convicted of certain crimes within the past five years. Currently, school directors are not required to undergo criminal background checks. House Bill 1291 requires all prospective school employees to undergo federal criminal background checks. Currently, only residents who have been living in Pennsylvania for two years or less must submit federal background checks. House Bill 1530 establishes an Office of Criminal History Review within the PA Department of Education that would be responsible for receiving and maintaining criminal history record information on prospective school employees, coordinating background check procedures with the PA State Police, and establishing a notification process to inform the applicant and the school entity if the applicant is disqualified for employment.

    Testimony was provided by representatives from the Professional Standards and Practices Commission, PA State Police, PA Department of Public Welfare (DPW), PA Department of Education, and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA). Several recommendations were offered by the five agencies, including a request by DPW to further demand that background clearances on school employees be performed routinely to ensure that children are protected from perpetrators who have committed a crime after they have submitted their background check. PSBA also supported the inclusion of routine background checks of school employees in the legislation, however, it opposed HB 143's demand for criminal history record checks of school directors because it felt they would not reduce the possibility of harm to children.

  • 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.

  • Plaintiffs in a ten-year law suit addressing services for special education students have reached a proposed settlement agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). The suit (Gaskin v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) alleged that PDE "failed to assure that students with disabilities are included in regular education classrooms to the maximum extent appropriate and that students receive appropriate supplementary aids and services in regular classrooms." As part of the settlement agreement, PDE will establish an Advisory Panel on Least Restrictive Environment to review progress in the delivery of special education services. Under the terms of the settlement PDE also will:

    • require school districts to provide a full range of supplementary aids and services in regular classroom to all students with disabilities and require IEP teams to consider these options;

    • implement a new compliance monitoring process to identify school districts most in need of changes to their least restrictive environment practices and provide interventions for those districts;

    • investigate all complaints submitted by parents and students and monitor whether the school district's compliant resolution is applied to similar students;

    • align the special education planning and compliance monitoring cycles;

    • provide on-site training and technical assistance to school districts to develop supplementary aids and services for use in regular education classrooms;

    • support a request for a third-party grant to fund advocacy efforts related to providing supplementary aids and services in regular education classrooms;

    • and, make payments to the individual plaintiffs for compensatory education claims and for attorney expenses.

    Town meetings addressing the settlement agreement will be held on:
    June 6 - Harrisburg
    June 13 - Pittsburgh
    June 15 - Harrisburg/State College (tentative)
    For details about the meetings and a copy of the settlement agreement, see www.pilcop.org.

  • On May 6, the Pennsylvania Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (PASCD) held an informational forum on the Bridge Certificate Program at which representatives of various education associations presented position papers on the Bridge program. Position papers presented at the forum are available on EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_teacherqs.html. For more information, contact the co-chairs of the PASCD Influence Committee, Dr. Ed Bureau ( edbureau@kennett.net) or Dr. Vito Forlenza (vforlenza@verizon.net). The Bridge is an alternative path through which certain middle level, special education, alternative education and ESL teachers can attain "highly qualified" status as required by federal law. For details about the program, see www.teaching.state.pa.us/teaching/cwp/view.asp?Q=107572&A=7.

  • John Tarka has been elected the new President of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, following the recent passing of PFT President Al Fondy. Tarka, who previously taught high school in the city district, currently serves as Executive Director of the PA Federation of Teachers.

  • Representatives of the Public Education Network (PEN) from Washington, D.C. and its Pennsylvania affiliates discussed the public's opinion of No Child Left Behind at EPLC's May 25th Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum in Harrisburg. PEN recently released a report on citizen opinions about NCLB and what changes the public would like to see made to the law based on hearings it conducted with parents and community leaders across the country and a citizen survey. Learn more about PEN's work from the power point presentation presented at the Forum at www.eplc.org/forum_speakers.html.

  • The Education Policy and Leadership Center is now accepting applications for the 2005-2006 Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP). Participants in this professional development experience develop a broadened understanding of the policy process and the various aspects of education policy, enhance communication and decision making skills, refine their potential for leadership, and expand their network of professional colleagues through participation in nine full-day seminars, national conferences, and a unique strategic leadership training experience conducted by the U.S. Army War College. For more information and an application, see www.eplc.org/fellows.html.

  • This week...Tuesday: The Senate Education Committee holds a public hearing on Senate Bill 676. The House Judiciary Committee meets to consider House Bill 564. Participants in EPLC's 2004-05 Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program graduate from the EPFP. Wednesday: The House Education Committee meets to consider House Bills 256, 692, 994, 1085 and 1419. The House Finance Committee meets to consider House Bills 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 472 and 1427. The House State Government Committee meets to consider House Resolution 4. The Senate Education Committee meets to consider Senate Bills 458, 652 & 672 and House Bill 894. Thursday: The Independent Regulatory Review Commission meets to consider a regulation related to school buses and school vehicles. For information about other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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