EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, March 18, 2005

    House Activity

  • A FY 2005-2006 spending plan is moving through the House. The House Appropriations Committee approved a 2005-06 state budget bill ( House Bill 815) on March 15, as well as non-preferred appropriations bills that allocate funding for state-related universities. HB 815 is scheduled for consideration by the full House on April 11. Links to each of the appropriations bills are available on EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_2005-2006budget.html.

  • On March 16, the House Education Committee approved legislation that would establish an independent board to govern Pennsylvania's 14 community colleges. The fifteen-member Board - appointed by the Governor and caucus leaders in the House and Senate - would be advised by a Council of community college presidents. House Bill 8 also makes changes to the community college auditing process, increases the maximum reimbursement per full-time equivalent student to $1,680, and creates a separate line item for community college capital expenses in the state budget. HB 8 awaits consideration by the full House.

  • Senate Activity

  • School districts would be reimbursed for mailing expenses required by Act 72 (the Homeowner Tax Relief Act) under legislation approved by the Senate Education Committee on March 16. Senate Bill 327 allocates $3 million to reimburse districts for the cost of mailing forms to homeowners that allow them to apply for a homestead exclusion to receive property tax relief. SB 327 goes next to the Senate Appropriations Committee for fiscal analysis. The Committee also approved Senate Bill 151, which adds information to be included on state and school report cards. Report cards would include information about whether schools and districts met adequate yearly progress and academic performance targets, as well as the number of special education students, limited English proficient students, and students who have been enrolled for less than two years. The report card would show the percentage of students who attained state academic performance targets excluding the scores of the delineated student groups.

  • The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on proposed dual enrollment programs for high school students on March 15. Both Gov. Ed Rendell and Senate Majority Leader David Brightbill have announced dual enrollment initiatives. For more information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair James Rhoades at (717) 787-2637.

  • Other Education Policy Activity

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education approved revisions to final form regulations for Chapter 12 (Students and Student Services) at its March 17 meeting. The regulations were brought back to the Board for reconsideration after House Education Committee members raised concerns about changes to students' rights to freedom of expression and a proposed ban on corporal punishment in schools. The revised regulations prohibit the use of corporal punishment and define corporal punishment as "a form of physical discipline that is intended to cause pain and fear and in which a student is spanked, paddled or hit on any part of the body with a hand or instrument." No definition was included in the earlier version of the regulations. The regulations allow teachers to use "reasonable force" with a student to suppress a disturbance, take possession of a weapon, defend themselves, or protect others or property. The section dealing with freedom of expression was revised to allow schools to take action if a student's expression "threatens serious harm to the school or community, encourages unlawful activity or interferes with another individual's rights." Previously, the section allowed schools to intervene if a threat was "immediate or serious." The word immediate was deleted to give schools leeway to deal with threats that are serious but may not pose immediate danger. The revised final form regulations now go to the House and Senate Education Committees for review.

    The State Board also approved new Language Proficiency Standards for English Language Learners. States are required to develop such standards under Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act. The ELL proficiency standards do not replace current state standards for English, but serve as an instructional guide. For more information, see www.pde.state.pa.us/esl/cwp/view.asp?a=3&Q=110015&eslNav=|6449|&eslNav=|6449|.

    Finally, proposed academic standards for Career Education and Work were formally delivered to the Board. The Board's Academic Standards Committee will schedule hearings to accept public comment on the draft standards.

  • Members of the PA Department of Public Welfare's Autism Task Force gathered on March 15 to present recommendations in the group's final report. The final report consists of 12 subcommittee reports that each address a specific issue related to the autism community. The task force made five overarching recommendations that would make Pennsylvania a leader in autism research and education: create an Office of Disability within DPW that has a Bureau of Autism Spectrum and related disorders; create a consumer-led information and advocacy organization; develop an autism-specific Medicaid waiver; place regional autism centers across the state; and develop a coordinated and collaborative system of care between education and Medicaid. Access the Task Force's Final Report at www.dpw.state.pa.us/general/aboutdpw/secretarypublicwelfare/autismtaskforce/default.htm.

  • House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese announced plans to introduce a concurrent resolution that would establish a commission to undertake a holistic review of the state's public education system. The proposed commission would review the delivery of public education and related services from pre-school through higher education, as well as state funding formulas, and issue recommendations for improvement by October 2006.

  • Research and Reports

  • The Public Education Network (PEN) released a report on public perceptions of No Child Left Behind's impact in local communities, the law's strengths, and areas for improvement in the law's implementation. Over nine months, PEN held a series of eight public hearings across the country (including in Pennsylvania) and conducted an online survey of 12,000 people to gauge public opinion about NCLB from parents, students, civic leaders and average citizens whose voices otherwise may not be heard.

    Through this process, PEN concluded that the American public strongly supports the goals of NCLB and supports holding schools accountable for student performance. However, parents expressed concern over the stigma that results from a school being labeled as "in need of improvement" and the unintended consequence of blaming students - particularly special education students - who are seen as responsible for a school not meeting adequate yearly progress targets. The public also was troubled by the use of a single test to evaluate student performance and the lowering of standards by some states and schools to meet academic performance targets. Additional concerns were raised over standards for teacher quality, a lack of timely and coherent information about local schools, and an unwillingness of schools to involve parents and community organizations in school improvement activities. The report includes recommendations for state and federal officials to improve NCLB. Read "Open to the Public: Speaking Out on No Child Left Behind" at www.publiceducation.org/portals/nclb/hearings/national/Open_to_the_Public.asp.

  • A national commission formed to study accountability in higher education says the nation's current system of accountability is "cumbersome, confusing, and inefficient" and "fails to answer key questions, provides excessive misleading data, and overburdens institutions by requiring them to report it." The National Commission on Accountability in Higher Education, organized by the State Higher Education Executive Officers, makes recommendations for state and federal policymakers, business and civic leaders, institutional trustees and leaders, accrediting associations, and faculty and students to work collaboratively to improve the system. Read the Commission's recommendations in "Accountability for Better Results: A National Imperative for Higher Education" at www.sheeo.org/account/accountability.pdf.

  • A report from the president of one of the nation's most elite schools of education says the quality of the nation's educational leadership training programs "ranges from inadequate to appalling" and calls for major changes in the ways principals and superintendents are prepared. In "Educating School Leaders," Teachers College (Columbia University) president Arthur Levine says the colleges suffer from irrelevant curriculum, low admission and graduation standards, weak faculty, and inadequate clinical instruction. The four-year study is based on a survey of deans, faculty, alumni and principals, as well as 28 in-depth case studies. Access the report at www.edschools.org/reports_leaders.htm.

  • Other

  • EPLC will conduct a special two-part Workshop for School Board Candidates in the Lancaster and Lebanon school districts on Monday, March 28 and Wednesday, March 30 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. The Workshop is sponsored by the Lancaster-Lebanon IU 13. For more information and a registration form, see www.eplc.org/schoolboardworkshop.html.

  • The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and The Education Policy and Leadership Center will co-sponsor a public hearing on the impact of No Child Left Behind on rural schools. The hearing is part of a series being conducted in approximately 20 states by the National Rural Education Association. The hearing will be held on Thursday, April 14 in EPLC's 5th Floor Conference Room, 800 N. Third Street, Harrisburg. For more information, contact Joe Bard, Executive Director of PARSS, at (717) 236-7180 or jfbard@parss.org.

  • The Education Policy and Leadership Center is pleased to welcome Dr. Harris Sokoloff, Michael Usdan and Ira Weiss to its Board of Directors. The three were elected to the Board on March 12. Sokoloff is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education and Director of the Center for School Study Councils. He previously served as a member of the EPLC K-12 Governance Study Group. Usdan served as President of the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that sponsors diverse education policy and educational leadership development programs, from 1981 through 2001. He currently serves as a Senior Fellow at IEL. Weiss is a solicitor for several school districts in western Pennsylvania and former chair of the Pennsylvania Association of School Solicitors. He too previously served as a member of the EPLC K-12 Governance Study Group.

  • Next week...Tuesday: The House Education Subcommittee on Basic Education holds an informational meeting on the Bridge Certificate program. Wednesday: The House Education Committee meets to consider a package of bills dealing with school nutrition. The Senate Communications and Technology Committee visits the new Harrisburg Science Technology High School to discuss kids, education and technology. For details, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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