EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, March 25, 2005

  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee held an informational meeting but did not vote on a package of bills that address school nutrition and student wellness ( House Bills 185, 186, 187, 189, 190, 191, and 192). Rep. Jess Stairs' proposals establish nutritional standards for food sold outside of a school's lunch and breakfast programs, allow only nutritional beverages to be sold during school hours, and require public input on school district contracts with vendors of soda and non-nutritious foods and public reporting of income from such contracts. The legislation also requires students to participate in physical education, requires elementary grades to offer recess, and requires schools to provide information about a child's height, weight and Body Mass Index to parents. Additionally, the legislation requires school districts to establish local advisory health councils and the state to establish a committee to advise state agencies on child obesity and nutrition issues.

    Several organizations, including the PA PTA, American Heart Association, Pennsylvania State Education Association and PA Advocates for Nutrition & Activity, testified in support of the legislative package. They recommended that the legislation be amended to reflect new nutrition standards developed by the PA Department of Education (find the standards at www.pde.state.pa.us/food_nutrition/cwp/view.asp?a=5&q=111072). They also recommended that no student have the option of being exempt from physical education classes (including student athletes and students with disabilities) because today's physical education curriculum teaches life-long wellness skills that are not included in other programs. The proposed legislation awaits further consideration by the House Education Committee.

  • The House Subcommittee on Basic Education held an informational meeting on the Bridge Certificate Program on Tuesday. The Bridge program is an option through which secondary special education, alternative education, and English as a second language teachers and middle level teachers with an elementary teaching certificate can gain highly qualified status as required by No Child Left Behind. The State Board of Education is considering extending the program to address additional groups of teachers who need to gain highly qualified status but are not eligible under current Bridge guidelines: new teachers, those about to graduate and students in teacher preparation programs. According to State Board member James Fogarty, the Board held off plans to address these groups at its March meeting to determine whether elementary special education teachers also need to be addressed due to new requirements in the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. For details about who is currently eligible for the Bridge program and program guidelines, see www.teaching.state.pa.us/teaching/cwp/view.asp?Q=107572&A=7.

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Communications and Technology Committee held a hearing on the integrated learning model being used in Harrisburg's new SciTech High School, which focuses on preparing students for technology-based careers and post-secondary education programs. For information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair Senator Rob Wonderling at (717) 787-3110.

  • Research conducted in the Philadelphia School District found that "almost half of the students that will ultimately drop out of high school can be identified as early as the sixth grade." Researchers from the Philadelphia Education Fund and Johns Hopkins University identified low attendance, poor behavior, failing math and failing English grades as factors that can predict whether a student will graduate on time or graduate at all. Sixth-grade students who exhibited even one of these factors had only a 10% chance of graduating from high school on time, according to the study. The study suggests that interventions are needed during the middle school years so that risk factors do not compound and put students at higher risk of dropping out when they enter high school. For a power point presentation on "Keeping Middle Grades Students on Track to Graduation," see www.philaedfund.org.

  • The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) will seek a court order to delay the opt-in deadline in Act 72 (the Homeowner Tax Relief Act). Act 72 requires school boards to decide whether they will participate in the state property tax relief program by May 30, 2005. However, questions remain about the implementation of Act 72 and state officials do not agree on all the answers. Specifically, PSBA says there is "vague and insufficient information regarding the effects on multi-county school districts, the appropriate calculation of local contributions and the ramifications for school districts that choose not to participate," as well as uncertainty about the sustainability of revenue available for property tax relief. Additionally, state officials disagree on how gaming revenue will be distributed if not all districts choose to participate in Act 72. Some officials say all available revenue will be split between districts that do opt-in, while other officials say revenue will be divided as if all 501 districts had opted-in and participating districts will receive only their share under that scenario. PSBA is seeking more time for boards to make informed decisions about whether to participate in Act 72 considering the unanswered questions that would affect how the law impacts school districts. By opting-in to receive state gaming funds for property tax relief, districts must increase the local earned income tax by .01% and hold voter referenda on future school funding that exceeds a certain index. Gaming revenue for property tax relief is not expected to be available until at least 2007. According to PSBA, to date, only four school boards have voted to opt-in to Act 72.

  • Student achievement is increasing and achievement gaps are closing since No Child Left Behind took effect, however, states and school districts "do not have the capacity or the funds necessary to reach all school in need of improvement," according to a new study from the Center on Education Policy. CEP surveyed education officials in 49 states and 314 school districts and conducted case studies of 36 districts for its third annual report on the implementation NCLB. States identified challenges with providing assistance to all schools identified for improvement (42 states), staff size (45 states), federal funding (39 states), and state funding (40 states). Additionally, school leaders reported problems implementing school choice and supplemental services and are unsure what effect these programs are having on student achievement. Only 3% of school leaders said they believe school choice is increasing student achievement and only 1% of students eligible for public school choice transferred schools in 2004-05. 20% of the school leaders surveyed said supplemental services "somewhat or to a great extent" impact on student achievement. They also expressed concern about the capacity to monitor the quality and effectiveness of service providers. Read the report at www.ctredpol.org/pubs/nclby3/.

  • EPLC will conduct a special two-part Workshop for School Board Candidates in York on Thursday, April 14 and Saturday, April 16. The Workshop is sponsored by Penn State University York and the York Chamber of Commerce. For program information and a registration form, see www.eplc.org/schoolboardworkshop.html.

  • Next week...EPLC and Lancaster-Lebanon IU 13 host a two-part School Board Candidates Workshop Monday and Wednesday evenings. EPLC's Institute for Community Leadership in Education (ICLE - Pittsburgh site) meets Wednesday. The Center for Advancing Partnerships in Education (CAPE) holds an Educational Partnerships and Technology Conference on Wednesday. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to discuss: House Bill 377, which lowers the compulsory school age from 8 years old to 6 years old in the Philadelphia School District; House Bill 253, which addresses teacher discipline; House Bill 894, which exempts retirees from Act 48 professional development requirements; and House Resolution 34, which urges Congress to fulfill its special education funding pledge. Bryn Mawr College hosts a conference titled "Educating All Children: Challenges, Possibilities and No Child Left Behind" on March 31-April 2. For more calendar details, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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