EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, May 13, 2005

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Senate Education Committee approved the following legislation at its May 11 meeting:

    Senate Bill 150: Creates a separate fund in the State Treasury to provide state grants to support dual enrollment programs through which high school students can enroll in college courses. Funding would defray higher education tuition costs for students taking courses in core academic subjects to earn both high school and post-secondary credit. School entities (including nonpublic and private schools) would be required to form concurrent enrollment committees to develop dual enrollment agreements with higher education institutions. School entities would receive funding equal to half the higher education institution's tuition rate multiplied by the school entity's aid ratio for each student enrolled in the program. Schools would receive 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. Gov. Rendell's proposed FY 2005-06 budget includes $5 million to support dual enrollment programs.

    Senate Bill 413: Establishes a loan forgiveness program for mental health and mental retardation staff members and alcohol and drug addiction counselors. Qualified applicants could receive $20,000 in loan forgiveness, up to $5,000 per year for four-years, from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. (Similar legislation - House Bill 49 - was passed by the House Health and Human Services Committee in the beginning of May and has been re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee.)

    Senate Bill 651: Extends the mandate waiver program for local libraries for the 2005-06 fiscal year. The program allows libraries to apply for waivers of certain state regulations related to hours of operation, collection expenditures and more if state funding for libraries is less than that provided in FY 2002-03. The mandate waiver program was implemented in FY 2003-04 when libraries sustained a significant cut in state funding and was extended by the PA General Assembly again for the current fiscal year.

    Senate Bill 679: Extends the deadline for completing state-mandated professional development from June 30, 2005 to April 30, 2006 for teachers who were certified prior to May 1, 2001, did not receive notice of their continuing professional education compliance status from the Department of Education (PDE) by June 2004, and have not fulfilled the mandated professional development requirements. The state requires educators to complete 180 hours or 6 credits of professional development every five years and requires PDE to provide written notice to all educators of their compliance status a year prior to the their completion deadline. However, due to a lack of addresses and other reasons notices were not sent to those affected by the June 30, 2005 deadline, the first compliance deadline since the law took effect in June 2000. The legislation extends the compliance deadline for this select group of teachers only. SB 679 also changes notification requirements to require PDE to mail written notice to educators who have not completed the mandated professional development hours a year prior to the educator's compliance deadline and to provide electronic notice on PDE's web site to educators who have fulfilled their professional development requirements. Also, requires educators to notify PDE of any change of address.

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

  • The 2005-06 state budget bill ( House Bill 815) continues to move through the General Assembly. On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill without amendments and sent the legislation to the full Senate for consideration. A day later, HB 815 was re-referred back to the Senate Appropriations Committee for further consideration. All of this is predictable legislative maneuvering. Once the Senate passes its version of the budget, the legislation will go to a House-Senate conference committee to hash out a final 2005-06 spending plan.

  • The House passed House Bill 894 on Wednesday, which exempts retired teachers who return to school service from professional development requirements if they work less than 180 days. Retirees who return to teaching for more than 180 days would be required to fulfill the state's continuing education requirements. HB 894 also requires the Department of Education (PDE) to provide access to its free, online professional development courses to all educators, not just those currently employed by a school entity. The bill was amended before final passage to allow colleges and universities to provide professional development credit to members of the institution's own faculty and gives higher education institutions that have not yet submitted a professional development plan to PDE two years to submit a plan for approval. HB 894 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

  • The House Education Committee approved the following legislation at its May 11 meeting:

    House Bill 349: Requires Penn State University to develop a teacher certification exam for vocational-technical teachers that can be used as an alternative to the PRAXIS exam currently required for certification and to develop an alternative method of approving teacher certification for individuals who cannot pass the alternative test. Also, authorizes the Department of Education to award conditional teaching certificates to graduates of state-approved teacher education programs who have passed the subject content exams required for certification but have not passed all non-subject matter tests. Conditional certificate holders would be authorized to teach for two years, during which time the individual would be assessed by the school district and issued a permanent teaching certificate upon satisfactory evaluation. Conditional certificates may be issued to an individual only one time.

    House Bill 1223: 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 would foster the growth of the Pennsylvania Education Network and be used for: equipment to connect to the 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.

    House Bill 63: Establishes the Urban Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency would forgive outstanding debt for qualified recipients over four years with $2,000 forgiven during the first year of teaching, $3,000 forgiven during the second year, $4,000 the third year, and $6,000 the fourth year. Urban school districts eligible for the program would be designated by the Secretary of Education based on "difficulty in attracting qualified teachers."

    House Bill 546: Allows current school employees who were former county employees to purchase creditable non-school service toward the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement Fund (PSERS). Individuals could purchase one year of PSERS credit for every three years of county service, up to a maximum of five years.

  • 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.

  • The Wilkinsburg School District has been removed from the state's education empowerment list. Districts with a history of low test scores were placed on the list and provided extra state funding to implement school improvement plans. State Department of Education officials said Wilkinsburg, one of the state's twelve empowerment districts, was removed from the list because it met its improvement goals.

  • Penn State University will continue to operate Dickinson Law School in Carlisle for at least 20 years in exchange for $25 million in state funding to renovate and expand the Cumberland County campus. Gov. Rendell reached a deal with the university this week to maintain the Carlisle campus. Penn State had proposed relocating the law school to its main campus in State College. Instead, the university will build a second campus at the university's headquarters and operate the law school as a two-campus system.

  • National Education Policy Activity

  • The U.S. Department of Education has released guidelines for greater state flexibility in testing special education students. The new policy, announced last month, will allow eligible states to test an additional 2% of students using an alternative assessment (currently, all states may test up to 1% of students with the most severe cognitive disabilities using an alternative assessment). To qualify for the short-term flexibility, states must provide evidence that state efforts to improve the academic achievement of special education students are working and be in compliance with NCLB rules for special education students related to participation rate on state assessments, availability of appropriate testing accommodations, availability of alternative assessments in reading and math, and student subgroup size. The option is available only to those schools and districts that did not meet a state's adequate yearly progress standards solely because of their special education subgroup. This short-term flexibility will be offered to qualifying states while the Department develops rulemaking for a long-term policy on alternative assessments. States must apply for the flexibility by June 1, 2005, and flexibility would take effect in the next school year. The Department also announced it will provide $14 million to support technical assistance for states in improving assessments, strengthening instruction, and conducting research on alternatively assessed students. For more information, see www.ed.gov/print/news/pressreleases/2005/05/05102005.html.

  • Upcoming Events

  • The Education Policy and Leadership Center will host its next Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum Capital Breakfast Series on Wednesday, March 25. The Harrisburg-based Forum will feature representatives of the Public Education Network (PEN) and its Pennsylvania affiliates who will discuss the organization's recent report on No Child Left Behind. Read PEN's report featuring citizen voices on NCLB and recommended changes for Congress at www.publiceducation.org/portals/nclb/hearings/national/Open_to_the_Public.asp.

  • Next week...The Center on Education Policy hosts a forum on Supplemental Education Services on Monday in Washington, D.C. Tuesday is Primary Election Day in Pennsylvania. The PA Parent Information and Resource Center hosts a forum on "Planning Ahead: What Parents Should Know About Supplemental Services" on Wednesday in Philadelphia. The PA State Board of Education meets Wednesday and Thursday (May 18 & 19). On Thursday, the Board will hold a public hearing on proposed Academic Standards for Career Education and Work. The House Subcommittee on Basic Education meets Thursday in Harrisburg. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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