EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, May 2, 2005

  • Commonwealth Court Judge James Gardner Colins denied a request to delay the May 30, 2005 deadline by which school districts must decide whether or not to participate in Act 72 (The Homeowner Property Tax Relief Act). The Pennsylvania School Boards Association had sought a preliminary injunction to delay the deadline by one year. PSBA argued that districts should not be required to opt-in to Act 72 while outstanding questions remain about how the tax relief program would operate and impact school districts. A similar suit filed in state Supreme Court by five Western Pennsylvania school districts was rejected a week earlier.

  • School districts are seeking legislative help in cracking down on parents who illegally enroll their children in a district in which they do not reside. The House Republican Policy Committee held a hearing on the issue Wednesday. The enrollment of nonresident students is a growing problem in suburban areas of the state that affects both districts with a link to the illegally enrolled student – taxpayers in the receiving district bear the cost of educating the nonresident student and the student’s resident district may lose state funding because it has a lower enrollment number. Superintendents said the largest problem lies with parents who falsely claim their child lives with a friend or relative in the district by filing phony affidavits of support or taking up multiple occupancies. Under current law, nonparents may legally enroll a child in school if they are fully financially supporting the child and the child lives with them permanently (not just during the school year). Districts officials said the process of investigating a residency dispute and “disenrolling” illegal students is expensive and onerous for districts to undertake. “In all of this, the greatest challenge is that we as educators are neither trained to do investigative policing of residents, nor should we,” said Joseph Galli, superintendent of the Upper Darby School District which borders the city of Philadelphia. School officials are seeking legislative changes to make the disenrollment process less burdensome, changes to the state’s criminal code that would make illegal enrollment a criminal act, and changes that would allow districts “to charge back tuition to the student’s school district of actual residence.”

  • U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings fined the state of Texas $444,282 for a delay in notifying parents of school choice options. The fine was assessed because last year Texas was late in releasing its list of schools “in need of improvement”. No Child Left Behind requires schools that do not make Adequate Yearly Progress for two years to offer public school choice and to notify parents of their choice options before the school year begins. However, Texas did not notify schools of their AYP status until after the school year had begun, thus delaying the required notice to parents.

  • The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) recently released a policy brief titled “State Financial Aid: Policies to Enhance Articulation and Transfer.” The report looks at barriers to community college transfers and proposes state financial aid policies that can foster smooth transfers between two-year and four-year higher education institutions. WICHE recommends that states: develop financial aid policies that cover increased costs in tuition and fees for transfer students; provide incentives for students to complete the course of study necessary for transfer (for example, by setting a required GPA or requiring completion of an associate’s degree to receive aid); reevaluate policies to take into account older students who may have dependents to support and students who may not attend school full-time; and consider developing a system of performance funding to reward higher education institutions for student persistence to graduation. Read all of WICHE’s recommendations at http://wiche.edu/Policy/Changing_Direction/documents/Financial_Aid_and_Articulation_000.pdf.

  • Jobs for the Future recently released three policy briefs related to community colleges:
    State Data Systems and Privacy Concerns: Strategies for Balancing Public Interests

    Access to Community College for Undocumented Immigrants: A Guide for State Policymakers

    Standardization vs. Flexibility: State Policy Options on Placement Testing for Developmental Education in Community Colleges

  • New research from Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) identifies school leadership “responsibilities” that are essential for effecting difficult changes to improve student achievement. In “Leading Schools: Distinguishing the Essential from the Important,” McRel builds on a previous analysis that identified 21 unique responsibilities for school leaders. This latest research says all 21 responsibilities are important for leading day-to-day changes in schools, but identifies 11 responsibilities that are important to leading more challenging “second order” changes, such as changing prevailing norms in a school building. These responsibilities are: change agent; flexibility; ideals and beliefs; intellectual stimulation; knowledge of curriculum, instruction and assessment; monitor and evaluate; optimizer, communication; culture; input; and order. Find the report at www.mcrel.org/topics/productDetail.asp?topicsID=7&productID=200.

  • A new report from the Progressive Policy Institute says teacher quality can be improved by modernizing teacher preparation and compensation systems. In “Lifting Teacher Performance,” the Institute reviews performance-based pay, higher salaries for teachers in hard-to-staff schools, and alternative certification as tactics policymakers can use to improve teacher quality. Access the report at www.ppionline.org/documents/teachqual_0419.pdf.

  • Public opinion survey results released by The Teaching Commission show broad public support for increasing teacher salaries (70%) and larger pay increases for teachers who show the biggest student achievement gains while undergoing greater accountability (80%). However, 54 percent of the public did express reservation that linking pay to student achievement could be unfair to teachers who work with the most challenging students. Surveys were conducted of 807 adults with an over-sample of public school parents and 553 public school teachers. Both the public and teachers support offering higher salaries to teachers in high-poverty schools and teachers who work in shortage areas, such as math, science and special education. Additionally, both the public and teachers expressed support for more rigorous teacher preparation programs and enhanced professional development. Read more in “Americans' Commitment to Quality Teaching in Public Schools” at www.theteachingcommission.org/press/pdfs/pollreport-final.pdf.

  • This week...May 1 to 7 is National Charter Schools Week. The 12th Annual Family Support Conference in Pittsburgh, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development, will be held Tuesday. The House Education Committee holds an informational meeting Tuesday on Standard and Poor’s school data website. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bill 178, which encourages schools to develop pupil harassment policies; House Bill 546, which allows for PSERS purchase of county service time; House Bill 1223, which creates a grant program for connecting to a statewide education network; House Bill 488, which establishes a school design clearinghouse; and House Bill 122, which provides an exception from Act 72 referendum for community college support. The PA Association of School Administrators Women’s Caucus holds its annual spring conference May 4-5 in Hershey. The PA Parent Information and Resource Center hosts a forum on "Planning Ahead: What Parents Should Know About Charter Schools" on Thursday in Philadelphia. The PA School Boards Association holds its Annual School Construction Summit May 5-6 in Altoona. EPLC’s Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program meets Friday in Harrisburg. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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