EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, September 30, 2005

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Special Session on Property Tax Relief

  • Governor Ed Rendell addressed the General Assembly during the opening of a special session on property taxes on October 28. Rendell urged the legislature to make corrections to The Homeowner Tax Relief Act (Act 72 of 2004) before pursuing new tax relief ideas as a "simple and deliverable" means of providing property tax relief through a system whose structure is already in place. The Governor said Act 72 needs to be fixed by mandating that all school districts participate and by eliminating the requirement that school boards increase the local earned income tax by 0.1% as a condition of participation. Act 72 is the state's property tax reduction plan that will use state gaming funds to provide local school property tax relief and make certain school tax increases subject to voter referendum. Only 111 of the state's 501 school districts have chosen to participate in the program. The deadline for that decision was May 30 of this year.

    Although when adopting Act 72 many legislators emphasized that it would be left to each local school board to decide whether participation would be in the best interest of their school district, many legislators are unhappy with the decisions made by almost 400 school districts and are now willing to consider making participation a mandate for all districts.

    Rendell said that in the past five years property taxes have increased faster than incomes, outpacing homeowners' ability to pay. He said it is necessary to mandate participation in the state tax relief program to ensure that all homeowners benefit and to avoid having "permanent winners and losers - some school districts where homeowners get relief and others where homeowners do not." According to Rendell, only one out of every ten homeowners currently is eligible for property tax relief under Act 72. The Governor rejected putting the matter before voters on a local ballot, rather than mandating participation, because it will make the issue subject to debate by forces that "do not recognize or simply do not care about the urgent and sometimes dire consequences of escalating property taxes."

    The special session seems intended to be narrowly focused on property tax relief with little discussion about the broader subject of state funding for education, which many believe is the real cause of high school property taxes. EPLC has released criteria for evaluating proposals that affect education funding and the state's education budget. The criteria provide guidance on assessing a proposal's impact on the ability to meet the educational needs of all students. Read EPLC's "Criteria for Evaluating Pennsylvania Education Funding Proposals/Budgets" at www.eplc.org/fundingcriteria.html.

  • The Education Policy and Leadership Center will host an Education Finance Symposium on November 14-15. Participants will learn about current finance reform proposals in Pennsylvania, as well as how education finance reform has been achieved in other states. For more information, see www.eplc.org/financesymposium.html.

  • Pennsylvania House Activity

  • The House Education Committee voted to disapprove proposed regulatory changes to Chapter 12 (Students and Student Services) by a vote of 14 to 10 because the regulations would ban the use of corporal punishment in schools. The State Board of Education previously withdrew the proposed regulations after some Committee members raised concerns with the change to ban corporal punishment and a change dealing with students' freedom of expression. The Board added a definition of corporal punishment in its next set of regulatory revisions, but the ban on the disciplinary procedure remained in the proposal when it was presented to the Committee again on Wednesday. Committee members remained divided over the ban, with both Republican and Democrat members advocating that corporal punishment should not be taken off the books as a tool for maintaining classroom order. Members argued that rather than banning corporal punishment, the regulations should provide guidance on the proper use of such discipline. Members also said the State Board is overstepping its authority by implementing what should be a legislative decision through a regulatory change. The regulations would continue to allow teachers to use reasonable force to quell a disturbance or defend themselves and others.

    The section dealing with freedom of expression that previously also raised concern 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.

    Action by the House Education Committee alone does not cause the proposed regulations to be vetoed. A veto of a proposed regulation would require adoption of a veto resolution by both the full House and the full Senate. The Senate Education Committee currently has no plans to take up the Chapter 12 regulations, effectively giving the proposed changes its stamp of approval. If the Senate Committee does not consider the regulations, and they are not withdrawn, they will go to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission for final review. For a copy of the proposed regulations, see www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/cwp/view.asp?a=3&Q=76688&stateboard_edNav=|5466|&stateboard_edNav=|.

  • The House Rules Committee moved forward legislation related to the Commonwealth Caucus's tax reform plan that would eliminate local school property taxes and fund education through a state sales tax. The sales tax rate would be decreased, but the tax would apply to a broader base of goods and services not currently subject to tax (such as food and clothing). House Bills 116, 117, 118, and 119 have been re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee. The Rules Committee also moved forward House Bill 1920, which increases the sales tax rate and expands the base of good and services subject to tax. HB 1920 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar. (HB 1920 replaced HB 120 which was introduced as part of the initial legislative package). For details on how the plan would change the structure of education funding in Pennsylvania, see the April 11 edition of the EPLC Education Notebook at www.eplc.org/notebook/April11,2005.html.

  • The House Rules Committee also passed the following legislation (all bills have been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar):

    House Bill 256: Requires students to be screened for their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Risk assessments would be conducted by a school district physician during the medical exams already required upon entry to school, in sixth grade, and in eleventh grade.

    House Bill 280: Prohibits school districts from selling unused and unnecessary buildings or land for less than fair market value unless the building or land is donated to a political subdivision or a nonprofit corporation that qualifies as an institution of purely public charity. Also, requires unused buildings that cannot be sold to be demolished within 10 years of becoming unused. HB 280 was amended to add requirements to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's (SSHE) process for disposing of property. The bill requires SSHE to submit requests to sell, transfer or dispose of property to the majority and minority chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees. Currently, requests are submitted only to the Chief Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate. The bill also requires that resolutions addressing the disposal of SSHE property include a description of the property to be sold, transferred or disposed and identify parties involved in the transaction.

    House Bill 321: Makes resident foreign nationals with immigrant visas eligible for permanent teacher certification. Currently, resident aliens may obtain only provisional certification.

    House Bill 1010: Requires school nurses to be CPR certified.

    House Bill 1222: Delineates information to be reported on the State Report Card, including information related to how many schools and school districts achieved each state academic performance target and how many made adequate yearly progress (AYP).

    House Bill 1419: Allows private residential rehabilitation institutions that provide special education services to charge a student's district of residence for indirect or administrative expenses. The charge may be assessed equal to the amount received in the immediately preceding fiscal year, not to exceed the net cost of delivering special education services minus funding received from the state.

    House Bill 1512: Establishes the "Science Technology Partnership Program", which permanently places the "Science in Motion" program into state law. Science in Motion focuses on improving science instruction by providing state grants that make high-tech scientific instruments available to students, supplement science curriculum, and provide professional development to science instructors. Science in Motion grants are awarded to partnerships between institutions of higher education and public school districts.

  • Senate Activity

  • The Senate adopted legislation that extends the period of eligibility for higher education student assistance grants for Pennsylvania National Guard members who serve active duty in a combat zone. Senate Bill 358 now goes to the House.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee moved forward Senate Bill 384, which allows associations that represent school retirees to request and receive information about the last district of employment and home address of retired teachers from the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). SB 384 awaits consideration by the full Senate.

  • 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.


  • On October 28, The Education Policy and Leadership Center honored Dr. Paula Hess with the Edward Donley Education Policy Leadership Award at its annual awards dinner. Dr. Hess is the Senior Advisor to the Speaker and Majority Leader in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. EPLC also recognized with the EPLC Partner Award the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) and the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA). In addition, the Center presented it EPLC Leadership Program Alumni Award to Sylvester Pace and Jean Dexheimer. For more information, see www.eplc.org/donleydinner.html.

  • Next week...The House Education Committee holds an informational meeting on high school reform in New Florence on Thursday (October 6). The Senate Education Committee holds a public hearing on the Chester-Upland School District on Thursday in Chester. The Independent Regulatory Review Commission meets Thursday in Harrisburg. EPLC's Education Policy Fellowship Program meets Friday in Harrisburg. The Business Education Network Summit will be held October 5-7 in Washington, D.C. Good Schools Pennsylvania hosts a Parent & Community Leadership Assembly in York on October 7-8. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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