EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, April 10, 2006

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    House-Senate Conference Committee

  • The legislature's stalemate on property tax relief continued last week, despite two meetings of the House-Senate Conference Committee appointed to negotiate a compromise. Consideration of a plan supported by both caucuses in the Senate and by House Democrats - which looks much like a tax relief plan previously passed by the Senate but rejected by the House - was cut short on Monday by House Republicans who said they need more time to prepare amendments to the bill. House Republicans have opposed the plan saying it does not provide enough tax relief. On Wednesday, Rep. David Steil, a House Republican, previewed the changes he plans to offer when the Committee meets later this week.

    Steil wants to temporarily increase the state sales tax from - 6% to 6.5% - until June 30, 2009 when state gaming revenue is expected to be available. The sales tax increase would be used to fund property tax rebates for senior citizens and to increase funds for growing school districts and poorer school districts. Senate leaders oppose increasing state taxes to fund property tax relief. House Republicans also want to expand the local revenue sources that can be used as an alternative to property taxes to include the local per capita tax. The Senate's plan provides for shifting a portion of property taxes to an alternative local earned income tax.

    On Wednesday, dealing only with one part of the legislation, the Conference Committee approved an amendment to the proposed back-end referendum on future school tax increases to allow school boards to raise taxes to cover special education costs that exceed an inflationary index without having to seek voter approval. Two other amendments which would have excluded healthcare and construction costs from the back-end referendum requirements were not approved by the Committee.

    The House-Senate Conference Committee is working to develop a property tax relief plan that will be presented to each chamber for a yes/no vote. The Committee is comprised of three Senators and three House members. Moving a plan out of Committee for a final vote requires approval from two members of each chamber. The Committee was formed when the House and Senate could not agree on passage of Special Session House Bill 39.

    Although both the House and Senate seem prepared to dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars to property tax relief, they show little inclination to seriously address the problems of inequity and inadequacy in a statewide education funding system that leaves many students in school districts with insufficient resources for educational necessities, while some other school districts are able to spend several thousand dollars more per student because of the relative wealth of their local tax base.

  • House Actions

  • The House passed a FY 2006-2007 state budget bill on Tuesday ( House Bill 2499). More than 200 amendments were added to the bill that now heads to the Senate. The bill increases state spending by 3% to $25.3 billion, but does not include some education funding initiatives proposed by Governor Ed Rendell. Once the upper chamber passes its version of the budget, the legislation very likely will go to a conference committee to hash out a final spending plan. For more information on the proposed state budget, and to access a copy of the amended House budget legislation, see EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_2006-2007budget.html.

    This budget-amending process that occurred last week in the House has become an annual exercise that has hundreds of amendments offered with practically every one of them being approved, typically with no debate. In other words, all House members get to vote in favor of well-intentioned and politically attractive amendments, but with little likelihood that the final state budget will look like the amended bill approved by the House this week.

  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee amended and passed the following legislation (each bill has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar):

    House Bill 1729: Requires principals or guidance counselors to conduct interviews with students who withdraw from school or who are illegally absent from school for 10 days or more. When a student is legally withdrawing from school, the interview must be conducted in conjunction with verification of any work of farm permit and inquire about a student's reasons for withdrawing. Students also must be made aware of alternatives to withdrawing from the school district. When a student is not in compliance with the state's compulsory school attendance laws, the interview must inquire as to why a student is illegally absent.

    Under HB 1729, if a student fails to complete an interview, the student's parent or guardian must complete the interview on their behalf. Parents who do not complete an interview - either in person or via telephone - could face a civil penalty of up to $300. Information collected during an interview on a standard form to be developed by the state Department of Education (PDE) would become part of a student's permanent record and be filed with PDE. Interview data, excluding personal identification information, would be reported in PDE's annual report on school dropouts.

    HB 1729 does not apply to students who withdraw to attend a charter school, home education program, bona fide day school or approved higher education institution.

    House Bill 2055: Places limitations on superintendents' contracts. HB 2055 restricts contracts awarded to superintendents who have no prior experience to a maximum of three years. Individuals with experience as a superintendent or assistant superintendent would continue to be subject to current state law which allows them to be awarded three- to five-year contracts. Further, the bill delineates clauses written contracts for all superintendents and assistant superintendents must incorporate, including outlining the terms and conditions of employment; specifying duties, responsibilities, job description and performance expectations; specifying all compensation and benefits to be paid; and defining outside work that may be performed. HB 2055 also requires contracts to specify provisions for terminations, contract buy-outs and severance and also limits severance terms.

    Under HB 2055, school boards that seek to buy-out a superintendent's contract could not provide more than one year's compensation if the superintendent has more than two years remaining on the contract. If a superintendent has less than two years remaining on a contract, the board may not provide compensation for more than one-half the time remaining on the contract. The bill also requires school boards to publicly disclose the reason for removal of a superintendent or assistant superintendent.

    HB 2055 would not affect current contracts. Current administrators would be subject to the provisions of HB 2055 upon their first contract renewal following the enactment of HB 2055.

    House Bill 2397: Allows a state higher education scholarship (PHEAA grant) to be renewed for four years beyond a student's first year of study, rather than the current three years. HB 2397 allocates $11 million, or as much as necessary, to PHEAA to implement this change which provides funding for a fifth year of study if needed to complete a bachelor's degree.

    Senate Bill 143: Requires school districts to adopt parent involvement policies, programs, and committees and requires PDE to develop a clearinghouse of parent involvement information to assist districts in establishing such policies and programs.

  • Education Funding "Costing-Out" Study

    EPLC, Good Schools Pennsylvania, and the Education Law Center have been working together and with other organizations for several months to encourage state policymakers to commission an "adequacy" or "costing-out" study to inform policymakers and the public about the funding necessary to build the educational capacity necessary to help all students to accomplish the academic standards now included in Pennsylvania law.

    EPLC president Ron Cowell has called a costing-out study a "logical next step" for state policymakers who have established academic standards and proficiency expectations for which all students are expected to be held accountable.

  • Rep. Mike Veon has introduced a concurrent resolution ( House Resolution 696) that directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to conduct a statewide costing out study to determine the educational resources and related expenditures necessary to provide all students with a high quality education that is consistent with the state's academic standards. The resolution also directs the LBFC to consider the extraordinary needs of students with disabilities, limited English proficiency or living in poverty. More than 30 other states have commissioned such studies.

    Both the state and federal government have developed expectations for student proficiency and state policy holds students and schools accountable for achieving these academic standards. In light of this, the resolution says it is imperative that Pennsylvania determine "the educational resources and related costs necessary to support the expectations for academic proficiency for all students." HR 696 has been referred to the House Education Committee.

  • Senator Pat Browne is circulating a similar resolution in the State Senate and expects to introduce his resolution in the Senate this week. He has obtained co-sponsor signatures from almost one-half of the Senate.

  • As previously reported in the Notebook, the State Board of Education in March appointed an ad hoc committee chaired by board member James Barker to report to the Board in May concerning a proposal that the State Board of Education commission a costing-out study.

  • 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.


  • This Week...The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges holds its annual meeting Monday. EPLC hosts a Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum - Capital Breakfast Series on Wednesday. The House-Senate Property Tax Conference Committee meets Thursday. The Governor's Commission on Training America's Teachers meets Friday. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

  • Other

  • From the Sunday, April 9 edition of The Patriot-News, a column by Dale Davenport, the editorial page editor of the Harrisburg newspaper, entitled "Toward Effective Education". Click on http://www.pennlive.com/columns/patriotnews/davenport/index.ssf?/base/columnists/114448857084540.xml&coll=1.

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