EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, April 3, 2006

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    House-Senate Conference Committee

  • The Conference Committee tasked with negotiating a solution to the Legislature's stalemate on property tax relief will meet again on Monday, April 3 to consider a plan offered by the Senate and any amendments offered to the plan. The Committee held an organizational meeting on Monday (March 27) at which House Republicans suggested working on a compromise over the next two weeks and returning for a vote on property tax relief after Easter. But Sen. David Brightbill said there is no need to delay and Sen. Robert Mellow put forth a proposal which House Republicans agreed to consider this week. The proposal is reminiscent of tax relief legislation previously passed by the Senate, which allows voters to approve local tax shifts to provide property tax relief, uses state gaming dollars to fund additional tax relief, expands the state's property tax/rent rebate program for senior citizens, and imposes a back-end referendum on future school tax increases. Rep. David Steil - a member of the House Republican Caucus which has disagreed with the Senate's approach - said he is working to develop an alternative proposal that would address the needs of growing school districts.

    A Conference Committee was appointed after the two chambers could not agree on amendments to legislation ( Special Session House Bill 39) designed to provide property tax relief. A review of Special Session activity to date is available in archived editions of the EPLC Education Notebook at www.eplc.org/ednotebook.html.

  • Senate Actions

  • The Senate passed legislation last week ( Senate Bill 1043) that provides a free college education to the children and spouses of Pennsylvania National Guard members who are killed in the line of duty. The tuition waiver would cover the cost of attending a state-owned university, state-related university, community college, or approved trade school. To qualify, the Guard member must have been a Pennsylvania resident and recipients must reside in the Commonwealth. Currently, state law provides a 50 percent tuition credit to children of guardsmen killed during state duty. SB 1043 extends that benefit to cover the full cost of higher education for children and surviving spouses, and extends the benefit for guardsman killed during federal as well as state duty. The bill awaits referral to a House Committee.

  • Last Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee passed an amended version of legislation ( Senate Bill 592) that allows the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) to keep some investment information confidential for certain periods of time. SB 592 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

  • On Wednesday, the Senate State Government Committee approved legislation that requires school districts to follow the Commonwealth Procurement Code ( House Bill 105). HB 105 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

  • State lawmakers for many years have challenged Pennsylvania's higher education institutions to make it easier for students to transfer from one institution to another without substantial loss of earned credits. But Pennsylvania's state-related universities told Senators forcing the colleges to participate in a statewide articulation agreement could undermine the quality of education at the institutions and hinder faculty's responsibility to continuously update course content. The universities expressed resistance to legislation ( Senate Bill 1147) introduced by Sen. James Rhoades at a public hearing held by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Rhoades' bill requires all state-supported higher education institutions to establish a system that allows students to transfer credits for core curriculum courses among institutions. If the universities are unable to reach an agreement within one year, the bill requires the state department of education to implement a system through regulation. Private colleges could participate voluntarily.

    Randall Deike, associate vice president for enrollment management and executive director for undergraduate admissions at Penn State University, said the issue at hand "is not reflective of a course/credit transfer problem", but lies in how students access information about how courses will transfer between institutions. Rather than mandating a core curriculum, Penn State suggested the state establish a web-based portal where students can access information about universities' transfer policies. Deike said students do not experience problems transferring courses that are relevant to their course of study. Issues arise when a student changes majors and is then subject to different graduation requirements.

    University of Pittsburgh vice provost Robert Pack said the legislation ignores the unique missions among institutions. Pack echoed the sentiments of fellow research universities Temple and Penn State that articulation is best accomplished when university faculty evaluate whether transfer courses meet the rigor of similar courses offered by the receiving institution. Transfer decisions should be made by faculty based on students' "ability and demonstrated accomplishment," said Pack. Additionally, the universities expressed concern that mandating transferable core course credits could negatively affect program accreditation.

    At a hearing conducted a week earlier, Pennsylvania's community colleges spoke in support of a statewide articulation agreement. For a review of the Senate Education Committee's first hearing on articulation issues, see the March 27 edition of the EPLC Education Notebook at www.eplc.org/notebook2006/March27.html.

  • House Actions

  • The House Education Committee met in Philadelphia on Wednesday for an informational meeting on high school drop-outs. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Jess Stairs at (717) 783-9311.

  • 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.

    Research and Reports

  • "From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 4 of the No Child Left Behind Act", an annual report on how the implementation of No Child Left Behind is affecting states and school districts, says the law is causing schools and districts "to better align instruction and state standards and more efficiently use test data to adjust teaching", but it is also forcing districts to trim the amount of time spent on subjects other than math and reading. Seventy-one percent of school districts have cut the amount of instructional time in at least one other subject area to provide more time for the subjects tested by NCLB. The report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP) is based on surveys of state and school district officials and in-depth case studies. States reported that lack of capacity is their number one challenge in implementing NCLB. According to CEP, 47 states "cited providing assistance to all schools identified for improvement as their greatest challenge", 42 states cited size of their state education agency's staff as a challenge, and 33 states said they had inadequate funds to assist all schools identified for improvement.

    CEP found that NCLB is most heavily impacting urban school districts. Fifty-four percent of Title I schools identified as needing improvement are located in urban districts, while only 27 percent of all Title I schools are in urban areas. Further, 90 percent of schools facing restructuring - the last phase of NCLB sanctions - are urban schools, and "a greater proportion of urban districts than suburban or rural districts have been identified for district improvement". The CEP report also found that districts are on track to meet the law's highly qualified teacher requirements, but school district officials "expressed skepticism that the NCLB teacher requirements are improving the quality of teaching." CEP also reports that the number of students utilizing the tutoring and public school choice provisions of NCLB remains low, with only 20 percent of students eligible for tutoring taking advantage of those services and less than 2 percent of eligible students using the choice option to switch schools.

    CEP's report provides detailed discussion on the impact of NCLB on: student achievement, accountability, strategies to raise achievement and improve schools, public school choice, supplemental education services, teacher and paraprofessional quality, and English language learners. The report also makes recommendations for Congress and the U.S. Department of Education to improve the law, which is scheduled for reauthorization in 2007. Access the report at www.cep-dc.org/nclb/Year4/Press/.

    Additional information related to No Child Left Behind, including links to information resources and research and reports, is available on EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_nclb.html.

  • The National Center for Education Statistics recently released the following report:

    Teacher Qualifications, Instructional Practices, and Reading and Mathematics Gains of Kindergartners at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006031.

  • Other

  • This Week...The House-Senate Property Tax Conference Committee meets Monday (April 3). The House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee holds an informational meeting on House Bill 1968 on Tuesday. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bills 2055, 2397 & 1729 and Senate Bill 143. The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee meets Wednesday to release a report on the potential cost and impacts of House Bill 130 (early retirement incentive) and House Bill 131 (cost-of-living increase). The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governors meets Wednesday and Thursday. The Governor's Commission on College and Career Success meets Friday. The Pennsylvania Head Start Association hosts its Spring Conference April 3-5 in Grantville. The Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education holds its 2006 conference April 6-8 in Valley Forge.

  • Pennsylvania's 2005-06 class of the EPLC Education Policy Fellowship Program will be in Washington D.C. this Wednesday through Saturday to participate in the annual Washington Policy Seminar for Fellows from around the country. Many of the Pennsylvania Fellows have scheduled appointments on Thursday with members of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation.

  • National Events...The Education Trust - West hosts its second biennial conference April 2-4 in Los Angeles. The Council for Exceptional Children holds its annual convention April 5-8 in Salt Lake City. The American Education Research Association hosts its annual meeting in San Francisco on April 7-11. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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