EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, February 13, 2006

    2006 Election Process Begins

    Tuesday, February 14, is the first day to circulate petitions for individuals who wish to become candidates on the May 16 Pennsylvania Primary Election ballot. Candidates for state and federal offices must submit their petitions no later than Tuesday, March 7. For complete information about "Running for Office", go to the Pennsylvania Department of State at http://www.dos.state.pa.us/bcel/cwp/view.asp?Q=445959&A=1099.

    Get ready to ask candidates where they stand on important education issues! If we all ask, beginning when candidates ask us to sign a nominating petition, candidates will understand that voters do prioritize education issues.


    2006-2007 State Budget Proposal

    Gov. Ed Rendell delivered his 2006-2007 State Budget proposal on Wednesday (February 8). Advocacy groups for education and children's issues generally give the budget proposal high marks. The $25.4 billion state spending plan increases the basic education subsidy by 5% (an increase of $225 million to $4.7 billion), increases special education funding by 4% (an increase of $38.123 million to $911 million), and increases Career and Technical Education funding by 2.5% (an increase of $1.491 million to $61.1 million).

    The budget also increases funding for Accountability Block Grants by $50 million (up to $250 million), increases funding for Head Start Supplemental Assistance by $15 million (up to $45 million), and increases funding for reimbursements to school districts for charter school payments by $26.874 million (up to $119.476 million).

    Within the basic education appropriation, $64 million is earmarked for Foundation Funding - designed to help 159 school districts that currently spend less than $9,030 per pupil move toward that target funding level. When the Foundation Funding supplement was introduced last year, the target level was set at $8,500 per pupil; the proposed 06-07 Foundation target has been adjusted for inflation to $9,030 per pupil.

    The budget line item for the state's mandated payment to the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) increases by approximately $114 million. It is important to remember that the collective obligation for the 501 school districts for mandated payments to PSERS is also about $114 million in the new fiscal year. The state and school entities split the employers' cost for school employee retirement. Mandated employer contributions to PSERS by the state and by school districts will be 42% higher than last year.

    The budget proposal includes new investments designed to help Pennsylvania students compete in the global economy. The new "Science It's Elementary" program would invest $10 million in competitive grants to improve science education in 150 elementary schools. The program is based on positive student achievement results from the ASSET program currently being implemented in 48 school districts in Southwestern Pennsylvania with private support from the Bayer Foundation. The new "Classrooms for the Future" initiative would provide $20 million in competitive grants for 100 schools to put Internet-accessible laptop computers on the desks of every high school English, math, science and history classroom and would provide an additional $6 million in state and federal funds to train teachers in integrating this technology into instruction. The budget proposal also expands the New Economy Technology Scholarship Program by $3.7 million, which would provide higher education scholarships to 500 additional math and science majors and also expand the maximum annual grant awarded to students who agree to work in Pennsylvania after graduating from college.

    Other highlights of the 2006-07 education budget proposal include:

    * $1.2 million for 500 teachers to earn certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. To date, Pennsylvania has not invested state dollars in this professional development program for teachers, which has been shown to have a positive impact on student achievement. Pennsylvania currently has only 245 National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT); nationally, there are 47,513 NBCTs;

    * A $2 million increase for dual enrollment programs (from $5 million to $7 million) that would allow an additional 3,000 students to earn college credits while in high school. A majority of the new funds would be targeted to low-income students and students participating in Early College, Middle College, and Gateway to College Programs. Currently, 20,000 Pennsylvania high school students are involved in dual enrollment programs;

    * A $4.3 million increase (from $4.7 million to $9 million) for the state's high school reform initiative (Project 720) that would allow an additional 30 schools to participate. Currently, 75 high schools are participating in Project 720;

    * $3 million in grants for up to 40 school districts to enhance their middle and high school career counseling programs.

    All sectors of higher education also received a funding increase in the Governor's budget request. Community colleges received a 5% increase, the State System of Higher Education received a 4.5% increase, state-related universities (Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University) received a 4% increase, and non-state related universities and colleges received a 3% increase.

    For information specific to the proposed 2006-07 education budget, including proposed program appropriations, how the basic and special education appropriations would affect each school district, and fact sheets detailing new programs, see PDE's web site at www.pdenewsroom.state.pa.us/newsroom/cwp/view.asp?a=256&q=117848.

    For information about the entire proposed 2006-07 state budget, see the Governor's web site at www.governor.state.pa.us/governor/cwp/view.asp?a=1101&q=445371.


    Special Session on Property Tax Relief

  • The Senate again passed a property tax relief plan - similar to the plan it passed in December - that allows a portion of property taxes to be shifted dollar-for-dollar onto a local earned income tax and uses state gaming revenue to further reduce property taxes. The plan includes a mandatory back-end referendum on certain school tax increases in all school districts and also expands the current state program that provides property tax and rent rebates to low-income senior citizens. The Senate proposal was amended into Special Session House Bill 39 on Monday.

    HB 39 would allow property tax relief to begin this year. School boards could adopt a resolution to shift a portion of property taxes to a local earned income tax (EIT) this spring. The resolution could allow for property tax reduction up to 35% of the maximum homestead and farmstead exclusion. Districts that do not adopt such a resolution would be required to ask voters if they want to enact this type of tax shift in a referendum during the primary election of 2007. School districts (except Philadelphia) would be authorized to seek voter approval to shift a larger portion of property taxes onto a local earned income tax through a referendum held in conjunction with a future municipal election, beginning in 2007. Additionally, in the future districts would have the option to ask voters to convert the local earned income tax to a personal income tax.

    HB 39 excludes Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Scranton from adopting a resolution authorizing a property tax/earned income tax shift because income taxes already are relatively high in these school districts. Instead, low and middle-income senior citizens who reside in these districts would receive a $250 state property tax rebate in addition to the rebate they qualify for under the Property Tax Rent Rebate program. Scranton would have the option to use up to half of its state gaming dollars to reduce its wage tax in order to provide both income and property tax relief; all state gaming revenue in Philadelphia would be dedicated to wage tax reduction.

    Beginning in 2007, all school districts would be subject to a back-end referendum on future school tax increases that exceed an inflationary index. HB 39 includes exceptions that would allow districts to increase taxes beyond the index for certain specific purposes, and these are similar to the exceptions included in Act 72 of 2004 (The Homeowner Tax Relief Act).

    The bill also allows property tax bills to be paid in installments. Finally, HB 39 repeals Act 72 of 2004 and prohibits school districts that opted into the tax relief plan created by that legislation from imposing the 0.1% local earned income tax that Act 72 required.

    Special Session HB 39 has been referred to the House Rules Committee. Similar legislation passed by the Senate in December (Special Session Senate Bill 30) was defeated by the House. Rather, the House passed its own tax relief plan (amended into Senate Bill 854) that called for an increase in the state personal income tax, state sales tax, and use of state gaming revenue to fund property tax relief.

    For details on the Senate plan amended into Special Session House Bill 39, see www.pasenategop.com/news/TaxpayerRelief/taxpayerrelief020606.htm.

    Links to legislation introduced in the Special Session are available on the EPLC web site at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_k12finance.html#legislation.


    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Senate Actions

  • The Senate has confirmed Dr. Gerald Zahorchak as Pennsylvania's Secretary of Education. Zahorchak, who has held the position in an acting capacity since October, previously served as Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education since the beginning of the Rendell Administration.


  • On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved forward an amended version of legislation ( Senate Bill 1081) that allows Pennsylvania National Guard members to continue receiving higher education assistance benefits if they are disabled in the line of duty and are no longer able to perform their duties in the Guard. The bill was amended to apply to those discharged for medical disability after September 11, 2001 and to establish a time limit on how long members may claim educational benefits. SB 1081 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.


  • House Actions

  • This week, the House passed legislation (< href="http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/BI/ALL/2005/0/HB2337.HTM" target="_blank"> House Bill 2337) which provides for the development of an economic education and personal financial literacy program. HB 2337 requires the state Department of Education to gather and make available to public and private schools materials related to the standards for teaching economics in the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Economics and Personal Financial Literacy. The bills awaits referral to a Senate committee.


  • The House Finance Committee took action on the following two bills at its Tuesday meeting:

    Senate Bill 709: Allows school property taxes to be collected in either four quarterly, six bimonthly or twelve monthly installments, rather than one lump sum. All school districts would be required to enact an installment collection system by the 2006-07 school year. Residents and businesses may choose to make installment payments. SB 709 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar. (Similar legislation - House Bill 1788 - was passed by the House on June 30, 2005; a similar provision also was included in property tax relief legislation passed by the Senate earlier this week).

    House Bill 2038: Establishes a career starter tax credit for businesses to offer internships to college students. Businesses would be eligible for a state tax credit for qualified expenses, which include wages and other forms of worker compensation incurred to provide a student internship. Tax credits may not exceed $1,000 per internship per year, or a maximum of $10,000 per business per year. HB 2038 also required the state Department of Education to establish an online clearinghouse of internship opportunities and statistics on current and upcoming workforce needs. HB 2038 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.


  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee passed legislation that adds mobile and modular classrooms to the list of school buildings eligible for state construction reimbursement funds. House Bill 382, as amended by the Committee, has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.


  • 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.


    Other

  • Register Now...The 2006 Pennsylvania Education Policy and Leadership Conference will be held Sunday, March 12 to Tuesday, March 14 in Harrisburg. This Fourth Annual conference will feature two Pre-Conference Workshops on March 12 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. The Workshops are on "Building Effective Community-Based Education Foundations" and "Interventions that Work to Improve Student Achievement". The Conference begins on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. with a session that looks at the 2006-07 budget proposal made by Governor Rendell. For additional information, including registration materials and a preliminary agenda, see www.eplc.org/conference.html.


  • Education Issues Workshops for Legislative Candidates and campaign staff will be hosted by EPLC on Saturday, March 4 in Western Pennsylvania and Friday, March 17 in Southeastern Pennsylvania. A Harrisburg-area Workshop also is being planned. These Workshops are open to incumbent and non-incumbent candidates and staff.


  • This Week...The House State Government Committee holds an informational meeting on House Bill 2339 on Monday, related to supplemental annuities for state and school annuitants. The House State Government Committee meets again Wednesday to consider the same bill. The House Appropriations Committee holds a budget hearing for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency on Thursday. The Education Policy and Leadership Center hosts a School Leadership Study Group meeting on February 13. The National Center for Culturally Responsive Education Systems hosts its National Conference in Denver on February 15-17. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.


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