EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, February 3, 2006

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Senate Actions

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee conducted a public hearing on legislation that requires training for newly elected school board members. Senate Bill 298, introduced by Education Committee Chair James Rhoades, directs the state Department of Education (PDE) to work with an advisory committee to develop a minimum 40-hour training course that would provide instruction in school budgeting, school finance, collective bargaining, academic standards, the No Child Left Behind Act, assessment and accountability, and other subjects that may be identified by PDE. The course would be offered free of charge to elected school directors; other interested individuals can enroll but may be assessed a fee. Individuals who pass an end-of-course exam would be certified as eligible to serve as a school director. Individuals who do not pass the exam would be ineligible to hold the office of school director. If a school director who does not pass the exam does not resign, one-ninth of the school district's state basic education subsidy would be withheld from the district. Currently, 19 states require school directors to complete some type of training. Pennsylvania does not mandate training, but voluntary education programs are available through the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

    Committee members expressed concern that SB 298 requires board members to undergo training and pass a test in order to assume office after they have been elected by voters, a condition that is not placed on other elected officials. Members also expressed reservations that requiring training will add a hurdle to board membership while some districts have problems finding individuals to run for the board.

    The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) testified that while it supports new member orientation, it does not support mandating training. The Association said school directors already are demanding high expectations of themselves by voluntarily adopting new Standards of Effective School Governance recently developed by PSBA, which include making professional development a priority. The Association also questions why SB 298 would require training and an exam that is not required of other publicly-elected officials, whether PDE has the capacity or experience to offer such training, and whether 40 hours is the appropriate length for an orientation course.

    Leslie Lancaster, a parent from the Avonworth School District, and Susan Abramowich, a former Avonworth School Director, told Committee members they firmly support the legislation. Lancaster feels training is needed for board members to learn their roles and responsibilities, how to write an effective strategic plan, and how to assess the effectiveness of the academic programs in which they are investing. Lancaster said such training can focus school directors on their role as policymakers and reduce micromanaging responsibilities that are properly the role of school administrators. Abramowich said training also is necessary to prepare board members for making decisions on issues with which they may not be well-versed. "From multi-million dollar budgets to curriculum and instruction, teacher contracts, and personnel issues, these complex business and education issues present a steep learning curve for the lay people who volunteer to assume these leadership responsibilities," she said. Abramowich also advocated for ongoing professional development through the duration of a school director's term.

    Stephen Mitchell, of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, said SB 298 is "an essential component for improving the public education system in Pennsylvania." Mitchell spoke to research and examples that show school boards that are educated as to their roles and responsibilities succeed at attracting and retaining good superintendents and can positively impact student achievement. The Allegheny Conference recently participated in and helped fund a study of K-12 governance conducted by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC).

    In our March 2004 report "Strengthening the Work of School Boards in Pennsylvania", EPLC recommended that new school board members participate in a 3-4 hour orientation session prior to taking office and that the state require periodic continuing professional development for all school directors. The report recognizes that as public and state policymaker expectations for public education have become more demanding in the era of standards-based reforms and No Child Left Behind, it is not surprising that expectations for the work of school boards also would evolve. The report makes additional recommendations for policymakers, school boards and superintendents, and voters and community leaders to improve the effectiveness of school boards in Pennsylvania and increase the number of citizens who are motivated and prepared to serve on school boards. Read "Strengthening the Work of School Boards in Pennsylvania" at www.eplc.org/k12governance.html.

  • House Actions

  • The House took action this week on a package of legislation related to the awarding of non-bid contracts, including three bills relevant to school districts. House Bill 1866, which was passed by the House, amends the Pennsylvania School Code to increase the dollar amount above which school districts would be required to undergo full advertising and bidding of contracts from $10,000 to $18,000 and to increase the amount requiring telephone price quotes from $4,000 to $7,000, subject to future adjustment by an index based on the CPI. HB 1866 also allows districts to award construction contracts without seeking competitive bids for jobs less than $18,000 (up from $10,000) and allows districts to use their own maintenance staff to perform construction or renovation work less than $7,000 (up from $5,000). The bill also makes it illegal to sign multiple smaller contracts in order to avoid competitive bidding requirements for business that should be part of a larger transaction. House Bill 1867, which also was passed by the House, raises the dollar amount under which non-competitive bids can be awarded for joint purchases between entities such as school districts, counties and townships. Both HB 1866 and HB 1867 await referral to a Senate Committee. House Bill 1860 was moved forward by the House Appropriations Committee and awaits further consideration by the full House. HB 1860 amends the Public School Building Authority Act to increase the dollar amount requiring full advertising and bidding of contracts to $18,000, up from $4,000, subject to future adjustment by an index based on the CPI.

  • On Tuesday, the House Liquor Control Committee moved forward two bills related to underage drinking on college campuses. House Bill 2375 requires institutions of higher education - both public and private - to establish written alcohol policies and distribute copies of such policies to students at the time of enrollment and at the beginning of each semester. The bill delineates what information must be included in the institutions' alcohol policies and penalties for alcohol-related offenses. House Bill 2382 requires the state Bureau of Alcohol Education to biennially report on underage alcohol drinking and high-risk college alcohol drinking in Pennsylvania. Both bills have been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

  • On Thursday, the House Finance Committee held a public hearing on two pieces of legislation that would create special income tax provisions for funds related to TAP 529 college savings plans. House Bill 529 would exempt earnings or distributions from TAP 529 accounts from state income tax as long as the distributions are used to pay for qualified educational expenses. House Bill 2096 would exempt contributions made to TAP 529 plans from state income tax. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Dennis Leh at (717) 787-6417.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released a report on the impact of state funding formulas on Pennsylvania's 67 counties, which was authorized by House Resolution 4 of 2005. The report looks at "formulas with hold harmless provisions or that have not been adjusted in recent years to account for population and/or client growth". LBFC identified 52 state appropriations for analysis that were greater than $10 million in 2004-05 and were distributed on a formula basis (19 of which were within the Department of Education). LBFC found that because of the hold harmless provision in the state's basic education subsidy, "school districts that have lost student population have tended to receive far greater increases on a per student basis than school districts with growing student populations." A similar effect was identified in special education funding. As a result, some districts actually received less basic education funding per student in 2004-05 than they did in 1995-96. For more information, see "State Funding Formulas in Pennsylvania" at http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/.

  • On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education held a public hearing on proposed regulations for early childhood education. A copy of the proposed regulations is available at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/cwp/view.asp?Q=117155&A=3.

  • 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

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

    Homeschooling in the United States: 2003

    Teacher Professional Development in 1999-2000: What Teachers, Principals, and Districts Staff Report

    Parents' Reports of School Practices to Provide Information to Families: 1996 and 2003

    Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2004, and Salaries of Full-Time Instructional Faculty, 2004-05

  • 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 "Building Effective Community-Based Education Foundations" and "Interventions that Work to Improve Student Achievement". 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 held by The Education Policy and Leadership Center during March in Western Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. These Workshops are open to incumbent and non-incumbent candidates and staff. Details for these all-day regional Workshops will be announced next week.

  • New Publication...The updated Pennsylvania Education Finance Primer (December 2005) is now available for purchase. This annual publication from The Education Policy and Leadership Center explains how Pennsylvania funds its public school system, with emphasis on state and local financing. It is designed to help policymakers, parents and other citizens understand the complex $18.6 billion funding system and be better prepared to address critical education funding issues that challenge Pennsylvania lawmakers and taxpayers. Copies of the Primer can be ordered by going to www.eplc.org/reports.html.

  • Next Week...The House Finance Committee meets Tuesday (February 7) to consider House Bill 2038. The Special Session House Finance Committee meets Tuesday to consider Special Session House Bills 71, 73, 74, 75 and 76. Gov. Ed Rendell delivers his FY 2006-07 budget address on Wednesday. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bills 1729, 382, 940, 591, and 2055. 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.

  • Next Week...Following the Governor's Budget Address on Wednesday, EPLC will provide a summary of the education items in the proposed budget as well as links to budget documents provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Check www.eplc.org for more state budget information beginning next Wednesday afternoon.

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