EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, January 27, 2006

    This Notebook includes a review of education policy activity from January 16 to January 27.

    Special Session on Property Tax Relief

    The Pennsylvania House and Senate continue to consider various competing proposals to provide some degree of school property tax relief. The proposals typically include funding from gaming revenues that will be available once slot machines are operating in the state. Many of the proposals also generate addition funds for state distribution to districts by increasing the state income tax or the state sales tax, or by expanding the base of goods to which the sales tax is applied. These various proposals are directed at providing more state funding to reduce school property taxes, but they do not address the issue of funding equity among the 501 districts or the issue of adequate funding in the poorer districts.

  • The House took procedural action that will allow two previously defeated property tax reform proposals to be eligible for reconsideration in the future. The lower chamber approved two reconsideration motions for votes taken on the Governor's plan for property tax relief ( Special Session House Bill 1) and a tax relief plan previously passed by the Senate but rejected by the House ( Special Session Senate Bill 30). The Governor's plan would mandate that all school districts participate in the Homeowner Tax Relief Act - the current state law that trades gaming dollars for homeowner tax relief - and would remove the requirement that districts implement a 0.1% local earned income tax in order to garner state gaming dollars. The original Senate plan asked voters to decide if they want to increase local earned income taxes in exchange for property tax reduction. Before it voted down the Senate proposal in December, the House removed the requirement for this front-end referendum on local tax increases. The Senate plan also expanded property-tax and rent rebates for low-income senior citizens and included a back-end referendum on future school tax increases.

  • House Democrats unveiled a property tax relief plan that calls for a 0.5% increase in the state sales tax (from 6% to 6.5%). Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese said the plan could deliver up to $3 billion in homeowner tax relief using a combination of gaming revenue, a 0.5% sales tax increase, and - if approved by local voters - an increase in local earned income taxes. The proposal would increase the sales tax but would not expand the base of goods and services subject to the tax. Legislation expanding the base of items subject to the sales tax was previously passed by the House (in Senate Bill 854) but declared bad for business in subsequent Senate hearings (see below). For more information about the House Democrats' plan, see www.pahouse.com.

  • The Senate Committee on Legislation held a public hearing on January 18 on a property tax relief plan passed by the House (amended into Senate Bill 854). The bill would provide property tax relief through an increase in the state income tax, an expansion of goods and services subject to state sales tax, and use of gaming revenues. Testimony was given by more than 20 people representing business, industry, and community organizations. The presenters were overwhelmingly opposed to the expansion of the current state sales tax to business services, advertising, entertainment, intrabusiness transactions and candy. The consensus was that taxing any of these services or products would have a negative impact on business in Pennsylvania and put the state's businesses at an unfair disadvantage when competing with companies from outside the Commonwealth. Testifiers also said the current language of SB 854 would be burdensome to implement and difficult to enforce and in many cases would create a pyramiding effect by taxing the input of a product as well as the output. Many testifiers acknowledged the difficulty in trying to generate revenue to offset the revenue lost by reducing property taxes when asked by Senators, "What would you suggest [to provide property tax relief]?", and indicated that a fairer approach would be to increase the state personal income tax. Increases in the rate of the current sales tax without expanding the base of goods and services subject to the tax and increasing the earned income tax also were mentioned. This was the second hearing on Senate Bill 854 held by the Senate Legislation Committee. For a review of the first hearing (January 9), see www.eplc.org/notebook2006/January9.html.

  • 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

    House Actions

  • Legislation that removes professional development requirements for some retired teachers is on its way to becoming law. The House concurred in Senate amendments to House Bill 894, which exempts retired teachers who return to school service from state-mandated professional development requirements if they work no more than 180 school days. Retirees who return to teaching for more than 180 days would continue to be required to fulfill the state's continuing education requirements. HB 894 also requires the Department of Education (PDE) to provide access to its free online professional development courses to all educators, not just those currently employed by a school entity. Finally, the bill requires PDE to maintain all retirees' teaching certificates in active status. HB 894 now heads to the Governor for approval or veto.

  • The House Education Committee moved forward two pieces of legislation at its January 25 meeting. House Bill 2144 allows vocational education teachers to purchase nonschool service credits toward retirement for years of private sector work needed to fulfill vocational education certificate requirements under a non-baccalaureate program. House Bill 2337, as amended, provides for the development of an economic education program. The state Department of Education would be required 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. Both bills have been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

  • On January 18, the House Education Committee held an informational meeting on funding for cyber charter schools. Twelve Pennsylvania cyber schools currently educate 13,245 students from more than 491 school districts across the state. School officials say a change is needed in how cyber schools are funded, but cyber school operators warned a change that could potentially decrease cyber school funding would have a negative impact on educational quality. School district officials said cyber schools should be funded based on a fixed per pupil rate rather than the per pupil expenditure of each student's school district of residence. Currently, school districts pay tuition for each resident student enrolled in a cyber school at about 80% of the district's per pupil expenditure. The state reimburses districts up to 30% of their payments to charter schools, including cyber charter schools. That per-pupil rate varies greatly because of the disparity in education funding across the state. According to information provided by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, in 2003-04 the Jenkintown School District paid $12,967 for each student enrolled in a cyber charter school while the Troy Area School District paid $4,471 for each cyber student. School officials questioned why current state law requires districts to pay such disparate amounts in cyber tuition while each cyber student receives the same educational services.

    Dennis Younkin, Business Administrator in the State College Area School District, said the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) "would urge a new formula based on actual costs of the cyber or charter school, not of the sending district." PASBO also questioned the "double standard" that seems to apply to cyber charter schools. PDE annually calculates a tuition rate for non-resident students, but this tuition rate does not apply to cyber school funding. The Association questioned why a school district has a non-resident tuition rate and a cyber charter school does not.

    Stinson Stroup, Executive Director, of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, recommended that the state Department of Education negotiate a fee structure with cyber providers. Another solution suggested during the hearing was for the state to pick up 100% of the tab for cyber education, since cyber schools are not accountable to school districts. Cyber schools are approved by the state Department of Education; school districts have no oversight of cyber schools.

    Additional concerns were raised regarding special education funding in written testimony submitted by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA). Cyber schools charge school districts for each special education student enrolled in the school, meaning cyber schools receive funding based on actual special education enrollment. But school districts do not receive special education funding based on actual enrollment. The state funds special education based on the assumption that 16% of a district's students require special services.

    School district officials said they are supportive of the cyber school concept, but question whether the schools require funding commensurate with regular public schools considering they don't incur the same costs. However, cyber operators say that, equally, cyber schools have financial obligations that brick-and-mortar schools do not, such as providing all students with a computer, Internet connections, and technical support. Nick Trombetta, whose dual role as Superintendent of the Midland Borough School District and as CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School provides him a unique perspective of both sides of the issue, advocated against setting a standard tuition rate for cyber schools. "With 12 different cyber charter schools operating independently, the idea of implementing a single fee would disregard the differences we have in salary and benefit packages, programmatic costs, and existing financial commitments," said Trombetta. Trombetta said the best way to reduce the burden of charter school funding on school districts is to provide more state dollars to districts through subsidies and reimbursements.

    Joanne Barnett, CEO of the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, said students benefit not just from the individualized instruction provided, but from the parity achieved by cyber schools. Cyber schools provide "equal access to educational opportunities and advantages" for all students regardless of where they live or the spending levels in their home districts, said Barnett. She asked the Committee to recognize that because the models used to deliver instruction are different than traditional public schools, cyberschool costs are different, but that does not necessarily mean their costs are less expensive.

  • On January 19, the House Education Committee held a three-hour hearing in Harrisburg on high school reform. This was another in a series of hearings held by the Committee around the state on this subject. Eight panelists discussed a broad set of high school reform issues, including Pennsylvania's Project 720, with several presenters emphasizing that there is a need to address systemic issues in order to achieve improvement in high school student performance. For instance, investment in pre-school and early education programs has long-term effects on high school achievement. The disparity of funding and educational resources among the state's high schools was also noted. Panelists included representatives of The Education Policy and Leadership Center, White Hat Management, the U.S. Department of Education, The College Board, National High School Alliance, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

  • Senate Actions

  • On January 25, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on the implementation of legislation that established a new formula for funding community colleges (Act 46 of 2005). For a review of the new funding formula, which was included in an omnibus bill passed in July 2005, see the July 19 edition of the EPLC Education Notebook at www.eplc.org/notebook/July19,2005.html. Community college representatives continue to work with Department of Education staff on implementation issues through work groups organized around four broad categories: audit, data, capital, and economic development stipend. Through the implementation process, new policy issues are coming to the forefront, including an unintended consequence of the new funding formula that - because of the way dollars are now focused - may hinder the ability of community colleges to expand into underserved regions of the state by placing the brunt of costs for developing a new program site on the colleges. College officials also have concern about keeping tuition affordable (the new law limits student tuition to no more than 1/3 of operating costs) if funding from other sources is not sufficient to fulfill the other 2/3 of a college's budget. The bulk of this 2/3 comes from state appropriations and local sponsors. Four community colleges are sponsored locally by school districts; the other ten are sponsored locally by counties. For more information, contact the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges at 717-232-7584.

  • On January 25, the Senate Law and Justice Committee approved legislation that requires properly trained campus police at Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities to carry firearms in the course of duty. House Bill 509 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

  • On January 24, the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee approved legislation that allows PA National Guard members to continue receiving higher education assistance benefits if they are disabled in the line of duty. According to Senate Bill 1081 bill sponsor Sen. Robert Robbins, "Under current law, if a Guard Member is disabled in the line of duty, and no longer able to perform their duties in the Guard, they are disqualified from participating in the Pennsylvania National Guard Educational Assistance Program, even if they were taking classes prior to being deployed." SB 1081 has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee reported out an amended version of anti-blight legislation designed to return delinquent properties to productive use ( House Bill 459). HB 459 allows property subject to delinquent tax claims to be donated in order to alleviate tax liens against the property. A school district is authorized to receive donated property through a designated agent. The bill awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education took action on two items at its January 19 meeting:

    Chapter 49 (Certification of Professional Personnel): The Board approved additional revisions to Chapter 49, the regulations governing teacher preparation and certification, based on suggested changes to the draft of proposed regulations which was published in the October 29 Pennsylvania Bulletin. The final form standards will be submitted for regulatory approval.

    Changes were approved to require teacher training in working with diverse learners. The proposed regulations would require all prospective teachers to complete three credit hours in working with English language learners and nine credit hours in accommodations and adaptations for diverse learners in an inclusive setting as part of teacher preparation programs. The changes also would require all teachers to receive instruction in teaching diverse learners as part of their state-mandated professional development and would require school districts to include information about instructing diverse learners in the district's induction program. The regulations also would change the timeline for conducting teacher preparation program reviews. Reviews would be conducted every seven years, rather than at current five year intervals. The change will align the state's review process with the review timeline of NCATE, a national teacher education accrediting agency.

    Changes approved by the Board did not include a recent proposal made by the state Department of Education (PDE) to establish new teaching certificates. Rather, PDE presented the Board with additional options for restructuring teacher certification and will schedule hearings to accept public comment on the new options. Previously, the Department proposed establishing two distinct certificates for Early Childhood Education (pre-K to grade 3) and Elementary Education (grades 3 to 6), requiring all teachers to be dually certified in Special Education, and splitting the Special Education certificate to cover grades pre-K to 6 and 7-12. PDE surveyed other states as to the portability of the proposed certificates and has asked the Board to discuss establishing a Middle Level certificate to cover grades 4 to 8 that may provide greater portability to other states. Additionally, through its survey PDE learned that 13 states require additional content specification for special education teachers, some of which require dual certification in special education. If a Middle Level certificate is established, the Board could consider several options to marry this certificate with Special Education certification. Public hearings will be scheduled to gather input on the proposed recommendations to restructure teacher certification.

    Academic Standards for Career Education and Work: The Board voted to move forward proposed academic standards for career education and work. The final form standards will now be submitted for regulatory approval. For more information about the proposed standards, see www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/cwp/view.asp?a=3&Q=76716&stateboard_edNav=|5467|&stateboard_edNav=|.

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education held public hearings on proposed regulations for early childhood education in Harrisburg on January 24 and in Norristown on January 27. 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.


  • 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.

  • The Education Policy and Leadership Center recently hosted the first Pennsylvania Education Policy Forums of our 2006 series. Representatives of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association addressed "Enhancing the Governance Role of School Boards" at the January 18 Capital Breakfast Series. At the January 19 Western Pennsylvania Breakfast Series, Sharon Brumbaugh of the Office of Policy in the Pennsylvania Department of Education provided an overview of "The Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership Program", along with Southwestern PA program coordinator Joe Lachowicz. Power point presentations from each Forum are available at www.eplc.org/forum_speakers.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.

  • Next Week...The House Liquor Control Committee meets Monday (January 30) to consider legislation related to underage drinking on college campuses (House Bills 1574, 2375 and 2383). The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee will release a report on state funding formulas on Tuesday. The Pennsylvania State Board of Education holds a public hearing on proposed regulations related to early childhood education in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The House Finance Committee meets Thursday to discuss legislation related to college tuition savings plans (House Bills 529 and 2096). The Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program class of 2005-06, sponsored by EPLC, meets Friday in Harrisburg. The Governor's Commission on College and Career Success meets Friday in Harrisburg. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

  • The Governor will deliver his Budget Message on Tuesday, February 7. The Pennsylvania House and Senate Appropriations Committees have announced their schedules of hearings on the proposed 2006-07 state budget. Education-related budget hearings are scheduled as follows:

    Senate Appropriations Committee Budget Hearings
    (all hearings will be held in the Senate Majority Caucus Room, Main Capitol Building)
    State-Related Universities - Thursday, February 28, 3:00 p.m.
    State System of Higher Education - Wednesday, March 1, 2:45 p.m.
    Pennsylvania Department of Education - Monday, March 6, 1:15 p.m.
    Pennsylvania School Employee's Retirement System - Tuesday, March 7, 1:15 p.m.

    House Appropriations Committee Budget Hearings
    (all hearings will be held in Room 140, Main Capitol Building)
    Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency - Thursday, February 16, 9:00 a.m.
    Pennsylvania State University - Wednesday, February 22, 10:00 a.m.
    Lincoln University - Thursday, February 23, 9:00 a.m.
    University of Pittsburgh - Thursday, February 23, 10:00 a.m.
    Temple University - Thursday, February 23, 11:30 a.m.
    State System of Higher Education - Thursday, February 23, 1:30 p.m.
    Pennsylvania School Employee's Retirement System - Monday, February 27, 9:00 a.m.
    University of Pennsylvania - Monday, February 27, 10:30 a.m.
    Pennsylvania Department of Education - Wednesday, March 1, 2:30 p.m.

To return to the EPLC Education Notebook homepage, click here.

To return to The Education Policy and Leadership Center homepage, click here.