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
- 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
Links to legislation introduced in the Special Session are
available on the EPLC web site at
Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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
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
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
- 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
All legislation from the Pennsylvania General Assembly,
including bills cited in this Notebook, can be found at
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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,
University of Pittsburgh - Thursday, February
23, 10:00 a.m.
Temple University - Thursday, February 23,
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.
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