EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, June 2, 2006

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    House Actions

  • Three members of the House Republican Caucus presented an alternative plan for property tax relief to the Special Session House Finance Committee on May 23. The plan proposed by Representatives Mike Turzai, Douglas Reichley and Steven Nickol is designed to mesh the various tax reform ideas discussed over the past few months in a plan that puts forth substantial tax relief for all homeowners. Previously, House Republicans deferred a vote on a compromise tax relief plan developed by a House-Senate Conference Committee saying it did not provide enough tax relief for homeowners under age 65.

    The Turzai-Reichley-Nickol plan would increase the state sales tax by 1% (to 7%), which is projected to raise $1.4 billion that would be dedicated for homestead property tax reduction. This revenue would be distributed to school districts on a per pupil basis (capped at the state's allowable homestead/farmstead exclusion). School districts would have the option to enact a local personal income tax of up to 1% in order to further reduce property taxes (up to the allowable homestead exclusion). Unlike other plans, districts could choose to implement a local tax shift at any time without voter approval. The proposal also includes a back-end referendum on future school tax increases with referendum exceptions similar to those in the House-Senate Conference Committee report (Special Session House Bill 39). Finally, the plan earmarks future gaming revenue for senior citizens' property tax relief. Under the proposal, gaming revenue, when available, would be deposited into the State Lottery Fund to expand the state program that provides property tax and rent rebates to qualifying senior citizens. A press release summarizing the proposal is available at www.pahousegop.com/index.cfm?ContentID=6935&ParentID=117&SectionID=368&SectionTree=89,117,368&lnk=b&ItemID=6893.


  • On Tuesday, May 23, the House State Government Committee approved legislation ( House Bill 2562) that increases the minimum employer contribution rate to the Pennsylvania School Employee's Retirement Fund to 7 percent of payroll plus the premium assistance contribution rate for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2007. Beginning July 1, 2008 and thereafter, the state and school districts would pay "the employer normal contribution rate plus the premium assistance contribution rate." The current employer contribution rate paid by the state and school districts is 4 percent. HB 2562 awaits further consideration by the full House.


  • About half of Pennsylvanians support legislation to prohibit schools from opening for students before Labor Day, according to a Mansfield University survey commissioned by the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee. The Committee passed legislation to this effect ( House Bill 1968) in October 2005, but, at the time, said the bill would not move further until members heard what Pennsylvanians had to say about the issue. The proposed legislation would restrict the current authority of a local school board to determine a school district's calendar. Critics also argue that the restriction would make scheduling more difficult at a time when districts are choosing to lengthen the school calendar to accommodate professional development requirements as well as to have students spend more time on core academic subjects.

    At its May 23 meeting, Committee Chair Bob Godshall said the legislation is the number one priority of the state's tourism and hospitality industries who want students available in order to fully staff attractions through the end of the summer travel season. Godshall said parents and student workers also would benefit by eliminating disruptions in end-of-summer work and vacation plans. The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) recently hired a Pittsburgh firm to study the economic impact of opening schools before Labor Day. A report from the LBFC is expected by June 30.


  • The House Select Committee on Academic Freedom wrapped up its investigation into the academic environment at the state's community colleges, state-owned colleges and state-related universities with two public hearings on May 31 and June 1 in Harrisburg. The Select Committee was established by House Resolution 177 of 2005 to explore "the academic atmosphere and the degree to which faculty have the opportunity to instruct and students have the opportunity to learn in an environment conducive to the pursuit of knowledge and truth and the expression of independent thought." A report of the Committee's findings is expected by June 30. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Tom Stevenson at (717) 787-2047. The Resolution's prime sponsor, Representative Gibson Armstrong, was defeated in the May 16 Primary Election.


  • On Wednesday, May 24, the House Education Committee met at the Hershey Medical Center for an informational meeting on assessing flu pandemic preparedness. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Jess Stairs at (717) 783-9311.



  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved three sets of final stage regulations on June 1 put forth by the Pennsylvania State Board of Education. Each of the regulatory packages will take effect after publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. The Commission granted final approval to changes to Chapter 49 (Certification of Professional Personnel) and Chapter 31 (Higher Education General Provisions) and endorsed new Academic Standards for Career Education & Work.

    Regulatory changes to Chapter 49 include: a new requirement that teacher preparation programs, induction programs and professional development programs provide instruction in working with diverse learners; a change in the timeline for teacher preparation program approval reviews from every five to every seven years (instituted to align with the review timeline used by national accrediting bodies); and the establishment of Program Endorsement Certificates in areas where formal certification does not exist (such as classroom management and classroom technology). Approved changes do not include a recent proposal to realign the state's teacher certification system. The State Board of Education currently is drafting a second set of revisions to Chapter 49 that would incorporate changes to the certification system. For a copy of the approved changes to Chapter 49, see www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/lib/stateboard_ed/Chapter_49_final_form_draft_1-27-06_%28jeb%29__GED_.doc_--_tracking_hidden.doc.

    Changes to Chapter 31 allow certain institutions that offer the majority of their degree program through distance learning to petition the Pennsylvania Department of Education to operate as a college or university in Pennsylvania. Other changes require institutions to address levels of professional development support provided to faculty based on faculty rank and status. Access the approved changes to Chapter 31 at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/lib/stateboard_ed/Chapter_31_Regulations_%28GED%29.doc.

    The state's new Academic Standards for Career Education & Work outline the knowledge all Pennsylvania students should have (at grades 3, 5, 8 and 11) related to career awareness and preparation, career acquisition, career retention and advancement, and entrepreneurship. For a copy of the new standards, see www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/lib/stateboard_ed/Final_Form_Career_Ed__Work_Stds.doc.


  • Effective July 1, 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Education will increase the fee for teacher certification applications from the current $15 for all applications to $40 for all in-State certification applications and $80 for all out-of-State certification applications. The Department also will establish a Call Center within its Bureau of Teacher Certification and Preparation to improve its ability to respond to inquiries about certification and to reduce the processing time for applications. For more information, contact Charles Sabulski, Chief of the Candidate Evaluations Services, at (717) 772-4508 or csabulski@state.pa.us.


  • Attendees at EPLC's May 24 Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum Capital Breakfast Series learned about "Financial Costing-Out and Adequacy Studies Related to the Accomplishment of Student Academic Proficiency Goals" from John L. Myers, Education Finance Consultant and Vice President of the Denver-based Augenblick, Palaich and Associates, Inc. Myers recently completed a costing-out study for the Allentown School District. Presentations from Myers' speech, that include a primer on costing-out and a review of his work in Allentown, are available online at www.eplc.org/forum_speakers.html.

    Senator Patrick Browne and Representative Mike Veon attended the Forum to discuss resolutions they have introduced that direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to conduct a statewide costing-out study (Senate Resolution 274 and House Resolution 696). The resolutions direct the LBFC to study "the educational resources and related costs necessary to support the expectations for academic proficiency for all students." Recently, Representative Jennifer Mann also introduced a resolution (House Resolution 760) that calls for the LBFC to conduct a statewide costing-out study. Additionally, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education is exploring the possibility of conducting such a study.

    EPLC, Good Schools Pennsylvania, and the Education Law Center have been working together and with other organizations for several months to encourage state policymakers to commission an "adequacy" or "costing-out" study to inform policymakers and the public about the funding necessary to build the educational capacity necessary to help all students accomplish the academic standards now included in Pennsylvania law.


  • The Education Policy and Leadership Center hosted an invitational Symposium on Pennsylvania Higher Education Issues on May 31. Attendees gathered to discuss issues highlighted in EPLC's new report "A Rising Tide: The Current State of Higher Education in Pennsylvania" related to higher education participation, students' readiness to succeed in college, and the alignment of degrees with Commonwealth needs. The report, a joint venture between EPLC and The Learning Alliance for Higher Education, is designed as a tool to inform future state education policy by providing an overview of the current landscape of higher education in the Commonwealth. Access the report at www.eplc.org/ARisingTide.pdf.


  • 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

    Achievement Gap

  • The National Center for Education Statistics recently released national and state-level results from the 2005 science assessment given to a sample fourth, eighth and twelfth graders. Pennsylvania did not participate in the 2005 science assessment. Nationally, average scores increased for fourth graders compared to previous assessments, were unchanged for eighth graders compared to assessments administered in 1996 and 2000, and were lower for twelfth graders than in 1996 (twelfth graders showed no change since the 2000 assessment). The NCES online report card provides details on science achievement by gender, race/ethnicity, students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, parental education level, students with disabilities and English language learners, as well as information about the coursetaking patterns of twelfth graders. Access the results at http://nationsreportcard.gov/science_2005/. NCES also offers a policymaker's guide to the assessment, available at http://nationsreportcard.gov/2005_assessment/s0044.asp?printver=.


  • Early Childhood Education

  • A new report from National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) analyzes California's proposal to provide universal preschool education - Proposition 82. The analysis conservatively estimates the proposal it calls favorable could net $2.78 for every dollar invested in pre-K. The report says the plan "has a well designed, carefully laid out approach to developing capacity including infrastructure, ensuring that higher education is ready and accessible to develop the teaching force, and maximizing the use of existing facilities and staff," as well as a "reasonable" timeline for accommodating projected enrollment increases. Learn more at http://nieer.org/resources/files/CAProp82Analysis.pdf.


  • School Choice

  • The Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University recently released its eighth annual "Profile of For-Profit Education Management Organizations: 2005-2006". The report's authors conclude that "the for-profit Education Management Organization (EMO) industry is consolidating and some EMOs are shifting business models to meet the demand for education services outside of school management". The authors point to the reduction of EMO businesses (from 59 to 51 between 2004-05 and 2005-06), the decline in EMO-managed schools (from 535 in 2004-05 to 521 in 2005-06, though student enrollment in EMO schools has remained steady), and growing market opportunities in tutoring, summer school, and school district consulting to support their theory. For more information, access the report at www.asu.edu/educ/epsl/CERU/Documents/EPSL-0605-104-CERU.pdf.


  • School-Business Partnerships

  • The Daniels Fund has published an online resource that identifies seven strategies for building effective school-business partnerships. The report says partnerships should: (1) Ensure student learning and achievement are the focus of every partnership; (2) Develop a well-defined and well-managed program that supports school-based partnerships; (3) Makes strategic matches between schools and businesses that advance a school's improvement goals; (4) Set clear expectations for schools and businesses; (5) Provide training for school staff and business employees; (6) Create a meaningful process for communicating about the program and recognizing the contributions of business partners; and (7) Regularly monitor and evaluate each partnership and the overall program. Learn more at www.danielsfund.org/sevenstrategies/Strategies/.



  • Datebook

  • Next Week...The Campaign for Fiscal Equity/Access and national partners co-sponsor the 2006 Quality Education Conference on June 5-6 in Washington, D.C. The House Children & Youth Committee and the Senate Aging & Youth Committee hold a joint informational meeting on child abuse prevention in Harrisburg on Tuesday. The Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee meets Wednesday to consider Senate Bill 1209, establishing the Healthy Farms and Healthy Schools Program. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.


  • The Pennsylvania House and Senate return to session on Monday, June 5.



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