EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, June 26, 2006

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    FY 2006-07 State Budget

    The General Assembly continues its deliberations in what should be the last week of negotiations on the FY 2006-07 state budget. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved forward an amended version of the 2006-07 state budget bill (House Bill 2499). The bill has been re-committed to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

    In the lower chamber, the House passed a number of non-preferred appropriation bills, including legislation authorizing FY 2006-07 funding for state-related universities (Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University). Each bill awaits referral to a Senate Committee. The House Appropriations Committee passed legislation authorizing FY 2006-07 funding for the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS). The PSERS appropriations bill has been re-committed to the House Appropriations Committee.

    Links to budget-related legislation, along with additional information about the proposed 2006-07 state budget, are available through EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_2006-2007budget.html.

    Senate Actions

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee gave approval to a bill that seeks to make it easier for college students to transfer courses between the state's higher education institutions. Senate Education Committee chair Senator James Rhoades has been a forceful advocate for more transfer and articulation cooperation between higher education institutions, especially among public institutions. As amended, Senate Bill 1147 establishes a Transfer and Articulation Oversight Committee charged with developing a universal credit equivalency system. The Oversight Committee would be chaired by the Secretary of Education and include representatives of Pennsylvania's community colleges, State System of Higher Education universities and state-related universities (Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln), all of whom would be required to participate in the credit transfer system once it is established. Independent colleges and universities may elect to participate in the system. Those private institutions that choose to participate also would be represented on the Oversight Committee.

    Under SB 1147, the Oversight Committee has one year to determine course equivalencies for at least 30 hours of foundation courses - not including remedial, technical or applied courses - and to determine equivalency standards for premajor and major courses. Within two years, the Committee must determine course equivalencies for at least 30 hours of pre-major and major courses. A listing of course equivalencies for all institutions would be made publicly accessible to students and parents through an electronic database or software program. The Committee also is charged with identifying this database program.

    During the Committee's planning stage, colleges and universities would be required to submit a series of interim reports outlining actions they have taken or will take to supply the Oversight Committee with requested data; participate in development of the credit equivalency system; establish and maintain records of credits transferred and received as directed by PDE; and make reasonable changes and modifications to their courses, including strengthening courses, to ensure equivalency among the institutions, as recommended by the Committee.

    If the Oversight Committee fails to show progress in developing a universal credit equivalency system by June 30, 2008, the Department of Education would impose a credit transfer system through regulation.

    SB 1147 awaits consideration by the full Senate. The provisions of SB 1147 may in some form be included in the omnibus School Code bill that the legislature will consider in conjunction with the state budget legislation.

  • The Senate Education Committee also adopted a resolution that directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to study the cost-effectiveness of consolidating school districts. Senate Resolution 208 directs the LBFC to determine whether consolidation at the county, intermediate unit or other level could allow services to be provided that poorer districts traditionally cannot afford; whether consolidating small and rural districts could garner savings through greater purchasing power; whether services could be consolidated through district consolidation; consolidation's effects on transportation, logistical and other issues; and whether the state could run a more efficient education system by pooling state moneys to provide better services for more rural districts. The LBFC would be required to report its findings and recommendations by December 31, 2006. SR 208 awaits consideration by the full Senate.

  • The Senate Finance Committee approved an amended version of legislation ( Senate Bill 292) that provides for the designation of local earned income tax collectors by school districts and other political subdivisions. SB 292 has been re-committed to the Senate Finance Committee.

  • House Actions

  • Last week, the House passed legislation ( House Bill 2526) 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 rate would be set at "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, but large increases are projected for coming years to meet the growing retirement costs to the fund. HB 2562 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

  • The House Appropriations Committee approved legislation ( Senate Bill 1043) to provide a free college education to the children and spouses of Pennsylvania National Guard members who are killed in the line of federal or state duty. The tuition waiver would cover the cost of attending a state-owned university, state-related university, community college or approved trade school. To qualify, the Guard member must have been a Pennsylvania resident and recipients must reside in the Commonwealth. Currently, state law provides a 50 percent tuition credit only to children of guardsmen killed during state duty. SB 1043 awaits consideration by the full House.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • Pennsylvania Bulletin...The June 17 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin includes publication of State Board of Education proposed regulations for prekindergarten programs (which entails revisions to Chapters 4, 11 and 12). Public comments on the proposed regulations will be accepted for 30 days from the date of publication. Instructions for submitting comments are included in the Bulletin at www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol36/36-24/1074.html.

  • 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

    Reality Check

  • In its latest round of opinion surveys about important education issues Public Agenda gauges the public's appetite for standards-based education. In "Reality Check 2006", the public reported a "strong belief in the intrinsic value of standards and testing and broad support for key elements", however, parents, students, teachers and school administrators all identified other education issues as more pressing. Both parents and students identified lack of money and lack of respect for teachers as more serious problems than low academic standards. To learn more about what the public thinks about standards-based education, see www.publicagenda.org/specials/realitycheck06/realitycheck06_main.htm.

  • National Center for Education Statistics

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

    Dropout Rates in the United States: 2002 and 2003 at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006062

    The Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate for Public High Schools from the Common Core of Data: School Years 2002-03 and 2003-04 at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006606

    Profile of Undergraduates in U.S. Postsecondary Education Institutions: 2003-04, With a Special Analysis of Community College Students at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2006184

  • Datebook

  • This Week...As the budget and related legislation move through the General Assembly, it would be very usual for numerous meetings of various House and Senate committees to be called "off the floor" with little advance notice. Here are the meetings previously announced...The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee meets Tuesday to consider House Bill 2437, related to part-time student assistance grants. The House Health and Human Services Committee meets Tuesday to consider House Bill 2167, which requires public schools to have automatic external defibrillators. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bill 696 (establishing the Keystone Scholars Award), House Bill 2297 (establishing the Older Pennsylvanian Higher Education Program) and House Bill 2642 (related to the master plan for higher education). The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee meets Wednesday to release a report on the potential costs and impacts of early retirement incentives and cost-of-living increases. The Pennsylvania State Board of Education meets Wednesday and Thursday. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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