EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, June 30, 2006

    FY 2006-2007 State Budget

    The General Assembly is expected to pass a FY 2006-2007 state budget either later today (Friday) or this weekend. Indications are that the budget will include all of the Governor's major education initiatives. The legislature also is expected to adopt companion legislation making omnibus changes to the school code. EPLC will provide a comprehensive review of the education-related budget items and the provisions of the omnibus school code legislation in next week's edition of the EPLC Education Notebook.

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Special Session on Property Taxes

  • Governor Rendell has signed into law legislation ( Act 1 of Special Session #1 of 2005-2006) that uses anticipated gaming revenue to provide school property tax relief, allows voters to locally decide to shift a larger portion of property taxes to a local income tax, and imposes a back-end referendum on future school tax increases (with certain exceptions). For an announcement from the Governor's office, see www.governor.state.pa.us/governor/cwp/view.asp?a=3&Q=445952. For a more detailed review of the legislation which received final approval from the General Assembly last month, see the June 16 edition of the EPLC Education Notebook at www.eplc.org/notebook2006/June16.html.

  • Senate Actions

  • This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved forward a number of non-preferred appropriations bills providing FY 2006-07 funding for state-related universities and other education-related entities. The legislation has been re-committed to the Senate Appropriations Committee and likely will be adopted in conjunction with the FY 2006-07 state budget.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee also passed legislation ( House Bill 2437) that increases the amount of part-time student assistance grants available to Pennsylvania National Guard members who do not possess bachelors' degrees. Such members would be eligible to receive either the complete tuition for the part-time course of study in which they are enrolled or two-thirds the tuition charged to state residents by the PA State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), whichever is less. PA National Guard members who already possess bachelor's degrees would continue to be eligible for the part-time student grants currently available to all Guard members, either one-half the tuition for the part-time course of study in which they are enrolled or one-third the in-state tuition charged by PASSHE, whichever is less. HB 2437 awaits consideration by the full Senate.

  • House Actions

  • The House passed the following legislation this week:

    House Bill 1729: Requires principals or guidance counselors to conduct interviews with students who withdraw from school or who are illegally absent for 10 days or more. When a student is legally withdrawing, an interview must be conducted in conjunction with verification of any work permit and must inquire about a student's reasons for withdrawing. Students also must be made aware of alternatives to withdrawing from school. When a student is not in compliance with the state's compulsory school attendance laws, an interview must inquire as to why a student is illegally absent. (HB 1729 does not apply to students who withdraw to attend a charter or cyber charter school, home education program, nonpublic nonlicensed school, private academic school or higher education institution).

    Under HB 1729, if a student fails to complete an interview, the student's parent or guardian must complete the interview on their behalf. Parents who do not complete an interview - either in person or via telephone - could face a civil penalty of up to $300. Information collected during an interview on a standard form to be developed by the state Department of Education (PDE) would become part of a student's permanent record and be filed with PDE. Interview data, excluding personal identification information, would be reported in PDE's annual report on school dropouts. HB 1729 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

    House Bill 2397: Allows state higher education scholarships (PHEAA grants) to be renewed for four years beyond a student's first year of study (for students in four-year degree programs) to the extent that the General Assembly allocates funds for this purpose. HB 2397 requires PHEAA to ask for such funding as part of its annual budget request. Currently, scholarships are renewable only for three years (for students in four-year degree programs). To qualify for a fifth year of study under HB 2397, a student must be in good academic standing, make normal progress toward degree completion, and continue to be eligible for state grants as determined by PHEAA. HB 2397 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

    Senate Bill 1043: Provides 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. An amendment was added related to group life insurance for PA National Guard members. SB 1043 has been sent to the Senate Rules and Executive Nominations Committee for concurrence in House amendments.

    House Bill 256: Requires students to be screened for their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Risk assessments would be conducted by a school district physician during the medical exams already required upon entry to school, in sixth grade and in eleventh grade. An amendment was added to the bill to establish a conditional teaching certificate. The amendment authorizes the state Department of Education to award conditional certification to graduates of state-approved teacher education programs who have passed the subject content exams required for certification but have not passed all non-subject matter tests. Conditional certificate holders would be authorized to teach for two years, during which time the individual would be assessed by the school district and issued a permanent teaching certificate upon satisfactory evaluation. Conditional certificates may be issued to an individual only one time and time spent teaching on a conditional certificate would not count toward the requirements of teacher tenure. HB 256 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee passed the following legislation:

    House Bill 696: The Committee approved an amended version of HB 696, which establishes the Keystone Scholars Award Program to award higher education scholarships to select 12th grade Pennsylvania public school students who meet certain academic qualifications. The legislation requires school boards to establish procedures to select one twelfth grader from each secondary school, charter school and vocational-technical school in the state to receive $1,000 per year scholarships (up to $4,000 maximum) from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. To qualify, a student must attend a postsecondary institution located in Pennsylvania. HB 696 has been re-committed to the House Rules Committee.

    House Bill 2297: Allows institutions of higher education to waive tuition fees for Pennsylvanians over age 60 to enroll in courses on a space-available basis. Participation in the program by higher education institutions is voluntary. Some colleges and universities already implement similar policies. HB 2297 has been re-committed to the House Rules Committee.

    House Bill 2642: Establishes new criteria for the contents of the state's Master Plan for Higher Education. HB 2642 requires the Master Plan to: (1) describe the current higher education landscape in PA; (2) identify unmet needs and gaps with regard to career fields, geographic and financial access; (3) identify emerging higher education issues and recommend strategies and options designed to address the issues; (4) identify gaps and opportunities for collaboration with basic education, workforce development programs, economic development and other related systems; and (5) outline a plan for action by the board to revise or update its higher education regulations. The bill completely removes the current Master Plan criteria. By law, the State Board of Education is charged with adopting a Master Plan for Higher Education every five years. HB 2642 has been re-committed to the House Rules Committee.

  • This week, the House Appropriations Committee moved forward the following legislation:

    House Bill 2465: Allows home education students and their parents to use public school libraries to access scholastic materials. The bill allows school districts to designate specific times during which home education students may utilize their facilities. HB 2465 awaits further consideration by the full House.

  • This week, the House Rules Committee moved forward the following legislation:

    House Bill 2608: Establishes the School-Based Mentoring Grant Program Act. HB 2608 would provide grants of up to $1,000 per student (plus a required up to 50% local match) to nonprofit mentoring organizations that are dues-paying affiliates with a national mentoring organization. The bill includes a $5 million appropriation to support the program in the 2006-07 fiscal year. HB 2608 has been re-committed to the House Appropriations Committee.

  • State Board of Education

  • On Thursday, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education took action on the following items:

    Chapter 49-2 (Certification of Professional Personnel): The Board approved proposed revisions to Chapter 49 that focus teacher preparation and certification on meeting the needs of diverse learners and reorganizes the state's teacher certification system to recognize the different stages of child development. The proposal would require teachers to receive training in working with special needs students and English language learners in their college preparation programs, induction programs and ongoing professional development programs. Additionally, beginning in 2012, the Commonwealth would begin issuing new teaching certificates aligned to early childhood, elementary/middle, and secondary levels. Special education certificates also would be broken into similar primary, middle and secondary levels and be issued in conjunction with appropriate "dual certification" in the academic area of their grade level. The proposal will now begin to be reviewed through the regulatory review process. A copy of the proposed regulations will be posted at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/site/default.asp?g=0&pde_internetNav=|.

    Pennsylvania System of Standards and Assessment: The Board approved three items related to the PSSA: assessment anchors, performance level descriptors, and cut scores. The Board voted to adopt Pennsylvania's assessment anchors as the state's academic content standards. The anchors were formally recognized for this purpose after a recent U.S. Department of Education review cited this as necessary in order for the state to have a comprehensive standards and assessment system. The Board approved two sets of anchors, one developed in 2005 and a set of updated anchors that will go into effect in 2007. The approved anchors apply to reading and math for grades 3 through 8 and grade 11. For more information about assessment anchors, see www.pde.state.pa.us/a_and_t/cwp/view.asp?a=108&q=103127&a_and_tNav=|6309|&a_and_tNav=|.

    The Board also approved performance level descriptors for the PSSA, which provide a narrative description of the advanced, proficient, basic and below basic performance levels. Descriptors were approved for the new math and reading exams that will be administered in grades 4, 6 and 7 and the new writing exam that will be administered in grades 5, 8 and 11. Additionally, minor additions were made to the descriptions for the current reading exam given in grades 3, 5, 8 and 11.

    Finally, the Board approved cut scores for the new PSSA reading and math exams that will be administered in grades 4, 6 and 7 and the new writing exam that will be administered in grades 5, 8 and 11. Cut scores define the range of points that correlate to the exam's advanced, proficient, basic and below basic performance levels. For more information, contact PDE's Bureau of Assessment and Accountability at (717) 705-2343.

    Chapter 40 (Institutional Approval): The Board approved proposed revisions to Chapter 40 that cleans up language in the current regulations to allow for the operation of for-profit higher education institutions. The proposed changes also delete existing language that would allow additional institutions to apply to PDE to become affiliated with the State System of Higher Education, as this function is more appropriately performed by the State System's Board of Governors. However, the regulations preserve a role for PDE with institutions seeking state-related or state-aided status. The proposed revisions now will be reviewed through the regulatory review process. A copy of the proposed regulations are available at http://www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/lib/stateboard_ed/CHAPTER_40_6-19-06.doc.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • On Wednesday, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) released an analysis of the potential costs and impacts of legislation pertaining to early retirement incentives and cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments for state and public school employees (House Bills 130 and 131), as directed by House Resolution 299 of 2005. The LBFC hired Milliman Consultants and Actuaries to conduct the analysis.

    The study looked at: the costs and assets required to fund these initiatives now and over the next ten years; the past impact of early retirement incentives on budget and workforce needs; the actual value of past cost-of-living increases for retirees; the value of early retirement programs in providing employment for younger workers; the potential impact of the mix of critical skills and experience within Commonwealth agencies and school districts and alternatives to maintaining or ensuring adequate staffing in the context of retirement enhancements; likely impacts on the state's General Fund and various types of school districts according to size, aid ratio and other factors; and the health and welfare of retirees.

    Under HB 130, eligible members of the State Employee's Retirement System (SERS) and Public School Employee's Retirement System (PSERS) could retire without penalty after 30 years of service or if the member's age plus years of service totals 80 or more. Based on the cost-benefit analysis, the consultant recommends that if an early retirement incentive is offered, school districts should be allowed to "opt-out" of the incentive to avoid the loss of too many employees with critical skills or experience.

    HB 131 would provide annual COLAs to annuitants based on the Consumer Price Index. For various reasons cited in the report, the consultant did not believe the COLA provisions to be feasible at this time. If the legislature does enact an automatic COLA, the consultant suggested that the COLA should be limited (such as, no more than 3% per year) and it should be provided only after an annuitant attained superannuation age and after they have been retired 12 months or more.

    See the complete LBFC report, "Potential Costs and Impacts of HB 130 (Early Retirement Incentives) and HB 131 (Cost-of-Living Increases)", at http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/factsheets/2006/382_EarlyRetirement.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

    High School Reform

  • "High School Reform and Work: Facing Labor Market Realities", a new report from the Educational Testing Service designed to inform discussions about high school reform, "attempts to bring together available information on the work world, what employers say they want, what employment projections show, and the requirements and qualifications necessary to meet employer needs and standards." The paper includes information about projected job openings through 2012 and the level of skills needed to perform each job, the skills needed to earn a middle-class wage in the United States, and more. To read the report, see www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICHSWORK.pdf.

  • "Are pathways available to help dropouts pursue an education and move toward an economically productive adulthood?" Jobs for the Future (JFF) explores this question in its recent report titled "Making Good on a Promise: What Policymakers Can Do to Support the Educational Persistence of Dropouts". Based on an analysis of data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study, JFF discredits the misconception that dropping out is limited to unmotivated, primarily black and Hispanic youth in urban areas who do not value education. In fact, data show that approximately 20% of all students drop out, representing almost 40% of students in the lowest income group and 10% of students from the two highest income groups. Moreover, data show that socioeconomic status, not race, "is the key indicator for dropping out" (though black and Hispanic students are more heavily affected by the dropout problem because they are overrepresented in the lowest income group). JFF also found that dropouts are motivated to complete and continue their educations, with almost 60% eventually earning a high school credential and about half those that earn the credential enrolling in college. The report includes steps policymakers should take "to give dropouts a second chance." Access the report at www.jff.org/download.php/MkingGoodProm.pdf?file=MkingGoodProm.pdf&KC_PubID=277.

  • Higher Education Finance

  • "Approximately two-thirds of part-time undergraduates and a quarter of full-time undergraduates are independent students", with a disproportionate number from low-income backgrounds and more than half first-generation college students. A new report from the Lumina Foundation for Education makes the case that determining the financial needs of independent students requires a different methodology than that used for students who depend on their parents. Author Sandy Baum proposes a formula for assessing the needs of independent students that takes into account four separate income components (past, current, future and parental) and looks at loans as student contribution, not need-based aid. For more details on the proposed formula, read "Fixing the Formula: A New Approach to Determining Independent Students' Ability to Pay for College" at www.luminafoundation.org/publications/Fixing_the_Formula.pdf.

  • Datebook

  • Next Week...The National Education Association holds its annual meeting June 30-July 5 in Orlando. The Pennsylvania PTA holds its summer leadership conference July 7-9 in York. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

  • Good Schools Pennsylvania will host a "Summer School" study and action course in four locations throughout Central Pennsylvania this summer. Sessions will include current information on the job of public education, what works in closing achievement gaps, the impact of funding inequity, the role of the legislature, accountability for results, and advocating for good schools for every child. Summer Schools will be held in the Lancaster/Lebanon County area, Dauphin/Cumberland County area, York/Adams County area, and Berks County and are open to the public. Details including dates, locations and program information are available at www.goodschoolspa.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=cms.viewPage&organization_id=8§ion_id=71&page_id=3191.

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