EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, March 20, 2006

    Special Session on Property Tax Relief

  • House and Senate leaders have appointed a conference committee to negotiate a resolution to the ongoing property tax reform debate. A conference committee was formed after the two chambers could not agree on amendments to legislation designed to provide property tax relief (Special Session House Bill 39). Senators appointed are: David Brightbill, Edwin Erickson and Robert Mellow. House members appointed are: Lynn Herman, David Steil, and Michael Veon.

    Republican leaders also have invited Governor Rendell to meet with the conference committee. While it is quite usual for the Governor to be represented in behind-the-scenes negotiations over major legislative issues, this invitation for what appears to be a more public role is unusual.

    Throughout the Special Session, the House and Senate have been divided over what revenue source should be used to provide property tax relief (usually some combination of gambling proceeds, state taxes, and/or other local taxes). Both chambers have expressed support for expanding tax relief for senior citizens and placing a back-end referendum on future school tax increases. Discussion has focused on providing dollar-for-dollar tax shifts with little attention to significant problems of inequity and inadequacy caused by the statewide education funding system. A review of Special Session activity is available in archived editions of the EPLC Education Notebook at www.eplc.org/ednotebook.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

    Senate Actions

  • The Senate Education Committee amended and passed the following legislation at its meeting Tuesday, March 14 (both bills await further consideration by the full Senate):

    House Bill 185: Makes omnibus changes to the school code related to students' health and wellness. HB 185 requires school boards to provide reasonable public notice or hold a public hearing prior to signing contracts for the sale of food sold in competition to a school's cafeteria (such as contracts with soda vendors) and requires school districts to adopt nutritional guidelines for all food and beverages available during the school day. The legislation also requires school districts to establish local wellness policies as part of their strategic plans. The bill establishes an interagency coordinating council for child health and nutrition comprised of the Departments of Education, Health and Agriculture which will annually review and revise the state's nutrition and activity plan to prevent obesity and related chronic diseases. Finally, HB 185 requires all students to participate in physical education programs that are aligned with state standards on health, safety and physical education.

    House Bill 1618: Allows special education students to participate in graduation ceremonies with their classmates even if their individualized education program (IEP) prescribes continuing education beyond four years of high school. Special education students who have attended four years of high school would receive a certificate of attendance at a graduation ceremony with their age peers. Receipt of a certificate of attendance would not preclude a special education student from receiving a high school diploma upon completion of their IEP.

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on legislation designed to enhance school safety by revising the state's school violence reporting system and banning individuals convicted of certain crimes from ever being employed in a school ( Senate Bill 965 and Senate Bill 966). For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair James Rhoades at (717) 787-2637.

  • House Actions

  • House Republicans introduced legislation last week that will serve as vehicles for FY 2006-07 appropriations. Links to legislation that would support the state's general fund (introduced in House Bill 2499), state-related higher education institutions, and other education entities are available on EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_2006-07budget.html. The House Appropriations Committee moved forward each of these bills on Wednesday; each now sits before the full House.

  • The House passed the following legislation last week:

    House Bill 1983: Specifies training requirements for school police officers. Current school police officers must complete the training requirements within two years; new officers must complete the training in order to be hired. HB 1983 also provides a state reimbursement to school districts to provide the training that includes tuition, related costs, and 60% of an officer's salary while the officer is completing the training. If an officer resigns within two years of completing the training required by HB 1983, the officer would be responsible for reimbursing the school district for its salary expenses while the officer was undergoing training. HB 1983 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

    House Bill 2038: Establishes a Career Starter Tax Credit for businesses to offer paid internships to college students. Businesses would be eligible for a state tax credit for qualified expenses, including wages and other forms of worker compensation incurred to provide a student internship. Tax credits may not exceed $1,000 per internship per year, or a maximum of $10,000 per business per year. Tax credits approved by the state under the Career Starter program are limited to $10 million annually. HB 2038 also requires the state Department of Education to establish an online clearinghouse of internship opportunities and statistics on current and upcoming workforce needs. HB 2038 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

  • The House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee passed the following legislation at its meeting Tuesday:

    House Bill 2437: Increases the amount of part-time student assistance grants available to Pennsylvania National Guard members without bachelors' degrees and makes those who already possess a bachelor's degree eligible for smaller part-time student grants. HB 2437 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

    Senate Bill 1081: Allows Pennsylvania National Guard members to continue receiving higher education assistance benefits if they are disabled in the line of duty and are no longer able to perform their duties in the Guard. The bill applies to those discharged for medical disability after September 11, 2001 and establishes a time limit on how long members may claim educational benefits. SB 1081 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

  • Home education students would be permitted to use school libraries to access scholastic materials if legislation approved by the House Education Committee on Wednesday becomes law. House Bill 2465 was amended to allow students' parents to accompany them to the libraries. The bill requires that school districts provide access to homeschoolers, but allows districts to designate specific times during which home education students may utilize their facilities. HB 2465 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

    The House Education Committee also reviewed proposed changes to Department of Education standards for vocational education (Chapter 339). Among the changes, the revisions establish accountability standards for career and technical education programs that raise academic achievement standards for students and provide for the creation of technical institutes within Career and Technical Centers that will offer courses aligned with labor market needs for postsecondary credit. Some Committee members expressed concern with a requirement that students complete a minimum of 360 instructional hours in a vocational program; particular concern has been voice among the agriculture community. Acting Director of the state Bureau of Career and Technical Education Lee Burket said the 360 hour requirement is current regulation, not a change or revision in the proposal, that was established to ensure that programs "address minimum program content standards outlined in the classification of instructional programs." The Education Committee will submit its comments on Chapter 339 to PDE for its consideration.

  • The House Appropriations Committee moved forward the following legislation this week:

    House Bill 1419: Allows private residential rehabilitation institutions that provide special education services to charge a student's district of residence for indirect or administrative expenses. The charge may be assessed equal to the amount received in the immediately preceding fiscal year, not to exceed the net cost of delivering special education services minus funding received from the state. HB 1419 awaits consideration by the full House.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education approved proposed regulations governing early childhood education at its meeting Thursday, the first-ever guidelines for state-funded preschool programs. The regulations are reflected in changes to Chapters 4 (Curriculum), 11 (Student Attendance), and 12 (Students) and address issues such as instructional time, teacher credentials, and class size. The preschool standards now begin the regulatory review process and will undergo review by the House and Senate Education Committees, the Independent Regulatory Review Board (IRRC) and the Attorney General. Opportunities for citizens to comment to the State Board, to the legislative committees, and to IRRC also are available. A copy of the proposed regulations is accessible online at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/site/default.asp?g=0.

    The State Board also approved changes to the regulations governing higher education (Chapter 31). The revisions would allow certain institutions that offer the majority of their degree program through distance learning to petition PDE to operate as a college or university. The changes also add technology to the description of an institution's general education curriculum and require universities to address levels of professional development support provided to faculty based on rank and status level. The regulations will now begin the regulatory review process. Access proposed revisions to Chapter 31 at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/lib/stateboard_ed/Chapter_31_7-20-05_JEB_%28GED%29.doc.

    Additionally, the Board adopted two resolutions endorsing the use of prior learning assessment by colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and supporting Pennsylvania's policies to comply with NCLB.

    The State Board voiced support for the state's Workforce Investment Board to expand access to the prior learning assessment for adult learners. The assessment tool was developed by the Council of Adult and Experiential Learning and "uses a set of policies and procedures for awarding college credit for life experience in an academically sound manner." According to information provided by the Board, students awarded credit using this assessment exhibit improved retention, increased course enrollment, higher cumulative grade point averages and improved complex problem-solving.

    The State Board also adopted a resolution supporting the state's policies to comply with the highly qualified teacher requirements of No Child Left Behind. The federal government recently notified PDE that certain aspects of Pennsylvania's plan are not in compliance with NCLB. PDE's response to the preliminary findings from the federal monitoring review is available online at www.teaching.state.pa.us/teaching/lib/teaching/PDEPrelimResponsetoUSDEMonitoringRpt02-23-06.pdf.

    Finally, the Board approved the creation of an ad hoc committee to explore the possibility of conducting an education funding adequacy study. Board member James Barker will lead the ad hoc committee to investigate whether support for a study exists and frame the scope of a study. Barker said in light of increased accountability for meeting state standards, it is important to look at students' opportunities to meet these goals. The Committee will report back to the State Board in May.

    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 to accomplish the academic standards included in Pennsylvania law. More than 30 other states have commissioned such studies.

  • The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee has released a report on "Reimbursement for Educational Services for Adjudicated Youth in Private Residential Facilities". The report is available online at http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/factsheets/2006/380%20Adj_youth.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

  • "Unless Keystone educators and citizens invest today in early childhood education, they'll wind up spending more tomorrow," says a new report from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The analysis found that beyond the academic benefit to students, preschool realizes a fiscal benefit to Pennsylvania taxpayers of $1.68 for every dollar invested in preschool. Future savings are incurred in reduced need for special education, increased earnings of graduates providing a higher tax base, and reductions in spending on public assistance and corrections. Furthermore, typical school districts will recoup most of their investments almost immediately (approximately 78 cents on every dollar). Read "Invest Now or Pay More Later: Early Childhood Education Promises Savings to Pennsylvania School Districts" at www.pde.state.pa.us/early_childhood/lib/early_childhood/BUILD_Report_III.Harvey.Feb061.pdf.

  • Other

  • Democrat John Sabatina won a special election to fill the 174th House seat in Philadelphia. The seat was vacated when Alan Butkovitz resigned to become Philadelphia City Controller.

  • Jeanette Reibman, the first woman elected to a full term in the Pennsylvania Senate, passed away at age 90. Reibman served in the Senate from 1966 to 1994, following ten years in the Pennsylvania House. An advocate for children and families, during her tenure Reibman chaired the Senate Education Committee and was instrumental in the establishment of community colleges, legislation that created the State System of Education, and the establishment of vocation-technical schools. Every significant education policy enacted in Pennsylvania during her 38-year career was influenced by this dedicated public servant.

  • Former Speaker of the House K. Leroy Irvis, the first African American to hold that post anywhere in the nation, passed away at the age of 89. Irvis, first elected in 1958, served four terms as Speaker during his career that spanned more than three decades in the Pennsylvania House. Recognized for the non-partisan approach with which he served as Speaker, those who have recounted his career repeatedly refer to him as a "giant" for the leadership he provided in many arenas, including the Legislature. A public school teacher after college graduation, Irvis played a major role in many Pennsylvania education initiatives including the establishment of community colleges, the conversion of three private universities to state-related status, the establishment of the Act 101 higher education program, the creation of PHEAA, and much more.

  • An Education Issues Workshop for Legislative Candidates and campaign staff will be hosted by EPLC in Harrisburg on Tuesday, March 21. Regional workshops were held in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh on March 17 and March 18. For a registration form, workshop agenda, and additional details, see www.eplc.org/candidateworkshop.html.

  • The Fourth Annual Pennsylvania Education Policy and Leadership Conference wrapped up on March 14 with a session on "What's Working with NCLB and What's Not: Messages for the Congress". Power point presentations provided by conference panelists are available online at www.eplc.org/conference.html.

  • This Week...The Senate Appropriations Committee meets Monday. Good Schools Pennsylvania, the Education Law Center and EPLC host a community meeting for education advocates Monday in Reading. EPLC hosts an Education Issues Workshop for Legislative Candidates on Tuesday in Harrisburg. The Senate Education Committee holds a public hearing on higher education articulation agreements on Wednesday. The House Select Committee on Academic Freedom meets Wednesday and Thursday in Millersville. The American Education Finance Association holds its annual meeting March 23-25 in Denver. The Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Association for Multicultural Education holds its annual conference March 24-25 in Scranton. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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

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