EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, May 8, 2006

    Pennsylvania Public Education Issues Survey

    With only one more week until Primary Election Day in Pennsylvania, we hope voters are asking candidates for the Pennsylvania General Assembly what they think about issues like education funding, the implementation of No Child Left Behind, and early childhood education.

    The Pennsylvania Education Funding Advocacy Group, a coalition of 19 independent, non-partisan regional and statewide organizations, recently surveyed all candidates running for State Representative and State Senator in the 2006 primary election about these and other education issues. Survey responses are available online at www.eplc.org/2006primary.html.

    Candidates' responses are not used for endorsement purposes. Voters and the media are encouraged to read and consider the responses from the individual candidates about education policy issues. The Pennsylvania Public Education Issues Survey is the only statewide education issues survey of legislative candidates with responses publicly posted for voter information.

    New Report on the State of Higher Education in Pennsylvania

    The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC) and The Learning Alliance for Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania (TLA) announced a new report "A Rising Tide: The Current State of Higher Education in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania". The report shows that, overall, Pennsylvanians enjoy increasing access to higher education. However, a marked gap between educational attainment in majority and minority populations remains, young adults in rural communities remain at significant disadvantage, and the state's shortage of technically proficient workers likely is a result of inadequate secondary education - particularly in science and math. The report is available online at www.eplc.org/ARisingTide.pdf.

    "A Rising Tide: The Current State of Higher Education in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" provides the following key findings:

    • In general, Pennsylvanians enjoy increasing access to higher education. More start college, earn a baccalaureate degree, and continue their higher educations through graduate and professional study;

    • Little progress has been made to close the persistent gap between majority and minority educational attainment, and also the gap between the higher education prospects of young people schooled in rural as opposed to urban and suburban communities;

    • Young adults in rural communities remain at significant disadvantage, in part because they are more likely to attend a poorly performing school and college attendance is not as strong a tradition in the communities;

    • Most young adults in Pennsylvania found their higher education options to be expensive, but affordable;

    • The shortage of technically proficient workers in Pennsylvania probably has more to do with the quality of secondary education, particularly in science and math, than it does with the absence of opportunities to pursue a baccalaureate degree in those subjects at a Pennsylvania college or university.

    The report in part draws on data from a survey of 519 high school graduates, ages 18 to 34, conducted by Berwood Yost and G. Terry Madonna of the Floyd Institute's Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. In addition, the report's authors tracked educational attainment rates in Pennsylvania from 1990 onwards using information from a number of national databases.

    EPLC will convene an all-day Invitational Higher Education Symposium on May 31 to further discuss key issues of higher education access and affordability, the readiness of high school graduates for college studies, and the links between higher education programs and the state's workforce and economic development needs.

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    House-Senate Conference Committee on Property Tax Relief

  • Momentum to pass a property tax relief bill froze on Wednesday (May 3) when House Republicans decided they would not allow the House to vote on a compromise plan put forth by the Conference Committee on Property Tax Relief on Monday night and ratified by the Senate on Tuesday. House Republicans - who may consider the bill in June - echoed their earlier reservations that the bill does not provide enough tax relief for middle class homeowners and that funding for tax relief is based on yet-to-be-realized revenue from slots gaming rather than a broad-based state tax. House Republicans said there is still time to improve the legislation since no one would enjoy tax relief until mid-2007 under the Conference Committee's plan.

    The Conference Committee Report focuses heavily on tax relief for senior citizens by increasing income eligibility for the state program that provides property tax and rent rebates to qualifying seniors (extending benefits to an additional 400,000 seniors); increasing rebate amounts; providing additional tax relief to seniors in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Scranton; and providing relief to all seniors whose property tax bills exceed 15% of their income. Seniors would begin receiving checks under the expanded state rebate program in 2007 (initially using revenue from the state lottery fund, to be replaced later by gaming revenue); while other homeowners would begin receiving relief in 2008 or later when gaming funds are available.

    The Conference Report also makes all school districts subject to voter approval of future school tax increases that exceed an inflationary index via a back-end referendum. Districts that opted-in to Act 72 of 2004 would be required to implement referendum this year; all other districts would be required to implement referendum in 2007. Eleven referendum exceptions are provided for, including exceptions related to costs associated with special education, pension obligations and school construction. The Conference Report also allows voters to decide if they want to increase local earned or personal income taxes in order to cut property taxes further and to decide if they want to pay their property taxes in installments. Finally, the proposed legislation establishes a task force on school cost reduction within the state Department of Education.

    Links to Additional Property Tax Conference Report Resources:

    Conference Committee Report (Special Session House Bill 39):

    Summary of the Conference Report from Senate Republicans:

    Summary of the Conference Report from Senate Democrats:

    Statement and Summary on the Conference Report from House Republicans:

    Statement on the Conference Report from House Democrats:

    Statement on the Conference Report from Governor Ed Rendell:

  • House Actions

  • The Houserecently passed the following legislation:

    House Bill 382: Makes mobile and modular classrooms eligible for state construction reimbursement funds. HB 382 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

    House Bill 1561: Mandates training requirements for school police officers. Current officers would have two years to complete the training; new hires would be required to complete the training as a condition of employment. HB 1561 reimburses school districts for training tuition and related costs, as well as 60 percent of an officer's salary while completing the training. Officers that resign within two years of certification would be responsible for reimbursing the district for the portion of their salary that was not paid by the state. HB 1561 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

    House Bill 2375: Requires public and private higher education institutions to establish alcohol policies and to distribute those policies to students upon enrollment and once during each academic year. HB 2375 also requires institutions to have a disciplinary system for alcohol violations and outlines minimum penalties that institutions must administer for alcohol-related offenses. Penalties include a one-semester suspension from the institution and ineligibility for future state grants or scholarships upon a third alcohol-related violation. HB 2375 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

    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 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

    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 now heads to the Governor for his signature or veto.

  • Last week, the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee moved forward legislation that provides a free college education to the children and spouses of Pennsylvania National Guard members who are killed in the line of 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 to children of guardsmen killed during state duty. Senate Bill 1043 extends that benefit to cover the full cost of higher education for children and surviving spouses, and extends the benefit for guardsman killed during federal as well as state duty. SB 1043 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

  • The House Finance Committee passed two bills establishing special tax provisions related to TAP 529 college-savings plans. House Bill 529 would exempt distributions from TAP 529 accounts from state income tax as long as the distributions are used to pay for qualified educational expenses. House Bill 2096 would exempt contributions made to TAP 529 plans from state income tax (up to $10,000 per child annually). At its meeting Tuesday, the Finance Committee also approved House Bill 2553, which allows local governments to voluntarily establish local senior citizen property tax and rent rebate programs. All three bills have been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

  • Representatives of Achievement Builders Corporation (ABC) met with the House Education Committee on April 25 to make members aware of a product they have developed to improve student performance on state assessments. The Illinois-based company offers a series of four online practice exams that test students against state and national achievement standards in math, reading, science or social science. According to ABC, one of the benefits compared to traditional exams is that test results are immediately available to teachers and parents. Feedback reports point to specific pages in a student's textbook related to concepts the student missed on the exam, providing individual strategies for student improvement. The practice exams are used for diagnostic purposes, however, ABC is developing an online math assessment that Missouri will use to meet the testing requirements of No Child Left Behind as part of a pilot program. ABC touted the cost savings of this assessment. By using web-based technology rather than traditional paper and pencil tests, ABC says it is able to offer the exam plus one practice test at half the cost of Missouri's traditional assessment. For more information about ABC, visit www.abctests.com.

  • Senate Actions

  • On Wednesday, two Senate Committees passed legislation amending current laws related to the reporting of suspected child abuse. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed legislation that broadens the catalog of individuals required to report suspected child abuse. Senate Bill 1026 was amended to address the Child Protective Services Law, rather than the Crimes Code as initially introduced. The bill does not require those who volunteer with children to report suspected abuse, which had been an issue in earlier discussions. SB 1026 does include special reporting exceptions for attorneys and psychiatrists and psychologists treating a suspected victim. The Senate Aging & Youth Committee passed Senate Bill 886, which makes changes to the law relating to reporting and investigating child abuse by school employees. Both bills await further consideration by the full Senate.

  • On April 26, the Senate Finance Committee held an informational hearing on legislation ( Senate Bill 930) that limits government competition with private enterprise. The Committee heard testimony from private business owners, including the Pennsylvania School Bus Association, who say government-subsidized entities unfairly cut into their markets. The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) told Senators they oppose the bill. Stinson Stroup, Executive Director of PASA, said SB 930 restricts school districts' access to the marketplace, limits efficiencies districts can obtain through collaborative agreements, potentially limits the type of community programs schools can support through partnerships with non-profit organizations, and may hinder districts' from pursuing initiatives in creative operations for fear of protracted legal disputes. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Jane Earll at (717) 787-8927.

  • Senator Patrick Browne has introduced a concurrent resolution ( Senate Resolution 274) that directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to determine the cost of providing an education that equips all students with the resources necessary to attain the academic proficiencies established by state policy. The resolution directs the Committee to take into account the extraordinary needs of special education students, limited English proficiency students and students living in poverty. A similar resolution (House Resolution 696) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Mike Veon.

    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.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • Special education students may participate in graduation ceremonies with their classmates even if their individualized education program (IEP) prescribes continuing education beyond four years of high school under a new law ( Act 31) signed by Governor Rendell. 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 Tuesday, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education gathered public comments on a Department of Education proposal to transform the state's teacher certification system. Tuesday's meeting in Harrisburg was the second in a series of three hearings on proposed changes to Chapter 49 (Certification of Professional Personnel). For a copy of the proposed certification changes, see www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/site/default.asp?g=0.

  • Pennsylvania has been awarded a $732,000 federal grant to evaluate the effectiveness of it early childhood programs. The grant will support the Departments of Public Welfare and Education in establishing "a statewide system for collecting and analyzing child and family well-being data for families who were involved in early intervention and child care programs, as well as education systems for their children aged five and younger."

  • 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

  • The Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, of the U.S. Department of Education, has released a number of reports written by or for the commission. The papers, which address issues surrounding college affordability, accountability and accreditation, are available at www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/hiedfuture/reports.html.

  • Datebook

  • This Week...The Pennsylvania State Board of Education holds a public hearing on proposed changes to Chapter 49 (Certification of Professional Personnel) on Monday in Monroeville. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association annual School Construction Summit takes place in Altoona on May 11-12. EPLC's Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program meets Friday in Harrisburg. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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