EPLC Education Notebook

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


The state Senate and House of Representatives have concluded their voting business for the 2005-2006 Legislative Session. However, both chambers have not finally adjourned since leaders of the two chambers still must sign bills before they are sent to the Governor's desk. The 190th regular session of the General Assembly will officially be adjourned sine die at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 28, 2006.

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Enacted Legislation

  • Governor Rendell signed into law Act 148 (Senate Bill 592) which allows the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) to keep some investment information confidential for certain periods of time. The bill took effect upon receiving the Governor's signature.

  • House Activity

  • Kindergarten classrooms in public and private schools will be eligible for grants to offer nutritional and agriculture education programs through the Healthy Farms and Healthy Schools Program approved by the House on Monday. The program, established by Senate Bill 1209, also is designed to benefit Pennsylvania farmers by exposing students and their families to locally grown nutritional foods. SB 1209 awaits the Governor's signature or veto.

  • The House Appropriations Committee moved forward Senate Bill 1332 on November 13. SB 1332 makes numerous changes to the Public School Code related to school health services. The bill requires schools to ensure that students undergo a physical exam within one year prior to entering school, one year before or during fifth grade, one year before or during ninth grade, and prior to being issued an employment certificate. SB 1332 also requires children to visit the dentist within one year prior to starting school, one year before or during third grade, and one year before or during seventh grade. If a child does not undergo a physical or dental exam, the district must schedule an exam for the child with a qualified health professional or a school dentist and notify and invite parents to attend exams scheduled by the district for their child. SB 1332 also addresses procedures for students who have or are suspected of having communicable diseases, health examination requirements for school employees, and tuberculosis and communicable disease evaluations for school volunteers. The bill now dies with the end of session and lack of consideration by the full House.

  • The House Select Committee on Academic Freedom adopted a report of its investigation into the academic environment at the Commonwealth's colleges and universities on Tuesday. Established by House Resolution 177, the Select Committee spent the past year holding public hearings at colleges and universities across the state to probe institutional policies regarding academic freedom. Ultimately, the Committee "reached the consensus that we do not have a widespread problem of violations of students' and faculty members' academic freedom rights," stated Committee Chair Tom Stevenson in a letter that introduces the report. However, the Committee did find a need to ensure that students are aware of their rights related to academic freedom and made recommendations to this effect.

    The report recommends that higher education institutions: continue to review existing academic freedom policies and procedures to ensure the information is detailed and readily available to students, disseminate information about academic freedom policies and grievance procedures at student orientation and on the web, allow students to file a complaint with a university official outside of the student's major, maintain records of complaints filed under the academic freedom policy, and consider using course evaluation forms as a means for students to share their concerns about possible violations of academic freedom. The report also recommends that higher education institutions notify the House Subcommittee on Higher Education of actions taken as a result of the report by November 1, 2008. During the Committee's proceedings, both Temple University and Penn State University adopted modified academic freedom policies, which are included in the report as an example for other institutions.

    The final report represents a compromise between Republican and Democratic members of the Committee who did not reach consensus on a first draft that included a summary of the testimony gathered at the Select Committee's public hearings. Rather, the compromise version of the report includes an appendix of member remarks that will contain the summary of testimony under remarks submitted by Rep. Gibson Armstrong. Armstrong sponsored the resolution which established the Select Committee. Neither Representative Armstrong nor the chair of the Select Committee, Representative Stevenson, will return for the 2007-2008 Legislative Session. For more information about the report, contact Dustin Gingrich at (717) 783-4706.

  • On November 16, the House Education Committee held an informational meeting on school safety and security. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Jess Stairs at (717) 783-9311.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Task Force on School Cost Reduction was established by Special Session Act 1 of 2006 and is charged with making recommendations on reducing costs to school districts. The Committee met again on November 15 to begin its review of school district spending data that will help inform its recommendations.

    The Committee looked at historical expenditure data over the past 10 years to identify trends in school district spending and also reviewed how Pennsylvania stacks up against other states based on the expenditure data collected by Standard and Poor's. According to a data analysis prepared for the Task Force, instructional expenses, which account for the majority of district expenditures, have seen increases that are in line with inflation, save for special education costs which have increased by nearly three times the CPI. The review looked comprehensively at the five major expenditure functions reported by districts to PDE (instruction, support services, non-instructional services, facilities, and other expenditures) to identify cost drivers that the Task Force may want to explore in more detail as potential opportunities for savings. These cost-drivers include transportation, administration, tax collection, student activities, and facilities.

    The Task Force plans to continue its fact-finding review through the end of the year and use this identification of cost trends to outline where it will focus its future work. Members suggested gathering additional information related to costs associated with No Child Left Behind to determine if expenditures were impacted by NCLB implementation; increases in special education expenditures related to the number of students identified as in need of services and to the previous change in state policy away from funding special education based on actual enrollment; and costs related to charter and cyber charter schools. The Task Force also discussed looking at trends in the state's mandate waiver program to identify where districts typically apply for waivers and the associated savings, as well as reviewing mandates within categories that are identified as cost drivers.

    Additional information about the Task Force is available on its new web site that includes a membership list, announcements of upcoming meetings and an archive of meeting minutes at www.pde.state.pa.us/k12_finances/cwp/view.asp?a=305&q=123154&k12_financesNav=|4339|.

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education approved performance level descriptors and cut scores for the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA) at its November 16 meeting. The PASA assesses the math and reading skills of students with severe cognitive disabilities. Results of the assessment count toward determining whether a school made adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the state's accountability system. Federal regulations allow the PASA to be administered to 1 percent of enrolled students, which represent approximately 7 to 8 percent of all special education students.

  • A new State Board Committee will propose changes to the state's special education regulations in order to bring them in line with the final federal IDEA regulations. The Committee will gather public input on changes to Chapter 14 (Special Education) and Chapter 16 (Gifted Education) at roundtable meetings in December. A roundtable schedule is available at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=106648. Serving on the Committee are SBE members Mollie O'Connell Phillips (Chair), Connie Davis and Larry Wittig.

  • The State Board of Education has hired Dr. Robert Feir to serve as Program Supervisor for the costing-out study the Board was directed to undertake by Act 114 of 2006. The purpose of the study is to determine "the basic cost per pupil to provide an education that will permit students to meet the state's academic standards and assessments". The Board is now reviewing submitted proposals and expects to issue a contract to a consultant who will conduct the study by early December. Details about the costing-out study are available in the October 16 edition of the EPLC Education Notebook at www.eplc.org/notebook2006/October16.html.

  • The Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) approved new prekindergarten regulations at its meeting Thursday, the first-ever state regulations for preschool programs. The final form regulations will be sent to the Attorney General for review and take effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. A copy of the regulations is available at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/lib/stateboard_ed/FinalversionofRegs.pdf.

  • Caucus Leadership Elections

  • Members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly returned to session following the General Election and elected caucus leaders for the 2007-08 legislative session. Results of the Caucus elections are as follows:

    House Republican Caucus
    House Majority Leader - Rep. Sam Smith (House District 66)
    Republican Whip - Rep. Dave Argall (House District 124)
    Republican Caucus Chairperson - Rep. Sandra Major (House District 111)
    Republican Policy Committee Chair - Rep. Mike Turzai (House District 28)
    Caucus Secretary - Rep. Jerry Stern (House District 80)
    Caucus Administrator - Rep. Merle Phillips (House District 108)
    Appropriations Committee Chair - Rep. Mario Civera (House District 164)

    House Democratic Caucus
    House Minority Leader - Rep. Bill DeWeese (House District 50)
    Democratic Whip - Rep. Keith McCall (House District 122)
    Democratic Caucus Chairman - Rep. Mark Cohen (House District 202)
    Democratic Policy Committee Chair - Rep. Todd Eachus (House District 116)
    Caucus Secretary - Rep. Frank Dermody (House District 33)
    Caucus Administrator - Rep. Dan Surra (House District 75)
    Appropriations Committee Chair - Rep. Dwight Evans (House District 203)

    Rep. John Perzel was re-nominated as the Republican Caucus' nominee for Speaker of the House. The Speaker will be elected by the full House when the next legislative session commences in January.

    Senate Republican Caucus
    President Pro Tempore - Sen. Joe Scarnati (Senate District 25)
    Senate Majority Leader - Sen. Dominic Pileggi (Senate District 9)
    Republican Whip - Sen. Jane Orie (Senate District 40)
    Caucus Chairman - Sen. Mike Waugh (Senate District 28)
    Caucus Secretary - Sen. Bob Robbins (Senate District 50)
    Appropriations Committee Chair - Sen. Gibson Armstrong (Senate District 13)

    Senate Democratic Caucus
    Senate Minority Leader - Sen. Robert Mellow (Senate District 22)
    Democratic Whip - Sen. Michael O'Pake (Senate District 11)
    Deputy Whip - Sen. Vincent Hughes (Senate District 7)
    Democratic Policy Committee Chair - Sen. Richard Kasunic (Senate District 32)
    Deputy Policy Chair - Sen. Andrew Dinniman (Senate District 19)
    Caucus Chairman - Sen. Jay Costa (Senate District 43)
    Caucus Secretary - Sen. Gerald LaValle (Senate District 47)
    Caucus Administrator - Sen. Connie Williams (Senate District 17)
    Appropriations Committee Chair - Sen. Vince Fumo (Senate District 1)

  • Information about the Pennsylvania General Assembly, including details on contacting your local state representatives and locating bills cited in this Notebook, is available at www.legis.state.pa.us/index.cfm.

    EPLC Events

  • The 2006 Pennsylvania Education Finance Symposium, sponsored by EPLC, took place November 16-17. Participants gathered to learn about education finance reform efforts across the nation, the history of P-12 funding in Pennsylvania, the costing-out study currently underway in PA, and more. Available power points from the Symposium are posted online at www.eplc.org/financesymposium.html.

  • Dr. Joni Finney, Vice President of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, addressed issues related to higher education affordability, access, participation, and preparation at EPLC's November 14 Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum - Capital Breakfast Series. Dr. Finney presented the Center's recent report Measuring Up 2006: The National Report Card on Higher Education which provides national and state specific data. A copy of Dr. Finney's presentation is available at www.eplc.org/forum_speakers.html. Read the Measuring Up 2006 report at http://measuringup.highereducation.org/.

  • Save the dates...EPLC's 5th Annual Pennsylvania Education Policy and Leadership Conference will be held March 29-30 at the Radisson Penn Harris Hotel and Convention Center in Camp Hill, PA.

  • Datebook

  • Next Week...EPLC hosts a Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum - Southeastern Pennsylvania Breakfast Series in Valley Forge on Friday, December 1. The Governor's Commission on College and Career Success meets December 1 in Harrisburg. The Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children holds its annual conference on Saturday, December 2, in Pittsburgh. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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