EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, October 23, 2006

Last Day to Apply for a Civilian Absentee Ballot is Tuesday, October 31
Election Day is Tuesday, November 7
    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Senate Activity

  • The Senate passed the following legislation last week:

    Senate Bill 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. SB 1332 has been referred to the House Education Committee.

    Senate Bill 642: Allows a school district to acquire land or buildings owned by a member of its school board as long as certain conditions are met. To purchase land or buildings in which a school board member has an ownership interest, districts must provide public notice of the acquisition, provide an opportunity for public comment on the proposed acquisition during two regular school board meetings, take final action on the acquisition at a public meeting of the board, and comply with all relevant state ethics and financial disclosure laws. SB 642 was amended before passage to also require that the board member have owned the land, building or both for at least 10 years. The bill awaits referral to a House Committee.

    Senate Bill 647: Allows individuals seeking teacher certification to submit documentation from a certified registered nurse practitioner or physician assistant that they are mentally and physically fit for the job. Currently, such documentation must be furnished by a physician. The bill also makes grammatical changes to provisions of the Public School Code related to disqualifications for a teacher's certificate. SB 647 was amended before passage by the Senate to address a new law enacted in July that requires prospective school employees to submit federal criminal background checks in a manner prescribed by the state Department of Education (PDE). The amendment to SB 647 requires PDE, at a minimum, to establish a procedure for applicants to submit fingerprints to the FBI for a records check. SB 647 awaits referral to a House Committee.

  • On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee moved forward the following legislation. Both bills have been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee:

    House Bill 377: Reduces the compulsory school age for children in the Philadelphia School District from age eight to age six. The change would not apply to homeschooled children. This legislation would not change the compulsory school age (eight years) for all children who live outside of the Philadelphia School, so Pennsylvania would be the only state in the country with different compulsory school ages for children based on where they live. Lots of people are asking if this makes any sense.

    Upon consideration by the full Senate, HB 377 was amended to also require all school entities to adopt policies related to bullying or to amend their code of student conduct to include consequences for bullying. The policies or code of conduct also may provide for bullying prevention, intervention and education programs. School entities that already have such policies are not required to adopt a new policy, however, they must review the policy every three years. The amendment also allows the Office for Safe Schools to make grants to schools for developing and implementing bullying prevention programs as part of the targeted grants the Office is currently authorized to make.

    Senate Bill 966: Requires local police departments to review and sign off on reports of school violence before districts submit the required reports to the Department of Education. Police are to verify that the number of criminal incidents reported by the district accurately reflects police incident data and work with the district to resolve any discrepancies. SB 966 also requires districts to enter into memorandums of understanding with local police departments that address: protocol for school notification of police regarding crimes committed on school property; emergency and non-emergency response by the police; the procedure for the police department to review school violence reports; a procedure for the resolution of school violence data discrepancies; and, additional matters pertaining to crime prevention agreed to between the school entity and the police department. The legislation also establishes sanctions for principals, superintendents, and chief executive officers of charter schools who intentionally fail to report acts of violence to local police or who intentionally falsify school violence reports.

    Amendments added into other legislation considered in the Senate last week also were amended into SB 966. In addition to addressing school violence report, SB 966 as amended requires school entities to adopt policies related to bullying or to amend their code of student conduct to include consequences for bullying. School entities that already have such policies are not required to adopt a new policy, however, they must review the policy every three years. The amendment also allows the Office for Safe Schools to make grants to schools for developing and implementing bullying prevention programs as part of the targeted grants the Office is currently authorized to make. SB 966 also was amended to require the Department of Education (PDE) to, at a minimum, establish a method for submitting the fingerprints of prospective school employees to the FBI for federal criminal history background checks.

  • House Activity

  • On Monday, the House passed House Bill 2553, which allows local taxing authorities (including school districts) to voluntarily establish local senior citizen property tax and rent rebate programs. HB 2553 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

  • On Wednesday, the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee gave its approval to Senate Bill 1209, which establishes a grant program for kindergarten classrooms in public and private schools to offer nutritional and agriculture education programs. The Healthy Farms and Healthy Schools Program also is designed to benefit Pennsylvania farmers by exposing students and their families to locally grown nutritional foods. SB 1209 awaits consideration by the full House.

  • On Wednesday, the House Rules Committee moved forward Senate Bill 592, which was passed by the Senate earlier last week. The bill allows the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) to keep some investment information confidential for certain periods of time. SB 592 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) will contract with Standard & Poor's to evaluate the potential cost-effectiveness of various approaches to school district consolidation. The LBFC received seven proposals to conduct the study authorized by Senate Resolution 208 and recommended S&P for the job based on the firm's experience, personnel, approach to conducting the study, and cost compared to other applicants. The authorizing resolution calls for an analysis of: 1) whether consolidation could save rural and small districts money by increasing purchasing power, 2) whether services could be consolidated by consolidating districts, 3) consolidation's effect on transportation and other logistical issues, 4) whether pooling state money to provide services for rural schools could lead to system efficiencies and better services, and, 5) whether consolidation at the county, intermediate unit or other level could lead to more extensive provision of services that poorer districts traditionally cannot afford. A report is due by June 30, 2007.

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education has posted answers to questions submitted about the request for proposals (RFP) to conduct a statewide costing-out study in Pennsylvania. The study, authorized by Act 114 of 2006, will determine "the basic cost per pupil to provide an education that will permit students to meet the state's academic standards and assessments". The Q&A is posted as an addendum at the end of the RFP available at www.dgsweb.state.pa.us/comod/bids/RFPCN00022214.pdf.

  • Commonwealth Court President Judge James Gardner Colins issued a preliminary injunction last week that grants the state Secretary of Education oversight of the Chester-Upland School District. The injunction retains the Special Board of Control (SBOC) appointed to govern the district in January 2003, but gives Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak the power to approve all expenditures over $5,000 (except for payroll expenses) and monitor, assess and report on the district's financial operations. In October 2005, the state sued to have the district placed in receivership, claiming that the Board was fiscally mismanaging the district and failing to provide an adequate education. In his opinion, Judge Colins wrote that the SBOC "has mismanaged the District, has not been sufficiently attentive to the needs of the children, and has failed to fulfill its statutory mandate". The Control Board has indicated it will appeal the decision. Another hearing is scheduled for November 20. For a copy of the preliminary injunction, see www.elc-pa.org/pubs/downloads/litigation/Chester%20prelim%20inunction%20decision%2010-16-06.pdf.

  • Governor Ed Rendell is encouraging schools to help students make healthy choices by putting them up to a "Fitness Challenge". Participating K-8 classrooms will keep logs of students' physical activity beginning next year. Three winning schools will be awarded $5,000 grants to purchase equipment that will promote physical activity or nutrition. Schools wishing to participate in the Governor's Fitness Challenge must register by December 11. For details, see www.panaonline.org/govchallenge/.

  • The Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee has established a new website that includes upcoming meeting dates and annual reports. The Committee was established in 2004 to oversee the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Agency (PIAA). Access the website at www.palegislature.us/aoc/.

  • 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.

    Research and Reports

  • This month, Standard & Poor's School Evaluation Services issued a report identifying 55 Pennsylvania school districts as "outperformers." To be considered an outperformer, school districts must demonstrate a significant increase in the percentage of students scoring proficient or above on the state's reading and math assessments over two consecutive school years compared to demographically similar districts. Thirty-eight of the 55 districts recognized this year have outperformed for three consecutive years and 29 have outperformed for four consecutive years. The outperforming districts have achieved average proficiency rates ranging from 57 to 90.4 percent and serve a diverse population of students with economically disadvantaged levels ranging from 1 percent to 74 percent of the student population. The Standard & Poor's report is intended to highlight outstanding academic achievement and guide districts with similar demographic characteristics in establishing benchmarks for improvement. To view the report, go to www.schoolmatters.com/pdf/error_band/EB_Pennsylvania.pdf.

  • Other

  • Karl Girton, Chair of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, was recognized with the 2006 Edward Donley Education Policy Leadership Award for his volunteer service to improving opportunities for Pennsylvania's students. The Donley Award is presented annually by The Education Policy and Leadership Center to individuals who are exemplary models of dedicated service to children, commitment to stronger educational opportunities for all, and hard work to improve the effectiveness of local, state and national education policy.

    The annual 2006 Education Policy Leadership Awards Dinner held October 18 also acknowledged with the EPLC Partner Award the Laboratory for Student Success at Temple University Center for Research in Human Development and Education and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. The Center also honored members of its leadership development programs for their contributions to education in Pennsylvania. The EPLC Leadership Program Alumni Award was presented to Diane Castelbuono (EPFP 1999-2000), William R. Adams, Jr. (ICLE Pittsburgh 2001-2002), and Daniel Fogarty (ICLE Lehigh Valley 2002-2003).

  • Datebook

  • Register Now...EPLC will host the 2006 Pennsylvania Education Finance Symposium on Thursday and Friday, November 16-17, 2006 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Harrisburg. The Symposium will feature sessions on education finance reform across the nation, the status of Pennsylvania's costing-out study, the condition of the Public School Employees' Retirement System, and Maryland's experience with a statewide education finance reform commission, as well panels of Pennsylvania policymakers and advocates. Registration information and a preliminary agenda are available at www.eplc.org/financesymposium.html.

  • This Week...The Task Force on School Cost Reduction holds its first organizational meeting Monday. EPLC releases a new report on K-12 School Leadership on Thursday. The Keystone State Reading Association holds its annual conference October 22-25 in Seven Springs. The York County Education Summit will take place October 26-27. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

  • Both the House and Senate will return for voting session this Monday and Tuesday. Initially, only the House was scheduled to be in session this week. The Senate also said it tentatively plans to be in session on November 20 and 21. The House previously published a schedule of its November session days (November 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22).

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