EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, September 1, 2006

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education has calculated the index by which school districts may increase local taxes without seeking voter approval in fiscal year 2007-2008, as required by property tax relief legislation enacted this spring. The 07-08 base index is 3.4%. PDE will put forth an adjusted index for school districts with a market value/income aid ratio of greater than .4000 by September 30, 2006. For more information, see the August 26 Pennsylvania Bulletin, at www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol36/36-34/1689.html.

  • The House Education Committee met Tuesday in Montgomeryville for an informational meeting on House Bill 2679, which would change the current school transportation law by reducing the distance that school districts can ask students to walk to school from one-and-a-half miles to three-quarters of a mile for elementary students and from two miles to one-and-a-half miles for secondary students. Parents living in bill sponsor Rep. Eugene McGill's southeast Pennsylvania district say the legislation is necessary to address the safety of students who are walking to school along increasingly congested roadways. However, school officials say such a change that would require the busing of more students must be accompanied by financial assistance from the state to alleviate the additional transportation costs. HB 2679 awaits further consideration by the House Education Committee.

  • Last Tuesday (August 22), the House Education Committee held an informational meeting on House Bill 2616), which would make the state responsible for funding charter cyber schools and establish new School Code provisions governing such schools. Funding for other charter schools would continue to come from school districts. State payments to cyber schools would be made on a per students basis for non-special education students based on the size of the school as follows: for charter cyber schools with 1,000 students or less - $5,000 per student; with 1,001 to 4,999 students - $4,000 per student; with 5,000 or more students - $3,000 per student. Payments for special education students would be based on the cost per non-special education student plus the actual cost to provide special education services required in the student's individualized education plan. Students enrolled in charter cyber schools would not be counted in the average daily membership of their school district of residence for state funding purposes.

    Additionally, HB 2616 deletes provisions from the current charter school law that apply to cyber schools and includes many of these provisions in a new article governing charter cyber schools. The bill addresses charter cyber governance - including the make-up of the school's board of trustees, which, under HB 2616, must include a representative appointed by the Secretary of Education and two representatives of the school's local intermediate unit; recognizes PDE as the agency responsible for approving, issuing, renewing or revoking cyber schools' charters; establishes a procedure to determine the residence of students enrolled in charter cyber schools; gives cyber schools the authority to determine how to dispose of equipment that is the property of the school; subjects charter cyber students to fines and penalties if equipment is not returned in good condition upon leaving the school; and more.

    Members of the charter cyber community oppose the legislation which they said would effectively reduce funding to the schools. Earl Grier, of Connections Academy, said the funding structure in HB 2616 is flawed because costs associated with curriculum, technology, teachers, administering state assessments, and school administration "do not decrease on a per-pupil basis" if a school serves more students. Recently, there has been growing debate about whether it costs as much to operate a cyber school as a traditional brick and mortar school since cyber schools do not incur the same kind of costs.

    The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) said the graduated per pupil funding outlined in HB 2616 "more accurately reflects the marginal costs for educating cyber school students" and said the state should study the actual cost of educating cyber students to inform future policymaking. PSEA also spoke in support of a recommendation made by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) that funding for charter cyber schools be placed in a separate line item in the state budget to alleviate concerns that cyber school funds may be deducted from districts' basic education subsidies.

    PSBA also suggests that the legislation: make cyber charters applicable to the same financial accountability as other public schools, including budgeting deadlines, auditing requirements and limitations on unreserved fund balances; establish a minimum beginner age for cyber school students; clarify ambiguity in the current criminal history check provision to require employees that have "electronic, Internet, and email contact" with students to undergo criminal background checks; direct that leftover funds from a cyber school that shuts down be used to help public schools offset potential costs from an influx of former cyber students; allow written agreements between school districts and cyber schools regarding the use of school facilities and participation in districts' extracurricular activities; require parents to pay the cost of attendance for a cyber school if the student's school district of residence offers its own cyber program; and, lower the threshold for reporting cyber student enrollment growth or decline from 30% to 15%. HB 2616 awaits further consideration by the House Education Committee.

  • 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

    P-16 Alignment

  • The Education Commission of the States recently produced a state-by-state update of P-16 collaboration efforts. A P-16 system integrates all levels of education (preschool through higher education) to coordinate, communicate, and educate as one common system. The goal is to create a seamless education system that promotes access, standards, accountability, and lifelong learning. This newly updated information resource includes information about the status of 30 states' P-16 programs, including Pennsylvania, and is accessible at www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/69/26/6926.pdf.

  • Datebook

  • Next Week...The PA State Board of Education Committee on Early Childhood meets Friday in Harrisburg. The 2006-07 class of the Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program, sponsored by EPLC, gathers for its opening retreat on Thursday and Friday. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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