EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, April 16, 2007

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Task Force on School Cost Reduction engaged in a lengthy discussion on issues related to transportation and cyber charter school costs at its meeting Wednesday. The Committee formed by Special Session Act 1 of 2006 is tasked with developing options for reducing costs to school districts. Members reviewed approaches other states have taken to trim down transportation costs, including concepts like the "walking school bus" program and advertising on school buses. The Committee also questioned whether transportation savings could be found through using automated routing technology for efficient planning, joint purchasing of fuel, regional consortiums for busing or maintenance services, or reviewing the process of designating certain routes as "hazardous" for students to walk.

    Task Force members also discussed transportation required for private school students. Under current law, school districts must provide transportation for private school students up to 10 miles outside of the district if it buses students to public schools within the district. Task Force members seemed to agree that a mechanism should be put in place to encourage private schools to align their operating calendar with that of local public schools in order to streamline transportation operations. Some members also suggested that transportation should be limited to private schools that are within a school district's boundaries and that private schools should pay for transport that crosses a district's borders.

    The Task Force also looked at other states' funding formulas for cyber charter schools and discussed the need to develop a standard tuition level for Pennsylvania's cyber schools. Currently, the Commonwealth's cyber charter schools receive widely varying tuition amounts per student based on what a student's home district spends on education. However, members pointed out that while establishing a flat cyber charter tuition rate may solve one issue pressing school districts, it does not solve the underlying problem that districts cannot and do not recoup in full the payments made for charter school students through equivalent reductions in staff or facilities. And, if charter school students were previously homeschooled or attended private school, a district's overall fiscal obligations increase to provide for these additional students. The Task Force also talked about whether cyber charter schools should be subject to the same fund balance limitations as public school districts and whether costs associated with services cyber schools must provide locally - such as special education services and state-mandated health screenings - are being provided in a cost-efficient manner.

    The Committee's final recommendations on these and other issues are due in October. The next meeting of the Task Force on May 9 will focus on cost issues related to charter schools and tax collection. For more information about the Task Force, see www.pde.state.pa.us/k12_finances/cwp/view.asp?a=305&q=123154&k12_financesNav=|10481|&k12_financesNav=|4339|.

  • On Tuesday, the House Education Committee held a public hearing at Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia on a package of legislation related to teacher recruitment and retention introduced by Representatives James Roebuck and Dwight Evans. Legislation in the package: provides loan forgiveness to math, reading, computer science, science and special education teachers who serve low-income urban and rural public schools and makes funding available to higher education institutions for recruitment of such potential teachers and principals ( House Bill 919); awards one-time signing bonuses to first-year teachers who fill vacancies in critical shortage positions ( House Bill 921); establishes an Urban Educators Recruitment Program to provide scholarships to college students who commit to teach for at least five years in an urban public school with qualified teacher shortages ( House Bill 922); establishes an induction program which would be required for new teachers in economically disadvantaged school districts with high turnover rates for beginning educators ( House Bill 923); and establishes the Call Me Mister Program to provide tuition grants for African American males to complete a teacher training and certification program to become public elementary school teachers ( House Bill 924). The Committee also took comments on a proposal to establish a second Governor's School for Teaching in Philadelphia, which is not included in the legislative package. For more information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair James Roebuck at (717) 783-1000.

    In its 2003 report on teacher quality, The Education Policy and Leadership Center made recommendations supporting a two year induction period for new teachers, targeted teacher recruitment programs in districts that have documented difficulty filling positions with qualified candidates, efforts to increase the number of science, math and special education teachers, and efforts to increase the number of minority teachers. To learn more about EPLC's other recommendations for improving teacher quality and supply, see www.eplc.org/teacherquality.html.

  • The House Education Committee gathered in Philadelphia again on Wednesday for a public hearing on legislation related to community college funding ( House Bill 978) and dual enrollment funding ( House Bill 932). House Bill 932 would increase dual enrollment dollars targeted to low-income students and decrease dollars targeted to students enrolled in charter schools, nonpublic schools, private schools or home education programs. Of the funds appropriated for dual enrollment programs, 30% would be targeted to low-income students (up from 15% in current law) and 4.8% would be targeted to charter, nonpublic, private and homeschooled students (down from 6% in current law). House Bill 978 would add a requirement related to local sponsor funding that community colleges must meet in order to receive increased state funding. The new requirement is designed to ensure that local sponsors of community colleges provide funding increases that at least match the percent increases in state funding and establish tuition and fee increases that do not exceed an inflation index. For more information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair James Roebuck at (717) 783-1000.

  • The House Children and Youth Committee gathered in Philadelphia on Friday for a public hearing on school safety. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Louise Williams Bishop at (717) 783-2192.

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education held public hearings in Harrisburg and King of Prussia last week on revisions to the state's special education (Chapter 14) and gifted education (Chapter 16) regulations. Draft changes to Chapter 14 are available at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/lib/stateboard_ed/Chapter14draft3302007.pdf. Draft changes to Chapter 16 are available at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/lib/stateboard_ed/Chapter16workingdraft33007.pdf. For more information about the hearings, contact the State Board at (717) 787-3787.

  • 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.

    Taxpayer Relief Act Implementation (Special Session Act 1 of 2006)

  • About 60% of Pennsylvania school districts will not increase property taxes next year by more than the new state-established inflation index. The Pennsylvania Department of Education reports that another 210 districts were granted one or more exceptions to the index limitation that will allow them to increase taxes beyond the limit for certain expenses over which they have no control. Without such an exception, a district must seek voter approval for a tax increase that exceeds the state's inflation index. Of the districts granted an exception, 90% received an exception in order to meet pension obligations, more than two-thirds received an exception to pay for the extraordinary costs associated with the needs of special education students, and 50% received an exception for school construction costs incurred before the new tax law took effect. Just because a district was granted an exception does not mean the district will use it to increase taxes. Some school districts applied for referendum exceptions just in case and may not need to utilize them by the time their budgets are finalized.

    Of the 10 specific costs that are eligible for a referendum exception, exceptions were approved in the following categories: 188 were approved to meet pension obligations; 144 were approved for special education costs; 104 were approved for school construction costs incurred before the new tax law took effect; 93 were approved for health care costs in pre-existing collective bargaining agreements; 63 were approved because they had enrollment growth or their local tax base made it impossible to maintain their classroom funding; 45 were approved because they faced declining or stagnant revenue; 5 were approved for costs mandated in No Child Left Behind school improvement plans; and, 2 were approved for a limited portion of their school construction costs. For a list of approved referendum exceptions, see www.pde.state.pa.us/proptax/lib/proptax/ApprovedReferendumExceptions_4-5-07.pdf.

    Four districts will ask voters at the May 15 Primary to approve tax increases that exceed the State Index, but which are not attributable to the cost items for which they could apply to the state for a waiver.

  • On a separate matter requiring a school district referendum, the vast majority of school boards will ask voters if they'd like to increase their local earned income tax in the front-end referendum question districts must place on May's primary ballot. Under Special Session Act 1 of 2006, school boards have the option to seek an increase in either the earned (EIT) or personal (PIT) income tax as a trade-off for local property tax reduction and were required to form Local Tax Study Commissions to provide input into the decision of which tax to use, as well as the proposed income tax rate. Of the 461 school districts that responded to a survey by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), 409 districts (88.7%) will seek an EIT and 52 districts (11.3%) will seek a PIT. The EIT is limited to a tax on wages, while the PIT taxes a broader list of income sources similar to the state personal income tax.

    PSBA also reports that 90 percent of school boards followed the recommendations made by the Local Tax Study Commissions. Among districts approving an EIT front-end referendum question, 376 (91.9%) followed their tax study commission recommendations, while 49 (94.2%) of districts offering a PIT ballot question followed their local commission's recommendation. For more information about PSBA's survey results, see www.psba.org/issues-research/Act%201%20Ballot%20Question%20results.pdf. For a ranking of estimated property tax reductions by type of tax, see www.psba.org/issues-research/Rank%20by%20tax%20reduction.pdf.

  • For details about the Taxpayer Relief Act enacted in Special Session Act 1 of 2006, see EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_k12finance.html#referendum.

    Pennsylvania Bulletin

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education is accepting applications for various 2007-2008 Career and Technical Education Grants. For details about child care curriculum grants, visit www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol37/37-14/600.html; for details about career and technical education curriculum grants, visit www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol37/37-14/601.html; and, for details about career and technical education equipment grants, visit www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol37/37-14/602.html.

  • Research and Reports

  • Nine states, including Pennsylvania, are joining together to utilize a common student assessment for Algebra II, the largest effort undertaken to date to develop a common assessment based on common standards. The exam will first be administered in May 2008 and will be used differently across states as each determines how best to phase in the new assessment over time. Currently, Arkansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island also will participate, however, other states are able to join the partnership. The work is the product of a 29-state Network convened by Achieve. For more information, see www.achieve.org.

  • Data connecting education to opportunity show that adults with advanced degrees earn four times more than those with less than a high school diploma, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The latest edition of "Educational Attainment in the United States: 2006" found that adults with a master's, professional or doctoral degree earned an average of $79,946, while those with less than a high school diploma earned an average of $19,915. The report also found that 86% of adults 25 or older had completed at least high school in 2006, and one-quarter of adults 25 or older held at least a bachelor's degree. Further, while high school graduation rates for women continued to slightly exceed those of men (86% to 85%), men held a larger proportion of bachelor's or higher degrees (29% to 27%). The document includes additional data on educational trends and attainment levels broken down by age, sex, race, marital status, occupation, industry and more. Access the data at www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/educ-attn.html.

  • Datebook

  • This Week...The House Judiciary Committee meets Tuesday to consider House Bill 768 and Senate Bill 71. The Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee meets Tuesday. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bills 65, 842, 847 and 848. The Senate Education Committee holds a public hearing on Classrooms for the Future on Wednesday. The Pennsylvania State Board of Education holds a public hearing in Pittsburgh on Wednesday on the state's special education and gifted education regulations. Good Schools Pennsylvania holds a town forum on public education Thursday in Carlisle. EPLC hosts a Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum - Western Pennsylvania Breakfast Series on Friday in Pittsburgh. The Institute for Educational Leadership hosts its annual Washington Policy Seminar April 18-21 for its national Fellows, including members of the Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program. The National Conference of State Legislatures holds its spring forum April 19-21 in Washington, D.C. The Pennsylvania School Counselors Association holds its annual conference April 19-21 in Lancaster. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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