EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, April 23, 2007

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Senate Activity

  • School districts would have more choices in how to use their annual Accountability Block Grants if Senate Bill 399 becomes law. On Tuesday (April 17), the Senate Education Committee adopted this legislation to expand the list of approved programs for which Block Grant funds can be used. As initially introduced by Democratic Committee Chair Raphael Musto, SB 399 authorized grant funds to be used to establish, expand or maintain programs for instruction on world languages in the elementary grades, either in immersion classrooms or as separate periods of instruction. An amendment offered by Committee Chair James Rhoades added three more categories that would allow districts to fund programs related to the state's current Classrooms for the Future, Project 720 and Science It's Elementary initiatives. The amendment authorizes Block Grants dollars to pay for: enhancing educational technology by purchasing laptops and other state-of-the-art technology (Classrooms for the Future), strengthening high school curriculum by increasing rigor, advanced placement offerings, school-based counseling and professional development (Project 720), and providing teacher training, professional development and teaching resources for elementary level science teachers (Science It's Elementary). SB 399 awaits consideration by the full Senate.

    Senator Jeff Piccola opposed the bill because he felt it will increase pressure on legislators to expand funding for the Accountability Block Grant program when the General Assembly should be working to contain costs; Senator Mike Folmer joined him in opposing the bill. However, Rhoades said the expansion simply is designed to give districts more options in how to utilize current Block Grant dollars to meet their unique needs, not to increase funding for the program.

    Currently, districts can choose to use Block Grants to support 10 programs, including pre-K, full-day kindergarten, K-3 class size reduction, tutoring, and teacher coaches; an eleventh option allows districts to seek permission to use funds for a different purpose that will improve academic performance.

  • On Monday (April 16), the Senate Appropriations Committee moved forward legislation ( Senate Bill 112) which expands the scope of Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) school districts have with local law enforcement to include protocols for notification of crimes committed on school property, emergency response procedures, and review of school violence reports and resolution of report discrepancies before they are submitted to PDE. SB 112 also adds specific offenses to the required annual school violence reports to clarify the incidents that districts must report. Finally, it requires PDE to convene an advisory committee of school and law enforcement personnel to assist in developing school violence reporting forms. The bill also provides fines for districts that fail to immediately report criminal activities to law enforcement. Districts that do not immediately report violent offenses and incidents involving weapons possession, fail to submit annual school safety reports, fail to enter into a MOU, or fail to submit the MOU to PDE face fines ranging from $2,500 on first offense to $5,000 for a third or subsequent offense. The Office of Safe Schools would receive any money collected from the fines. SB 112 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

  • House Activity

  • On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee approved an amended version of Senate Bill 71, which requires all school entities to adopt bullying policies or to amend their code of student conduct to include consequences for bullying. SB 71 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 already authorized to make. The terms for implementation of SB 71 also stipulate that bullying policies must be distributed to students and reported on the school's website, and that schools must review these policies every three years. An amendment added to SB 71 further requires that the bullying policy be posted in each classroom and reviewed with students at least twice during the school year. SB 71 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

  • On Wednesday (April 18), the House Education Committee moved forward the following legislation:

    House Bill 65: Provides for parental discretion in the classroom placement of twins and higher order multiples. Parents may request classroom placement for their children within 14 days of the first day of school or 14 days after the children have been enrolled. The Committee amended HB 65 to grant principals the authority to determine placement for twins or higher order multiples if the placement requested by a parent is deemed disruptive to the classroom (in the original bill, the school board held that authority). Additionally, the amendment clarifies that a district does not have to split siblings into separate classrooms if it would require the district to add an additional class to the grade level of the siblings. The amendment also creates a right for parents to appeal placement decisions made by a school principal. HB 65 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

    House Bill 842: Allows individuals who fail to complete state-mandated professional development with the five-year compliance period to continue to teach until the end of the school year. HB 842 prohibits the PA Department of Education from deeming a teacher's certificate inactive for failure to complete professional development during any time other than the period between June 30 and July 31 each year. PDE must send a notice of inactive status to the educator and, upon 31 days after notice is sent, the educator may appeal to PDE. HB 842 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

  • Other Education Policy Activity

  • The U.S. Department of Education has released new regulations addressing the assessment of students with disabilities. The final regulations allow states to "develop modified academic achievement standards based on grade-level content, and alternate assessments based on those standards, for students with disabilities who are capable of achieving high standards but may not reach grade level in the same timeframe as their peers." States can count proficient and advanced test scores on these alternate assessments for up to 2.0 percent of all students assessed when measuring adequate yearly progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind. Currently, the USDE allows the scores of alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most severe cognitive disabilities to be included in the AYP calculations for up to 1.0 percent of all students.

    The Department also released written guidance on the implementation of the new regulations, which provides direction on issues such as how students with disabilities can be appropriately identified for this assessment. Decisions about which assessment to administer will be made by a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team based on guidelines states must develop. Finally, USDE also will make $21.2 million in grant funds available to states for assistance in developing these new assessments. For details, see www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2007/04/04042007.html.

  • Representative Peter Daley (D-49) last week introduced legislation creating an early retirement incentive for state and school employees. Daley said his legislation could open 10,000 jobs in public education for young Pennsylvanians and an additional 4,000 opportunities for young people to enter Commonwealth employment. House Bill 230, which addresses school employees, allows those who have taught for at least 30 years to retire early with no penalty to their pension benefits. The bill provides two windows for early retirement, from March 1, 2008 to June 1, 2008 and from March 1, 2009 to June 1, 2009.

    Daley said the bill is designed to have no net cost to the pension system. HB 230 accomplishes this by requiring PDE to deduct an amount equal to 60% of a district's net savings from the district's state reimbursement and to transmit that amount to the Public School Employees' Retirement Fund. ("Net savings" represents the difference between the total final salaries of school district employees who select early retirement and the total of entry level salaries to replace a district's early retirees.) Further, Daley cited the findings of a recent independent actuarial evaluation of the state's pension funds that found the state could save $500 million over five years by enacting a "30 & out" proposal for school employees.

    For the past several years, rapidly increasing mandated contributions to the Public School Employees' Retirement Fund made by the state and school districts have been a significant driver contributing to increased costs for public education in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers and others will want to look carefully at whether the proposed legislation actually provides savings or higher costs to the state and school districts, both short-term and long-term.

    Companion legislation, House Bill 231, addresses early retirement for state employees. Both bills have been referred to the House Finance Committee.

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education held a public hearing in Pittsburgh on Wednesday to gather input 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 hearing, 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.


  • This Week...Professor Billie Gastic will lead a presentation on school safety in Pennsylvania at Temple University's Harrisburg Campus on Monday. The House State Government Committee meets Tuesday to consider House Bill 894, which addresses the school budget referendum exception for construction costs. The Senate Education Committee meets Tuesday. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday. EPLC hosts a Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum in Harrisburg on Wednesday. The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools holds its annual meeting in State College on April 25-27. Good Schools Pennsylvania holds a town forum on public education on Thursday in York. The American Association of University Women's Pennsylvania State Convention takes place April 27-29 in Scranton. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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