EPLC Education Notebook

Thursday, August 16, 2007

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • How to realize savings in costs related to school construction, charter schools and health care topped the agenda of the Task Force on School Cost Reduction's meeting on Wednesday (August 8). The advisory body, established by Special Session Act 1 of 2006, is tasked with identifying potential cost saving options for school districts in its final report due in October.

    Task Force members reviewed preliminary recommendations related to charter schools developed at its previous meetings. These suggestions include:

    • excluding competitive grant dollars earned by school districts from the calculation of a district's charter school payments;
    • making charter schools responsible for their own truancy monitoring;
    • increasing PDE guidance in drafting charters;
    • allowing districts to decline charters for financial reasons; and,
    • amending the calculation of special education funding for charter schools.

    Because of the way charter school reimbursements are calculated under current law, districts must include grants such as Classrooms for the Future and Accountability Block Grants in their total educational expenditures when computing what they must pay for their charter school students, even though these state grants are awarded to districts to support specific programs. Therefore, if a district receives a grant to purchase laptops through Classrooms for the Future, a portion of that grant is redistributed to support the district's charter school students and the charter school can use those funds to support any program, not just the targeted program for which the funding was allocated. Task Force members questioned whether a recommendation to exclude districts' grant money from the calculation of charter school reimbursement should be limited to competitive grants for which charter schools also may apply (in order to prevent charter schools from double-dipping of grant dollars) or should apply to all state and private grants.

    Task Force members also expressed concern about the financial impact to school districts of students enrolling in charter schools after a district has adopted its budget for the next fiscal year. Members discussed whether there are measures that could help alleviate this unexpected cost, such as having the state reimburse for "late" enrollees, funding charter schools based on classes rather than individual students, or setting a cap on a district's charter enrollment based on reasonable enrollment projections that are identified early in the district's budgeting process.

    The Committee also revisited the issue of special education funding related to the misalignment in current law where school districts receive state funding for special education based on an assumption that 16% of their students receive special services and charter schools receive special education funding from districts based on the actual number of students enrolled in special education. Members considered a new recommendation on this issue that would allow districts to review students' IEPs and ask questions about the services being provided. Conceptually, districts would not make payments to a charter school beyond the regular reimbursement rate before the district has an opportunity to participate in an IEP review. A district also would have the option to provide special education services on its own if it finds this approach to be more cost effective and could evaluate the student to determine if services are necessary or appropriate.

    The Task Force also reviewed potential recommendations for reducing school construction costs. These suggestions include:

    • increasing technical assistance provided by PDE throughout the many phases of the construction process;
    • increasing certain thresholds for construction-related expenses;
    • providing school districts with flexibility in contracting by allowing districts to use either single or multiple prime contracting for a construction project; and,
    • better publicizing green building incentives already offered by the state.

    Currently, school district personnel may not perform construction, repair or other work where the entire cost of the project (including labor and materials) is more than $5,000. This $5,000 ceiling has not been increased since 1970 and, due to inflation, districts are now able to do less and less with their own staff. Additionally, school boards must obtain at least three price quotes for all contracts that exceed $4,000 but are less than $10,000 and must obtain three competitive bids for projects totaling $10,000 or more. These thresholds were last changed in 1990. Task Force members agreed that the thresholds for work performed by district personnel, obtaining price quotes and competitive bidding should be increased to reflect inflation and that these thresholds should be indexed to increase annually.

    Finally, the Task Force heard a presentation on work being conducted by another study group examining the viability of establishing a statewide health benefits system for public school employees in order to slow the growth of health care costs. The Task Force may endorse a recommendation to require school districts to jointly purchase health care benefits in order to maximize purchasing power and use tax dollars more efficiently while continuing to provide school employees with high quality benefits.

    The Task Force will next meet on August 22 to discuss the role of intermediate units and shared services. For more information about the work of the Task Force, see www.pde.state.pa.us/k12_finances/cwp/view.asp?a=305&q=123154&k12_financesNav=|10481|&k12_financesNav=|4339|.

  • The Independent Regulatory Review Commission on Thursday approved final form changes to Chapter 49 (Certification of Professional Personnel) that realign the state's teacher certification system based on research on the developmental learning needs of children. The new regulations also establish teacher training requirements in meeting the needs of diverse learners.

    Beginning January 2013, certificates will be issued in early childhood (grades preK through 4), elementary/middle level (grades 4 through 8), and secondary (grades 7 through 12). This alters the state's current elementary level certificate which covers grades K-6.

    Also beginning in 2013, special education certificates will be issued for grades preK through 8 and for grades 7 through 12, rather than the current special education certificate that covers all grades. Individuals seeking a Special Education preK-8 certificate also must obtain certification in one of three areas: early childhood, elementary/middle, or reading specialist. Individuals seeking a Special Education 7-12 certificate also must obtain either a secondary certificate or a reading specialist certificate. Additionally, the regulations include a certificate for Special Education Hearing Impaired, Visually Impaired and Speech/Language Impaired that would be applicable for all grades (preK through 12).

    These certification changes do not apply to current teachers.

    The regulations allow the Secretary of Education to grant exceptions to these new certificates on a case-by-case basis and to grant statewide exceptions, if necessary, for a limited time to alleviate any staffing issues that may arise. Further, the regulations provide for an accelerated program through which individuals who possess an early childhood certificate can earn an additional elementary/middle certification, and vice versa.

    The changes also require prekindergarten teachers to be certified in early childhood if they are employed by a community provider with which a school district contracts to provide preK services. Prekindergarten teachers must obtain the certificate within five years of the start of services (for new contracts) or within five years of these regulations taking effect (for current contracts).

    The regulations also provide for training in teaching special needs students and English language learners. Prospective teachers must receive at least 9 credits or 270 hours of training in accommodations and adaptations for diverse learners in inclusive settings and at least 3 credits or 90 hours of instruction in meeting the needs of English language learners. Colleges and universities must integrate these requirements into their teacher education programs by January 1, 2011. Individuals seeking a Vocational Instructional Certificate I also must complete at least 3 credits or 90 hours of instruction in working with diverse learners in an inclusive setting; individuals seeking a Vocational Instructional Certificate II must complete at least 6 credits or 180 hours in working with students with disabilities and at least 3 credits or 90 hours in teaching English language learners.

    Schools also must include activities focused on teaching diverse learners in inclusive settings in their induction programs for new teachers. Finally, school entities must offer all teachers the opportunity to participate in ongoing professional development focused on teaching special needs students and English language learners.

    For a copy of the regulations, which will take effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, see www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/cwp/view.asp?a=3&q=76681.

  • The House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee held a public hearing on agriculture education and careers on Wednesday in conjunction with Penn State's Ag Progress Days. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Mike Hanna at (717) 772-2283.

  • Sandra Dungee Glenn has been named Chairperson of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission by Governor Ed Rendell following the announcement by current Chairman James Nevels that he intends to resign after the start of the new school year. Nevels has led the district's governing board for five years since its establishment during the state takeover of the city district. Dungee Glenn has served on the Commission as an appointee of Philadelphia Mayor John Street.

    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.


    Next Week...

  • The House Finance Committee will hold public hearings on property tax reform (related to House Bill 1600) on Monday in Stroudsburg, Tuesday in Pottsville, and Wednesday in Fairless Hills.

  • The Task Force on School Cost Reduction meets Wednesday in Harrisburg.
For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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