EPLC Education Notebook

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Final Days to Submit an Application for the 2007-2008 class of the Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program! Only a couple of positions remain for the ten-month program that will begin with a two-day retreat on September 6-7. To learn more about this nationally-recognized professional development program, and for an application, see www.eplc.org/fellows.html.

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The House Education Committee traveled to western Pennsylvania last week for two days of hearings on cyber charter schools. The hearings focused on legislation that has been introduced to address cyber charter school issues related to funding, accountability and truancy (House Bill 446, House Bill 738, House Bill 1407 and House Bill 1655). Among this legislation, House Bill 446 would require the state to pay for the education of students in cyber charter schools and establish greater accountability requirements for cyber charter schools. An analysis of each bill is available on EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_schoolchoice.html#legislation.

    Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak called for establishing a single statewide cyber charter school tuition rate based on the most efficient and effective cyber charter school's actual expenditures. Currently, state law treats cyber charter schools like all other charter schools and requires school districts to remit a per student tuition rate to a cyber charter school based on what the district spends to educate a child. Because of the disparity in funding among Pennsylvania's 501 school districts, in 2005-06 cyber charter tuition ranged from $5,200 to $13,000, meaning some districts paid $7,800 more to enroll a student in the same cyber program. Approximately 15,838 Pennsylvania students attended cyber charter schools in 2006-2007.

    Zahorchak's call to establish a uniform tuition rate is based on the contention that cyber charter schools have dramatically different cost structures than traditional brick and mortar schools. According to the Secretary, Pennsylvania cyber charter schools spent between $6,881 and $12,614 per student in 2005-06. The schools collected $117 million in 2005-06, but expended only $106 million, and at the end of that same year Pennsylvania's cyber charter schools had a cumulative fund balance of $28 million (26% of their annual expenditures). Comparatively, school districts of a comparable size must spend down fund balances to a maximum of 12% of annual expenditures before they are allowed to seek additional revenue through a tax increase. Zahorchak said the establishment of a statewide tuition rate will ensure taxpayer dollars are used responsibly and equitably, thwart the build-up of large undesignated, unreserved fund balances, and provide that, in certain cases, the excess be returned to the school district remitting tuition. Read the Secretary's remarks to the Committee at www.pdenewsroom.state.pa.us/newsroom/lib/newsroom/Zahorchak_cyber_charter_testimony_7.30.071.pdf.

    Also appearing before the Committee were representatives of AFT-Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, the PA Coalition of Charter Schools, PA Families for Public Cyber Schools, Charter School Choice, board members and CEOs of Pennsylvania cyber charter schools, and parents of cyber charter students, as well as school board members and an intermediate unit director.

    Additional issues discussed related to proposals that would prevent cyber charter school board members from engaging in business with their schools, prevent school management personnel from sitting on a cyber charter school board of trustees, require criminal background checks and child abuse clearances for all cyber charter school employees and volunteers, apply all current school district budgeting requirements to cyber charter schools, and require nonresident students who attend a cyber charter school to pay tuition.

  • The House Local Government Committee gathered in Mt. Bethel on Thursday for a public hearing on House Bill 72, which authorizes school boards to assess an educational impact fee on new residential development. Impact fee revenue would be collected in a restricted account and must be used toward new construction for additional classrooms or renovation of existing buildings to expand classroom space and additional personnel costs to cover an increase in student enrollment.

    HB 72 provides for exemptions or deductions from the fee prescribed in the bill for: homes for low-income and moderate-income individuals; replacement of existing dwellings; older adult housing; homes that meet or exceed the National Energy Star rating; land preserved for open space use by the community; areas designated for school bus loading and school bus turnaround; homes with stone or brick facades; and homes that use porous materials for the driveway and sidewalks.

    Additionally, subdivisions located in districts that assess an educational impact fee must file an educational impact assessment. If a district determines that it will be necessary to expand school facilities as a result of the proposed development, as indicated by the assessment, the district may offer the developer the option to pay twice the impact fee owed in return for naming rights for any required school expansion. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Robert Freeman at (717) 783-3815.

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education's Bureau of Special Education has been awarded a federal grant to help prepare and retain teachers and support staff for students with disabilities. The bureau will receive $1.4 million annually for five years to support professional development for special education personnel. Approximately 90 percent of the grant will go directly toward professional development activities. The balance will be used to revise the Pennsylvania Special Education Certificate process to improve the knowledge, skills and retention rates of new special education teachers.

  • Pennsylvania Bulletin

  • The July 21 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin includes notice of approval of reorganization of the Department of Education, effective May 1, 2007. A new organizational chart is available at www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol37/37-29/1281.html.

  • The July 21 Pennsylvania Bulletin also includes proposed amendments to Chapters 201, 211, 213 and 215 of Title 22 to formalize and clarify the current procedures of the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS). Written comments on the proposed changes will be accepted by the PSERS Board through August 20, 2007. For details, see www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol37/37-29/1280.html.

  • 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

  • The Public Education Network (PEN) has released a report culminating three years of nationwide hearings on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) designed to gauge public opinion about what's working with the law and what needs to be improved. "Open to the Public: How Communities, Parents and Students Assess the Impact of the No Child Left Behind Act, 2004-2007" makes recommendations for the reauthorization of NCLB and identifies five "realities" that must be addressed in order for the law to succeed as intended.

    Based upon public comments, PEN is recommending that the reauthorized act retain emphasis on highly qualified teachers, but provide the resources needed to help teachers become more effective in data- and student-focused school environments; include a student-focused, comprehensive accountability system that rewards progress and encourages continuous improvement; expand opportunities for shared accountability by including the community as partners, and strengthen parental involvement provisions. Additionally, PEN is urging Congress to increase capacity at the state and local level to provide school and student supports in implementing NCLB, especially for low-performing schools or schools in need of corrective action, to increase federal support and leadership in research and identification of best practices, and to improve the use of data and analysis to make teaching and learning more meaningful.

    Nationwide, the public expressed support for the goals of NCLB at every public hearing hosted by PEN. However, throughout the course of the dialogues five "realities" of NCLB consistently emerged:

    • The act has been imposed on a public school system that remains unequal;

    • NCLB rests upon a faulty measurement capacity;

    • The foundation for "highly qualified" teachers relies on qualities that ought to be present in the early selection, preparation and recruitment of teachers, but such criteria rarely affect those who are selected to teach;

    • The act pays considerable lip service to parental involvement. In reality, parents and communities are almost shut out of the reform process.

    • Not only does NCLB ignore the role of communities in achieving its goals, it seriously undermines the capacity of communities to be part of the solution for low-performing schools.

    "Until the act addresses the realities of inequities, limited expectations of student and teacher capacities, and the isolation of parents and communities from school reforms, it will engender more rhetoric than real difference in the success of all students," said PEN President and CEO Wendy Puriefoy. Find a complete list of PEN's recommendations for reauthorization in the report available online at www.publiceducation.org/nclb_main/2007_NCLB_National_Report.pdf.

  • Violence in schools declined during the 2005-06 school year, according to the annual school safety report released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). The report shows assaults on students declined by 17 percent, while assaults on staff declined by 18 percent, compared to the previous year. Reported sexual offenses dropped by 2 percent, even though the sexual offense reporting category was expanded to include more kinds of offenses such as lewdness, indecent exposure and possessing obscene materials. Reported incidents involving firearms possession fell by 35 percent, the third consecutive year of decline, and reported incidents involving the illegal possession or use of controlled substances, alcohol or tobacco fell by more than 8 percent.

    The report also found a 12 percent increase in incidents in which local law enforcement was involved, but only a 1 percent increase in arrests, which PDE says demonstrates that local education agencies "are increasing their interaction with their local law enforcement agencies in an effort to be more proactive in addressing school safety." Additionally, the report shows a 68 percent increase in the number of fights, a reported increase due to more comprehensive reporting of lesser incidents of violence.

    The 2005-06 school safety report includes more safety statistics than in previous years, including data on out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, truancy and numbers of school security staff. Statistics by county, school district, school building, and at the state level are available online at www.safeschools.state.pa.us/vwp.aspx.

  • Datebook

  • This Week...The Task Force on School Cost Reduction meets Wednesday. The National Conference of State Legislatures holds its annual meeting in Boston on August 5-9. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

  • Mark your calendar for future EPLC Events:

    • Annual Awards Dinner - October 17, 2007 - Harrisburg
    • Annual Education Finance Symposium - November 15-16, 2007 - Harrisburg
    • Annual Conference - March 13-14, 2008 - Harrisburg

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