EPLC Education Notebook

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Reminder: Tuesday, February 13, will be the first day to circulate petitions for school board elections in 500 of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts (only Philadelphia has an appointed board). More than 2000 school board positions across the Commonwealth will be on the May 15 Primary Election ballot.

    Proposed FY 2007-2008 State Budget

  • Governor's Rendell presented his FY 2007-2008 state budget proposal on Tuesday. The budget calls for expanding pre-K and full-day kindergarten programs with new dedicated funding; expanding current high school reform initiatives related to dual enrollment, building a more rigorous curriculum, and putting laptop computers in classrooms; boosting funding to improve elementary level science instruction; increasing funding for teacher professional development; and increasing funding to reimburse school districts for charter school costs. It establishes new initiatives focused on improving child wellness by expanding school breakfast programs and creating an incentive for schools to serve healthier foods in their cafeterias, encourages local cost savings by exploring shared services between consortiums of schools districts, and expands access to degree-granting high-skill occupation programs by establishing new Technical College Programs in underserved areas of the state. Detailed fact sheets about proposed funding for these and other budget initiatives are available from the Department of Education at www.pdenewsroom.state.pa.us/newsroom/cwp/view.asp?a=256&q=124988 and the Office of Child Development and Early Learning at www.pakeys.org/budget.aspx.

    The Governor proposed a 3.5% ($166.7 million) increase for the basic education subsidy, a 3% ($29.4 million) increase for special education, and a 3% ($1.834 million) increase for career and technical education. Within the basic education appropriation, $58 million is earmarked for Foundation Funding, designed to help 169 school districts move toward a minimum per student funding level. The budget provides an inflationary increase to establish the new foundation level at $9,337 per pupil and recognizes the extraordinary circumstances faced by districts with high concentrations of poverty by providing a 20% adjustment for high-poverty districts, bringing their foundation target to $11,204.

    The budget calls for a new $25 million appropriation to expand full-day kindergarten programs and a new $75 million appropriation to expand pre-K programs. Both of these programs and appropriations are embedded into the Accountability Block Grant which otherwise is maintained at the current $250 million level.

    Community colleges would receive a 3% increase for operating costs and a 6% increase for capital under Rendell's FY 07-08 budget proposal. Funding for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education would rise by 3.5% and state-related universities would see a 2% increase. Student financial aid would be flat-funded in the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency's (PHEAA) budget, however, the Administration wants to have PHEAA earnings tapped to increase funding for the state grant program.

    The Governor also is seeking a 1% state sales tax increase that would be partly used to reduce local property taxes. Using $420 million in new sales tax revenue (for 07-08) combined with new gaming revenue dedicated to property tax relief, Rendell hopes to begin providing tax relief to all homeowners this summer, a year earlier than provided for in the tax reform legislation enacted this past June. Looking forward, Rendell wants to dedicate $700 million of sales tax revenues annually to "permanently" reduce property taxes.

    Finally, in his budget address, the Governor also spoke to the need to address growing pension obligations that could "undermine the foundation of fiscal stability of this state and our school districts" in four years if not addressed. Without providing detail, Rendell said he has developed a plan to address the state's pension obligations and will work with the General Assembly to bring a long-term solution to fruition this fall.

    For more information about the proposed FY 2007-2008 state education budget, see EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_2006-2007budget.html.



  • Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee moved forward several bills which were reintroduced from the 2005-2006 legislative session. Each bill has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee:

    Senate Bill 71: (reintroduction of Senate Bill 71 of 2005-2006 session) Requires all school entities to adopt policies related to bullying 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 currently authorized to make.

    Senate Bill 154: (reintroduction of Senate Bill 148 of 2005-2006 session) Requires school districts in which one or more schools did not meet academic performance targets to revise their professional development plans to focus on subjects in which they failed to meet targets, methods to improve the achievement of student subgroups, and training for instructional coaches. Also, requires the Department of Education to provide a clearinghouse of continuing education experiences cataloged by area of assignment, certification area, and topic. Additionally, SB 154 was amended to include pre-kindergarten educators in a professional development plan's early childhood activities; current law references only kindergarten through third grade educators for participation in early childhood activities.

    Senate Bill 155: (reintroduction of Senate Bill 297 of 2005-2006 session Allows intermediate units to coordinate a pool of educational advisors to provide assistance to schools and school districts identified for school improvement or corrective action; assistance would be provided upon request. Also, establishes qualifications for educational advisors.

    Senate Bill 157: (reintroduction of Senate Bill 146 of 2005-2006 session) Requires intermediate units to provide academic assistance to school districts in which one or more schools did not meet the state's academic performance targets and to coordinate a team to develop an academic improvement plan for the district. SB 157 was amended to qualify that the legislation does not supercede or preempt a collective bargaining agreement.

    Senate Bill 158: (reintroduction of Senate Bill 143 - 2005-2006 session) Requires school districts to establish parent involvement programs, policies, and committees.

    Senate Bill 219: (reintroduction of Senate Bill 647 of 2005-2006 session) Allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to authorize paperwork required for teacher licensure which certifies that the individual seeking a teaching certificate is not mentally or physically disqualified from performing teaching duties. Currently only physicians may certify this requirement. SB 219 was amended to include an unrelated provision adding to the state law requiring federal criminal background checks for certain prospective school employees. The amendment requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education to, at a minimum, prescribe a method for applicants to submit fingerprints to be transmitted to the FBI. Under current law, certain applicants must submit federal criminal history records along with applications for employment beginning April 1, 2007.


  • The Pennsylvania Senate has added new features to its web site listing roll call votes on legislation considered before the full Senate and votes taken in Senate Committees. Senate voting records can be accessed from the General Assembly's homepage at www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/session.cfm.


  • 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.


    Other

  • The Pennsylvania Education Funding Reform Campaign is inviting youth groups, after-school programs, advocacy groups, church groups or other community groups that work directly with middle or high school students to become part of a project to showcase student voices on education funding reform through documentary photography. The project is currently underway in the Philadelphia School District; two additional communities will be selected to participate. Details about the project are available at www.elc-pa.org/pubs/downloads/english/Student%20Photography%20Project%20RFP.pdf. Applications are due to the Education Law Center, the coordinating organization, by Monday, March 12. The Pennsylvania Education Funding Reform Campaign is a joint effort of the Education Law Center, Good Schools Pennsylvania and The Education Policy and Leadership Center.



  • Datebook

  • EPLC is again offering regional Workshops for 2007 school board candidates. The Workshops are being offered by EPLC with the cooperation of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA). Workshops are intended for incumbent board members and new candidates, as well as all citizens who plan to be actively involved in school board elections as campaign volunteers or community leaders.

    EPLC day-long Candidate Workshops are planned for Valley Forge (February 10), Mechanicsburg (February 24), Allentown (March 3) and Monroeville (March 10). Registration is $30 which includes lunch, break refreshments, and materials. For more information and a registration form, please see www.eplc.org/schoolboardworkshop.html.


  • Register Now...EPLC will host the 5th Annual Pennsylvania Education Policy and Leadership Conference on March 29-30, 2007. Keynote speakers include Wendy Puriefoy, President of the Public Education Network, and Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Jerry Zahorchak. Registration materials and a preliminary agenda are available online at www.eplc.org/conference.html.


  • Next Week...The Senate Education Committee will hold a public hearing on early childhood education certificates on Tuesday. The Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference takes place February 12-13 in Hershey. EPLC hosts two Pennsylvania Education Policy Forums on Wednesday and Thursday in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, respectively. The National Conference on State Legislatures hosts its annual Education Finance Seminar in Denver on February 16-18. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.



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