EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, July 6, 2007

    FY 2007-2008 State Budget

  • Negotiations on the FY 2007-2008 state budget ( House Bill 1286) continued with the Governor's office joining talks last night that were expected to reconvene today. The General Assembly is poised to appoint a joint conference committee to finalize a budget deal, following the House's rejection of the Senate's spending plan on June 30 and the Senate's insistence on its version earlier this week. Furlough notices for more than 25,000 state employees are scheduled to take effect on Monday. For more information about the budget, see EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse.


  • Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The House this week rejected changes made by the Senate to legislation ( House Bill 842) making omnibus changes to the school code. This is legislation that typically is enacted annually in conjunction with the passage of the state budget. The Senate is expected to insist on its version of the bill, resulting in the appointment of a conference committee to work out a final version. As passed by the Senate, the bill:

    • Establishes formulas for distributing state funding for FY 2007-08 to support: educational assistance (tutoring); local libraries; small district assistance; basic education (including a base supplement, poverty supplement, foundation supplement, tax effort supplement, growth supplement, and inflation index supplement); limited English proficiency; special education; and accountability block grants. Each district would receive at least a 2.25% increase over the amount it received last year for basic education and at least a 2.0% increase over the amount it received last year for special education. The bill also earmarks $4 million of the basic education allocation for Commonwealth Partnership School Districts (currently, only the Pittsburgh School District meets the law's definition of a Commonwealth Partnership SD).


    • Gives school districts more options in how to use accountability block grant dollars. In addition to the eleven uses already approved, districts also could use block grant funding to establish, expand or maintain: 1) programs for instruction on world languages in the elementary grades either in immersion classrooms or as separate periods of instruction; 2) programs to strengthen high school curricula by creating rigorous college and career preparation programs, increasing academic achievement, offering additional advanced placement courses, providing school-based counseling, and providing professional development; and, 3) programs to provide intensive teacher training, professional development and teaching resources to elementary level science teachers. The bill would require PDE to notify districts of the newly approved uses and allow districts to amend their already-submitted (to Department of Education) plans for using block grants dollars if they would like to utilize funds to support these efforts during the next school year. Finally, PDE must notify districts of the amount of block grant dollars they will receive by April 10 annually.


    • Allows educators who fail to complete state-mandated professional development within the five-year compliance period to continue to teach until the end of the school year. The bill prohibits the Department of Education (PDE) 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 provide notice of inactive certification to the certificate holder no later than 31 days prior to the date on which the certificate is inactivated. Educators may appeal their inactive designation to the Secretary of Education. Currently, employees who do not complete required professional development may have their certificates inactivated at any point during the school year.


    • Addresses the dissolution of the high school in the Duquesne City School District. The bill grants the Secretary of Education the power to designate two or more school districts, each within three miles of Duquesne, to educate Duquesne high school students on a tuition basis. HB 842 also requires the Secretary to establish a process for reassigning students to these designated districts and to establish a tuition rate (for FY 2007-08 the rate would be the 2006-07 high school tuition charge of each designated district; in subsequent years, the rate may not exceed the 2007-08 tuition multiplied by the greater of either 2% or the percentage increase in total budgeted revenues available to the Duquesne School District).

      Districts designated to accept Duquesne students must provide transportation to the students and would be eligible for state transportation reimbursement for these students. Notice of designated school districts, reassignment process and tuition rates must be published on PDE's web site by August 1 annually and in the Pennsylvania Bulletin by September 30 annually. Designated school districts would not be required to include Duquesne students in their public school enrollment reports for purposes of determining an interscholastic sports classification. Reassigned students would continue to be counted in the Duquesne School District's average daily membership for purposes of distributing basic and special education funding. Additionally, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee must annually report (by February 1) on Duquesne's financial and academic status, as well as an audit of the district's accounts for the previous school year.

      HB 842 also requires the Secretary of Education to establish an education advisory committee by October 1, 2007 to make semi-annual reports evaluating the transition of students, recommending changes to the reassignment process, and recommending ways to improve educational opportunities for Duquesne students. The Secretary must provide a written response to the committee's semi-annual reports. HB 842 details the type of individuals the Secretary must appoint to the advisory committee.

      This section of HB 842 also requires Duquesne to create a pool of professional and temporary professional employees who are suspended as a result of the high school's closure. Districts designated by the Secretary to accept Duquesne high school students would be required to offer employment to these individuals when positions for which they are certified become available; offers must be made in order of seniority, and the district may not hire a new employee until all properly certified members of the pool have been notified of the job opening. Former Duquesne employees hired by designated districts would be credited for all sick leave, years of service for salary schedule placement, years of service for sabbatical leave eligibility, and suspension and realignment rights and eligibility for any retirement incentives or severance payments in a designated district.


    • Prohibits school boards and boards of control from capping or otherwise limiting enrollment in a charter school or cyber charter school, unless agreed to by the charter or cyber charter school as part of a written charter.


    • Makes changes to the powers of the school board of a commonwealth partnership school district (Pittsburgh School District).


    • Grants the Pittsburgh School District superintendent the authority to recommend to the school board the dismissal of a management employee for unsatisfactory performance or willful misconduct. A management employee is an employee who holds a management position above the level of first level supervisor; this does not include principals, assistant principals, vice principals or any position requiring a certificate from the Secretary of Education. This power would expire December 31, 2009.


  • The House passed the following legislation on Saturday (June 30):

    House Bill 847: Establishes training requirements for school leaders aligned with PDE's Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership Program (PIL). The bill defines in statute "Pennsylvania School Leadership Standards," referencing the three core and six corollary standards that are the basis of the current PIL program.

    HB 847 requires all superintendents and assistant superintendents to complete a college or university or graduate program that includes the PA School Leadership Standards, unless the candidate can provide evidence he or she has completed an equivalent leadership development program that addresses the standards. The bill grandfathers current Pennsylvania county, district, or assistant county or district superintendents or associate superintendents, and also allows five years of administrative service as an assistant, associate or deputy superintendent in the School District of Philadelphia to substitute for prescribed graduate administrative courses (if approved by the Secretary of Education).

    New school principals hired after January 1, 2008 would be required to complete an induction program within five years of appointment. Individuals who apply to be certified as a principal, vice principal or assistant principal after January 1, 2008 would be issued an Administrative I certificate valid for five years of service, during which time the individual must complete the proposed induction program for new principals. An individual would be issued a permanent Administrative II certificate after three years of satisfactory service and completion of the induction program.

    The proposed induction program would be based on the Pennsylvania School Leadership Standards' three core standards and would be offered free of charge by PDE. PDE may approve other providers to offer induction programs; however, participants would have to pay for programs offered by other providers. The bill limits participation in an induction program to no more than 36 hours during any one school year or a total of 108 hours. Participation in induction programs may be applied toward an educator's state-mandated professional development requirements.

    Finally, the bill requires school leaders to participate in ongoing professional development programs aligned with PA's School Leadership Standards and requires PDE to offer, at no cost to the educator, continuing education programs that meet these requirements. PDE also would approve other professional development providers that offer programs aligned with these standards and must annually publish a list of approved providers. HB 847 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 894: Excludes costs related to meeting certain environmental design standards (known as LEEDS - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Standards) from overall construction costs when determining whether a school construction project exceeds the threshold that would require a referendum on the project under Section 701.1 of the school code. Additionally, HB 894 requires any public hearing on building construction costs to consider the cost of operating the new construction in order to show cost savings gained by using green technology. Current law requires school districts to hold a referendum or public hearing on school construction projects that exceed a certain threshold. HB 894 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

    House Bill 71: Requires municipalities to notify school districts monthly about plats approved for residential development, as well as residential development plans granted final approval. HB 71 has been referred to the Senate Local Government Committee.


  • The House Appropriations Committee on June 30 adopted legislation that establishes parameters around the use of certain appropriations by state agencies. The following provisions were among the strictures for state agencies previously amended into the legislation by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Within PDE, Senate Bill 728 requires that annual payments from the appropriation to institutions of higher learning for defraying the expenses of deaf or blind students shall not exceed $500 per student. Within the Department of Public Welfare, the bill protects funding for medical schools by guaranteeing that no qualifying state-related academic medical centers shall receive less funding than they received in state appropriations during FY 2004-05 if federal funds currently used to support the schools are not made available to them during FY 2007-08. SB 728 also requires the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) to: 1) utilize state funds for matching payments for student aid funds to maximize the receipt of federal funds to the fullest extent; 2) make colleges, universities or institutions that receive a direct appropriation from the state ineligible to participate in the institutional assistance grant program; and, 3) give preference to renewal applicants in distributing funds for agricultural loan forgiveness.

    The legislation also authorizes the creation of certain restricted receipt accounts for the purpose of administering federal grants, including the following accounts within PDE: Education of the Disabled - Part C, LSTA - Library Grants, The Pennsylvania State University Federal Aid, Emergency Immigration Education Assistance, Education of the Disabled - Part D, Homeless Adult Assistance Program, Severely Handicapped, and Medical Assistance Reimbursements to Local Education Agencies. Finally, SB 728 includes unrelated provisions addressing group life insurance for state employees. SB 728 has been re-committed back to the House Appropriations Committee.


  • The House Education Committee met this week to vote on the last piece of legislation in a teacher recruitment and retention package approved by the Committee last week. House Bill 921, which addresses signing bonuses for teachers, previously was held over by the Committee so members could offer additional amendments to the bill. As now amended, the bill requires PDE to annually certify critical shortage areas and award funding to districts for one-time retention bonuses to teachers in such areas. A critical shortage area is defined as: 1) a school district in which there are teacher vacancies in the academic areas of, but not limited to, math, science, foreign languages, or special education for which the district has advertised, but no fully qualified and properly certified applicants are available, or 2) a school district in which teacher positions in, but not limited to, math, science, foreign languages, or special education have been filled by emergency certified teachers or individuals not certified to teach the class on a permanent basis. PDE must establish guidelines for determining which districts are certified as critical shortage areas by November 30, 2007.

    Teachers who meet the following criteria would qualify for a one-time retention bonus: 1) is hired to fill a vacancy in a critical shortage area; 2) is certified to teach in Pennsylvania in the subjects or grades in which the individual is giving instruction; 3) is within the first year of full-time teaching in the academic area of, but not limited to, math, science, foreign language or special education; 4) has achieved satisfactory teaching evaluations; and, 5) agrees to teach in a critical shortage area for at least five years.

    Eligible teachers would receive a retention bonus equal to 20% of their starting salary to be paid over a five-year period, as long at the teacher continues to work in that position and as long as the critical shortage area receives sufficient funding from the state. Bonuses would be paid as follows: year one (5%), year two (10%), year three (20%), year four (25%), year five (40%). If a critical shortage area does not receive sufficient funding to provide a bonus equal to 20% of starting salary, the critical shortage area may reduce the amount of bonus distributed to eligible teachers.

    Teachers who receive the bonus through false or misleading information or who otherwise improperly receive a retention bonus must refund the money to PDE. Additionally, teachers who leave a critical shortage area before fulfilling their five-year commitment would be required to refund the entire amount of the retention bonus received to PDE within one year of leaving employment. PDE must establish a procedure through which a teacher can refund the bonus in whole or incrementally over that year. PDE would waive the repayment requirement if a teacher was unable to maintain eligibility because of an administrative action by the school district, due to military leave, illness or catastrophic illness of an immediate family member, parental leave, or other extraordinary circumstances.

    PDE must notify districts by January 31 annually if the district has been identified as a critical shortage area and is eligible for funding for retention bonuses for the next school year. No more than 10% of funding appropriated for retention bonuses may be granted to any single school district. The bill allocates $4 million to PDE to support the program during FY 2007-2008. HB 921 also requires annual reporting on the program by PDE. HB 921 has been re-committed to the House Rules Committee.

    Editor's Comment: Unless the legislation intends that the $4 million appropriation will cover all five years for which a teacher may receive payments totaling 20% of starting salary, it appears that the $4 million provided to fund the first year of bonuses for the first cohort of eligible teachers will need to grow to as much as $32 million to fund the same number of teachers in the fifth year of eligibility for that first cohort since the percentage of the earned bonus to be paid increases from 5% in year one to 40% in year five. Of course, additional funding would be needed each year to support a second year of new teachers as well as any subsequent cohort of new teachers. It will be important to see the fiscal note attached to this legislation.


  • The House Rules Committee adopted legislation ( House Bill 1170) that allows students whose residence is located in more than one school district to attend the school closest to their home at no charge. Additionally, the bill requires the school district closest to the pupil's residence to provide transportation; however, the district must only provide transportation from a point on the pupil's property within the district's boundaries. HB 1170 has been re-committed to the House Appropriations Committee.


  • The House State Government Committee adopted legislation ( House Bill 1087) on Saturday (June 30) prohibiting the Public School Employees' Retirement System from investing in entities engaged in business with a state sponsor of terror. HB 1087 has been re-referred to the House Rules Committee.



  • Pennsylvania Bulletin

  • Proposed revisions to State Board of Education regulations governing special education (Chapter 14) were published in the June 30 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin. The Board will accept public comment on the proposed changes within 30 days of the publication date.


  • 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.


    Datebook

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education Chapter 4 Committee will hold three regional public roundtable meetings to receive input from interested parties regarding high school graduation requirements and recommendations of the Governor's Commission on College and Career Success. Roundtables will be held in the following locations: July 16 in Harrisburg (deadline to register July 12); July 27 in King of Prussia (deadline to register July 20); and August 1 in Pittsburgh (deadline to register July 25). For details about the roundtables and registering to participate, see www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/cwp/view.asp?Q=106648&A=3.


  • Next Week...The Education Commission of the States hosts the 2007 National Forum on Education Policy on July 10-13 in Philadelphia. The Task Force on School Cost Reduction meets Wednesday. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governors meets July 11-12. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.



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