EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Pennsylvania House returns to session on Monday, June 4.
The Pennsylvania Senate returns to session on Monday, June 4.

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The House Education Committee on Wednesday held a day-long hearing on funding for basic and special education and a proposal to expand funding for prekindergarten and full-day kindergarten programs. PDE Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Diane Castelbuono explained the Governor's basic education funding proposal, laid out in House Bill 1046, and special education funding proposal, laid out in House Bill 1048, for FY 2007-08. The basic education funding formula contains nine supplementary funding streams, including a new inflation index supplement and changes to the calculation of some existing supplements. The bill assumes a 3.48% increase in funding for basic education.

    For a description of the subsidy supplements, see PDE's web site at: http://www.pdeinfo.state.pa.us/education_budget/cwp/view.asp?a=3&Q=71004&education_budgetNav=|4869|&education_budgetNav=|4869|&k12_financesNav=|4339|3848|.

    HB 1046 also includes a new oversight provision for districts that receive a funding increase of 10% or more. These districts would be required to tell PDE how they plan to use their increased basic education funding; PDE would then issue nonbinding recommendations to the district suggesting how the dollars should be utilized. The district must make PDE's recommendations public, but would not be obligated to implement them.

    House Bill 1048 provides for FY 2007-08 special education payments based on a 3% ($29.419 million) increase in special education funding. For a description of the special education funding formula outlined in HB 1048, see www.pdeinfo.state.pa.us/education_budget/cwp/view.asp?a=3&Q=71249&education_budgetNav=|4870|&education_budgetNav=|4870|&k12_financesNav=|4339|3848|.

    Representatives of school administrators, teachers, school boards, school business officials, individuals with disabilities, the ACLU, and education advocacy organizations appeared before the Committee to discuss support for education in the next state budget, as well as long-term funding challenges.

    Pennsylvania falls far short in its support for K-12 education when measured by state share of K-12 costs and state appropriations per student. This shortage of state funds results in a statewide public education system that is excessively dependent on local taxes, usually property taxes, and provides very unequal opportunities for students, said EPLC President Ron Cowell.

    In 2004-05, local property taxes provided 28.4% of the revenue for public schools nationally, while in Pennsylvania local property taxes accounted for 43.9% of public education revenue, making the Commonwealth $3.335 billion more dependent on property taxes to support public schools than would be the case if our dependency was on par with the national average. Because of this dependency on local tax base to support the schools, the resources available to support a child's education vary tremendously in Pennsylvania. The gap between resources in the richest districts and the poorest districts is more than $10,000 per student per year.

    Cowell reviewed the policy decisions that have contributed to the current problem, and commented on the current budget proposal. He also suggested the need for the Legislature to establish an independent education funding reform commission to use the results of Pennsylvania's current adequacy study to develop recommendations for a new funding system to be considered by the Governor and the General assembly. Read Mr. Cowell's testimony at www.eplc.org/testimony/053007.html.

    Janis Risch of Good Schools Pennsylvania also highlighted serious flaws in the state's education funding system. She supported the point made by Cowell that Pennsylvania ranks among the bottom nationally when it comes to state share of school costs. In 2004-05, Pennsylvania's state share of school costs amounted to 35.6%, while the national average for state share stood at 47%. Risch urged the General Assembly to make progress to improve state funding through the 2007-08 budget, and also called for the establishment of an independent commission to developing proposals for a new funding formula and to serve in an ongoing monitoring and reporting role.

    The PA Association of School Administrators urged that the next state budget advance, not merely maintain, recent progress. PASA said the use of supplemental funding is unpredictable, creates artificial cliffs that leave some districts with similar needs ineligible for support, and bases funding for districts who qualify for supplemental funding on a pro rata share of a fixed state appropriation. "Overall, the supplements do not assure adequate state support to any school district - because there is no clear basis for identifying what education needs require what level of funding," says PASA. While the adequacy study commissioned by the legislature seeks to answer this question, PASA recommended steps the legislature can take now to provide greater fairness by adequately reflect growing enrollment and making additional investments in special education.

    Representatives of the PA School Boards Association thanked legislators for proposed increases, but reiterated "that the only way we can address school district funding, and ultimately property tax relief, is by overhauling the formulas for basic and special education funding." The Association also asked legislators to modify the special education funding formula to reflect actual costs of special education services in each district. Additionally, both the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania State Education Association expressed concern with the new proposal for PDE oversight of districts that receive large funding increases. PSEA feels the proposal will change the nature of the relationship between PDE and local school districts. Moreover, PSEA said the basic education line item "is not intended to be a type of grant to fund specific programs deemed useful by the state. Other categorical line items are sufficient for this purpose."

    Others addressed specific education programs. May Yee, an advocate from Philadelphia, called on legislators to provide increased dedicated funding to support programs for the English language learner (ELL) student population, which has doubled over the last decade. Larry Frankel, of the ACLU, suggested dedicating some of the money raised through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC) to fund ELL programs.

    Advocates for individuals with disabilities, the Arc of Pennsylvania, voiced support for the Governor's proposed increase for special education and offered suggestions to achieve maximum effectiveness of state dollars spent on special education through 1) greater accountability in program outcomes; 2) ending fiscal incentives for districts to send students with disabilities to approved private schools; 3) supporting strong teacher quality regulations; 4) supporting reforms proposed to Chapter 14 (special education) regulations; and, 5) reforming the Office of Dispute Resolution for special education matters.

  • The House Education Committee also asked for comments from the business community, law enforcement officials, parents, teachers and others about Gov. Rendell's proposal to increase funding for full-day kindergarten by $25 million and prekindergarten by $75 million, as outlined in House Bill 1057.

    Advocates touted the Governor's pre-K proposal because it is aligned with essential quality standards and will allow services to be delivered by a diverse set of providers, not just school districts, with priority for funding being given to communities that submit applications demonstrating local partnerships. Utilizing existing community providers will allow funding to directly support pre-K programming, rather than new physical space. Advocates also highlighted the proposal's accountability provisions, as well as its design to reach the most at-risk children in every community across the state.

    Phil Peterson, Senior Vice President with Aon Corporation and a member of the Pre-K Counts Public/Private Partnership, told legislators "many in the business community believe that quality pre-kindergarten in an excellent strategy for preparing our children to succeed in school and become part of" the highly-skilled workforce needed to support the Commonwealth's future. Peterson cited research by the Committee on Economic Development that found four out of five American businesses saw public funding of pre-K for all children as a way to improve America's workforce. "If we expect Pennsylvania to compete, we cannot afford to let even one child miss out on his or her right to a quality education. This is something that is within our power to achieve for our kids," said Peterson.

    Mark Whitman, police commissioner for the City of York and a member of the law enforcement organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, called for a change in state spending that is currently skewed toward dealing with crime after it occurs, rather than investing in proven preventative measures such as pre-K. "Any comprehensive plan to beat back crime must include long-term solutions like quality pre-kindergarten programs…There exists a compelling body of scientific research showing how these early childhood investments can make all of use safer and save taxpayer dollars," said Whitman.

    Advocates also called for maintaining the Governor's proposal for dedicated pre-K funding, rather than meshing such funds with current Accountability Block Grants that can be used for a variety of purposes or expanding the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program to provide for pre-K. Morrisville School District Superintendent Elizabeth Yonson said putting forth dedicated funding for pre-K ensures "these resources go where they are really needed rather than swallowed up by other programs or operating support." The Pennsylvania School Boards Association also expressed support for expanding access to pre-K and full-day kindergarten, but asked legislators to direct funding to school districts and then allow districts to contract these services to a private provider in order to provide for a level of local oversight.

    For additional information about Wednesday's Education Committee hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair James Roebuck at (717) 783-1000.

  • The House approved a FY 2007-2008 state budget bill ( House Bill 1286) along party lines last week, positioning it for its eventual arrival in a joint House-Senate conference committee where a final budget deal will be brokered. The bill introduced by House Democrats reflects the $27.3 billion spending plan proposed by Governor Rendell in February. The House decided to forgo its usual process of considering hundreds of budget amendments by members. Instead, the House considered only one amendment offered by Rep. Mario Civera that would have limited spending growth in the budget to about 2 percent and restored most of the current year's programs cut from the proposed budget by Rendell. Civera's proposed amendment was rejected largely on party lines. The budget legislation has been sent to the Pennsylvania Senate where Senate Republicans have indicated that they will trim spending from the bill.

  • The House Appropriations Committee also approved legislation ( Senate Bill 792) last week appropriating $40.811 million for the operation of the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System during FY 2007-08. SB 792 has been re-committed back to the House Appropriations Committee.

  • 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.

    State Fiscal Picture Improves

  • As the state enters the last month of the 2006-2007 fiscal year, there was some encouraging news from the Department of Revenue. Total General Fund revenue came in approximately $201.5 million over estimate in May. This overage results in a year-to-date revenue surplus of $409.3 million. While the revenue overage is good news and makes it easier for the General Assembly to adopt the Governor's proposed budget without major tax increases, it does not solve all of the fiscal challenges, nor will it eliminate calls for limits on state spending increases.

  • Act 1

  • Statewide, voters overwhelmingly declined the state's plan to reduce school property taxes by shifting part of the cost to a local income tax. Voters in only nine* of 498 school districts approved an income tax shift during the May 15 Primary Election. Legislation enacted by the General Assembly last year required all school districts (except Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Scranton) to put a question on the Primary ballot asking voters if they wanted to reduce property taxes by increasing local income taxes dollar-for-dollar. For more information about the property tax relief legislation previously adopted by the state (Special Session Act 1 of 2006), see www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_k12finance.html.

    School districts that approved tax shift referenda are (based on unofficial vote counts from the Pennsylvania Department of State):

    Bedford Area (Bedford County)
    Everett Area (Bedford County)
    Reading (Berks County)
    Bristol Borough (Bucks County)*
    Bald Eagle Area (Centre County)
    Chambersburg Area (Franklin County)
    Huntingdon Area (Huntingdon County)
    Juniata Valley (Huntingdon County)
    Kane Area (McKean County)

    * Media reports indicate the initial 806-805 vote in favor of a tax shift in Bristol Borough has been reversed to 804-801 opposed after tallying absentee ballots. These new figures are not yet reported on the Department of State's web site.

    State policymakers now are pondering their next step in property tax relief following voters' dismissal of the Primary referenda. Gov. Rendell reiterated the idea he put forth in his FY 2007-08 budget proposal to consider increasing the state sales tax by 1% with a portion of the increase dedicated to property tax reduction. Meanwhile, House Democratic Majority Leader William DeWeese plans to pursue a 0.5% state sales tax increase entirely dedicated to property tax relief. House Republican Minority Leader Sam Smith said the election results clearly show citizens want "no more taxes, period" and said his caucus will focus rather on factors that are driving costs and giving schools more flexibility and less mandates.

    The Pennsylvania Education Funding Reform Campaign, led by the Education Law Center, The Education Policy and Leadership Center, and Good Schools Pennsylvania, said the election results suggest that a majority of citizens believe state government must play a larger role in reducing property taxes by providing a greater share of overall funding for public education. Despite a long-standing unhappiness with the property tax, voters in almost every school district rejected referendums to switch part of the property tax to a personal or earned income tax. This reflects a growing public awareness that the proposed tax shift does not sufficiently address the important systemic weaknesses that are the responsibility of state government. For a statement from the coalition, see www.goodschoolspa.org/pdf/press_releases/051707%20Costing%20Out%20Interim%20Press%20Release.pdf.

    At a press conference last week, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association said the election results show voters want more comprehensive and meaningful property tax reform, and called upon the legislature to address the root of high property taxes - the state's broken system of financing public education. The Association wants policymakers to reconsider the recommendations of its 2005 Blueprint for Comprehensive Local Tax Reform, which says the state needs to: 1) reform the local taxing system to give districts greater taxing options, 2) improve state funding for public education and return to a fair and equitable funding formula that makes the state more of an equal partner in supporting public education, and, 3) help school districts manage costs by repealing, funding or amending state mandates. Read the School Boards' plan at www.psba.org/issues-research/BlueprintLocalTaxReform.pdf.

  • Research and Reports

  • The Philadelphia School District has made strides in cutting its number of teachers with emergency certifications, reducing classroom vacancies, and improving the certification rate of new teachers since the federal No Child Left Behind Law was enacted in 2002. However, the district still faces challenges in building greater equity in the distribution of fully certified and experienced teachers across all schools and in long-term teacher retention rates, according to a new report from Research for Action.

    "Closing the Teacher Quality Gap in Philadelphia: New Hope and Old Hurdles" found that 92 percent of Philadelphia's teachers were considered highly qualified under NCLB in November 2006. Also, the percentage of all teachers who were either fully certified or Intern certified stood at 95.3% in 2006-2007, compared to 89.6% in fall 2003. Further, the number of teachers serving on emergency permits was drastically reduced from 2,597 in fall 2002 to 423 in fall 2006. Certifications among new teachers have shown "striking improvement," rising from about 47% in fall 2001 to 83% in fall 2005 to a current high of 92.4%.

    The district also has significantly improved teacher retention during their first year in the classroom and modestly improved second-year retention, but remains challenged by long-term retention rates. While more than 90% of the new teachers hired each year since fall 2003 have stayed in the district through the end of the school year (compared to 73% in prior years), of those hired in 1999-2000 only about 30% remained in the district six years later and only 16% of those teachers were still in their original schools.

    Research for Action highlights district initiatives that have helped make progress in upgrading the qualification of Philadelphia's classroom teachers and makes recommendations for addressing challenges the districts continues to face related to the equitable distribution of qualified and experienced teachers, improving the recruitment of minority teachers and teachers in certain subject areas, making the hiring process less complex and cumbersome, and improving teacher retention. To learn more, read the report at http://pdf.researchforaction.org/rfapdf/publication/pdf_file/298/Useem_B_Closing_the_TQ_Gap_ES.pdf.

  • Other

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education has begun posting transcripts of testimony and other remarks offered by top PDE officials to legislative committees. You can review testimony provided during 2007 at www.pdenewsroom.state.pa.us/newsroom/cwp/view.asp?a=330&q=127221.

  • Terry Barnaby has joined the Pennsylvania Department of Education as the new Director of the Bureau of Teacher Certification. Previously, Barnaby served as Assistant Executive Director of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).

  • Dominique "Domi" Raymond recently joined the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and will focus on implementing the recommendations recently made by the Governor's Commission on College and Career Success. Ms. Raymond most recently worked at Achieve, Inc. and for the Maryland Department of Education.

  • Dr. Jeremy Brown will take the helm as president of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania starting July 1. Brown currently serves as provost and vice president for academic affairs at State University of New York at Canton. He will replace the retiring Dr. Frank Pogue.

  • Datebook

  • June 5th is Public Education Advocacy Day at the Capitol in Harrisburg. Organized by Good Schools Pennsylvania, the Advocacy Day is intended to send a message to legislators that we expect them to make public education a priority in the coming year's budget, and further, that we expect them to use the results of the costing-out study due in November as the foundation for a sound school funding formula. Buses to Harrisburg will depart from Monroeville, Lancaster, Norristown, Allentown and Philadelphia. For details, see www.goodschoolspa.org/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20June%205%20Info.pdf.

  • Look through the eyes of youth as they document the realities they face each day in North Philadelphia public high schools. Attend the opening reception for the student photography exhibit, "Eyes on Education," on Wednesday, June 13 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the Journey Home Gallery, 948 N. 8th Street, Philadelphia.

    Starting in January 2007, 15 high school students were given cameras, workshops in documentary photography, and the opportunity to record what they thought was important for the public to know about both positive and negative aspects of their education. The participating students are part of Youth United for Change (Y.U.C), an organization dedicated to developing young leaders in Philadelphia and empowering them to improve the quality of education and services in their communities to better meet their needs. For more information about the exhibit, see www.elc-pa.org/funding/costing%20out.html#news.

  • Next Week...Good Schools Pennsylvania hosts Public Education Advocacy Day in Harrisburg on Tuesday. ELPC hosts a Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum - Capital Breakfast Series on Wednesday. The 7th Annual Quality Education Conference will take place June 7-8 in Washington, D.C. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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