EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, June 11, 2007

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    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Senate Actions

  • This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 17-9 cut $329 million from the FY 2007-2008 state budget previously adopted by the House ( House Bill 1286); the House's version of the budget reflected Gov. Rendell's proposed spending plan. More than one-half ($180 million) of the cuts in the amended budget came from reductions in education reform initiatives proposed by Governor Rendell. The budget awaits further consideration by the Senate, after which it will go to a conference committee where a final budget deal will be hashed out.

    The budget supported by all the Republican members of the Appropriations Committee and one Democrat member (Senator Lisa Boscola) made the following cuts to education items in the budget legislation previously approved by the House:

    • Pennsylvania Accountability Block Grants cut by $75 million to $275 million, a $25 million increase above the current year, apparently eliminating proposed new funding for the pre-K initiative.

    • Science: It's Elementary cut by $5 million to $10 million, the same level as current year.

    • Classrooms for the Future cut by $90 million, eliminating the proposed education reform initiative.

    • Teacher Professional Development cut by $10,000 to $20.367 million, $3 million below the level for the current year.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee also moved forward multiple non-preferred appropriations bills supporting higher education and other education-related institutions for FY 2007-2008. Non-preferred appropriations bills require two-thirds approval by both the House and the Senate. Each of these bills now awaits a vote by the full Senate.

    Senate Bill 929: Allocates $332.882 million to Penn State University.

    Senate Bill 930: Allocates $167.869 million to the University of Pittsburgh.

    Senate Bill 931: Allocates $172.917 million to Temple University.

    Senate Bill 932: Allocates $13.786 million to Lincoln University.

    Senate Bill 933: Allocates $7.002 million to Drexel University.

    Senate Bill 934: Allocates $49.651 million to the University of Pennsylvania.

    Senate Bill 935: Allocates $12.665 million to the Philadelphia Health and Education Corporation.

    Senate Bill 936: Allocates $9.852 million to Thomas Jefferson University.

    Senate Bill 937: Allocates $6.576 million to the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

    Senate Bill 938: Allocates $1.693 million to the Pennsylvania College of Optometry.

    Senate Bill 939: Allocates $1.214 million to the University of the Arts, Philadelphia.

    Senate Bill 940: Allocates $1.504 million to the Berean Training and Industrial School.

    Senate Bill 941: Allocates $0.194 million to the Johnson Technical Institute of Scranton.

    Senate Bill 942: Allocates $0.071 million to the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades in Delaware County.

    Senate Bill 943: Allocates $1.861 million to the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

  • House Actions

  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee moved forward the following legislation (each bill has been re-referred to the House Rules Committee):

    House Bill 1170: 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 was amended to require 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.

    House Bill 1067: Requires that a student's disciplinary record be transferred to and by both school entities and nonpublic schools when a student transfers in or out of a public or nonpublic school. Currently, this transfer requirement applies only to public school entities; HB 1067 extends this transfer requirement to also apply to nonpublic schools. HB 1067 was amended to further provide that when a charter school charter is revoked or not renewed, all records maintained by the charter school must be forwarded to the student's district of residence within ten days.

    House Bill 795: Increases the number of members serving on the Harrisburg School District's Board of Control to seven by providing for two new positions to be filled by individuals who are members of the district's elected Harrisburg City School Board. The new positions would be filled by an election by the elected school board. The other five positions are appointed by the mayor of Harrisburg.

  • The House Education Committee Subcommittee on Special Education met with representatives of the Departments of Public Welfare and Education on Thursday to learn about initiatives related to the education of children with autism and the transition of students with autism into adult life. For more information about the meeting, contact the office of Subcommittee Chair Barbara McIlvaine Smith at (717) 705-1922.

  • State Board of Education Activity

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education approved revised cut scores for the third grade PSSA in math and reading at a special meeting of the Board on Friday. Cut scores set the boundaries defining the state assessment's advanced, proficient, basic and below basic performance levels. Changes were made only to the scores defining the basic and below basic split. The scores needed to be adjusted because some formatting changes were made to the grade 3 PSSA in order to address concerns raised by a U.S. Department of Education peer review, making it necessary to align the cut scores to the new test. The new scores will take effect following their publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Legislature-mandated Task Force on School Cost Reduction met Wednesday to continue the discussion of charter schools that began as its May meeting, and also to receive testimony from the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) to inform its work. The Task Force is an advisory body charged with identifying potential cost savings for school districts. A report of its recommendations is due in October.

    Task Force members discussed whether competitive grants funds should be exempt from a school district's charter school tuition rate. Currently, state or federal grant money is included when calculating a district's charter school tuition, meaning a school district remits a portion of grant dollars it receives for a specific purpose for the general operations of charter schools. Task Force members seemed to feel this is unfair, especially since charter schools are eligible to apply for some of the same grants. Some costs, such as expenses for nonpublic school programs and transportation, already are exempt from this calculation. Members questioned whether such an exemption should be placed on all grant dollars or only grants dollars for which charter schools also are eligible to compete.

    Task Force members also talked about whether there is a point at which charter school costs become financially destabilizing for a district and whether this can be prevented by placing a cap on charter school enrollment, allowing districts to deny charter applications for fiscal reasons, or allowing districts to revoke a charter for failure to meet student performance criteria (criteria could be designated in charter agreements). Further, since charter schools were created as a school improvement strategy, members questioned whether districts should have the authority to decide how much they wish to invest in charters versus other improvement strategies.

    The Task Force also identified special education funding as an area in need of attention. Currently, school districts receive state funding for special education based on the assumption that 16% of their average daily membership receives special services, while charter schools receive special education funding from districts based on the actual number of students enrolled in special education. Some members also felt charter schools discourage enrollment of students with the most severe needs and, therefore, a higher cost to educate. Committee members felt a new system should address perceived problems that the current structure allows for potential over-identification of special education students and payments for higher levels of service than are actually expended. The group discussed a variety of approaches to changing the way charter schools receive special education dollars, including establishing tiers so that students with more severe need would receive greater funding, creating a statewide special education rate, or funding based on the actual cost of services provided to students.

    Finally, the panel agreed that charter schools should be responsible for truancy concerns of their students, unlike current law which holds school districts responsible for a charter's truant students. Because a charter school is not required to notify a district of its truant students, a school district would have to be proactive in finding out whether there are truancy violators.

    The Task Force also took testimony from the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), which represents teachers, to inform the committee's work. Additionally, Frank Sirianni of the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council appeared before the Task Force to address issues related to construction costs.

    PSEA addressed five topics before the Task Force: school subsidies, special education, health care, school district mergers, and pension costs. The declining state share of school costs has made it appear to local taxpayers that district expenses are rising faster than they are, PSEA told the panel. PSEA called for a focus on whether the state's current school funding system is serving the needs of the Commonwealth. In doing so, the General Assembly should seek ways to provide for a stable and predictable method of funding which ensures that no child's future is determined by the community in which he lives, and should link increases in state funding to actual district needs.

    To address rising special education costs, PSEA asked the committee to consider more support for early intervention programs, providing more flexibility in staffing, and requiring districts to include special education needs in their construction and technology plans, among other things. The union also voiced support for a statewide healthcare plan as "the best possible solution to address the external forces impacting health care coverage" and discussed elements that must be included in a well-designed plan that meets the needs of public school employees. Additional remarks related to school mergers and pension costs will be posted on the Task Force's web site at www.pde.state.pa.us/k12_finances/cwp/view.asp?a=305&q=123154&k12_financesNav=|10481|&k12_financesNav=|4339|.

    Finally, the Task Force also has released its second quarterly report summarizing its work to date. A copy of the report is available at www.pde.state.pa.us/k12_finances/lib/k12_finances/Second_Quarterly_Report.5.16.07.pdf.

    The Task Force will meet next on July 11 to address issues related to mandate waivers and school construction.

  • The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) met Wednesday to release a "Study of the Cost-Effectiveness of Consolidating Pennsylvania School Districts". The study, ordered by Senate Resolution 208 of 2006, was conducted by Standard & Poor's School Evaluation Services under contract with the LBFC.

    Senate Resolution 208 directed S&P to address five research objectives: 1) determine whether consolidation could help smaller and more rural districts save money with regard to purchasing power of supplies and services; 2) evaluate whether the consolidation of school districts at the county, intermediate unit, or other level would enable larger consolidated school districts to provide more services such as extensive special-needs programs, after-school programs, and other services that poorer districts traditionally cannot provide or afford; 3) analyze whether services could be shared among two or more school districts, much like many municipal services on other levels, without necessarily consolidating the districts; 4) investigate whether, by pooling state moneys together to provide better services for more rural school districts, the Commonwealth could run a more efficient and ultimately a better system of education for its young people; and, 5) study the effects of consolidation on transportation issues, logistical issues, and other situations that may not be considered on the surface.

    The findings indicate that savings may be possible by consolidating relatively higher-spending smaller school districts (less than 1,000 pupils) with a neighboring school district to create a new district with fewer than 3,000 pupils. The data did not support the creation of school districts with more than 3,000 pupils in an effort to save money. These districts traditionally spend more per student than those with enrollments below 3,000 pupils. The study identified 97 potential pairings of 88 school districts but cautioned that "this analysis does not constitute a recommendation that they be consolidated." The study further says that "consolidation would be an extremely controversial issue that would face considerable opposition" because of community identity, neighborhood schools, transportation issues and socio-economic and demographic differences which can be correlated with academic performance. The study did find that the sharing of services is an effective method of cost savings and is occurring in many school districts. Debt Service was not included in the study.

    Full details of the findings can be accessed at LBFC website in two volumes. See http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/reports/2007/289.PDF for Volume I and see http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/reports/2007/290.PDF for Volume II.

  • 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 Urban Affairs and Local Government Committees hold a joint meeting on University-Community Partnerships in Harrisburg on Wednesday. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bills 908, 965, 1021 and 1377. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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