EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, March 16, 2007

Register now for EPLC'S 5th Annual Education Policy and Leadership Conference that will be held March 29-30 at the Radisson Hotel in Camp Hill (near Harrisburg). Discounted rates are available for school district teams of 3 or more. Registration materials, including on-line registration and a preliminary agenda are available at www.eplc.org/conference.html.

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Senate Activity

  • The Senate passed the following legislation this week. Each bill awaits referral to a House Committee:

    Senate Bill 71: Requires 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 state's 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: Requires school districts in which one or more schools did not meet academic performance targets to focus their professional development plans 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 (PDE) to provide a clearinghouse of continuing education experiences cataloged by area of assignment, certification area, and topic. Additionally, SB 154 includes pre-kindergarten educators in a professional development plan's early childhood activities; current law references only kindergarten through third grade educators for participation in such activities.

    Senate Bill 155: 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, upon request. Also, establishes qualifications for educational advisors.

    Senate Bill 157: 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.

    Senate Bill 158: Requires school districts to establish parent involvement programs, policies, and committees.

  • On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy approved legislation ( Senate Bill 356) that establishes the Pennsylvania Center for Environmental Education within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Among its broader duties, the Center will promote partnerships between schools, government, businesses and others to: assist with disseminating environmental education materials, programs and training to educators and others; provide preservice and nonformal educator programs related to environmental education and support efforts to disseminate materials to meet those needs; and help facilitate the implementation of the state's academic standards for environment and ecology. SB 356 has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

  • The Senate Republican and Democratic Policy Committees held a joint hearing Tuesday to discuss changing Pennsylvania's primary election date to make the state more of a player in selecting presidential nominees; Gov. Rendell supports moving the current May Primary to February 5 in 2008.

    But critics of the proposed date change argue that an earlier Primary would impact school districts, which, under Act 1 of the Special Session of 2006, are subject to preliminary budgeting deadlines that revolve around the Primary and utilize the Primary Election to conduct backend referendum if they need to seek voter support for increased funding.

    Without other changes being made to the law pertaining to the process by which school district budgets are proposed, accelerating the Primary means districts' preliminary budgets would be published before schools boards reorganize in mid-December or January, leaving lame duck board members to craft proposed budgets for the next fiscal year which begins for most school districts on July 1. Under Act 1, districts must display their preliminary budgets 110 days prior to the Primary, give public notice of their intent to adopt a preliminary budget 100 days before the election and adopt that budget 90 days in advance of the Primary. Making a change also would require districts to develop preliminary budgets before reliable fiscal information is available on which to base budgetary decisions.

    Some critics of the proposed election date change also point out that candidates for the General Assembly would start to circulate nominating petitions on Election Day in November, making these campaigns for the Legislature by law twelve-months long, perhaps the longest formal campaigns in the country. Critics have also raised questions about the impact on campaign costs and on voter participation. For audio and video coverage of the full hearing, see www.pasenategop.com/news/archived/2007/0307/corman-031307-election.htm.

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a special budget hearing to gather views on the state budget from leading research and advocacy groups, including The Education Policy and Leadership Center. Also appearing before the Committee were the Commonwealth Foundation, Keystone Research Center, Pennsylvania Club for Growth, Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center, Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, Pennsylvania Economy League, National Federation of Independent Business and PennFuture. For more information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair Gibson Armstrong at (717) 787-6535.

    EPLC President Ron Cowell reviewed for committee members the weaknesses and unfairness of Pennsylvania's current method of funding K-12 education. He urged lawmakers to take steps to develop a rational and adequately funded K-12 funding system linked to state policies that provide for academic standards and graduation requirements for all Pennsylvania students. He also specifically addressed several 2007-2008 budget issues pertaining to pre-K education, K-12, and higher education. Read Mr. Cowell's remarks at www.eplc.org/testimony/0708budget.html.

    In his testimony, Cowell provided an overview of how Pennsylvania's support for K-12 public education compares nationally. While the Commonwealth exceeds the average expenditure per student nationally ($9,979 vs. $8,287), this high average is due to the generosity of local taxpayers and signals one of the great weaknesses of how we fund public education - a weakness that makes a student the beneficiary or the victim of the wealth of the community in which he or she lives. Further, this dependence on local wealth is directly attributable to the relatively low share of K-12 costs paid for by the state (35.9% in 2003-04, compared to a 47.1% national average). Pennsylvania again falls below the nation in measures of state appropriations per student, which amounted to $4,082 in 2003-04, below both the national average of $4,553 and our contiguous states (except Maryland, which will soon pass PA because of recent major statewide funding reforms).

    This inequity exists in an environment of statewide academic standards and proposals for more rigorous graduation requirements that are imposed on all students, no matter the district where they live. While the state has made some positive investments over the past few years, the basic problems of low state share, dependency on local wealth and property taxes, and unequal opportunities for students remain. Cowell went on to explain the history of policy decisions that have contributed to this situation.

    In addressing the proposed 2007-08 state budget, Cowell expressed support for investments in early childhood education that are based on compelling research. He called the modest increases proposed for basic education, special education and accountability block grants disappointing and insufficient in light of the aggregate $83 million increase in districts' mandated contributions to the School Employees' Retirement System, an anticipated $22 million decrease in federal funding for special education, and no proposed increase for programs currently funded through Accountability Block Grants. The bottom line is that the nearly $6 billion currently available in 06-07 for basic subsidy, special education and accountability block grants is proposed to be increased by only a total of $200 million, actually providing less than $100 million in new discretionary state funding to school districts with total budgets of more than $20 billion.

    Cowell urged support for additional state funding for the Commonwealth's need-based grant program for college students, asked that the Legislature continue to demand progress on articulation agreements to allow community college students to seamlessly transfer to other state-supported colleges and universities, and urged increased support for community colleges as a well of closing higher education participation gaps among Pennsylvanians based on race, income and geography.

  • House Activity

  • The House Education Committee adopted the following legislation on Wednesday:

    House Bill 111: Requires PDE to gather and disseminate to public and private schools materials related to teaching economics and personal finance curriculum as identified in the state's academic standards for Economics, Family and Consumer Science and Career Education and Work. The legislation was amended to create an Economic Education and Personal Financial Literacy Fund that would support PDE's administration of HB 111. The amendment empowers PDE to accept gifts, donations, legacies and monies from individual or corporate entities, solicit and raise funds from public and private sources, and expend state and Federal appropriations. Members debated whether it is appropriate for PDE to solicit funds, but bill sponsor Rep. Jess Stairs said the intent of his amendment was simply to head off attempts to kill the legislation during state budget negotiations because funding is not available to support its implementation. HB 111 awaits consideration by the full House.

    House Bill 120: Requires students who withdraw from school or are illegally absent for more than 10 days to be interviewed as to why the student is absent or dropping out and to make the student aware of alternatives to dropping out of school. HB 120 was amended to broaden the list of individuals who may conduct interviews to include principals, guidance counselors, social workers and home and school visitors. If a student fails to complete the interview, the student's parent or guardian must complete an interview on behalf of the child or may face a civil penalty imposed by the school district. Additionally, HB 120 requires PDE to develop a standard form for exit interviews that school districts would be required to file with the Department. Data from exit interviews would be incorporated into PDE's report on graduation and dropouts. This legislation does not apply to students withdrawing to attend a charter school, cyber charter school, home education program, non-public non-licensed school, private academic school or approved higher education institution. HB 120 awaits consideration by the full House.

    House Bill 503: Makes constables eligible to serve as school directors. Rep. Dante Santoni introduced HB 503 to address an issue regarding a constable serving on a school board in his legislative district. Members debated whether this legislation should be tabled until a review is completed of all individuals currently prohibited from serving as school directors in an effort to identify comprehensive revisions to modernize this list rather than cherry-picking individual positions off the list. Most excluded individuals perform duties that in some way reflect a conflict of interest with Board duties, but the power of constables has changed over time in such a way that Committee members felt these duties no longer represent a conflict. HB 503 awaits consideration by the full House.

    Finally, the Education Committee also debated and held over House Bill 127, which would allow school districts to use grant funding from the Office for Safe Schools to purchase silent alert buttons. Bill sponsor Rep. Robert Godshall sent a representative of Department of Public Safety in his legislative district - Montgomery County - to discuss the county's plans to equip school facilities with wireless panic buttons. Committee members questioned the need for the bill since current law allows grants to be used for "security-related technology," which does not preclude silent alert buttons. For a description of the effort underway in Montgomery County, see www.montcopa.org/eoc/Public%20Safety%20News/2006/PSN%20Volume%205%20Issue%2036.pdf.

  • The House Appropriations Committee held a budget hearing for the University of Pennsylvania on Wednesday. Governor Rendell has proposed a 1% increase for Penn, which receives state funding to support its dental clinics, medical school, veterinary programs, infection disease center and cardiovascular studies. For more information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair Dwight Evans at (717) 783-1540.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education wants to require all school administrators to be trained in the standards of its Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership (PIL) program. Last Friday (March 9), PDE presented proposed regulations to the State Board of Education's Chapter 49 Committee that would establish professional development requirements aligned with PIL; the Department also is seeking to place its continuing education proposal, as well as changes to administrative certification, in statute. Proposed changes would apply to superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, assistant principals or vice principals, area vocational-technical school directors, intermediate unit executive directors and intermediate unit assistant executive directors.

    Under the plan, new principals (hired on or after January 1, 2008) would be issued an Administrative I certificate that would be good for a five-year period, during which time new administrators would be required to complete a PDE-approved professional development program for first-time leaders that incorporates PIL's three core standards. Upon successful completion of the program and three years of satisfactory service, a principal would be eligible to move from an Administrative I to a permanent Administrative II certificate. The plan also requires candidates for superintendent to complete a PDE-approved "graduate program" rather than a "graduate course," unless the candidate can provide evidence that the individual has completed equivalent training that addresses the PIL standards.

    All administrators would have to complete a PDE-approved professional development program for experienced leaders that incorporates both PIL's three core standards and six corollary standards (find the PIL standards at www.edportal.ed.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?). Such program must be completed within each five-year continuing education compliance period provided for in current state law. Administrators may request an extension of the five-year compliance period, and individuals would not be required to participate in more than 36 hours of continuing education during any one school year.

    Further, PDE would offer a professional development program for new and experienced administrators at no charge. Other providers may apply to the Department for approval to offer such programs; however, participants must pay for programs not offered through PDE.

    Representatives of school leaders in attendance at Friday's meeting embraced PIL's standards, but opposed the expedited process the Board is using to consider these new rules. As a result, the Board plans to consider the proposal at its May meeting, rather than its meeting next week, to allow more time for public input. Specific issues were identified by Stinson Stroup, Executive Director of the PA Association of School Administrators, as to whether the proposal is eligible to circumvent the full regulatory process by being entered as final omit regulations and with the plan's alignment to current professional development requirements. Jackie Cullen, who represents vocational administrators, voiced concern that offering a free program through PDE could diminish administrators' opportunities to participate in other needed professional development programs because school budgetary stresses may force them toward the no-cost option. Finally, Dan Collins, who represents principals, expressed reservation about the plan in conjunction with a parallel Rendell administrative effort to increase accountability for principals absent of granting principals greater autonomy over budgeting and hiring decisions.

    For a copy of the proposed regulatory additions to Chapter 49, contact the State Board at (717) 787-3787. A copy of PDE's proposed legislation to mandate training in PIL standards is available at www.pdenewsroom.state.pa.us/newsroom/lib/newsroom/PILS_-_DO2486_-_2007-02-06.pdf.

  • The Task Force on School Cost Reduction met with school business officials on Tuesday in conjunction with their association's (PASBO) annual conference to gather input on its job of developing viable recommendations for reducing school costs. The Task Force, which was established by Special Session Act 1 of 2006, is slated to put forth a report with final recommendations in October. For more information about the Task Force, see www.pde.state.pa.us/k12_finances/cwp/view.asp?a=305&q=123154&k12_financesNav=|10481|&k12_financesNav=|4339|.

  • 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...Good Schools Pennsylvania holds a public information and action meeting in Philadelphia on Monday. The Senate Education Committee meets Tuesday to consider Senate Bills 112, 159 and 207. The House State Government Committee meets Tuesday to consider House Bill 144. The Senate Education Committee holds a hearing on expansion of the Accountability Block Grant program on Wednesday. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bills 118, 634, 468 and 258. The PA State Board of Education meets Wednesday and Thursday. Good Schools Pennsylvania holds a town forum on public education in Carlisle on Thursday. The American Education Finance Association holds its annual conference March 22-24 in Baltimore. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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