EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, March 26, 2007

EPLC'S holds its 5th Annual Education Policy and Leadership Conference later this week, March 29-30, at the Radisson Hotel in Camp Hill (near Harrisburg). Registrations will be accepted throughout the week and on-site. Event details, including the agenda and on-line registration, are available at www.eplc.org/conference.html.

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Senate Activity

  • Last Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on Gov. Rendell's plan to expand access to pre-K and full-day kindergarten through targeted expansion of the Accountability Block Grant (ABG) program in the 2007-08 state budget. Rendell has proposed a $25 million increase for school districts to expand full-day kindergarten and a $75 million increase to expand pre-K through a competitive grant program available to school districts, Head Start programs, licensed nursery schools, child care centers and group day care homes that meet the state's quality standards. The plan would increase total ABG funding to $350 million. However, no new money is proposed to support the array of programs funded through current ABG dollars. This lack of increase for current ABG programs, coupled with the inflexible use of new ABG dollars, has led some to call for changes in the Governor's approach to funding early childhood programs.

    The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) wants ABG funding to remain under local school boards' discretion. Currently, boards may choose to use ABG funds for eleven purposes, including pre-K, full-day kindergarten, K-3 class size reduction and teacher coaches. PSBA supports investments in early education programs, but is concerned over the lack of funding to cover increased costs of current ABG programs and opposes allowing pre-K funds to flow directly to providers other than school districts that are not subject to the same accountability measures. The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, whose Legislative Committee endorses dedicated funding for pre-K and full-day kindergarten, asked Senators to at least provide a cost of living increase for current ABG programs.

    Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak responded to criticism saying "this new, targeted money is essential because early childhood education is a foundational investment in academic success." Zahorchak cited national research that solidly demonstrates the academic, social and economic benefits of pre-K and full-day kindergarten, as well as the experiences of Pennsylvania school districts that provide these programs. According to Zahorchak, after introducing pre-K, the percent of Bellefonte School District students demonstrating full understanding of pre-reading skills increased by 17% and increased by at least 33% in other areas assessed. The Northern Clarion County School District reported that five out of seven students receiving speech/language therapy at the beginning of their pre-K year no longer needed that service at the end of the program. Further, the Bedford School District reports its investment in full-day kindergarten reduced special education referrals by 25% in first, second and third grades.

    Children's advocacy organization Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC) cited additional research that documents the return to individuals and to the community-at-large from investments in high quality pre-K. PPC says "ABG as an investment strategy has not taken a strong enough foothold nor does ABG in its current form allow us to build the most robust pre-K program possible by utilizing the capital of community based providers." For those reasons, PPC supports the Governor's proposed $75 million dedicated to pre-K. For additional information about the Governor's FY 2007-08 state budget proposal, see www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_2007-2008budget.html.

  • The Senate Education Committee approved the following legislation last Tuesday (each bill has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee):

    Senate Bill 112: Expands the scope of Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) school districts have with local law enforcement to include protocols for notification of crimes committed on school property, emergency response procedures, and review of school violence reports and resolution of report discrepancies before they are submitted to PDE. SB 112 also adds specific offenses to the annually required school violence reports to clarify the incidents that districts must report. Finally, it requires PDE to convene an advisory committee of school and law enforcement personnel to assist in developing school violence reporting forms. The bill was amended to provide fines for districts that fail to immediately report criminal activities to law enforcement. Districts that do not immediately report violent offenses and incidents involving weapons possession, fail to submit annual school safety reports, fail to enter into a MOU, or fail to submit the MOU to PDE face fines ranging from $2,500 on first offense to $5,000 for a third or subsequent offense. The Office of Safe Schools would receive any money collected from the fines.

    Senate Bill 159: Increases state reimbursements for school breakfast and lunch programs. Districts would be reimbursed 12 cents per lunch served (up from 10 cents) and 11 cents per breakfast served (up from 10 cents). It is estimated that the increased reimbursements would cost $4.5 million.

    Senate Bill 207: Requires school boards to establish policies requiring at least one school employee trained in CPR to be present during the time meals are served in school cafeterias. SB 207 was amended to broaden the staff that may be utilized to meet the requirements of the bill beyond only food service employees referenced in the original legislation. The amendment also grants immunity from civil liability to school employees who administer CPR to a student. Current law requires school districts to offer a CPR training class on school premises at least once every three years.

  • Last Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amended version of Senate Bill 356, which 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 formal and nonformal educators, 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 awaits consideration by the full Senate.

  • House Activity

  • The House State Government Committee moved forward an amended version of House Bill 144 last Tuesday. HB 144 allows Pennsylvania Conservation Corps crewleaders to purchase up to five years of creditable nonschool service in the Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System for service prior to January 1, 2008. HB 144 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

  • Other Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The State Board of Vocational Education met last week and approved a One-Year Transition Plan to implement the requirements of the reauthorized federal Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006 (Perkins IV) and address increased accountability measures required by the federal legislation. Perkins provides federal funding for vocational programs in secondary and post-secondary institutions. Under the transition plan, PDE will ensure that all schools that receive funding for career and technical education will establish at least one program of study that aligns secondary and postsecondary programs. The Transition Plan also includes state and local adjusted performance levels for technical skill attainment that will take effect beginning in 2007-08.

    At the meeting, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education also provided an update on the statewide education costing-out study it was directed to commission by the General Assembly in Act 114 of 2006. The contractor hired by the State Board to conduct the study will convene professional judgment panels beginning this week through mid-June. The panels will involve about 80 Pennsylvania educators, who will help to determine the resources necessary to educate all Pennsylvania students to meet the state's academic standards and assessments. For details about the costing-out study, see www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/cwp/view.asp?Q=125247&A=3&stateboard_edNav=|10766|&stateboard_edNav=|10766|.

    The Board's Committee updating special education and gifted education regulations (Chapters 14 & 16) announced it will hold formal hearings on the latest revisions to these proposed rules on April 11 in Harrisburg, April 12 in King of Prussia, and April 18 in Pittsburgh. Details about testifying before the Committee will be available shortly.

    Finally, the Board announced that it has received a $15,000 grant to explore the possibility of adding student representatives to the Board. The Board would like to draft a plan for discussion at the National Association of State Boards of Education's conference in October, and also plans to discuss their ideas with other states that include student representatives on their governing boards.

  • 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.


  • Pre-K Today is a statewide non-partisan campaign launched by a broad-based coalition from around the Commonwealth committed to efforts to advance dedicated state financing for voluntary high-quality pre-kindergarten programs designed to assure that Pennsylvania's children enter school ready to learn and prepared to succeed.

    Pre-K Today supports the Governor's $75 million proposal in the 2007-08 budget to create Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts. If enacted, Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts will provide approximately 11,000 3- and 4-year-olds with voluntary, high-quality pre-K delivered through a mixed service delivery system in which all providers comply with State Board of Education pre-K regulations and the state's early learning standards.

    More than 400 organizations signed on to the letter to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in support of the governor's proposed investment of $75 million in pre-K. That letter hit the desk of legislators March 19 and is just the beginning of a series of communications to policymakers from Pre-K Today. For more information about the campaign, contact Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children at www.papartnerships.org.

  • Datebook

  • This Week...Subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee will hold hearings across the state: the Education Subcommittee holds a hearing on the state's basic and special education budget Monday (today) in Bristol and a hearing on the state's higher education budget Tuesday in State College; the Health and Human Services Subcommittee holds a hearing on the budget's children and youth anti-violence funding Thursday in Philadelphia. The House Education Committee's Subcommittee on Special Education holds a public hearing Wednesday to hear presentations by PDE and DPW on special education concerns and policies. The House Education Committee holds a public hearing Wednesday on proposed changes to Chapter 49 (Certification of Professional Personnel). The Senate Education Committee holds a hearing Wednesday on reauthorization of NCLB. The Senate Communications and Technology Committee holds a public hearing Wednesday on the Education Technology Program, e-Fund, and the Broadband Outreach and Aggregation Program. Good Schools Pennsylvania holds a town forum on public education Thursday in Lebanon. EPLC's 5th Annual Pennsylvania Education Policy and Leadership Conference will take place March 29-30 at the Radisson Hotel in Camp Hill. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

To return to the EPLC Education Notebook homepage, click here.

To return to The Education Policy and Leadership Center homepage, click here.