EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, March 9, 2007

Early Registration and Room Block deadlines extended to Wednesday, March 14! 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.

    FY 2007-2008 State Budget Hearings

  • Representatives of the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) testified before the House Appropriations Committee on Monday and presented a more comfortable fiscal picture looking forward than was projected in recent years. The employer contribution rate - the amount contributed by the state and school districts - is projected to spike from 4.73% to 18.73% between 2012 and 2013, down from earlier projections that were upwards of 20%. The projected rate reduction is due to the System's robust investment returns over the past year and could continue to decline if investments stay strong and there are no changes that affect the system's liabilities, such as higher than expected salary increases and benefit enhancements for retirees. (Projections are based on an assumed 8.5% rate of return). High investment returns during the 1990s made it possible to offer cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to annuitants every four years and to also bring down the employer contribution rate, which made COLAs look free. However, the System currently is facing rising contribution rates even without an added COLA.

    Committee members discussed a number of ideas to address potential future funding issues. To offset the projected rate spike, Rep. Bob Godshall has introduced House Bill 126 which would gradually increase the minimum employer contribution rate. Others questioned whether the state should explore moving from a defined contributions system to a defined benefits system or give school employees the option to choose which type of system they would like to participate in. Finally, Rep. Craig Dally asked whether it would be more fiscally prudent to prefund any benefit enhancements.

    For the latest actuarial analysis of PSERS, see www.psers.state.pa.us/invest/act_val/act_val_20060630.pdf.

  • Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday to discuss Gov. Rendell's proposed education budget for FY 2007-08. Senators asked the Secretary about a broad array of education issues, including state funding for charter schools, establishing a common tuition level for cyber charter schools, criteria used to distribute supplemental funds within the basic education subsidy, and the allocation of special education funding among districts, as well as Rendell administration initiatives to increase reimbursements for school breakfast and lunch programs, equip high school core academic classrooms with laptop computers, create new Technical College Programs in regions lacking geographic access to higher education, and expand access to pre-K and full-day kindergarten programs.

    For details about Gov. Rendell's proposed FY 2007-2008 state education budget, see EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_2007-2008budget.html.

  • Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The House Education Committee met Wednesday to adopt temporary rules for Committee operations. The Committee also heard a presentation from Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak, superintendents from the Kutztown Area and Punxsutawney Area School Districts, and the principal of Central York High School on the state's "Classrooms for the Future" initiative. "Classrooms for the Future" equips high school core academic classrooms with laptop computers for every student, high-sped internet access, state-of-the-art software, and staff training in using technology for instruction. Gov. Rendell has proposed increasing funding for this project by $90 million next year, which would provide 83,000 laptops for 10,000 classrooms in 357 schools; an additional $11 million would provide technology training for 12,100 educators. The Governor hopes to expand the initiative to all high schools by 2009. For more information about the meeting, contact the office of Committee Chair James Roebuck at (717) 783-1000.

  • Early childhood education providers interested in applying for competitive state pre-K grants can gain assistance with the application process by participating in upcoming Bidders Conferences and Technical Assistance Teleconferences. School-based pre-K programs, Head Start sites, child care programs, and/or nursery schools that meet certain quality standards are eligible to compete for funding. The awarding of grants to expand pre-K opportunities for 3- and 4-year-olds is contingent upon securing funding for these programs in the 2007-08 state budget, as proposed in Gov. Rendell's Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts Program. Locations and registration details for Bidders Conferences and Technical Assistance Teleconferences are available online at www.pakeys.org/pre-k-counts.aspx.

  • Sen. Robert Mellow has re-introduced legislation that would ban teacher strikes in Pennsylvania. Senate Bill 20 would limit the collective bargaining timeline and require a "last best offer" resolution to break impasses. Read the proposed legislation at www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billinfo/billinfo.cfm?syear=2007&sind=0&body=S&type=B&BN=0020.

  • Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak has removed the Chester-Upland School District from fiscal distress status and appointed an empowerment board to oversee the district. Following litigation, the district was placed into state receivership, granting the Secretary certain powers in the district. For details, see this announcement from PDE at www.pdenewsroom.state.pa.us/newsroom/cwp/view.asp?a=3&q=125660.

  • Also this week, Secretary Zahorchak took steps to support the Philadelphia School District's efforts to improve school safety in the wake of violence toward teachers. The Secretary directed Safe Schools Advocate Jack Stollsteimer to support the district's safety plans and to help ensure all district employees understand the procedures for removal of a disruptive student from the classroom. The Secretary also set a March 19 deadline for the Safe Schools Advocate to report on needed changes to the consent decrees that establish due process procedures for suspending or transferring a student for disciplinary reasons. Finally, Zahorchak will convene a meeting with district administrators, teachers and the Education Law Center to discuss implementation of the most recently renegotiated consent decree and to identify changes to the decree that could improve school safety.

  • 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.

    Federal Education Policy Activity

  • President Bush has named Kerri Briggs as Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education and plans to nominate her to be Assistant Secretary. Briggs currently serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development in the U.S. Department of Education. Previously, she worked in the Office of the Deputy Secretary, as senior policy advisor. She replaces Henry Johnson, who retired at the end of last year. For more information, see www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2007/03/03062007.html.

  • Datebook

  • Do you work with middle and high school students? Would your students be interested in learning how to use documentary photography to improve their public schools? The Pennsylvania Education Funding Reform Campaign invites submission of proposals to participate in a student photography project documenting the impact of under-funding on public schools. Eligible participants include any youth group, after-school program, advocacy group, church group, or other community organization that works directly with middle and high school students. The application deadline has been extended to March 26th. To learn more or submit your proposal, see www.elc-pa.org.

  • EPLC will host a day-long Workshop for 2007 school board candidates in Monroeville on Saturday, March 10. The last in EPLC's series of regional Workshops, the event is being offered with the cooperation of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA). The Workshop is intended for incumbent board members and new candidates, as well as all citizens who plan to be actively involved in school board elections as campaign volunteers or community leaders. Registration is $30 which includes lunch, break refreshments, and materials. For more information and a registration form, see www.eplc.org/schoolboardworkshop.html.

  • Next Week...The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) holds its annual conference and exhibits March 13-15 in Pittsburgh. The Task Force on School Cost Reduction meets Tuesday in conjunction with PASBO's conference. The House Education Committee meets Wednesday. EPLC's Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program meets Friday in Harrisburg. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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