EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, May 11, 2007

PLEASE REMEMBER TO VOTE. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, May 15. Pennsylvania voters will face important questions on the Primary ballot impacting education funding and local governance.

In most school districts, voters will be asked to decide whether they want to shift a portion of school property taxes to a local income tax in a referendum required as part of the property tax reform legislation enacted by the state last year. To learn more about the property tax reform law, see www.pde.state.pa.us/proptax/site/default.asp.

Additionally, more than 2,000 school board positions are on the ballot next week.

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Legislature-mandated Task Force on School Cost Reduction met Wednesday to continue its year-long exploration of identifying potential cost savings for school districts. The panel's May meeting focused on issues related to efficiencies in tax collection and charter schools.

    Staff of the Department of Community and Economic Development provided an overview of the state's local earned income tax (EIT) collection system and legislation being advanced to shift to a countywide EIT collection system. The legislative proposal is based on a DCED study that identified a loss of $100 million in EIT revenue that was never collected or lost in the distribution process due to current withholding laws and fragmentation of the collection system. A more recent analysis conducted by the Pennsylvania Economy League using data from FY 2004-05 estimates that municipalities and school districts lose $237 million in EIT from collection inefficiencies ($127 million of which is lost to school districts). This loss could grow if voters in more school districts opt to impose or increase their income tax as a result of next Tuesday's "tax-shift" ballot question that will be considered in most school districts. There is concern that districts enacting what is billed as a dollar-for-dollar tax shift from property taxes to local income taxes could actually experience a revenue loss because of inefficiencies in the local income tax collection system.

    Task Force members voiced support for the principles behind legislation seeking to establish a countywide local EIT tax collection system, and likely will recommend applying similar principles to other taxes levied by school districts. A report with final recommendations is due from the Task Force in October.

    The Task Force also began to explore whether there are recommendations it might make regarding charter schools. Members agreed that their report should discuss the marginal cost to school districts to open a charter school since most districts are unable to reduce staff or facilities due to the creation of a charter school. Further, the panel discussed whether, beyond the marginal cost, there is a tipping point at which charter school costs become financially destabilizing for a school district and whether there are measures that can be enacted to prevent districts from reaching this point, such as capping the percentage of a district's student population that may be enrolled in charter schools, allowing districts to deny charter applications for fiscal reasons, or requiring charter schools to be subject to voter referendum. The Task Force did not come to a conclusion about these issues and plans to continue discussion surrounding charter schools at its June meeting.

    The committee also discussed whether competitive grant funds should be deducted from a school district's charter school tuition rate and identified three issues related to special education funding - 1) the misalignment between school districts receiving state funding for special education based on an assumption that 16% of students receive special services and charter schools receiving special education funding from districts based on the actual number of students enrolled in special education; 2) the potential for charter schools to over-identify special education students; and, 3) the potential for charter schools to discourage students with the most severe special education needs from enrolling.

    The Task Force will next meet on June 13 to hear from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, continue discussion of charter schools and begin discussing the state's mandate waiver program. The committee also plans to meet July 11 to address school construction.

  • The House Education Committee met in Sharon on Wednesday for a public hearing on legislation establishing the Common Cents program ( House Bill 1021). A new initiative in Governor Rendell's FY 2007-08 education budget proposal, Common Cents would provide grants for school districts to explore shared services in order to operate more efficiently and improve service delivery for students. Districts would decide jointly to apply for funding through their intermediate units. If selected, PDE would hire a consultant to advise the districts on shared service options related to: transportation, food services and nutrition, instructional services, safety and security, health services, purchasing, finance and payroll, facilities and real estate, human resources, technology services, and administration. HB 1021 also lays out a process for considering recommendations made by the consultant and for the use of savings realized from implementing these recommendations. Additionally, the bill establishes an advisory panel to determine whether any provisions of the state's school code are barriers to consolidating services. For more information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair James Roebuck at (717) 783-1000.

  • The House Education Committee traveled to Erie on Thursday for a public hearing on legislation establishing Technical College Programs ( House Bill 965), which were proposed as part of Gov. Rendell's FY 2007-2008 education budget initiatives. The plan is designed to bring credit-bearing certificate and associate degree programs in technical fields that meet current workforce demands to educationally underserved areas of the state. Institutions of higher education would apply for funds to support a Technical College Program either on their own or in partnership with another higher education institution, an AVTS, a community education council, an eligible private licensed school, or a combination of these entities. In order to be considered, the applicant must secure existing local building space for locations at which to offer the Program.

    Funding priority would go to programs that serve educationally and economically disadvantaged students and provide access to remedial and developmental coursework or accelerated remediation. Programs must be designed to be completed in no more than two years for full-time students or an equivalent period for part-time students. Further, programs would be approved for a five-year period, during which time the lead program sponsor may seek reapproval or seek approval to run a different program.

    Funding for Technical College Programs would be distributed on a per student basis based on the amount annually allocated by the General Assembly and can be used to make grants for the purchase or lease of industry-specified equipment needed to operate the program. HB 965 also addresses student eligibility for enrollment in Technical College Programs and tuition and financial aid. A maximum tuition charge may be established by PDE and annually adjusted to assure affordability. For more information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair James Roebuck at (717) 783-1000.

  • The House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee met Wednesday to gather public input on delaying school openings until after Labor Day ( House Bill 258). Similar legislation has been introduced and debated in several recent legislative sessions. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Thomas Tangretti at (717) 783-5963.

  • Tuesday saw multiple rallies for various education initiatives throughout the day in Harrisburg.

    Approximately 500 members of Pre-K Today rallied in support of Gov. Rendell's call for an additional $75 million for high-quality pre-K for at-risk students and programs to improve the quality of child care (Keystone Stars) and improve access to quality child care for low-income working families (Child Care Works). For more information about Pre-K Today, see www.prektoday.org.

    Pennsylvania Families for Public Cyber Schools assembled to urge support for cyber charter schools and voice opposition to legislation being championed by Rep. Karen Beyer that would establish a statewide cyber charter tuition level that the coalition fears would cut funding to public cyber schools. PA Families also opposed accountability measures included in the legislation, stating that cyber charter schools already are held more accountable than other public schools because of the re-certification process they undergo in order to maintain their charters. The proposed legislation represents the view that it is inappropriate that various districts pay widely different tuitions for students enrolled in the same cyber charter school. The legislation also calls for additional accountability for cyber schools than is assured by the current law. For more information, contact PA Families President Jenny Bradmon at (724) 366-8342 or genejen@atlanticbb.net.

    Supporters of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program, which provides business tax credits for donations to private scholarships organizations and educational improvement organizations, gathered to celebrate the sixth year of the program and call for its expansion.

  • 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...Tuesday is Primary Election Day. The Pennsylvania State Board of Education meets May 16-17. EPLC's Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program meets Friday. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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