EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, November 16, 2007

    Content in this edition:
    PA State Board of Education
    - Statewide Education Costing-out Study
    - Special Education Regulations
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - Report of the Task Force on School Cost Reduction
    - Statewide School Employees Health Benefits Proposal
    - State House
    - State Senate

    The EPLC Education Notebook (current and past editions) also is available by visiting the EPLC website at www.eplc.org/ednotebook.html.

    Statewide Education Costing-out Study

    After years of theories, guesses and estimates, Pennsylvanians finally have an answer to the question of what it takes to provide a high quality education to every student, as this week the State Board of Education unveiled the results of a statewide costing-out study on Pennsylvania's public education system. The costing-out study was mandated by the General Assembly last year and completed by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates.

    The costing-out analysis found that $12,057 is the average level of funding required to ensure that every student reaches state standards of academic achievement. The study identified a base cost per student of $8,003 and the additional funding needed to close the achievement gap for students in poverty, English language learners and children with special needs. The base cost amount was also adjusted to further close the resource gap for districts that are growing, rural or faced with other educational challenges. Overall, the study found that Pennsylvania's system of public education is underfunded by $4.61 billion (26.8 percent more than current spending). 474 out of 501 school districts in Pennsylvania are currently spending below their adequacy levels.

    The Pennsylvania study reinforces the assertion made by education advocates that too many schools districts are not receiving the funding needed to ensure that students receive a high quality education. Advocates have stressed that the resource needs of struggling school districts will not be met without a more effective and equitable statewide funding system. The costing-out study recommends that state funding should take into account factors such as inflation, changes in student demographics, and the resources needed to help all students meet Pennsylvania's performance expectations and academic standards.

    In examining the equity of the current school finance system for students and taxpayers, the study found that districts with the greatest need generate the least local revenue per pupil, despite the fact that they typically make a greater tax effort than districts with more wealth. These inequities are not sufficiently addressed by state aid under the current funding system.

    While the costing-out study examines the cost of education per student and the impact of local tax effort, it does not propose a new formula for distribution of state aid. That is the work still to be done by the General Assembly.

    Pennsylvania is not unique in using the costing-out process to determine what resources and conditions are required for students to meet the state's learning standards and how much funding is required to provide those resources. A new publication from EPLC reviews the results of costing-out studies across the nation and the role of legislatures in enacting subsequent reforms. In a recent statewide poll, a majority of Pennsylvanian's said the state's current system for funding education is unfair and voiced support for enacting reforms to increase the state's share of education costs as well as overall funding for education.

    The poll was commissioned by EPLC as part of the Pennsylvania Education Funding Reform Campaign. For more about the Campaign, and information about how you can take action and endorse the work of the Campaign, see www.goodschoolspa.org/learn/PA_costing-out_study.php.

    Special Education Regulations

    The State Board adopted final form revisions to regulations governing special education (Chapter 14) on Thursday. Key changes include: placing focus on positive behavior supports; changing the timeline for evaluating students for special education services from 60 school days to 60 calendar days (however, calendar days would not count during a school's summer break); prohibiting the use of prone restraints in educational settings; and establishing training and professional development criteria for paraprofessionals. Other revisions were made to reflect recent changes in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and recent court rulings. A copy of the revised regulations will be available on the Board's web site at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/site/default.asp?g=0 (the version of Chapter 14 posted on the Board's site at the time of this publication does not reflect the final changes adopted by the Board).

    The Board also announced it plans to establish a task force to explore issues related to discipline for children with autism as it did not feel it had enough time to examine the unintended consequences of the regulations for these students.

    Task Force on School Cost Reduction

    The Task Force on School Cost Reduction released a report of its final recommendations this week. The Task Force was established by Special Session Act 1 of 2006 to examine all school district costs and offer options to local governments and the General Assembly to minimize or reduce costs to school districts. The report makes recommendations in the following areas: tax collection, health care, school construction and green building, special education, transportation, charter and cyber charter schools, shares services, and mandate waivers.

    Statewide School Employees Health Benefits Proposal

    Sen. Raphael Musto (D-14) this week introduced legislation to establish a board to explore the creation of a statewide health benefits program for school employees. Senate Bill 1140 has been referred to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. A meeting to consider similar legislation ( House Bill 1841) this week in the House Education Committee was cancelled.

    Pennsylvania House

  • The House passed the following legislation this week:

    House Bill 848: Prohibits unused and unnecessary school buildings and land from being sold for less than 50% of fair market value. An amendment to HB 848 adds relocatable or modular classrooms to the definition of buildings eligible for state construction reimbursement. HB 848 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

    House Bill 1129: Establishes the College and University Sexual Violence Education Act. HB 1129 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

  • The House Appropriations Committee passed the following legislation this week:

    House Bill 65: Provides for parental discretion in the classroom placement of twins and higher order multiples. Parents may request classroom placement for their children within 14 days of the first day of school or 14 days after the children have been enrolled. School principals would have authority to determine placement for twins or higher order multiples if the placement requested by a parent is deemed disruptive to the classroom. Additionally, a district would not have to split siblings into separate classrooms if it would require the district to add an additional class to the grade level of the siblings. The bill also creates a right for parents to appeal placement decisions made by a school principal. HB 65 awaits consideration by the full House.

  • The House Republican Policy Committee gathered at Westmoreland County Community College on Thursday for a public hearing on the funding and affordability of higher education in Pennsylvania. For more information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair Mike Turzai at (717) 772-9943.

  • Pennsylvania Senate

  • This week, Senator Pat Browne (R-16) introduced Senate Resolution 210 to establish a Joint Legislative Commission on Public School Finance. The 41-member commission composed of policymakers, business and non-profit leaders, parents and professional educators, would be charged with crafting a new state education funding formula based on the results of the new costing-out study. A companion resolution, House Resolution 460, previously was introduced in the House by Representatives John Siptroth (D-189) and Beverly Mackereth (R-196). Both resolutions have been assigned to their respective chamber's education committee.

  • The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday held a public hearing about divesting the Public Employees' Retirement System and the State Employees' Retirement System from companies doing business with state sponsors of terrorism. For more information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair Pat Browne at (717) 787-1349.

  • 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.

  • Rep. Steven Nickol (R-193) has announced he will not seek re-election to the Pennsylvania General Assembly at the end of the current legislative session. Nickol currently serves as minority chairman of the House Finance Committee and as a member of the Public School Employees' Retirement Board.

  • Dr. David Soltz has been selected as the new president of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. Soltz, the current provost and vice president for academic affairs at Central Washington University, will replace Dr. Jessica Kozloff who will retire at the end of the year.

    Next Week...

  • The House Finance Committee meets Tuesday to consider House Bills 1972 and 1891, which provide for reorganization of the PHEEA Board of Directors and agency audits and reports.

  • The Pennsylvania Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development holds its annual conference on November 18-20 in Hershey.

  • For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

    EPLC Education Notebook is published by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). Permission to reprint or electronically redistribute the Notebook in whole or in part is granted provided attribution to EPLC is provided.

    The Education Policy and Leadership Center is an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit organization. The Mission of EPLC is to encourage and support the enactment and implementation of effective state-level education policies in order to improve student learning in grades P-12, increase the effective operation of schools, and enhance educational opportunities for citizens of all ages.

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