EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, October 1, 2007

    Content in this edition:
    EPLC News
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State House
    - State Senate
    - Task Force on School Cost Reduction
    Research and Reports

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

    CORRECTION to the September 25 edition of the EPLC EDUCATION NOTEBOOK:
    New state certification (beginning in 2013) for special education (grades preK-8) requires individuals seeking this certificate to obtain an additional certificate in either early childhood, elementary/middle, or as a reading specialist. The September 25 Notebook incorrectly listed "secondary certification" as an additional certificate that can be obtained for individuals pursuing special education (preK-8) certification.

    The 2007 Annual Education Policy Leadership Awards Dinner is just two weeks away. The Dinner will be held on Wednesday, October 17 at the Sheraton Harrisburg-Hershey Hotel. Ticket and Program Ad information is available at http://www.eplc.org/donleydinner.html.

    Pennsylvania House

  • The House Education Committee on Thursday held a public hearing on revisions to Chapter 14 (Special Education Services and Programs) that are currently under consideration by the PA State Board of Education. Representatives of teachers, school boards, advocates for the disabled and parents of special education students appeared before the Committee. The State Board intends to adopt final form regulatory changes in November. Final regulations must be published by June 30, 2008 in order for the Commonwealth to continue to be eligible for federal IDEA funding.

    The regulations "establish requirements for identification, screening and evaluation of students with disabilities" and "define the requirements for the development of an individualized education program for each identified student, describe policies for placement in appropriate educational settings, outline requirements for early intervention programs and establish procedural safeguards for the resolution of complaints."

    Key changes in the regulations pertain to: standards for sign language interpreters, transition services, identification of students with specific learning disabilities, training for paraprofessionals, positive behavior supports, timeline to evaluate students for special education services, and placing students in the least restrictive environment. For details on proposed changes, see www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_specialed.html.

  • Pennsylvania Senate

  • At a public hearing Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee questioned whether the PA Department of Education needs mechanisms to enforce the school property tax limitations established by Special Session Act 1 of 2006. The question stemmed from a violation of the Act by the Harrisburg School District and subsequent uncertainty about how PDE would remedy this violation since the law itself does not delineate penalties for non-compliance.

    Act 1 limits annual school property tax increases to an inflationary index, unless a district applies for and receives an exception from PDE for certain costs beyond its control or receives voter approval to increase taxes beyond the index. The Harrisburg School District imposed a 22.35 mill rate, above its 22.3127 maximum allowable rate, which would generate approximately $60,000 in revenue above that allowed by its index. School District officials said its tax rate was recalculated due to notice of a reduction in assessment values received from the Dauphin County Assessors in June 2007 and that the index violation was not noticed at that time.

    The district will return the excess tax to taxpayers via refund checks, as directed by PDE. Harrisburg had suggested placing excess funds in reserve for next year or reducing the District's index next year as possible solutions, but these remedies were rejected by PDE. A letter from Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak states "the only way for the District to correct its violation is to impose a tax rate no greater than the index during the current fiscal year…and refund the excess tax imposed."

  • The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee passed an amended version of Senate Bill 592 on Tuesday. SB 592 authorizes the PA Emergency Management Agency to make grants of up to $350 to school districts to purchase up to eight CEA Certified Public Alert radio receivers. The bill appropriates $200,000 for the program, no more than $25,000 of which may be used toward a required public awareness program about the benefits of the receivers. These devices reliably receive broadcasts from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association All Hazards Radio Network, which the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has endorsed as the nation's emergency warning system. The network broadcasts messages about emergencies such as 911 call outages, evacuation immediate warnings, law enforcement warnings, and AMBER alerts. SB 592 has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved Senate Bills 805, 806, 807, 808 and 813 which require the Department of Education to annually report to the General Assembly on the operation of the education assistance program (tutoring), Classrooms for the Future (high school laptop initiative), Science - It's Elementary (improving elementary level science instruction), Project 720 (high school reform initiative), and E-Fund Grants (educational technology). All bills await further consideration by the full Senate.

  • Sen. James Rhoades, chair of the Senate Education Committee, has introduced a plan to eliminate $9 billion in school property taxes by increasing state sales and personal income taxes. Rhoades' proposal would place a statewide question before voters in November 2008 asking if they want to raise the state sales tax from 6% to 9.19% and raise the state income tax from 3.07% to 4.36%. If approved by voters, the proposal would eliminate approximately 96% of all school property taxes in a dollar-for-dollar tax shift. The reduction would apply broadly to all property tax payers - homeowners, farm owners and businesses. Each school district would receive from the state at least $5,000 per student enrolled or an amount equal to 100% of their property tax revenues.

  • 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.

  • The Task Force on School Cost Reduction met Wednesday to discuss issues related to No Child Left Behind and teacher certification. Members heard a presentation on how the Commonwealth has addressed NCLB's highly qualified teacher requirements and likely will endorse four suggestions from PDE related to this area in its final recommendations:
    1. Request the U.S. Department of Education to allow Pennsylvania to re-open its HOUSSE;

    2. Utilize professional development funds to assist teachers in becoming highly qualified;

    3. Support the subsidy initiative for teachers to obtain certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; and

    4. Encourage conversations regarding the use of incentive funding for teachers.

    Finally, the Task Force discussed adding a new chapter to its final report that seeks to analyze the cost impact of major state and federal mandates.

    The Task Force was established as an advisory body to the Governor's office by Special Session Act 1 of 2006 to recommend potential cost savings for school districts. The Task Force will next meet on October 10 to discuss its final recommendations which are due by the end of October.

  • Pennsylvania's fourth and eighth graders outperformed students in most other states on the 2007 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Pennsylvania was one of only six states to make significant gains in elementary level reading and math since 2005, and one of only 10 states to make significant progress in these areas since 2003. The state saw gains in 4th grade math, 4th grade reading, and 8th grade math, and no significant change in 8th grade reading. Scores increased in every student subgroup in Pennsylvania (based on race, gender and economic standing).

    Nationally, 4th and 8th graders scored higher in math than on all previous NAEP assessments. White, Black and Hispanic students demonstrated a better understanding of math than in previous years, and the White-Black score gap narrowed at 4th grade compared to 1990 results and at 8th grade compared to 2005 results.

    In reading, 4th graders nationally scored higher that on all previous NAEP assessments and 8th graders scored higher than in 2005 and 1992. White, Black and Hispanic students in both 4th and 8th grades all scored higher than in 1992.

  • The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) also recently released a new report on school crime and safety that looks at the frequency of school crime and violence, disciplinary actions, and school practices related to the prevention and reduction of crime and safety in the 2005-06 school year.

  • The Education Commission of the States (ECS) has launched a No Child Left Behind reauthorization database that catalogs "who's saying what" about the law's upcoming reauthorization. ECS has numerous other NCLB resources, including a database of state highly qualified teacher definitions, a publication identifying the minimum number of students constituting a subgroup for adequate yearly progress in each state, and information about states' graduation rate goals for high school accountability purposes.

  • Education Sector has released a new report that reviews state laws related to charter schools. To learn more, read "A Sum Greater Than the Parts: What States Can Teach Each Other About Charter Schooling".

  • Dick Willey, CEO of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), has announced his intention to retire effective December 31, 2007.

  • Jamie Olson McKee, Director of Policy at the Pennsylvania Department of Education, will depart that position this month to join the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    Next Week...

  • The Pennsylvania Schools Boards Association and Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators hold their Annual School Leadership Conference in Hershey on October 2-5.

  • The House Education Committee holds a public hearing on Chapter 16 (Gifted Education) in Harrisburg on Thursday.

  • The Alliance for Excellent Education hosts the Fourth Annual High School Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. on October 4-5.

  • Jobs for the Future hosts Double the Numbers 2007 in Washington, D.C. on October 4-5.

  • 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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