EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, February 8, 2008

    Content in this edition:
    Governor Rendell's FY 2008-2009 Budget Proposal
    Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts
    Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State House
    - State Senate
    - Legislative Budget and Finance Committee
    - Pennsylvania Bulletin

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

    Governor Ed Rendell put forth his FY 2008-2009 state budget proposal this week. Details on the proposed education budget will be included in a special EPLC Education Notebook.

    Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts is accepting applications for new and expansion grants to enroll approximately 1,000 additional at-risk 3 and 4 year-old pre-kindergarten students. Click here for guidance and links to the application.

    The purpose of PA Pre-K Counts is to expand the number of children who have the opportunity to experience a high-quality pre-K program. Competitive applications may be submitted by: school districts; licensed nursery schools; Head Start Grantees; child care centers, group child care homes, and registered family day care homes that have a Keystone STAR 2 rating or higher (must be STAR 3 beginning in June 30, 2009); and, third party entities that will carry out fiduciary and other Lead Agency responsibilities for entities eligible to provide PA Pre-K Counts classrooms as listed above.

    Currently, PA Pre-K Counts serves 11,000 children in 57 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. A mid-year report on the Pre-K Counts program released this week highlights the positive progress being made by current Pre-K Counts grantees. The program is meeting or exceeding nearly all of the National Institute for Early Education Research's benchmarks for quality early education programs.

    State Representative Curtis Thomas (D-181) last week endorsed the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign's proposal to reform the state's education funding formula. Curtis joined with representatives of the Campaign in Philadelphia on January 31 to echo the call for the Governor and legislature to adopt a new school funding formula and to include a $1 billion down payment in the 2008-2009 state budget toward full implementation by 2013 of the funding needed for all students to reach the state's academic standards, as identified by the costing-out study of 2007.

    The Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign represents an unprecedented statewide coalition of broad-based education and advocacy organizations dedicated to fundamentally reforming Pennsylvania's outdated and broken school funding formula. On January 23, the Campaign unveiled a plan for a new state education funding formula.

    For more information about the Campaign, and to endorse the effort and become a partner in the Campaign's work, visit www.paschoolfunding.org.

    Pennsylvania House

  • Last Wednesday (January 30), the House Education Committee amended and adopted legislation ( House Bill 1841) that would create a Public School Employees' Benefit Board to determine whether it is cost effective to establish a statewide health care plan for public school employees. The 20-member Board would be comprised of 10 labor representatives (with at least two representing non-professional school employees) and 10 management representatives (four school board members, four state legislators, and two administration representatives).

    If the Board determines a statewide plan is cost effective, the Board would be responsible for designing and implementing the benefit program (including decisions related to health plan options, benefit offerings, eligibility requirements, employee cost-sharing requirements, payment provisions and administrative procedures). If the Board determines a statewide system would not be cost effective, it could pursue other alternatives such as regional consortia or developing best practice standards and benchmarks for current plans.

    If created, participation in the statewide program would be mandatory for all school districts, except Philadelphia. Attempts to amend the bill to include Philadelphia or to give all districts the option to participate were defeated by the Committee.

    Additionally, the legislation would make the state a partner in funding a statewide school employees' health care system. Once reserves from expected cost savings are depleted, the state would pay up to half the annual cost increase, but never more than the rate of inflation for private sector health insurance. Further, state funding would be targeted to provide more assistance to districts with the greatest financial need.

    House Bill 1841 has been re-committed to the House Appropriations Committee.

  • The State House has taken no further action on legislation intended to provide additional property tax relief, other than to re-commit the legislation to the House Finance Committee.

    A week ago, the House took up consideration of House Bill 1600 sponsored by Rep. David Levdansky (D-39) and various amendments. First, the House defeated by a vote of 47-148 a comprehensive amendment put forth by Rep. Sam Rohrer (R-128) that would completely eliminate school property taxes by expanding the goods and services subject to sales tax and increasing the state income tax. But then the House did support an amendment by Rep. John Perzel (R-172) that would redirect the $1 billion expected in 2009 from gaming revenue to completely eliminate property taxes for senior citizens who earn $40,000 or less annually.

    Perzel's amendment at least for the moment has effectively killed Levdansky's legislation and stymied House Democratic leaders in their pursuit of more property tax relief for all homeowners.

    Opponents criticized Perzel's plan because it does not provide broad property tax relief to all homeowners and does away with a plan to reduce the Philadelphia wage tax. Perzel said his plan targets tax relief funds to those most in need without requiring a tax increase.

  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee amended and passed legislation ( House Bill 1227) that would establish the Science Technology Partnership Program. The program would provide funding to higher education institutions that are part of partnerships with public and non-public schools or school districts to make science technology equipment available to students, augment the science curriculum, and provide additional professional development to educators. HB 1227 also creates a Science Education Innovation Grants Program. The program would award grants to school districts, higher education institutions, and science technology educational organizations that provide innovative science, environmental science and technology programs with hands-on, inquiry-based learning for public or non-public school students. HB 1227 has been re-committed to the House Appropriations Committee.

  • Pennsylvania Senate

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee held a public hearing on legislation ( Senate Bill 1202) that would limit the referendum exceptions currently allowed under Special Session Act 1 of 2006. The bill would eliminate exceptions related to new construction, maintenance of "per-student local tax revenue," maintenance of "actual instructional expense per average daily membership," and "maintenance of revenues," and would modify the special education exception so that only costs above 250% of the index are excepted (currently, costs above 100% of the index are excepted). Act 1 limits the ability of school districts to raise taxes beyond inflation without voter approval, unless the increase is necessary to address one of 10 exceptions provided for in the law.

    Bill sponsor Sen. Gibson Armstrong said the added controls are needed because the law has "too many loopholes, too widely drawn," evidenced by the fact that 210 school districts were granted referendum exceptions last year. However, Vice President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association Mike Crossey noted that only a little over half of the exceptions granted were actually used, and that in the same year 233 districts adopted resolutions certifying that they would not raise taxes above the Act 1 inflation index. PDE Executive Deputy Secretary Tom Gluck reported that 325 school districts already have adopted early certifications that they will not raise taxes beyond the inflation index for the coming school year, and predicted that districts will again - in an abundance of caution - apply for more exceptions that are utilized.

    Tim Allwein, Assistant Executive Director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, cautioned the changes proposed by SB 1202 that would hurt growing school districts' ability to accommodate facilities needs associated with enrollment growth and hurt districts' ability to maintain educational services.

    SB 1202 awaits further consideration by the Senate Finance Committee.

  • Spouses of individuals serving in an armed forces reserve unit must be granted educational leave of absence during the time their spouse is serving active duty if Senate Bill 1199 becomes law. The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee voted for approval of SB 1199 on Tuesday. Currently, such leave is granted only to the member serving in a reserve component. The bill awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

  • 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.

    Legislative Budget and Finance Committee
    The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee has released a "Summary of the Financial and Academic Status of the Duquesne City School District". This report was required by Act 45 of 2007, the state law that provided for the transfer of Duquesne high school students to neighboring school districts.

    Pennsylvania Bulletin
    The February 2 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin includes an announcement about the process through which eligible providers may apply for grant funds, the criteria used to select approved providers for grant funds, and the per-student funding levels of approved providers, by county, for the Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts Program.

    Next Week...

  • The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials holds its annual Technology Expo & Conference on February 10-12 in Hershey.

  • The House Children and Youth Committee will hold a meeting on school funding on Monday.

  • The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bill 1045.

  • EPLC hosts two Pennsylvania Education Policy Forums in Harrisburg on Wednesday and in Pittsburgh on Thursday. The subject for each will be the Governor's proposed Education Budget for 2008-2009.

  • The National Conference of State Legislatures holds its annual Education Finance Symposium on February 15-17 in San Antonio, TX.

  • 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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