EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, January 18, 2008

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State House
    - State Board of Education

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

    Pennsylvania House

  • The House approved a resolution this week that would establish a Joint Legislative Commission on Public School Finance. The Commission created by House Resolution 460 would be tasked with using the results of the recently-released statewide education costing-out study to develop a new formula for funding Pennsylvania's public schools. This joint resolution requires subsequent passage by the Senate.

    Specifically, the proposed Commission would:

    • review the findings and recommendations of the statewide education costing-out study;

    • examine national trends in educational funding, including foundation programs, percentage equalization and guaranteed yield programs and their potential relevance for Pennsylvania;

    • review systems that assist in determining student achievement such as a value-added assessment system;

    • examine federal mandates, including IDEA and NCLB, and their impact on Pennsylvania's public schools;

    • examine state regulations, standards and guidelines that implement Federal and state laws and their impact on Pennsylvania's public schools;

    • study demographic patterns within Pennsylvania in order to determine the impact of both growth and decline in student enrollments on school districts' operations and costs, and the positive and negative aspects of school consolidation as a means to affect cost efficiencies;

    • examine the efficacy of consolidating existing funding programs used to disperse state education funds and to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of targeted categorical funding;

    • review the findings and recommendations of the recent Task Force on School Cost Reduction;

    • examine opportunities for improved cooperation and consolidation among school districts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of districts' operations in order to achieve savings and to enhance student achievement; and,

    • examine statewide trends in the student population in Pennsylvania's schools including students with disabilities, students living in poverty and students with limited English proficiency, and their impact on costs to Pennsylvania's public schools associated with these students meeting state academic standards and the NCLB Act.

    The 41-member Commission composed of policymakers, business and non-profit leaders, parents and professional educators would be chaired by an education finance expert from a Pennsylvania college or university. Appointments to the Commission must be made within 45 days of adoption of the resolution by both chambers, and the Commission must hold its first meeting no later than 30 days following the appointment of members. The group would have one year to develop at least two formulae for the adequate and equitable distribution of state public education funds, and must make an interim report of its findings.

  • The House began debating a number of tax reform measures this week, and took action on legislation that would reduce the state's personal income tax rate and amend the state constitution to allow for deeper property tax cuts. Additional debate on legislation that would provide for property tax reduction through a state-level tax shift is expected to continue when the House returns to session on January 28.

    The House gave its stamp of approval to pursuing deeper property tax cuts via a constitutional amendment. Currently, the state constitution limits the use of state dollars to reduce property taxes for homeowners to 50 percent of the median assessed value of homes in a school district. House Bill 1947 would change that provision to allow the maximum property tax cut to reduce homestead property taxes to zero. To take effect, a constitutional amendment must be approved by both legislative chambers in two consecutive legislative sessions, then go before voters. HB 1947 now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

    The House also approved legislation ( House Bill 377) that would reduce the state's personal income tax (PIT). The original intent of HB 377 would provide a state earned income tax credit to working families with at least one child who qualify for the federal earned income tax credit. Numerous amendments were added to the bill, including one that would slash the state PIT by gradually reducing the rate to 2.8% in 2009. HB 377 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

    Finally, the House Appropriations Committee approved two pieces of legislation - House Bill 1600 and . House Bill 1489 - that would increase the state sales tax by 0.5% and use the revenue generated to reduce local property taxes. House Bill 1600 goes further by also increasing the state personal income tax from 3.07% to 3.29%. New revenue from this increase also would be dedicated to property tax relief. Finally, the Committee approved another bill ( House Bill 93) that would require the city of Philadelphia to use any revenue it would receive if HB 1600 is enacted into law for homeowner property tax relief, with 25% of those funds earmarked for people who are disabled, infirm or low-income. HB 1600, HB 1489 and HB 93 await further consideration by the full House.

  • The House Education Committee held an informational meeting Tuesday on the report of the Governor's Commission on College and Career Success, which includes recommendations for changing the state's high school graduation requirements. For more information about the meeting, contact the office of Committee Chair James Roebuck at (717) 783-1000.

  • The House Education Committee approved the following legislation on Wednesday:

    House Bill 1496: Addresses auditing procedures for private rehabilitative residential institutions.

    House Bill 1020: Establishes a program that would allow Pennsylvanians age 60 or older to attend institutions of higher education tuition free. Institutions that choose to participate could offer credit, noncredit, certification, degree or enrichment programs.

  • State Board of Education

  • The State Board of Education approved a proposal to change the state's high school graduation requirements at its meeting on Thursday. Proposed regulatory changes to Chapter 4 would require students to demonstrate proficiency in science and social studies, in addition to reading, writing and math. School districts could use any combination of the following assessment options to determine student proficiency in these subjects: state PSSAs, subject-specific graduation competency assessments (GCAs) to be developed by PDE, local assessments (that are independently validated as aligned to state standards and proficiency levels), and advanced placement and International Baccalaureate exams. To utilize the local assessment option, school entities would be responsible for contracting and paying the cost of independently validating each assessment every five years.

    Additionally, in order to graduate, students would be required to meet their school district's requirements for course completion and grades, complete a culminating project, and satisfy to their school district that they demonstrate proficiency in the other state academic standards not measured by a state exam. Under the proposal, these requirements would take effect in the 2013-14 school year.

    Students who do not demonstrate proficiency on the 11th grade PSSA or any GCA exam would be provided supplemental instruction by the student's school entity.

    The proposal maintains current regulations for students with disabilities to be granted a regular high school diploma after successful completion of a special education program developed by an IEP team. Finally, the proposal would require appropriate testing accommodations (following state guidelines) for students with disabilities and English language learners.

    This week's action by the State Board triggers the beginning of the state's regulatory review process, which includes additional opportunity for public comment and review by the House and Senate Education Committees.

  • The State Board of Vocational Education (same members as the State Board of Education) approved final form changes to Chapter 339 (Vocational Education) at its meeting on Thursday. Among the changes, the regulations identify the accountability standards for approved career and technical education programs established by the Secretary of Education; outline the approved program review process; provide flexibility in meeting minimum instructional time requirements; and, outline the technical institute program standards.

  • The State Board also approved Keystone Educational Accountability standards, which address best practices in financial management. The standards would add a new chapter (Chapter 405) of indicators designed to measure improvement in school district operations. These standards were required to be developed by legislation previously enacted by the General Assembly, which established an assessment system for district management practices and use of resources and requires all school districts to undergo a compliance review conducted by PDE every six years.

  • State Representative George Kenney (R-170) and State Senator Terry Punt (R-33) have announced they will not seek re-election. Kenney has served in the State House since 1985. Punt was elected to the Senate in 1989 and previously served in the State House from 1979-1988.

  • The Education Law Center (ELC) in New Jersey has tapped renowned school finance expert Molly Hunter to lead a new national initiative to provide support to advocates, policymakers, attorneys and others seeking to strengthen and improve public schools, especially those schools serving low-income and minority students. The Education Justice initiative will be launched by ELC with support from the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Hunter will be a speaker at EPLC's Annual Conference in March.

    Next Week...

    The Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign will hold a news conference on Wednesday to unveil a new plan for funding Pennsylvania's public schools, based on the findings of the state's education costing-out study.


    The PA House Appropriations Committee has announced its schedule of state budget hearings for 2008. Education-related hearings are scheduled as follows (all hearings will be held in Room 140, Main Capitol Building):

    Tuesday, February 26, 9:00 a.m. - State-related universities
    Tuesday, February 26, 11:30 a.m. - PA State System of Higher Education
    Tuesday, February 26, 1:00 p.m. - University of Pennsylvania
    Wednesday, February 27, 1:30 p.m. - PSERS/SERS
    Monday, March 3, 9:30 a.m. - PHEAA
    Monday, March 3, 2:00 p.m. - PA Department of Education

    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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