EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, June 16, 2008

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - FY 2008-2009 State Budget – Senate
    - FY 2008-2009 State Budget – House
    - Other State House Action
    - Other State Senate Action
    - Governor’s Office

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



    Mayors, school superintendents, and other municipal leaders from 26 urban, rural, and suburban communities gathered at the Capitol last Tuesday to urge the General Assembly to enact a permanent school funding formula as part of the budget process this month.  Moderating the press conference was Bethlehem superintendent Dr. Joseph A. Lewis, who said that investments in education are also investments in economic development, “not just in our cities, but in our suburbs and the rural sectors of the state.” 

    Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter called the enactment of an equitable school funding system “the most important work that any of us in public service, any of us in public office, could ever be engaged in.  It is literally about making investments in the future of Pennsylvania as we invest in our children.”  Also speaking at the Capitol was Tom Riel, the mayor of Bradford in McKean County, who said “the best strategy for long-term property tax relief is for the state to increase its share of funding for our schools.  Increased property and school taxes can only be a detriment to struggling rural communities like ours.” 

    For more information on the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign and additional tools and resources for your work, please go to www.paschoolfunding.org.



    FY 2008-2009 State Budget – Senate

    The State Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, June 16, approved a budget bill that slashes the basic education subsidy increase proposed by Governor Rendell by $118 million, a 41% reduction.  The bill was approved by all Republicans on the Committee and opposed by all Democrats.  The bill may be considered by the full Senate as early as Tuesday, June 17.  If approved with this decreased level of basic education funding, the Governor’s basic education funding reform would be effectively killed while also disrupting the budget-making work of local school boards that in most cases are required to adopt a balanced 2008-2009 budget by June 30.
    The Committee made the following changes to the proposed budget for the PA Department of Education.

    State appropriations INCREASED from level proposed by Governor Rendell:
    New Choice/New Options: $0 increased to $2.500 million
    Special Education – Approved Private Schools: $93.835 million increased to $96.100 million

    State appropriations DECREASED from level proposed by Governor Rendell:
    Basic Education: $5,242.729 million decreased to $5,124.820 million
    Dual Enrollment: $12.000 million decreased to $10.000 million
    Pre-K Counts: $87.550 million decreased to $75.000 million
    Science It’s Elementary: $15.000 million decreased to $13.500 million
    Classrooms for the Future: $90.000 million decreased to $45.000 million
    Teacher Professional Development: $47.056 million decreased to $30.367 million
    General Government Operations (PDE): $29.513 million decreased to $27.479 million
    Information and Technology Improvement: $5.446 million decreased to $4.960 million
    PA Assessment: $58.400 million decreased to $39.400 million
    Technical Colleges: $2.400 million decreased to $2.000 million
    State Library: $4.945 million decreased to $4.532 million
    Youth Development Centers: $11.653 million decreased to $11.625 million
    Services to Nonpublic Schools: $91.590 million decreased to $89.514 million
    Textbooks, Materials and Equipment for Nonpublic Schools: $28.010 million decreased to $27.376 million
    Concentrated Alternative Education Intervention Funding: $3.000 million decreased to $0

    FY 2008-2009 State Budget - House

    The House Appropriations Committee last week amended and approved a state budget bill for FY 2008-2009, which now awaits further consideration by the full House.  In contrast to this week’s action by the State Senate Appropriations Committee, the legislation approved by the House Committee supported the basic subsidy funding level proposed by Governor Rendell and was approved 21-5 with bipartisan support.  The Committee made the following changes to the proposed budget for the PA Department of Education:

    INCREASED state appropriations:
    Science and Math Education Programs: $0 to $2.545 million
    Urban and Minority Teacher Development: $0 to $3.000 million
    New Choices/New Options: $0 to $2.500 million
    Special Education – Approved Private Schools: $93.835 million to $96.100 million
    Governor’s Schools of Excellence: $2.574 million to $3.242 million
    Alternative Education Demonstration Grants: $0 to $17.500 million
    Regional Community College Services: $0 to $0.750 million
    Higher Education Assistance: $0 to $4.050 million
    Engineering Equipment Grants: $0 to $0.150 million
    Community Education Councils: $1.768 million to $2.186 million

    DECREASED state appropriations:
    School Employees’ Retirement: $475.295 million to $361.295 million

    INCREASED federal appropriations (based on anticipated federal funding):
    Individuals with Disabilities Education: $14.283 million to $14.978 million
    DFSC – Administration: $0.830 million to $0.850 million
    School Health Education Programs: $0.500 million to $0.650 million
    Charter Schools Initiatives: $7.000 million to $8.000 million
    Drug and Violence Prevention Data: $0.317 million to $0.507 million
    Migrant Education Coordination Program: $0.087 million to $0.100 million
    School Improvement Grants: $18.000 million to $22.000 million
    Title VI – Rural and Low Income Schools – Local: $0.559 million to $0.646 million

    Other State House Actions

    The House Education Committee adopted the following legislation on June 11 (each bill was then recommitted to the House Rules Committee):

    House Bill 2442: Provides flexibility for school districts in using funding for the current Educational Assistance (tutoring) Program.  EAP funds could be used to support programs that: increase student instructional time (including tutoring, extended school day or year, intensive support for students with limited English proficiency); implement new curricula or courses that increase the number of students who graduate from high school prepared for college or high-skills careers; or, train professional employees in delivering curriculum that increases the number of students who graduate from high school prepared for college and high-skill careers, in addressing the needs of at-risk students, or in strategies to ensure students stay in school until graduation and successfully transition into the workforce or postsecondary education.  School entities would be required to submit an application to PDE explaining how they would utilize EAP funds.  If a program supported with EAP dollars fails to produce academic progress for two consecutive years, PDE would revoke approval for the funded programs and the school entity must resubmit an application for revised or alternative uses of EAP funds.

    House Bill 2479: Establishes formulas to determine “real cost” funding levels for cyber charter schools and makes several other significant changes to the law pertaining to cyber charter schools.  The Department of Education would calculate a statewide per student amount for regular and special education students in cyber charter schools based on the lowest cost of all cyber schools that made adequate yearly progress in 2006-2007; these amounts would be adjusted annually by an inflationary index (the same index by which limits tax increases by school districts without voter approval).  School districts that fail to remit timely payments to cyber charter schools would be penalized three percent the amount owed.

    HB 2479 also:

    • Limits cyber charter schools’ unreserved, undesignated fund balances.  Beginning in the 2008-09 school year, balances in excess of the limit would be refunded on a pro rata basis to all school districts that paid tuition to the cyber school in the prior school year.  For balances accrued prior to June 30, 2008 that exceed the limit, a cyber school may choose to use up to 40% (but not more that $1.000 million) of the balance to support: professional development, student supplies, technology, instructional activities directly related to student performance, to discount regular and special education cyber tuition payments for school districts, or for other programs approved by the Secretary of Education.  Remaining funds exceeding the limit prior to June 30, 2008 must be refunded on a pro rata basis to school districts that paid tuition to the cyber school during the past two school years.

    • Exempts school districts from paying cyber charter schools to educate students younger than the minimum age required for kindergarten or the beginner school age established by a student’s district of residence.  If a student’s school district of residence does not offer full-day kindergarten, the district would be required to pay only one-half the fee for a student to attend kindergarten in a cyber charter school.

    • Directs PDE to promulgate regulations that define the minimum number of hours cyber charter students must be engaged in educational activities online and offline in order to meet the state’s attendance requirements and to require cyber charter schools to demonstrate in their required annual reports that each student met these attendance requirements.

    • Requires PDE to provide electronic and written copies of a cyber charter school’s annual assessment to the school by November 1 annually, and requires cyber charter schools to post copies of these reports on their web sites for at least five years (or until the expiration of the school’s charter).

    • Expands current law which requires individuals who have “direct contact” with charter school students to submit a criminal history report to also include those who have contact through electronic means via the Internet or e-mail

    • Requires charter schools to forward student records to a student’s district of residence within 10 days if a school’s charter is revoked or not renewed.

    • Requires cyber charter school applications to identify the maximum level of enrollment during each school year of the proposed charter.  Currently, applications must identify anticipated enrollment levels.  Further, HB 2479 would require a cyber charter school to seek approval from PDE to increase its enrollment beyond the maximum established in its application.

    • Requires PDE to make available to anyone, upon request, certain information about a cyber charter school, including a copy of the school’s charter, application, and annual report.

    • Requires cyber charter schools to, upon request, provide school districts with a list of students from that district who attend the cyber charter school.

    • Establishes that all computers, software and Internet connections purchased by the cyber charter school are the school’s property.  Students who discontinue enrollment in the school must return the equipment in usable condition or pay a civil penalty of fair market value for the equipment.

    • Subjects members of cyber charter school Boards of Trustees to the state’s Public Official and Employee Ethics Law, and prohibits board members from doing business with the school or being affiliated with the management of the school.

    • Allows new teachers and administrators seeking to move from first level to permanent certification to petition PDE to have work in a cyber charter school applied to the length of time required to earn permanent certification.  PDE would establish guidelines governing acceptable criteria for approving such petitions.

    • Prohibits cyber charter schools from expending any funds to educate students who are not Pennsylvania residents.

    • Requires cyber charter schools to reach an agreement with a student’s school district of residence or intermediate unit to receive assistance in delivering special education services to a cyber student, should the cyber school request such assistance.

    • Requires parents or guardians and cyber charter schools to notify school districts of enrollment in a cyber charter school within 10 days of enrollment (rather than the current 15 days).  School districts would have 20 days (rather than the current seven days) to notify a cyber school and PDE if it determines a cyber student is not a resident of its district.

    • Requires school districts to notify a cyber charter school if a newly enrolled student is truant from the district.  During the first three month the student is enrolled, the cyber school must provide evidence that the student is receiving instruction and completing assignments when it bills the school district.  If the cyber charter school fails to provide such evidence, the district would not be required to pay for the student during that time.  Further, if a cyber student accrues three or more days of unlawful absences, the cyber charter school would be responsible for instituting truancy proceedings.

    House Bill 2440: Establishes the process for funding special education in FY 2008-2009.

    House Bill 2437: Provides for the funding of Pennsylvania Accountability Grants for FY 2008-2009.

    House Bill 2475: Provides for funding for education empowerment districts for FY 2008-2009.

    House Bill 2430: Targets more state funds allocated for dual enrollment toward low-income students.  HB 2430 increases the amount earmarked to support low-income students from 22% to 28% of total dual enrollment funds and increases the amount earmarked for early college high school, middle college high school and gateway to college programs from 6% to 10% of total dual enrollment funds.

    House Bill 2468: Expands the definition of “eligible provider” for early learning programs (pre-K) to include a registered family day care home.  Prior to July 1, 2009, eligible providers must meet or exceed a STAR 2 rating under the Department of Public Welfare’s Keystone STARS Program; after June 30, 2009 providers would have to meet or exceed a STAR 3 rating.

    Other State Senate Actions

  • The State Senate approved legislation on Monday, June 16 (Senate Bill 1442) that would impede the State Board of Education from moving ahead with its plan to develop new end-of-course exams to determine whether a student has met the state’s standards for high school graduation.  Under SB 1442, new statewide high school graduation requirements could be established only by the General Assembly.  The bill was approved by a 48-2 vote with negative votes cast by Sen. Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin) and Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria).

    The legislation had been approved by the Senate Education Committee last week by a 10-1 vote. At that time, committee chairman James Rhoades (R-Schuylkill) said research shows the proposed Graduation Competency Assessments are ineffective and would take time away from teaching.  Other members cited fiscal concerns in their support for SB 1442.  Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) said funds allocated in the Governor’s proposed budget for GCA test development could be better spent to boost funding for school districts slated to receive only a 1.5% basic education funding increase or make higher education more affordable, while Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon) said the General Assembly cannot responsibly fund the development of such exams without knowing what the final regulations governing GCAs would require.  Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin) opposed moving the measure out of Committee saying more time was needed to review the legislation because the actual language of the bill was available only a short time before the vote.
  • The Senate Education Committee also approved the following legislation on Monday, June 9:

    Senate Bill 1397: Enforces payment for the cost of tuition of students receiving specialized educational services provided by districts other than a student’s district of residence, including remedial, rehabilitative or alternative education services.  SB 1397 would require the Secretary of Education to withhold payments owed from a district’s state funding and remit payment to the district providing such services.

    Senate Resolution 243: Directs the Joint State Government Commission to examine other state laws and school policies and practices regarding the notification of parents when a student violates a higher education institution’s drug and alcohol policy.

    House Bill 1067: Requires a student’s disciplinary record to be transferred when a student transfers from a public school to a nonpublic school or transfer between public schools in the same district.  This expands on state law that already requires disciplinary records to be transferred when a student transfers between public school entities.

  • Governor’s Office

    The Governor’s Budget Office recently released a plan to address the Commonwealth’s rising pension costs.  The plan seeks to eliminate the anticipated hike in employer contribution costs in 2012-13 to the two pension plans covering school and state employees by making incremental changes in contribution rates that will allow the state and school districts to gradually absorb the impact of higher pension contributions.  Budget Secretary Michael Masch said pension costs for both state and school retirees could jump 190 percent in a single year in 2012-13, at a potential cost of $1.6 billion.  Click here for a copy of the Governor’s plan.



    This week…

    • Good Schools Pennsylvania hosts “Eyes on Education,” a student photography exhibit and education action day, at the state Capitol on Tuesday, June 17.

    • The House Education Committee meets Wednesday for a public hearing on proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s high school graduation requirements (Chapter 4).

    • The Independent Regulatory Review Commission meets Thursday to consider PDE regulations for students with disabilities who attend charter and cyber charter schools.

    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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