EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, June 20, 2008

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State House
    - State Senate
    - Independent Regulatory Review Commission

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


    The Pennsylvania Senate this week voted along party lines to slash the Governor’s proposed basic education funding increase by 41%.  The bill, which reduces proposed basic education funding by $118 million, ignores the findings of the General Assembly’s own Costing-Out Study that determined the true cost of educating every Pennsylvania child to meet state academic standards.  The Senate’s action is unacceptable.

    In a June 20 editorial, The Patriot-News in Harrisburg wrote:

    But it's even more important for the state finally to address its education-funding shortfall, as pointed out in a "Costing-out Report" sought and funded by the Legislature. The governor proposed a new school-funding formula that, over a six-year period, would infuse $2.6 billion in additional funds for school districts. The objective is to ensure that every district has sufficient funds to deliver a quality education for each student.

    The Pennsylvania Constitution is clear as can be that the General Assembly is responsible to "provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the commonwealth." (Article III, Section 14.) Shortchanging education, even in a fiscally challenging year, is not a constitutionally permissible option.

    Rendell proposed making a first down payment in fiscal 2008-09 in putting education funding where it needs to be. And the question for Senate Republicans becomes: "If not this year, when?"

    The General Assembly is in the final weeks of negotiating a budget agreement.  Senators who voted for and against the education funding cut need to know where Pennsylvanians stand on this vital issue.

    Click here to tell your State Senator it is vital to restore basic education funding to the level proposed by the Governor.

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


    State House

    On Wednesday, the House Education Committee held a public hearing on the State Board of Education proposal to modify the state’s high school graduation requirements.  The Board is seeking to create new end-of-course exams that would become part of a menu of assessments through which students can demonstrate academic proficiency in core academic subjects.  Click here to read remarks from Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak and State Board of Education Chairman Karl Girton in support of the proposal.

    The Committee also heard favorable remarks on proposed Graduation Competency Assessments (GCAs) from Mark Roosevelt, Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools; Dr. Steven Ender, President of the Westmoreland Community College; William Brock, Executive Director of the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation; and Joan Benso, President & CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

    Roosevelt said exit exams, coupled with additional funding, were the key to dramatic student success during his experience in Massachusetts, and said Pennsylvania is late in the game to move in this direction.  Benso said Virginia, whose end of course exams are most similar to those proposed in Pennsylvania, is now using these exams for NCLB purposes and that pending federal legislation to reauthorize NCLB includes such assessments as an option.  Ender complimented the proposal’s ability to diagnose students’ academic needs early on to help alleviate the need for remedial coursework in higher education, and the potential for state assessments that are aligned with workforce and college entry expectations to eventually replace colleges’ current placement exams – both of which he said would help reduce the cost of higher education.

    Committee members raised concerns about the proposal’s unintended consequences for students, stifling creativity with too much testing, usurpation of local control, and costs associated with GCAs.  Similar concerns led the Pennsylvania Senate to adopt legislation earlier this week (see June 16 Notebook) that would prevent the State Board’s plan from moving forward by granting authority to determine high school graduation requirements solely to the General Assembly.

    The House Education Committee will continue its hearing on the issue next Wednesday to hear from parents, school board members, school principals, teachers and school administrators.

    Proposed changes to Chapter 4 would require students to demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing, math, science and social studies using any combination of the following assessments: state PSSAs, state-developed graduation competency assessments (end of course exams), local assessments (that are independently validated as aligned to state standards and proficiency levels), and advanced placement and International Baccalaureate exams.

    Additionally, 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 assessment.  Under the proposal, these new requirements would take effect in 2013-14.

    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.

    State Senate

  • The Senate adopted the following legislation this week:

    Senate Bill 546: Provides $13.3 million in supplemental appropriations for FY 2007-08.  Among the allocations, SB 546 increases federal funding for national school lunch administration in the Department of Agriculture’s budget from $0.425 million to $0.600 million.  The legislation also increases state funding in the Department of Education’s budget for: school construction from $308.368 million to $323.368 million; charter schools for the deaf and blind from $34.236 million to $34.540 million; and, approved private schools from $89.901 million to $94.335 million.  SB 546 has been re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee approved Senate Resolution 309, which directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the pension and post-retirement health benefits of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System and the PA State Employees' Retirement System.  SR 309 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

  • Independent Regulatory Review Commission

    On Thursday, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved final revisions to Pennsylvania Department of Education regulations governing Charter School and Cyber Charter School Services and Programs for Students with Disabilities.  These changes will take effect upon their publication in the Pennsylvania BulletinClick here for a copy of the regulatory changes.


    Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak recently announced the 12 finalists who will vie for the prestigious title of 2009 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.  The person selected as Pennsylvania's Teacher of the Year will serve as a spokesperson for teachers across the state and have the unique opportunity to represent the best in the education field.

    Teachers were nominated by students, parents, colleagues or community members. A committee of former Teacher of the Year recipients and past finalists select 30 semi-finalists. From those 30 nominees, the committee chose the 12 finalists.  The winner will be announced in October at the annual Teacher of the Year celebration in Harrisburg and will be Pennsylvania's nominee for the National Teacher of the Year. The National Teacher of the Year will be named in the spring of 2009.

    David L. Woten Jr., a music teacher at Carson Middle School in the North Allegheny School District, is currently Pennsylvania's 2008 Teacher of the Year.  Pennsylvania has participated in the Teacher of the Year program since 1965.  The program is co-sponsored by the state Department of Education and the Pennsylvania chapter of the National State Teacher of the Year.

    The finalists for the 2009 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year are:
    Laura Barthmaier, State College Area School District
    Linda Baughman, Mechanicsburg Area School District
    Robert Hankes, Big Spring School District
    Diane Heitzenrater, Hatboro-Horsham School District
    Gail Rosenberry, Shippensburg Area School District
    Marilyn Rothberg, Great Valley School District
    Stephanie Ruby, Gateway School District
    Ronald Shealer; State College Area School District
    Rebecca Snyder, Greater Latrobe School District
    Timothy Spuck, Oil City Area School District
    Gary Vetre, Upper Darby Area School District
    Charles Youngs, Bethel Park School District


    Next week…

    • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education meets Wednesday and Thursday.

    • The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to continue its public hearing on Graduation Competency Assessments (proposed Chapter 4 regulations).

    • The House Education Committee meets Thursday to consider House Bill 1712 and House Resolution 803.

    • The Council for Higher Education Accreditation holds its 2008 Summer Workshop in Arlington, VA.

    • 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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