EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, June 27, 2008

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania Budget
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State House
    - State Senate
    - State Board of Education
    - Pennsylvania Department of Education
    Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program

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


    As the weekend begins, there is a general feeling in Harrisburg that there will be a “handshake deal” on the 2008-2009 state budget within the next couple of days and approval by the House and Senate by the June 30 deadline.  Of course this all could change, but there is growing pressure to get the job done by the June 30 deadline and before the state’s deteriorating revenue picture gets much clearer, which likely would mean much worse.

    On the education budget, lawmakers are feeling the pressure to largely honor Governor Rendell’s plan for the distribution of his proposed $291 million increase in basic subsidy funding for school districts.  Not many legislators want to go home next week and tell their school officials and taxpayers that they voted for less funding for their districts than the Governor proposed.  Most or all of the big school subsidy cut approved by Senate Republicans last week will be restored, but some are still trying to figure a way to take some portion of the increased funding proposed for Philadelphia and spread it elsewhere.

    But the education funding reform proposed by Governor Rendell and supported by a statewide coalition of education, community and advocacy organizations is in serious trouble.  The Governor’s proposed six-year plan to put into place a school funding system reflecting a rational formula linked to the 2007 Costing-Out Study is getting too little support in the General Assembly right now.  If the Governor and General Assembly cannot agree to enact reform, Pennsylvania will continue to be one of only two states in the country without a school funding system.


    State House

  • The House adopted the following legislation this week:

    Senate Bill 1063: Consolidates local income tax collection at the county level (except for Allegheny County, which would be broken into four tax collection districts, and Philadelphia, whose local tax collection system is governed by a different law).  Under SB 1063, a school district located in more than one county would be included in the tax collection district that includes the greatest share of the district’s population.  Because technical amendments were made by the House, SB 1063 must go back to the Senate for final approval.  The Senate previously approved the bill by a vote of 41-8.

    House Bill 1086: Requires the Public School Employees’ Retirement System, State Employees Retirement System and State Treasurer to divest themselves of investments in companies doing business in Iran and Sudan.  HB 1086 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

  • The House Education Committee this week released formal comments opposing the State Board of Education’s proposal to establish end of course exams for high school students as another option for demonstrating academic proficiency required for graduation.  The Committee issued its remarks following the conclusion of a two-part hearing on the proposal.  On Wednesday, the Committee heard from representatives of teachers, school boards, and school administrators who oppose the plan.

    During the hearing, concerns were raised regarding time away from teaching for high stakes testing, costs associated with the assessments, school districts’ capacity to provide remediation for students who do not pass the proposed exams, and whether the focus should more appropriately be on developing reading comprehension skills in the earlier grades to address the reason many students struggle in high school.  Committee members and those testifying also questioned what problem the State Board is trying to solve with its proposal.

    Rep. Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks) said he was on the fence with the concept because, while he understands the position of those opposed, in his experience as a teacher he witnessed huge problems with different expectations in what is taught in Algebra I between schools and even between classrooms within the same school.  Stinson Stroup, who represents school administrators, responded that if the goal of the State Board’s plan is to have all schools utilize uniform curriculum and assessments, then that should be the starting point of the conversation rather than the current proposal which “puts the cart before the horse.”  The State Board’s plan calls for the development of model curriculum that would be voluntary for school districts.  Rep. Mark Longietti (D-Mercer) suggested the state conduct a pilot program in school districts that support the concept to evaluate whether the system should be implemented statewide.

    Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak appeared before the Committee again to reiterate his support for the proposal.  During the first half of the hearing held last week, the Committee heard from business, higher education, school administration and children’s advocates who support the proposal.  The State Board recently received more than 1,000 public comments on its proposal and is now awaiting comments from the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, which are due by July 18.

  • On Thursday, the House Education Committee passed the following legislation:

    House Bill 1712: Directs the State Board of Education to develop academic standards for business, computer and information technology courses.  HB 1712 has been re-committed to the House Rules Committee.

    House Resolution 803: Urges the Secretary of Education to direct school districts to provide training in playing Taps, the historical military bugle call.  HR 803 awaits further consideration by the full House.

  • State Senate

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the following legislation this week (both bills await consideration by the full Senate):

    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 transfers 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.

    Senate Bill 1379: 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.

    State Board of Education

    The State Board of Education this week approved science assessment anchors which serve as a conduit between the state’s academic standards and science assessment.  In 2002, the state approved standards for Science and Technology as well as Environment and Ecology, which outline what the state expects students to learn in these subjects.  The science assessment anchors seek to provide clarity for instruction and for the focus of the state assessment.  The anchors were refined to four distinct reporting categories: the nature of science, biological sciences, physical sciences, and earth and space sciences.  Within each reporting category are three assessment anchors, which are each described and linked to the eligible content.

    Pennsylvania Department of Education

    Pennsylvania will not incorporate a value-added growth model into its accountability system at the present time.  The state previously applied to the federal government to participate in its growth model accountability pilot program for No Child Left Behind.  While the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) did not take issue with the state’s model for measuring growth, it raised concerns about allowing the state to use both a growth model and the state’s current performance index (PPI).  USDE will have its technical advisors explore the appropriateness of including both measures.  Pennsylvania plans to re-apply to implement a growth model when new proposals are being accepted.  Click here to read Pennsylvania’s proposal and the USDE’s decision.


    Applications are now being accepted for the 2008-2009 Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP).  The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC).

    With more than 200 graduates in its first nine years, this Program is a premier professional development opportunity for educators, state and local policymakers, advocates, and community leaders.  Act 48 credits are available to individuals holding Pennsylvania teaching or administrative certificates, and State Board of Accountancy (SBA) credits are available to certified public accountants.

    Past participants include state policymakers, district superintendents and principals, school business officers, school board members, education deans/chairs, statewide association leaders, parent leaders, education advocates, and other education and community leaders. 

    Visit http://www.eplc.org/fellows.html for a 2008-09 schedule, application, and additional program information.  Since space is limited to approximately 30 positions, it is advisable to submit an application as soon as possible.

    If you would like to discuss any aspect of the Fellowship Program and its requirements, please contact Ron Cowell at 717-260-9900 or cowell@eplc.org.


    As part of PA STEM Initiative, the PA Department of Education has developed a new Governor's Institute for STEM.  It will be conducted July 28 through August 1 at Hershey Lodge and Penn State Harrisburg at Middletown.

    The Institute is intended to develop a coherent and consistent message for what STEM means in Pennsylvania schools.  Educators from all grade levels are invited to participate in this new professional development opportunity.  The Institute will merge STEM content areas into comprehensive teaching and learning through problem solving situations.  Participants of the Institute will experience first-hand what STEM education looks and feels like through exemplary activities that are aligned to the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Science and Technology along with Mathematics.  These experiences will empower participants to begin to develop Pennsylvania's Standards Aligned System for STEM.  Inquiries should be directed to William Bertrand, Technology Education Advisor, Bureau of Teaching and Learning Support at PDE at (717) 783-6848 or wbertrand@state.pa.us.

    Registration and additional information about all of the 2008 Governor’s Institutes is available at www.papde.ws.


    The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is scheduled to be in session through the weekend to continue negotiations on the state budget.

    Next week…

  • The Education Commission of the States holds its annual National Forum on Education Policy June 30-July 2 in Austin, TX.

  • The National Education Association holds its annual meeting July 1-6 in Washington, D.C.

  • The Institute for Educational Equity and Opportunity and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia will release “Education in the 50 States: A Deskbook of the History of State Constitutions and Laws About Education” on July 2 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.  For more information, contact Sheilah Vance at svance@ifeeo.org or (215) 557-6224 or Jennifer Clarke at jclarke@pilcop.org or (215) 627-7100.

  • 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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