EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, March 3, 2008

    Content in this edition:
    2008 PA Education Policy and Leadreship Conference
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State Budget Hearings
    - Pennsylvania State Board of Education
    Pennsylvania Bulletin

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

    Early bird registration for the 2008 PA Education Policy and Leadership Conference ends March 7! The Conference will be held at the Sheraton Harrisburg-Hershey Hotel on March 13-14. See the Agenda and Registration Information at http://www.eplc.org/conference.html.

    State Budget Hearings

    Pennsylvania’s state-funded higher education organizations appeared before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees last week to make their case for state funding in the 2008-2009 state budget.

    State-related universities
    Pennsylvania’s state-related universities (Lincoln University, University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University and Temple University) told Appropriations Committee members that the proposed 1.5% increase to support the schools’ education and general costs is inadequate and will threaten the qualify and affordability of education at the institutions. The universities said they are still recovering from funding cuts and freezes implemented earlier this decade. University leaders said a pattern of declining state support (measured by the percentage of state funds supporting the schools’ overall budgets) has placed more burden on student tuition. Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg questioned why the universities were not a priority in this budget given that overall state spending is slated to increase by 4.2% - about the rate of inflation – and funding for both the state system of higher education and community colleges is slated to increase by 3%. Both school leaders and Committee members expressed concern with proposed cuts to Penn State’s budget for agricultural extension and research as well as its College of Technology and proposed cuts to Pitt’s budget for rural education outreach.

    Funding for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is slated to increase by 3% in the Governor’s proposed budget for FY 2008-09. PASSHE Vice Chancellor Peter Garland said the Governor put forth a reasonable appropriations increase that coupled with a reasonable tuition increase can meet the system’s needs. Garland responded to a variety of questions about the system’s operations, including the use of performance funding, progress forming articulation agreements with community colleges, campus safety planning, improvement in the system’s 4-year graduation rate, use of distance learning, remedial courses, and capital needs.

    University of Pennsylvania
    The University of Pennsylvania, which receives state support for its medical programs, veterinary programs and dental programs, appeared before the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. Overall funding for Penn is slated to decrease by 6% in FY 2008-09, while dollars dedicated toward the university’s veterinary programs and Center for Infectious Disease would see an increase.

    Unaffected by the state budget, but discussed at the hearing, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) announced that beginning March 7 it will temporarily suspend issuing new loans from its own funds to all students as part of the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP). The Agency will continue to provide the federal guarantee, origination and servicing for FFELP loans, essentially providing the systems and processes for loan delivery and repayment. Rep. William Adolph, Chairman of the PHEAA Board, said students should not experience a disruption in accessing low-cost loans from other providers. PHEAA urged state legislators to join its call on Congress to find a solution to this problem that is impacting student lenders across the nation as a result of turmoil in the capital markets stemming from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.

    Adolph said the Agency can withstand a short-term disruption in the market, however if the problem continues it could hinder PHEAA’s ability to fund the public service projects it supports, such as nursing loan forgiveness and enhancing the state grant program. In his FY 2008-09 budget, Governor Rendell proposed increasing state funding for the student grant program by $11.586 million to $397.784 million, and requested that PHEAA put an additional $35 million toward the grant program this year from its earnings. State grants are awarded to students based on financial need and do not need to be repaid.

    Adolph also reported that PHEAA has adopted new business practices and will institute internal audits as a result of a recent investigation into the Agency’s travel budget and bonus policies. In response to questions from Committee members, Adolph said the new policies adopted by PHEAA make it unnecessary to make the Agency subject to annual performance audits, given the cost associated with such reviews.

    Strong investment returns have allowed the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) to decrease the employer contribution rate spike projected for 2012 to 11.23%; the initial projection was almost double that figure. Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees asked PSERS about the cost impact of providing retirees with a cost of living adjustment (COLA) similar to that enacted in 2002. According to PSERS, providing such a COLA this year would create approximately $2 billion of unfunded liability in the system. Members questioned whether a COLA could be self-funded by requiring retirees who choose to accept a COLA to keep their money within PSERS, rather than allowing retirees the ability to withdraw funds to invest privately.

    PA State Board of Education

    The special State Board of Education Committee reviewing the state’s gifted education regulations (Chapter 16) met last week to present additional regulatory changes that it hopes the full Board will adopt in March.  The additional revisions would establish a compliance monitoring process for school districts’ implementation of gifted education programs.  The revisions also would reduce the number of gifted students that can be assigned to a gifted teacher’s caseload from 75 to 65, beginning July 1, 2010.

    PDE is seeking public input on the state’s annual application to the federal government for IDEA – Part B grant funding. The Department will hold three public hearings to solicit input in Pittsburgh (April 22), King of Prussia (April 24), and Harrisburg (April 25). Written comments also may be submitted to PDE through May 1, 2008. For details on the hearings and on submitting written comments, see the February 23 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

    This Week...

  • FY 2008-2009 state budget hearings for the Pennsylvania Department of Education will be held with the House Appropriations Committee on Monday and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

  • The Pennsylvania School Public Relations Association holds its annual symposium in Hershey on March 4-5.

  • The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials holds its Annual Conference and Exhibits on March 4-7 in Hershey.

  • The House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Education holds a public hearing in Pittsburgh on Friday on the Governor’s proposed budget as it relates to education and achievement gap in K-12 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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