EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, May 16, 2008

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign
    High School Graduation Requirements Symposium
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State Senate
    - State House
    - PDE
    Reports and Publications

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

    If Pennsylvania funded its schools as well as other states fund theirs, our school districts would be far less dependent on local property taxes. Other state governments provide about 47% of the funds needed for their schools, while Pennsylvania only provides 35% for its schools. Our local property taxes make up the rest. That 12% difference equals more than $3 billion per year.

    This dependency on local wealth, particularly property taxes, means that in places where property values are low, schools often are not funded well even when millage rates are high. Students in these districts typically don’t have the same educational opportunities as students in wealthier districts.

    If you believe that all kids deserve a good education, no matter where they live, tell your legislators to make education funding a priority this spring. It’s time to enact a permanent school funding formula that increases the state share of education costs – a formula on which school districts can rely from year to year.

    Pennsylvania legislators will soon be actively debating the 2008-2009 state budget. If they don’t hear over and over again from constituents, they will continue to put other issues ahead of education. Urge your legislators to stand up for public education, and send a message today.

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

    EPLC will host a Symposium on Pennsylvania High School Graduation Requirements on Wednesday, May 28 in Harrisburg. The event will feature speakers from other states that currently utilize end of course exams (Massachusetts, Virginia), as well as representatives of national organizations active in high school reform issues, including Michael Cohen (Achieve, Inc.), David Wakelyn (National Governors Association), and Amy Wilkins (Education Trust). The program also will include a presentation by PA State Board of Education chairman Karl Girton on the proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s high school graduation requirements, as well as reactions from education leaders and education advocates in Pennsylvania. The Symposium is designed to disseminate information and spark conversation about this major policy issue. To register and to view a preliminary agenda, see www.eplc.org/hsgrad_main.html.

    State House

  • The House this week passed legislation (House Bill 1438 and House Bill 1439) that would restrict school districts’ and municipalities’ ability to appeal property assessments. The bills would allow assessment appeals only during a countywide reassessment, when a property is divided into smaller parcels, when improvements are made to a property, or when existing improvements are removed or destroyed. Districts would no longer be able to appeal a property’s assessed value when the property is sold. Collectively, the bills apply to 62 of the state’s 67 counties. Allegheny, Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties are not affected. Each bill awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee voted to establish an Office of Drop-out Prevention and Data Collection in the Pennsylvania Department of Education (House Bill 2466). The office would be responsible for creating a statewide definition of dropout (if none is provided by federal law) and reporting graduation rates, drop-out rates and graduation-gap rates for all school entities and charter schools. Data must be uniformly reported and disaggregated by: limited English proficiency, low income, special education, gifted education, race/ethnicity, school entity, charter or cyber charter school, gender and geographic area. The office also would provide technical assistance to school districts on strategies for developing effective drop-out prevention and drop-out recovery programs.

    HB 2466 also provides for funding for drop-out prevention programs and drop-out recovery programs. School districts and their community partners would apply to the office for grants, with funds prioritized for school districts where the drop-out rate is above the state average. Districts that receive a drop-out prevention grant would receive additional funding to prepare individual graduation plans for at-risk students served by the grant program. HB 2466 has been re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

  • State Senate

  • The Senate adopted the following legislation this week (each bill has been sent to the House of Representatives and referred to the House Education Committee):

    Senate Bill 472: Establishes the Science Technology Partnership Program. Under the program, the Department of Education would award grants to higher education institutions that partner with public or non-public schools to provide technical equipment and instructional programs in science and provide professional development opportunities to science educators. To qualify, a partnership program must include at least three public schools or school districts. SB 472 also requires annual reporting on the program.

    Senate Bill 1277: Ensures that charter schools that provide alternative education as part of their central mission are eligible to apply for certain state alternative education grants.

    Senate Bill 1281: Allows students who live outside of Pennsylvania due to a parent serving active duty military service (other than training) to continue being considered a resident of the school district they attended prior to the parent being stationed outside the Commonwealth, as long as the parent maintains residence in the district.

  • The Senate Education Committee held a public hearing this week on proposed changes to the state’s high school graduation requirements that are currently being considered by the State Board of Education. Click here to read testimony presented to the Committee. Click here to read the proposed graduation requirements.

    The Board is proposing to expand the menu of options through which students can demonstrate proficiency in the state’s academic standards. Under the proposed changes, students could demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies through four paths: 1) state PSSA exams, 2) new end of course exams (Graduation Competency Assessments) developed by the state; 3) a locally developed assessment that is validated as comparable to the GCAs, or 4) advanced placement (AP) or international baccalaureate (IB) exams. Scores from the PSSA, GCA or local assessment would be recorded on a student’s transcript.

    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.

    School districts would be required to offer GCAs at least three times per year, and students would have the opportunity to re-take only the portion of a GCA on which they did not initially score proficient or above. 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.

  • The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee this week approved increasing the educational gratuity payment for the children of veterans from $500 to $750 per term or per semester (Senate Bill 1391). Gratuities are available for applicants between ages 16-23 for use at approved higher education institutions. SB 1391 has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

  • Pennsylvania Department of Education

    The Pennsylvania Department of Education this week unveiled a web site that will assist college students and faculty advisors in navigating the course transfer process. The new Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center (http://www.patrac.org) will allow students to check which of their courses will transfer to other colleges or universities. Students can not only search for transferable courses among participating colleges and universities, they also can plan for transfers based on their individual scenario (transferring a summer course, transferring with a major, students without a major or a transfer institution, and more). Further, the site can serve as a pathway for students who have left college to explore how they can re-enter school and complete their degrees.

    The web site provides faculty and advisors with a new tool to use in assisting their students along their academic paths. It also offers higher education administrators information on the process to resolve disputes about course transfers and how institutions can opt to participate in the transfer system, as well as answers to common questions about the transfer credit framework and institutions’ data reporting requirements.

    The web site was developed as the result of legislation (Act 114 of 2006), which required Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges and its 14 State System of Higher Education Universities to “adopt mandatory equivalency standards for core curriculum courses” and identify at least 30 hours of foundation courses that would seamlessly transfer among institutions. The Act required a committee of higher education executives to meet, develop, and implement the course equivalency standards. Though the law required only 30 hours, or 10 college courses, to be identified for transfer, the Committee identified 1,141 courses which can be transferred between participating institutions. Thus far, in addition to the institutions required to participate by law, four other institutions also have joined: Lackawanna University, Lincoln University, Seton Hill University, and St. Francis University. Representative Josh Shapiro, sponsor of Act 114, remarked that his goal is to make up to 60 credits (the equivalent of a two year associates’ degree) fully transferable in the future.

    Information about the Pennsylvania General Assembly, including details on contacting your local state representatives and locating bills cited in this Notebook, is available at www.legis.state.pa.us/index.cfm.

    Secretary of Education Gerald L. Zahorchak this week issued a report on school safety to the incoming CEO of the Philadelphia School District Arlene Ackerman. The report summarizes safety data from the 2006-07 school year, and stresses the need for the district to increase its efforts to provide a safe environment for staff and students. The report found a 4% increase in weapons-related incidents and a 5% increase in incidents of misconduct over the previous year. Of the 12,666 incidents of misconduct reported, 5,207 were identified as serious. Further, 1,797 accounts of assaults on teachers were reported.

    The report offers several recommendations for improving safety in the district, including improving coordination between district departments to provide for more accurate data reporting, accurately reporting any violence against teachers and staff, dedicating a climate manager in all schools, and providing professional development and training at the building level on safety, security and misconduct reporting policies and procedures. In addition to this report, the Department of Education also released its response to what it identified as inaccuracies in a report recently made by Philadelphia’s Safe School Advocate Jack Stollsteimer.

  • John Cavanaugh has been selected as the next chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The System’s Board of Governors chose the 54-year-old president of the University of West Florida to lead the 14 state-owned university system. Cavanaugh will replace Chancellor Judy Hample who is departing to take a new position as president of the University of Mary Washington in July.

  • Applications for the 2008-2009 Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program will be available on the EPLC web site next week. To learn more about this nationally recognized professional development program provided in Pennsylvania by EPLC, see www.eplc.org/fellows.html.

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Inspired Leadership Program (PIL) is seeking proposals from educational institutions that would like to be considered Approved Providers of continuing professional education for school and system leaders, as put forward in Act 45 of 2007. The deadline for proposals is May 28, 2008. For more information, please visit www.pde.state.pa.us/pil.

    Next Week...

  • The Pennsylvania School Boards Association holds its annual Legislative Advocacy Conference in Harrisburg on May 18-19.
  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education meets in Harrisburg on May 20-21.
    • ETS, Education Justice and the Education Law Center host a forum on “School Finance and the Achievement Gap: Funding Programs that Work” on May 21-22 in Princeton, NJ.

      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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