EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, November 21, 2008

    Content in this edition:
    EPLC News
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - House Subcommittee on Special Education
    - Caucus Leadership Elections
    Pennsylvania State Board of Education
    Pennsylvania Department of Education
    U.S. Department of Education
    Research and Reports

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



    2008 PA School Finance Symposium

    EPLC hosted the 2008 Pennsylvania School Finance Symposium in New Cumberland on Thursday, November 20.  Sessions included a Pennsylvania and national update on school funding issues, a panel of state policymakers, several concurrent sessions, and a closing presentation by Michael Walsh, Deputy Secretary for Administration in the Pennsylvania Department of Education. You can access several presentations made at the conference at: http://www.eplc.org/financesymposium.html

    2009 School Board Candidate Workshops

    EPLC will again sponsor a series of School Board Candidate Workshops early in 2009.  Conducted in partnership with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and local sponsors, the Workshops are intended for those considering a 2009 run for school board (incumbents and non-incumbents), anyone interested in helping others run for school board, or those who just want to know more about the work of school boards and school directors.  The Candidate Workshops are all-day events held on Saturdays in January, February and March.  Check the EPC web site in a few weeks for information about sites, dates and registration details.

    Coming Soon - Education and Policy Jobs Listings

    Employers will soon be able to list education and policy employment opportunities on a special page of the EPLC web site.  It will be a great meeting place for those offering and seeking positions in pre-K programs, elementary and secondary schools, higher education, public policy agencies, statewide associations, advocacy organizations, and more.  Details coming soon!


    House Subcommittee on Special Education

    The House Education Committee Subcommittee on Special Education this week held an informational hearing on special education funding.  John Tomassini, Director of the Bureau of Special Education at the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), provided an overview of the federal and state laws that govern special education, as well as state entities that deliver services to special needs students.

    David Shreve, of the National Conference of State Legislatures, presented a historical overview of the evolution of special education and discussed current pressures that are causing costs to rise.  Shreve said the number of students identified as having special needs has grown in recent years due to an expanding definition of disabled and advances in medical technology that have saved many children who previously would not have survived.  In addition to increased costs from more students being identified for services, fiscal pressures are being compounded by increased health care costs and unintended consequences of standards-based reforms that have increased referrals to allow for some accommodation in testing.

    Shreve outlined the strengths and weaknesses of the four major approaches to funding special education – pupil weight formulas, flat grant/census-based formulas; percent reimbursement formulas, and resource-based formulas – and discussed approaches other states use for funding special education. 

    Click here to view power point presentations made to the Subcommittee.

    Legislative Caucus Leadership Elections

    The General Assembly’s four legislative caucuses began reorganizing themselves for the 2009-2010 legislative session by holding caucus leadership elections this week.  Below are the results of the leadership elections:

    House Democratic Caucus
    Speaker of the House: Rep. Keith McCall (Carbon County)
    Majority Leader: Rep. Todd Eachus (Luzerne County)
    Majority Whip: Rep. Bill DeWeese (Greene County)
    Appropriations Committee Chair: Rep. Dwight Evans (Philadelphia County)
    Caucus Chairman: Rep. Mark Cohen (Philadelphia County)
    Policy Chairman: Rep. Mike Sturla (Lancaster County)
    Caucus Secretary: Rep. Jennifer Mann (Lehigh County)
    Caucus Administrator: Rep. Ron Buxton (Dauphin County)

    House Republican Caucus
    Minority Leader: Rep. Sam Smith (Jefferson County)
    Minority Whip: Rep. Mike Turzai (Allegheny County)
    Appropriations Committee Chair: Rep. Mario Civera (Delaware County)
    Caucus Chair: Rep. Sandra Major (Susquehanna County)
    Policy Chairman: Rep. Stan Saylor (York County)
    Caucus Secretary: Rep. Jerry Stern (Blair County)
    Caucus Administrator: Rep. Merle Phillips (Northumberland County)

    Senate Democratic Caucus
    Minority Leader: Sen. Robert Mellow (Lackawanna County)
    Minority Whip: Sen. Mike O’Pake (Berks County)
    Appropriations Committee Chair: Sen. Jay Costa (Allegheny County)
    Policy Chairman: Sen. Rich Kasunic (Fayette County)
    Caucus Chairman: Sen. Vince Hughes (Philadelphia County)
    Caucus Secretary: Sen. Sean Logan (Allegheny County)
    Caucus Administrator: Sen. Christine Tartaglione (Philadelphia County)

    Senate Republican Caucus
    President Pro Tempore: Sen. Joseph Scarnati (Jefferson County)
    Majority Leader: Sen. Dominic Pileggi (Delaware County)
    Majority Whip: Sen. Jane Orie (Allegheny County)
    Appropriations Committee Chair: Sen. Jake Corman (Centre County)
    Caucus Chair: Sen. Mike Waugh (York County)
    Caucus Secretary: Sen. Bob Robbins (Mercer County)



    PASA Science

    The State Board of Education this week approved the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA) for Science content standards, descriptors and cut scores for grades 4, 8 and 11.  The PASA uses performance tasks to measure the academic knowledge and life skills of students with significant cognitive disabilities.  In accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act, all students must take one of three assessments in Pennsylvania (PSSA, PSSA with accommodations, or the PASA).  A student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team determines which assessment the student will take.

    Student scores on the PASA are classified in four performance levels: emerging, novice, proficient and advanced.  In Pennsylvania, approximately one percent of students take the alternate assessment.  Like the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), the purpose of PASA is to provide valuable information to school districts to improve instruction for students with disabilities.  Click here to access the PASA Science performance level descriptors and cut scores.

    Chapter 49 Waiver

    The State Board approved a six-month extension for higher education institutions to implement the new teacher training requirements of Section 49.85 of Chapter 49.  Institutions must apply for the waiver by December 31, 2008.

    Higher Education Affordability

    PDE’s Bureau for Postsecondary and Higher Education presented a new report to the Board on “The Cost of Higher Education in Pennsylvania”.  The report combines data from state and national sources, and will be supplemented by a survey being initiated by the Board that will gauge how Pennsylvania families pay for college, debt incurred, and the impact of debt on college and employment choices.  The report’s findings show that higher education in Pennsylvania is more costly than all but a few states and that the Commonwealth’s students generally graduate with more debt than students in other states.  Further, the report found that current pricing and financial aid systems disproportionately burden low-income students, and that PA graduates tend to earn less compared to the national average, making their debt load a larger share of their annual income.

    School Safety Workgroup

    The State Board and PA Department of Education will partner to lead a new school safety workgroup focused on recommending a common sense approach to bolstering existing safety efforts.  Representatives of parents, schools, businesses and community members will be appointed to the workgroup in the next few weeks.

    Student Representative on State Board

    Susquehanna University student Anne Dorman has joined the State Board as one of two higher education student representatives.  The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is in the process of selecting a second higher education student that it anticipates will join the Board in January.  Earlier this year the Board voted to add four student representatives who will serve in an advisory capacity.  Two Pennsylvania high school students began serving on the Board in September.

    2009 State Board Meetings

    The State Board has announced its intention to take its meetings on the road beginning next year.  The Board plans to alternate its regular meetings between Harrisburg and sites at schools across the state in order to make itself more accessible to citizens and to visit local schools.  Currently, the Board plans to meet in Harrisburg in January, March and September and travel to Allentown in March, Pittsburgh in July, and Bloomsburg in November of 2009.  Click here for a list of 2009 Board meeting dates.



    Last week, the Rendell Administration hosted the Pennsylvania Dropout Prevention and Re-Engagement Summit in Harrisburg to bring together local officials, business leaders and child advocates to develop an action plan for improving the state’s high school graduation rate.  In Pennsylvania, approximately one-in-five (21%) 9th grade students do not graduate four years later.  Nationally, one-out-of three students drop out before earning a diploma. 

    The summit was part of the America’s Promise Alliance efforts to support more than 100 state and local dropout prevention summits over the next two years.  These summits are being held to increase awareness, encourage collaboration and take action to improve graduation rates, particularly in the schools located in the country’s largest metropolitan areas.

    A study released in April 2008 by the Alliance, Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation, shows that graduation rates are considerably lower in the nation’s largest cities than they are in the average size urban school district.  Even more alarming are the extreme disparities between student graduation rates in urban schools versus suburban school systems.  According to the report, students served by suburban schools may be twice as likely as their urban peers to graduate from high school. 

    Pennsylvania’s summit was co-sponsored by the departments of Education, Labor and Industry, Health, and Public Welfare along with the Governor’s Commission for Children and Families, the Institute for Global Education and Service Learning; PennSERVE; Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children; Pennsylvania Statewide/Afterschool Youth Development Network, the Pennsylvania Workforce Investment Board, the Philadelphia Youth Network, Summit Health and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.


    The U.S. Department of Education recently launched a free website developed to help approximately 11 million adult immigrants learn English (www.USALearns.org).  The site offers free instructional materials and learning modules at beginner and intermediate levels.



  • The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) has released two new reports that look at the negative consequences of dropping out of high school.  “The Long-Term Labor Market Consequences of Dropping Out of High School in Pennsylvania” found that dropouts in Pennsylvania experience lower access to jobs, reduced access to hours of work, and lower hourly rates of pay.  Further, the report says labor market outcomes for dropouts have deteriorated considerably over time.  L&I also released information on “The Tax and Transfer Fiscal Impacts of Dropping Out of High School in Pennsylvania”.  The report looks at the cost of dropping out borne by communities and the state in terms of lower tax contributions, costs associated with incarceration, home ownership rates, and more.

  • Pennsylvania’s Office of Child Development and Early Learning (ODEL) this week released its second annual County Risk and Program Reach Assessment Report 2007-2008  which indicates that children in more than two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s counties are at moderate-high or high risk of school failure.  While Pennsylvania continues to make progress and investments in quality early education, the report shows that more work lies ahead.  The report compiles information on the number of children served through OCDEL programs; shows funding levels for early childhood programs supported by state and federal investments; includes an analysis of educational and family risk factors; and identifies counties and cities most likely to benefit from early childhood investments, based on these risk factors.  For the first time, the report also includes information on the state’s 27 largest cities.



  • Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak recently were recognized with the Data Quality Campaign’s 2008 Policymaker of the Year Award.  The Campaign recognized Pennsylvania’s progress in building data systems and processes that share and use data across the education pipeline, from prekindergarten into higher education.  The Data Quality Campaign is a national, collaborative effort to encourage and support state policymakers to improve the collection, availability and use of high-quality education data and to implement state longitudinal data systems to improve student achievement.  The Campaign is managed by the National Center for Educational Achievement and supported by numerous national education, advocacy and business associations.

  • Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak recently was named to serve on the Board of Directors for the Council of Chief State School Officers.



    Next week…

    • The Pennsylvania Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development holds its annual conference in Hershey on November 23-25.

    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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