EPLC Education Notebook

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - Gov. Rendell
    - State Senate
    - State House
    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.



    Governor Rendell

    Governor Ed Rendell last week authorized funding for state-related universities, which had continued to be held up as part of the protracted state budget debate.  Rendell signed legislation appropriating a total of $657 million in state dollars plus $31 million in federal stimulus dollars to support the universities in FY 2009-10.  Among the state-related schools, Penn State University will receive $333 million ($318 million in state dollars & $15.8 million in federal stimulus dollars); the University of Pittsburgh will receive $168 million ($160.5 million state & $7.5 million stimulus); Temple University will receive $172.7 million ($165 million state & $7.8 million stimulus); and, Lincoln University will receive $13.8 million ($13.6 million state & $159,000 stimulus).

    But legislative action on state budget issues for 2009-2010 is still not complete.  Rendell also signed funding legislation for a number of other colleges and medical centers that are typically funded through non-preferred appropriation bills, however he reduced funding for these institutions by about half (except for the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary school) because legislation to authorize table games at state casinos has not been finalized.  Debate on table games is slated to resume on January 5.  Legislation providing funding for several museums still awaits legislative approval.  Click here for a list of the non-preferred appropriations and veto amounts approved by Rendell.

    State Senate

  • On December 16, the Senate Education Committee approved the following bills (each bill requires further consideration by the full Senate):

  • Senate Bill 1011: Creates a residency teaching certificate to allow uncertified professionals to teach in subject areas where there are statewide or regional shortages of qualified teachers and work toward earning their teaching certificate while actively employed as a teacher.  To qualify for a residency teaching certificate, an individual must hold a doctoral degree in the subject area of shortage, hold a master’s degree plus two years work experience in the area of shortage, or hold a bachelor’s degree plus five years work experience in the area of shortage.  Further, the individual must be continuously enrolled in an approved residency program and must present evidence of satisfactory achievement on the appropriate subject area content test.  A residency certificate would be valid for three years.   The Secretary of Education would be responsible for developing guidelines to address pre-placement instruction and training, oversight and mentoring, classroom observation and professional development.  A residency certificate may be converted to an Instructional I teaching certificate upon the completion of all state residency requirements and the completion of three years of satisfactory teaching in Pennsylvania public schools.

    Senate Bill 1073: Requires PDE to establish the Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts program as a competitive grant program for eligible students.  SB 1073 directs PDE to develop guidelines for Pre-K Counts providers to engage in outreach and coordination with Head Start, Child Care Works and other child care programs regarding student eligibility requirements for Pre-K Counts and the number and availability of openings for children on the waiting lists of these other programs.  In awarding Pre-K Counts grants funds, higher priority would be given to programs serving students who were or are on Head Start or Child Care Counts waiting lists.   In disbursing grants funds among that high priority group, consideration would be given to providers that received funds and successfully implemented programs in the preceding year, as well as to ensure that funds are geographically dispersed throughout the state.  Additionally, the bill requires residency and income verification of program applicants and allows PDE or the Auditor General to conduct audits and reviews of the grant programs as necessary or appropriate.  Copies of the audit reports or reviews must be made available to the chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees.  The bill was amended to require the Legislative and Budget Finance Committee to conduct a study on the appropriateness and efficacy of Pre-K Counts’ fees or co-payments; the study must be completed by September 30, 2010.

    Senate Bill 1086: Ends partisan school board elections.  SB 1086 would eliminate school board primaries in the May municipal elections and have school directors elected at the November municipal election, beginning in 2011.  Further, candidates for school director would not have to list or disclose their political party affiliation. The bill delineates the minimum number of qualified elector signatures that a school board candidate must collect to get on the ballot; this number would vary based on school district size.

    Senate Bill 1135: Requires the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), with the approval of its Oversight Committee, to adopt and adhere to a records access policy consistence with the state’s “Right-to-Know-Law” of February 14, 2008.  SB 1135 exempts the PIAA from the state’s “Right- to- Know Law” for five years, after which the Oversight Committee must recommend to the General Assembly whether or not to extend the exemption for an additional five years.

    In addition to the above referenced bills, members of the Senate Education Committee received a briefing on House Resolution 424which designates Valley Forge Military College as the Official Military College of Pennsylvania and establishes the Valley Forge Military College Legislative Appointment Initiative Program, which allows each member of the House and Senate to establish a local committee to select an appointee to the program.  The bill requires the House and Senate Committees on Ethics and Official Conduct to develop guidelines to govern local selection committees.  The House adopted HR 424 on September 30, 2009.

  • The Senate Finance Committee last week held a hearing on public pension issues.  The Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) projects that the employer contribution rate will dramatically increase in the near future and remain high beyond 2032.  The State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) faces a similar situation.  PSERS’ employer contribution rate (shared by the state and school entity) will increase from 4.78% in FY 2009-2010 to 8.22% in FY 2010-2011 and is projected to peak at 33.6% in 2014-2015.  The rate increase is primarily due to a downturn in investment earnings (which have served as the primary source of funding for PSERS over the past decade); earnings assumption changes, costs associated with previous liability deferrals, and increased pension benefits enacted by the Legislature in 2001 and 2002.

    According to Jeff Clay, Executive Director of PSERS, policymakers have three options in addressing the pension issue: put more money into the system; decrease the system’s liabilities; or defer the system’s liabilities.  Click here for testimony and materials presented to the Committee.

    The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) proposed a hybrid plan that would apply to the pension benefits of employees hired after July 1, 2010.  Current school employees would continue to receive pensions under PSERS’ current defined benefit system.  The plan put forth by PSBA would contain elements of both a defined benefit plan, with these guaranteed benefits provided at a lower level, and a defined contribution plan, where employees would have the opportunity to make contributions and control the types of investments in which their contributions are placed.  The school district portion of the employer contribution rate for both plans would be capped at the index limiting school tax increases identified in Act 1 of 2006, with the state picking up the balance if the employer contribution cost exceeds the index.

    The PSBA plan will not impact the looming increase in the employer contribution rate because the state cannot reduce benefits to those already in the system.  However, PSBA suggested the state could address short-term pension issues by re-amortizing the system’s liabilities over a longer period of time, increasing the vesting period back to 10 years, reducing the multiplier, changing terms of retirement such as the retirement age, and examining costly options currently available to retirees such as the ability to retrieve a lump sum at retirement and receive monthly benefits.  Click here to learn more about the PSBA plan.

    Jim Testerman, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), said the pending spike in employer payments is primarily the result of significant investment losses and a lack of state and district funding – school employees have never stopped making their required pension contributions, but because of previous legislative decisions the state and school districts have not paid their fair share in the past decade.  Testerman spoke in opposition to the PSBA plan which will not address this immediate crisis and said long-term it will shift costs to the state, add cost through the administration of the defined contribution component, and harm Pennsylvania’s ability to attract and retain quality teachers.

  • The Senate Finance Committee met in McAdoo, Pa. last week for a public hearing on property tax issues in the Hazleton Area School District, which relate to tax equalization and tax fairness in districts such as Hazelton that cross county lines.  According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association there are 89 school districts in the Commonwealth that cross county boundaries.  Click here for materials presented to the Committee.

  • State House

    On December 15, the House Education Committee approved the following measures (each bill has been re-committed to the House Appropriations Committee):

    House Bill 1944: Prohibits home addresses of employees of school entities (school districts, intermediate units, area vocational-technical schools, charter schools, cyber charter schools, community colleges, the State System of Higher Education and any school funded and administered by the Department of Education) from being considered public records under the state’s “Right to Know Law.

    House Bill 2026: Requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education to create a model dating violence policy to assist school districts in developing policies for date violence reporting and response.  Additionally, districts would be required to make date violence education part of the health curriculum (grades 7-12), publish date violence policies in student conduct handbooks and provide training to appropriate school personnel.

    Senate Bill 441: Allows a certified registered nurse practitioner or a licensed or certified physician assistant to perform the physical exam necessary to receive a teaching certificate.  SB 441 also updates the criteria that disqualify an individual from receiving a teaching certificate to include the illegal use of alcohol or controlled substances.  Individuals disqualified for this reason may receive a teaching certificate if, upon review by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, they are determined to be of good moral character.



    Public Agenda recently released the first in a series of reports that examines (from a student perspective) viewpoints on higher education and college completion. Using results from a national survey of young adults ages 22-30, the report dispels common myths about why students drop out of college and what policymakers, higher education and business can do to help students stay in school.  According to the findings, half of the students that leave college do so because they are often going it alone financially and eventually the stress of being a student and working takes its toll.  The report also found that among students who don’t graduate, the college selection process is far more limited and often seems happenstance and uniformed.  Finally, the survey revealed that while students recognize a college degree as an asset, they may not fully recognize the impact that dropping out will have on their future.  For more information, read “With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them.”



  • The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) recently launched the National Board Certification for Educational Leaders, which includes a National Board Certification for Principalsthe first national certification program for school principals.  According to the NBPTS, the principal initiative will not only develop rigorous standards and an assessment process, but also lay the foundation for a new teacher leader certification.  The plan, which is built upon a core set of propositions that define essential elements of successful educational leaders, has been endorsed by policymakers, business leaders, teachers, principals and administrators.  Click here for more information.

  • Education Voters Institute PA and the University of Pennsylvania's Project for Civic Engagement will host a Berks County Community Dialogue on Public Education on Sunday, January 10.  The program will take place at Reading Area Community College from 2:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  This collaborative discussion will be moderated by neutral facilitators in order to identify issues, priorities and ideas for our public education system.  Ideas and concerns will be documented to help build a statewide citizen's guide which will be shared with candidates for governor, the state legislature and other elected and community leaders.  To RSVP, contact Anne Gemmell at anne@educationvoterspa.org or by phone at 215-564-2299.



    The Pennsylvania House has released its session schedule for the beginning of 2010:
    January 5, 6, 7, 25, 26, and 27
    February 8, 9, and 10
    March 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, and 24
    April 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, and 28
    May 3, 4, 5, 24, 25, and 26
    June 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30

    The Pennsylvania Senate has released its session schedule for the beginning of 2010:
    January 5(Non-voting), 25, 26, and 27
    February 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, and 10
    March 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, and 24
    April 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21
    May 3, 4, 5, 24, 25, and 26
    June 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, and 30

    Is your organization hosting an upcoming education policy event?  Submit event information to news@eplc.org for publication in the EPLC Education Notebook and on EPLC’s web site calendar.

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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