EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, February 13, 2009

    Content in this edition:
    EPLC News
    Pennsylvania Policymakers - State Senate
    - State House
    - Office of Child Development and Early Learning
    - Virtual High School Study Commission
    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.

    Tuesday, February 17, is the first day to circulate nominating petitions for the office of school director and other elected positions that will appear on the May 19 Primary Election ballot.  Petitions must be filed no later than Tuesday, March 10.


  • Registrations are being accepted for EPLC’s 2009 School Board Candidate Workshops in Pittsburgh (Saturday, February 14), Harrisburg (Saturday, February 21) and the Lehigh Valley (Saturday, March 7).  Conducted in partnership with the PA School Boards Association and the PA Association of School Business Officials, the Workshops are intended for those considering a 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.  Click here for details and to register online.

  • EPLC President Ron Cowell and Joe Bard, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, recently discussed the Governor’s proposal to consolidate school districts on WITF-radio.  Listen to the 55-minute broadcast at http://smarttalk.witf.org.



    State Senate

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on school violence to gather information on Senate Bill 55 and Senate Bill 56.  Testimony was presented by Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak and Auditor General Jack Wagner, as well as representatives of law enforcement, school districts, school boards, and teachers.  Click here for the testimony.

    Senate Bill 55 would expand the list of criminal offenses that would prohibit a person from being employed in public or private schools.  It also restricts individuals who have been convicted of certain misdemeanors from being employed in education until at least 10 years after completing their sentence, extending the current five-year waiting period.  The bill would allow school administrators to request that an employee submit a current state and federal background check when it is believed that an employee has been convicted of a crime. This proposal also would require school employees to report convictions immediately to their school’s administrator.  Under this proposal, an employee’s failure to report a conviction would result in termination from employment and a fine not to exceed $2,500.

    Senate Bill 56 would expand the duties and responsibilities of the Office of Safe Schools (within Pennsylvania Department of Education), school entities and police departments in reporting incidents of school violence.  Charter schools would be required to report incidents of school violence in the same manner as other school entities.  The bill adds a list of crimes and offenses that must be reported to PDE and replaces current law pertaining to memorandums of understanding (MOU) with language that requires school districts to enter into an MOU with police departments that have jurisdiction over school property.  The MOU must contain certain conditions, including immediate notification of police, emergency plans, and a data review process.  Also, PDE would be required to convene an advisory committee to assist with the development of school violence reporting forms.  SB 56 allows PDE to take disciplinary action against any chief school administrator or principal who intentionally fails to submit the report, enter into MOU, or report an incident.  Administrators would be subject to criminal prosecution and possibly civil penalties ranging from $2,500 to $5,000.

  • This week, the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved a measure aimed at improving transparency and accountability in state government.  Senate Resolution 20 directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to determine the impact of Pennsylvania’s tax credit programs, including the educational improvement tax credit, on the Commonwealth’s economy, job market and State and local tax revenues.

  • State House

  • The House Education Committee met Wednesday for a presentation by the Pennsylvania Department of Education on its current activities and initiatives.  For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair James Roebuck at (717) 783-1000.

  • Advocates for children with disabilities are calling on legislators to extend the school funding reforms enacted last year to include special education.  On Thursday, they appeared before the House Education Subcommittee on Special Education to discuss a new report that more closely analyzes the recommendations made about special education in the comprehensive education Costing-Out Study commissioned by the state in 2007.  Based on the 2007 report, the state enacted a new school funding formula last year that recognizes student enrollment, differences in cost-of-living, and the extraordinary needs of English language learners and students in poverty.  The 2007 Costing-Out Study’s recommendation related to special education was not addressed in those reforms.

    The new report, “Costing-Out the Resources Needed to Meet Pennsylvania’s Education Goals for Students with Disabilities”, which is based on the state’s Costing-Out Study, found that 391 school districts have inadequate special education funding totaling $380 million statewide.  The average shortfall per pupil is $1,947, based on 194,862 students with special needs in districts with a funding gap.  Advocates said adequate resources are needed for special education to support needs that often go unmet, such as adequate staffing, specialized personnel, professional development, assistive technology, and student support services.  Click here for testimony presented to the Subcommittee.

    Office of Child Development and Early Learning

    As part of his 2009-2010 budget proposal, Governor Rendell proposed additional funding for PA Pre-K Counts that would allow an additional 1,050 children to receive high quality pre-kindergarten in the next school year.  The Office of Child Development and Early Learning is now accepting letters of intent from service providers.  Agencies interested in applying for the new funding should contact Justin Beyler at jbeyler@state.pa.us.  The deadline for submitting letters is March 9, 2009.   

    Virtual High School Study Commission

    The Virtual High School Study Commission (established by Act 61 of 2008) held its second meeting Wednesday to gather information about what’s happening with cyber education in Pennsylvania and to organize the subcommittees that will explore specific components of its work.  The Commission heard presentations on the full-time and part-time cyber-based education programs offered locally by the Susquehanna Township School District, Solanco School District, Northeastern Intermediate Unit, and blendedschools.net.  Click here for presentations made to the Commission.

    School district representatives touted the benefits of offering district-run programs or purchasing services through the blendedschools consortium.  Susquehanna Township’s virtual high school coursework is sequenced with district curriculum, providing for a smooth transition if students re-enter the district’s brick and mortar schools, and is less expensive than the tuition the district must pay for students who elect to attend a state-approved cyber charter school.  Susquehanna estimates its 2008-09 cyber charter school payments for 23 high school students at $300,000 ($7,752 per regular education students; $14,691 per special education student), while the district breaks even on the maintenance costs of its own online high school with the enrollment of only five students and each additional student costs only $3,750.

    District officials said they benefit further by running their own program because the coursework can be used to supplement alternative education, suspensions, expulsions and homebound instruction, provide course recovery to allows students a few credits behind to graduate on time, serve as a recovery program for students who have dropped out of school, and be used to supplement the district’s own curriculum.  Further, the books and computers purchased for cyber students are district property which the district can utilize for other purposes when the student leaves the online program.

    Representatives of the Solanco School District said creating their own Virtual Academy has helped strengthen relationships between the district and its cyber students.  Solanco provides support to parents in setting up the technology in their home and blends online education with support and contact with a district teacher.  Additionally, Solanco said maintaining its own program saves the state money because students remain enrolled in the district – not enrolled in a charter school – meaning the state does not remit a charter school reimbursement payment for these students to the district.

    At its next meeting in mid-May (date not determined), the Commission will hear from representatives of cyber charter schools and also hopes to learn about how other states approach virtual education.

    Moving forward, the Commission will use subcommittees to help formulate recommendations for the Commission to consider in six areas: Governance, Curriculum and Program Quality, Cost and Funding, Access and Technology, Instructional Staffing, and Student-Related Issues.  The Regional Education Laboratory Mid-Atlantic (REL), Pennsylvania’s federally-funded technical assistance agency, will assist the Commission in researching the essential questions posed by its members and subcommittees.



    U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke to college and university officials at the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Annual Meeting this week.  Click here to read Duncan’s remarks.



    The National Center for Education Statistics recently released a report on “After-School Programs in Public Elementary Schools.”  The study profiles various programs in place during 2008, including programs that focus on providing a single type of service (such as day care) and broad-based programs that provide a combination of academic and cultural enrichment services.



    Sean McDonough, Acting Director of the Bureau of Educational Technology at the Pennsylvania Department of Education, has taken a new position in Information Technology with the Harrisburg School District.



    Next week…

  • The National Center for Education Statistics holds its 2009 National Forum on Feb. 16-17 in Seattle, WA.

  • The House Appropriations Committee holds a budget hearing on PSERS on Tuesday.

  • EPLC hosts a Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education holds a public hearing on high school reform in Youngwood at Westmoreland County Community College on Thursday.

  • The Senate Education Committee holds a hearing on PDE’s proposed Graduation Competency Assessments and subsequent legislation placing a moratorium on GCA’s on Thursday in Harrisburg.

  • The American Association of School Administrators holds its annual conference on Feb. 19-21 in San Francisco.

  • 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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