EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, July 20, 2009

    Content in this edition:
    State Budget
    Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State Senate
    - State House

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


As this is being written, the Pennsylvania Senate is amending the state budget bill approved in the House last week (House Bill 1416). The Senate Appropriations Committee moved the bill forward with a negative recommendation over the weekend. It is expected that the Republican majority in the Senate will succeed to amend HB1416 so that the education funding provisions will reflect Senate Bill 850, which provided for substantial cuts in state funding for basic education.

Last week, the House adopted a Democratic amendment to a state budget plan that would remove $1.3 billion in spending on higher education from the state’s General Fund and create a new Higher Education Fund to support the state’s 14 community colleges, 14 state-owned universities, the PA Higher Education Assistance Agency, and the Thaddeus Stevens School of Technology (revenue source for Higher Education Fund to be determined). The amendment also would provide a $300 million in increase in basic education funding, paid for with federal stimulus dollars, and replace $118 million of current state support for basic education with federal stimulus dollars. Click here for a chart prepared by the House Democratic Appropriations Committee that compares the various state budget proposals that have been put forth thus far.


  • State senators who are voting on amendments to HB1416 need to hear from constituents that they must not slash state support for basic education as they did in their original budget. Urge your State Senator to support full funding for the basic education formula. Click here to take action now!
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  • Become a fan of the PA School Funding Campaign! Click here to find the Campaign on Facebook, and click here to follow the Campaign on Twitter.

  • Education advocates rallied at the State Capitol multiple times last week asking legislators not to turn back the clock on progress for Pennsylvania’s students. Click here to watch coverage of last week’s ‘Don’t Turn Back the Clock’ rally. And, click here to read a statement from the Campaign.

  • Speak out about why you support funding for Pennsylvania’s public schools. Visit www.savepaschools.org to share your story.

  • A new survey from the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators found that school districts are increasing class size and cutting personnel to make ends meet. Click here for more information on the PASBO/PASA survey.


    State Senate

  • The Senate Education Committee last week met with State Board of Education Chairman Joe Torsella and Executive Director Jim Buckheit for a briefing on the recently announced Keystone Exam compromise. Keystone Exams initially were proposed by Gov. Rendell as voluntary end-of-course exams for high schools in key academic subjects. In his opening remarks, Chairman Torsella acknowledged the lack of legislative input and frustration that earlier versions of the Keystone Exams generated. In an earlier letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Education Committees, he expressed his desire to move past the acrimony around the issue and build a common-ground compromise that addresses objections to past proposals.

    The most recent Keystone Exam proposal, which is expected to be considered by the State Board of Education in August, will provide new ways in which school districts can fulfill high school graduation requirements. Currently, each district’s graduation requirements must include course completion and grades, completion of a culminating project and demonstration of proficiency in reading, writing and mathematics on the 11th grade PSSA or on alternative local assessments aligned with the PSSA and state standards.

    Under the new Keystone Exams compromise, beginning with the graduating class of 2014-2015, school districts may voluntarily use one or more Keystone Exams as final course exams or locally-approved and independently-validated assessments to demonstrate a student’s level of proficiency in core academic areas. The Keystone Exams would eventually replace the 11th grade PSSA. The plan would also allow successful completion of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate coursework and exams to be used instead of Keystone Exams to demonstrate a student’s academic proficiency.

    Exams in ten subjects (literature, English composition, algebra I, geometry, algebra II, biology, American history, civics and government, chemistry and world history) would be developed and phased-in over a period of several years. The exams would be scored on a 100 point scale and count for one third of the final course grade. Unlike the earlier Keystone Exams proposals, this version removes the high stakes aspect but will hold a significant weight toward the student’s final grade. Students who score below basic on a Keystone Exam would earn zero points on the exam, which would be calculated as such in the final course grade.

    The new plan gives discretion to local school boards to permit students who score at the advanced level on a particular Keystone Exam (prior to taking the course) to be given credit for that subject and exemption from taking the course.

    Students who do not pass one or more of the Keystone Exams or validated local assessments required for graduation would be offered supplemental instruction. Students would be permitted to retake any Keystone Exam or a module in which they did not score proficient. The new plan also takes into consideration the need for appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities and English language learners. An alternative path that uses a project-based assessment similar to Maryland’s Bridge Plan for Academic Validation would be made available to students who have met their district’s attendance requirements and participated in supplemental education services, but have not passed one or more required courses for graduation. These projects would be given at the local level, but scored by a regional panel composed of teachers, principals and curriculum specialists. In addition to the project assessment alternative, the new plan would allow the Secretary of Education to waive one or more provisions on a case-by-case basis for students who experience extenuating circumstances.

    Districts that choose not to use the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement may use locally approved, administered and independently validated assessments. The validation costs would be shared equally by PDE and the local district.

    PDE would provide model curricula, diagnostic assessments and instructional resources aligned with the state standards that school districts may use voluntarily.

    The new compromise calls for local and state assessment validation advisory committees to be established. At least once every five years, PDE would contract with an independent research organization to determine the degree to which the Keystone Exams and performance cut scores are valid and aligned with state academic standards.

    In addition to the briefing by Chairman Torsella, the Committee accepted written testimony from the following organizations: Pennsylvania Association of Career and Technical Administrators, Learning Disabilities Association of Pennsylvania, Inc., and Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

    Prior to the Senate hearing, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) adopted a resolution opposing the new plan and calling for more work to be done on the proposal. The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) also released a statement voicing concern over the proposal and calling for more discussion and greater public participation in the process.

    The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) withdrew its previous opposition to the proposal. Click here to read PSEA’s full statement.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee passed Senate Bill 441, which 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 PA Department of Education they are determined to be of good moral character. SB 441 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

  • State House

    After initially rejecting the measure on Thursday, last Friday (July 17), the House Gaming Oversight Committee gave its approval to House Bill 1317, which would legalize video poker machines in private bars and clubs to support college tuition relief. The initial proposal provided tuition relief only to students attending community colleges and state-owned universities using the estimated $550 million expected to be generated from legalizing video poker. An amendment to the bill will allow state-related college students (Pitt, Penn State, Lincoln and Temple) also to benefit from the tuition relief measure if it generates funds above $550 million. HB 1317 has been re-committed to the House Rules Committee.


    James Buckheit has been appointed as Executive Director of the Pennsylvania School Administrators Association (PASA), effective October 1, 2009. Since 2003, Buckheit has served as the Executive Director of the State Board of Education. He will be filling the post left by the retirement of Stinson Stroup, who will retire on September 30 after 26 years with PASA.


    The Pennsylvania House and Pennsylvania Senate return to session today to continue debate on the FY 2009-2010 state budget.

    This week...

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee meets Monday to consider non-preferred appropriations bills for the University of Pennsylvania (Senate Bill 1036), Temple University (Senate Bill 1037), Lincoln University (Senate Bill 1038), the University of Pennsylvania (Senate Bill 1039) and Penn State University (Senate Bill 1040).

  • The National Conference of State Legislatures holds its annual meeting in Philadelphia this week on July 20-25.

  • The Independent Regulatory Review Commission meets to consider a regulation related to special education on Thursday.

  • 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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    To return to The Education Policy and Leadership Center homepage, click here.