EPLC Education Notebook

Thursday, July 30, 2009

    Content in this edition:
    State Budget
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State Senate
    - PA Department of Education
    - Independent Regulatory Review 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.



    The budget impasse continues in Harrisburg, as we near the start of our second month without a state spending plan for 2009-10.

    As has been reported in the media, state employees have been receiving less than their full paychecks, and this Friday tens of thousands of them will not be paid at all.  School districts were supposed to receive their first payments of the year from the state today.  But those payments will not be made either. 

    This is where things stand right now.  The Senate passed its version of a budget – Senate Bill 850 – in May, and that bill is now in the House of Representatives.  It would make massive spending cuts (more than $1 billion in cuts to education) and not increase any state revenues.  It would cut the basic education subsidy to 2006 levels and use federal stimulus funds to replace state money.  House Bill 1416, which would provide a $300 million subsidy increase using federal funds (but would also reduce state dollars supporting the subsidy by $118 million), was passed by the House 104-95 on July 17.  The Senate then amended the bill, again slashing numerous line items, including school subsidies, making HB 1416 look very much like SB 850.

    House Bill 1416 is now in a House-Senate Conference Committee, from which it will eventually emerge as the state’s compromise budget for 2009-10.  The Conference Committee includes Senators Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), Jake Corman (R-Centre), and Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), and Representatives Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia), Todd Eachus (D-Luzerne), and Sam Smith (R-Jefferson). 

    The Conference Committee met for the first time yesterday and held its second meeting today, where committee members discussed education funding which is an area of fundamental difference in the budget debate.

    Meanwhile, Governor Rendell said today that because the Conference Committee is not making real progress, he might ask the House to pass Senate Bill 850 and send it to him.  He would then veto line items that are not required to pay state employees and vendors or to keep state facilities open.  That would convert SB 850 into a stopgap funding plan, or what the Governor refers to as a “bridge” budget, while the Conference Committee continues its deliberations.



    State Senate

  • The Senate this week passed legislation (Senate Bill 441) that would allow 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 referral to a House Committee.

  • The Senate Education Committee passed the following legislation on Tuesday (each bill awaits consideration by the full Senate):

    Senate Resolution 156: Expresses the Senate’s support for the Keystone Exam compromise, which would establish standardized end-of-course exams for high schools in core subject areas.  In presenting the resolution, Sen. Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said misunderstanding about the nature of the exams continues to persist.  Piccola said the compromise proposal has been mischaracterized as a set of “exit exams” rather than “final exams” as they are intended, and that that the proposal will actually reduce, not increase, the amount of testing a student is subject to by eventually eliminating the eleventh grade PSSA.  Piccola also said concerns about the cost of developing the Keystone Exams will be minimized by the state no longer having to pay for current state assessments (PSSAs) administered in eleventh grade.  Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester), Minority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, further said replacing the PSSAs administered in high school with the Keystone Exams will give schools an extra 18 curricular hours.  Click here for a detailed summary of the Keystone Exam proposal.

    Senate Bill 993: Makes home addresses of school employees confidential under the state’s Right-to-Know Law.  This would apply to employees of school districts, intermediate units, vocational-technical schools, charter and cyber charter schools, community colleges, the State System of Higher Education, and any school funded and administered by the PA Department of Education.

    Senate Bill 1007: Prohibits lame duck school boards from renewing or rescinding (except for cause) a superintendent’s contract.  Such action must wait until the new school board has taken office.  SB 1007 would apply to districts where three or more incumbent school directors were defeated in the primary election and there are 11 or more months remaining on the superintendent’s contract.

    Senate Bill 1009: Requires public and private schools to have at least one CPR-certificated staff on site at all times during the school day, to the greatest extent possible.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved legislation (Senate Bill 899) that would expand student eligibility for grants from the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.  SB 899 changes the eligibility guidelines to receive EITC grants by opening the program to students from families making less than $60,000 per year, rather than the current $50,000 level, and expands the income allowance for each eligible student and dependent member of the household from $10,000 to $12,000.  It also establishes a higher income eligibility threshold for students with disabilities, which is tiered depending whether or not the child attends a special education school.  Under the bill, the Department of Community and Economic Development would annually adjust all income eligibility guidelines to reflect any upward changes in the consumer price index for the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland area in the past 12 months.  The bill adds definitions for “eligible student with a disability,” “special education school,” “support level” and “maximum allowable household income for students with a disability.”  SB 899 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

  • PA Department of Education

  • More Pennsylvania students than ever before are performing on grade level in reading and math with increases seen across the board in all grades and subjects tested, according to statewide PSSA results for each grade level released this week by PDE.  Pennsylvania Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak said the results clearly show that Pennsylvania’s investments in public education are working to increase student achievement.  The statewide assessments in reading and math are administered in grades 3-8 and in grade 11.  Click here for details on the 2009 PSSA results.

  • Last week, PDE announced the release of new federal eligibility guidelines for free and reduced-price school lunch.  The guidelines, issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are effective until June 30, 2010.  School districts use these guidelines to determine student eligibility for the following the programs: the National School Lunch program, the School Breakfast program, the Special Milk program for Children, the Child and Adult Care Food program and the Summer Food Service Program.  To learn more about the National School Lunch Program, click here.

Independent Regulatory Review Commission

Last week, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) approved two final regulations (6-317, 6-320) relating to special education services and programs.  The purpose of these regulations is to align Chapter 14 (Special Education Services and Programs) and Chapter 711 (Charter School and Cyber Charter School Services and Programs for Children with Disabilities) with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regulations which were amended in December 2008 to address consent, parental consent and hearing rights issues.  These regulatory changes are necessary to allow the state to be eligible for more than $500 million in federal funding.  These final-omit regulations will become effective upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.



President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced details of the Obama Administration’s $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” competitive grant program.  Click here for details on the competition and how funds will be awarded to states that are making progress with key education reform efforts.



Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the nation in state support for public education, according to the annual report on “Public Education Finances” from the U.S. Census Bureau (only South Dakota, Nebraska and Illinois provide less state support; PA is tied with North Dakota).  According to the report, Pennsylvania provided 35.5% of public education revenues in 2007, with 57.0% coming from local sources and 7.5% from the federal government.  While the state exceeds the national average in spending per pupil ($11,098 compared to $9,666), Pennsylvania lags in the share of education funding provided by the state, with the national average for distribution of revenue at 47.6% state, 44.1% local, and 8.3% federal.  This low state share in Pennsylvania places a disproportionate burden on local property taxes as a source of school district revenue.



Sen. Robert Wonderling (R-Bucks) served his last day in the Pennsylvania Senate this week.  Wonderling resigned his elected office to take the helm at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.  It is anticipated that a special election to fill the 24th Senate District seat will be held in late September.



Next week…

  • The Senate Education Committee holds a public hearing on school consolidation in Loretto on Friday.


For information on this 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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