EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, June 29, 2009

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - Gov. Ed Rendell
    - State Senate
    - State House
    - PA Department of Education

    EPLC News

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



    At the start of this week, only two days remain before the constitutional deadline of June 30 for the Legislature to enact a new budget for 2009-2010.  The deadline will not be met, and it is unlikely that a state budget agreement will be reached until after the Fourth of July, perhaps a long time after.  This highlights the significance of the differences that divide the negotiators, including the Governor’ Office, and the reluctance of most legislators to vote for any tax increase unless it is absolutely necessary and no reasonable choices remain.

    During the past several weeks, we have reported about the budget process in Harrisburg and about the need for everyone to tell legislators how important it is to fund our public schools properly.  Our economic reality unfortunately now dictates the need for additional state revenues to protect school funding and many other important state services. 

    Despite proposals by both the Governor and Senate Republicans of significant budget cuts, cost-saving measures, and the use of various one-time revenue sources, no one has found a way to meet the state's obligation to provide critical services to its citizens within a balanced budget at current tax rates.  It has become clear that legislators cannot cut their way out of the state's $3.2 billion deficit without doing significant harm to students and schools, now and in future years when federal stimulus funds are no longer available to help stabilize and increase basic education funding.

    Our budget crisis arises primarily from weak revenues that result from the recession that grips the nation.  Pennsylvania's spending growth has been lower than the national average for four of the past five years.  States with widely varying tax and spending policies - 47 in total - face significant budget deficits this year.  Since January, 23 states have increased a variety of taxes and fees, and legislatures in 13 others are considering such increases.

    The Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign supports a broad-based approach to increasing state revenues in order to stay on schedule to meet the state's commitment to fully fund the fair and equitable school funding formula adopted by the General Assembly in Act 61 of 2008 within six years. 

    You can help by contacting your state legislators today and telling them you support adequate funding for our schools, even if that requires a tax increase.  Take action by clicking here.



    Gov. Ed Rendell

    Governor Ed Rendell last week announced additional cuts to his state budget proposal, including a 13 percent cut to funding for state-related universities (Pitt, Penn State, Temple, and Lincoln), a $45 million cut to state higher education grants for students, the elimination of Classrooms for the Future funding ($22 million), and a $7.5 million cut to public libraries.  Click here for details on the Governor’s announcement.  A complete list of proposed additional cuts is available by clicking here.

    In announcing the additional cuts, the Governor emphasized continued support for not cutting basic education funding and said we cannot let the economic crisis mortgage our future.  Rendell also announced that the state last Friday would submit its application to the federal government for spending federal stimulus dollars from the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, ahead of the June 30 federal deadline.  The application includes plans to use $418 million to increase basic education funding and continue the second year of Pennsylvania’s new school funding formula, $285 million in one-time grants to help school districts close their budget shortfalls and make one-time investments, and $77 million to restore proposed cuts to the State System of Higher Education, community colleges, and the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.  The federal application can be amended when the final state budget is enacted.

    State Senate

  • The Senate approved two school safety bills last week.  Both bills await referral to a House Committee:

    Senate Bill 55: Expands the list of criminal offenses that would prohibit a person from being employed in public or private schools.  The bill creates a tiered system for certain offenses ranging from a three to ten-year waiting period before a person could be employed by a school.  SB 55 would authorize school districts, at their own cost, to request a state and federal background check when they have a reasonable belief that an employee has been arrested or convicted of a crime.  This proposal also would require school employees to report convictions to their school’s administrator.  Under the bill, an employee’s failure to report a conviction would result in termination from employment and a fine of up to $2,500.

    Senate Bill 56: Expands the duties and responsibilities of the Office of Safe Schools, school entities and police departments in reporting incidents of school violence.  SB 56 prohibits the Department of Education from outsourcing or contracting-out the functions, duties or responsibilities of the Office of Safe Schools.  Targeted grants made by the Office would be allocated through a competitive grant review process in which priority would be given to schools identified as persistently dangerous as defined by state regulations pertaining to NCLB, schools with the greatest need to establish safety and order, and geographically dispersing funds across the Commonwealth.

    SB 56 was amended to remove language that allows chief school administrators discretion in reporting certain offenses.  Under the revised bill, chief school administrators must report all incidents involving conduct that constitutes a criminal offense as outlined in the bill.  School districts must enter into an MOU with police departments that have jurisdiction over school property by June 30, 2010 (instead of 2009).  The MOU must contain certain conditions, including immediate notification of police, emergency plans, and a data review process.  The bill references current federal law that pertains to reporting requirements for crimes committed by a student with a disability.

    SB 56 also 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.  In addition to possible disciplinary action imposed by the Professional Standards and Practices Commission, administrators could be subject to criminal prosecution and possible civil penalties ranging from $2,500 to $5,000.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the following legislation on Monday, June 22 (both bills await further consideration by the full Senate):

    Senate Bill 88: Clarifies that a child living outside of Pennsylvania as a result of one or both parents being called or ordered to active duty shall continue to be considered a resident of the school district that was the child’s resident school district provided that the parent maintains the residence.

    Senate Bill 624: Requires school districts to permit resident students who attend non-public and private schools to participate in extracurricular activities that the nonpublic or private schools do not offer.  The bill was amended to allow school districts to require non-public and private school students to meet equivalent eligibility and try-out criteria that applies to students enrolled in the school district in order to participate and to comply with all policies, rules and regulations of the activity’s governing organization.  The amendment also requires districts to provide private and non-public school students access to physical exams or medical tests if they are provided to students enrolled in the district and if they are required for participation in the activity.  Finally, the amendment also prohibits districts from restricting resident students who attend private, charter, cyber charter, private, non-public or home schools from participating in activities that are part of the regular school curriculum or considered for credit toward graduation requirements.

  • On Tuesday, the Senate Labor and Industry Committee approved Senate Bill 821, which requires school districts to maintain a workers’ compensation safety committee by December 31, 2010.  A district that does not have such a committee could lose state funding equal to the discount the district would otherwise receive under the Workers’ Compensation Act.  SB 821 would not apply to districts that are not eligible for a premium discount or reduction in contribution rates as a member of a group self-insurance fund.  SB 821 awaits further action by the full Senate.

  • Last week the Senate Education Committee approved two measures aimed at making higher education more affordable.

  • Senate Bill 820: Requires full transfer of an associate degree between the state’s community colleges and state system of higher education (PASSHE) universities by December 31, 2011 that would allow students to transfer with full junior standing.  Independent colleges and universities could choose to participate in the degree transfer system.  SB 820 also requires state-related universities (Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln) to enter into agreements to accept up to 30 core course credit hours for transfer.  These agreements may provide for state-related universities to accept more than 30 credit hours.  However, SB 820 does not infringe on a state-related institution’s sole authority to: accept a student for transfer; determine acceptance into a major; determine a student’s campus assignment; and, determine how many and which credit hours shall apply for the transfer student toward completion of degree requirements.  SB 820 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

    Senate Bill 929: Creates the Higher Education College Textbook Affordability, Accountability and Accessibility Act.  SB 929 places requirements on textbook publishers in terms of pricing disclosure, notification and unbundling of textbooks and supplemental materials.  The bill prohibits faculty from receiving kickbacks as an incentive for requiring students to purchase certain texts.  SB 929 also permits universities to establish a college textbook rental pilot program, and requires college textbook publishers – to the extent practicable – to make textbooks available in an electronic format by January 1, 2020.  The legislation also establishes the College Textbook Policies Advisory Committee as a standing committee of the State Board of Education to make recommendations concerning affordability and accessibility of college textbooks.  SB 929 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

    The Committee also approved the following legislation:

    Senate Bill 629: Includes school social workers in the definition of professional employee.  The bill was amended in Committee to allow school entities to employ social workers who meet the qualifications of the “Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors Act,” and grandfathers in current school social workers.  SB 629 also allows social workers to be supervised by a superintendent, assistant superintendent, or other school administrator or employee as determined by the school entity.  Currently, PDE’s Certification and Staffing Policy Guidelines for Home and School Visitors require a school entity to employ a certified Home and School Visitor to oversee/supervise a school social worker.  SB 692 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

    Senate Bill 954: Allows approved private schools and chartered schools for the deaf and blind to request from PDE an emergency, long-term or day-to-day substitute teaching permit when a fully qualified and properly certificated applicant is not available.  SB 954 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

  • On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on the Governor's nominee, Joseph A. Dworetzsky, to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.  Dworetsky is a partner at Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin, a firm specializing in bankruptcy and financially distressed school districts.  Among his accomplishments, Dworetzsky served as Philadelphia city solicitor from 1993-1996 and as Director of the William Penn Foundation from 2001-2005.

  • State House

    On Wednesday, the House Education Committee approved House Bill 1615 which makes summer pre-Kindergarten programs for three- and four-year olds eligible for the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC).  HB 1615 has been re-committed to the House Rules Committee.

    Pennsylvania Department of Education

    Last week Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak sent a letter to members of the House and Senate Education Committees informing them that PDE will not move forward at this time with Keystone Exams (standardized, voluntary final exams for high schools) until final form regulations or a consensus including legislators is in place.  However, he wrote, the other two components of the PDE contract with Data Recognition Corporation – developing a model curriculum and diagnostic tools for teachers – will carry on.  This seven-year, $200 million contract entered into by the Rendell Administration has been the subject of criticism from the Legislature and the subject of legislation approved by the State Senate and intended to thwart the Administration’s plans to move forward with test development.



    On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Senate confirmed the nomination of Sandra Dungee Glenn to the State Board of Education.  Glenn served previously as chairperson of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.  Her term will expire October 1, 2009. 



    Applications are available now for the 2009-2010 Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP).  The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC).

    The Fellowship Program begins with a two-day retreat on September 10-11, 2009 and continues through June 2010.

    Applications are being accepted now.  Click on http://www.eplc.org/fellows.html for complete details.

    Since space is limited to approximately 30 positions, it is advisable to submit an application as soon as possible.  The application may be downloaded online, but must be submitted by mail with the necessary signatures of applicant and sponsor.

    If you would like to discuss any aspect of the Fellowship Program and its requirements, please contact Ron Cowell at 717-260-9900 or cowell@eplc.org.



    This week…

  • The House Local Government Committee meets Tuesday to consider House Bill 1754.

  • The House Urban Affairs Committee meets Tuesday to consider House Bill 1661.

  • The Senate Education Committee meets Tuesday to consider Senate Bills 881, 899, 968 and 971.

  • The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bills 1659, 1148 and 704.

  • The National Education Association holds its annual meeting in San Diego on July 1-6.

  • 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.

To return to the EPLC Education Notebook homepage, click here.

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