EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, March 20, 2009

    Content in this edition:
    EPLC News
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State House
    - State Senate
    - State Board 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.



    EPLC will host its Parent and Community Leadership Institute in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh during the spring of 2009.  The Institute is a program for people who want to know more about education policy issues and want to join a network of community leaders who are able to influence important statewide and local education policies.  The free, 12-hour program will be presented over four evening sessions.  For program details and to register online, see www.eplc.org/PCLI.html.



    State House

  • The House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Education met Thursday for a hearing on education funding with a focus on federal stimulus funding.  Mike Griffith, Senior School Finance Analyst with the Education Commission of the States, provided an overview of what’s in the stimulus package for education and the most recent information on how stimulus will be implemented by the U.S. Department of Education.  Click here for a copy of Griffith’s presentation and written remarks provided to the Subcommittee by other testifiers.

    Tom Gluck, Executive Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said Pennsylvania stands to glean an estimated $2.7 billion in stimulus aid for education.  The state plans to distribute $1.15 billion in State Fiscal Stabilization Funds through the state’s existing funding formula ($418 million in 2009-10 & $735 million in 2010-11).  Additional K-12 stimulus funds for Title I, IDEA, Title II-D and Stabilization Fund subgrants must be distributed via established federal formulas.  Gluck said the state is urging school districts to use stimulus resources to avoid property tax hikes, layoffs and program cuts.  PDE has created a guide to assist districts in identifying and prioritizing their needs that includes recommended one-time investments.  The Department also is taking steps to assist districts interested in using stimulus funds for modernizing and upgrading school facilities by streamlining the PLANCON process for districts that seek state reimbursement for eligible construction projects; collecting information on districts considering window, roofing and other materials purchases to try to aggregate orders and achieve the best price; and providing information on companies qualified to conduct energy efficiency building audits.

    At the higher education level, the state plans to use the federal funds to make college more affordable and to maintain funding for state-related universities.  PDE proposes using $44 million of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund to restore $20.3 million to Penn State, $10.2 million to the University of Pittsburgh, $10.5 million to Temple University, $870,000 to Lincoln University, and $2.4 million to Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.  The remainder of higher education stimulus funding coming to Pennsylvania will provide an estimated $262 million in additional Pell grant aid and $11 million in additional work study funding.  Additionally, PDE estimates that the new American Opportunity Tax Credit will help approximately 138,000 Pennsylvania families pay for college with credits of up to $2,500.  Higher education institutions also will be able to compete for a number of research and job training grants available through the stimulus package.

    The Committee also heard remarks from panels representing K-12 and higher education.
    EPLC President Ron Cowell urged policymakers to use $418 million in stimulus dollars to keep the state on schedule with the six-year plan put into place last year to fix the state’s K-12 subsidy funding problem.  Cowell said data released recently by the U.S. Department of Education shows that Pennsylvania as of 2006-2007 continues to lag in state support for education (44th nationally for the percentage of K-12 costs paid for by state government) and thatas a result the Commonwealth ranks 7th among states in our dependency on local taxes to support public education.

    Baruch Kintisch and Sandy Zelno, both of the Education Law Center, said funds should be targeted to the most disadvantaged students and schools with the largest achievement gaps and urged that parents, students and community leaders be engaged in developing and monitoring plans for stimulus funds.  They made additional recommendations regarding accountability for stimulus dollars and using funds to support special education students in the least restrictive environment.

    Jim Testerman, President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, spoke in support of using stimulus funds to continue the implementation of full funding of the state’s new education funding formula, and also asked legislators to consider using stimulus funds to restore proposed cuts to the Scotland School for Veterans’ Children and the Scranton School for the Deaf, and to address public pension needs.

    Tim Allwein, of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, thanked the Governor for his proposed increases in basic education funding, and said districts must exercise caution in how they choose to invest these one-time federal funds.  He also said that if federal funds are expected to help stabilize property tax rates, districts need a solid assurance that they will be receiving the dollars proposed by May 1 in order to budget accordingly.

    Jay Himes, of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, reiterated support for using federal funds to keep on track with fully implementing the state’s new funding formula.  Himes cautioned though that current state law which requires districts to spend basic education subsidy increases beyond an inflationary index on approved new programs may hinder the ability of districts to address needs caused by dwindling local revenues.  Himes also said districts are hesitant to use federal funds in a way that makes them fund categorical programs with additional local resources that will lock them into future maintenance of local effort requirements.

    Finally, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) Chancellor John Cavanaugh said PASSHE plans to pursue stimulus grants for job training and for broadband expansion, which will allow PASSHE to serve more students through virtual education.

  • The House this week passed a resolution (House Resolution 127) directing the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to evaluate the effectiveness of Pennsylvania’s existing 18 tax credit programs and determine whether the state collects the information necessary to discern whether each program’s goals are being met.  The Educational Improvement Tax Credit program will be part of this analysis.

  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee adopted two measures aimed at improving classroom instruction and teacher training.

    House Bill 713 would establish the Science Technology Partnership Program and the Science Education Innovation Grants Program within the PA Department of Education.  The purpose of these programs is to improve science education in schools throughout the Commonwealth.  Under the partnership program, colleges and universities would collaborate with schools and school districts to make scientific or technical equipment available to students and provide additional professional development opportunities to science teachers.  Innovation grants would reward school districts, higher education institutions and science technology educational organizations that provide innovative science or technology programs.  PDE would make programs that received these innovative science grants available to all public and nonpublic schools in the state for replication.

    House Bill 794 requires the Commonwealth to pay all or a portion of the cost of National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) fees on behalf of an eligible teacher to become NBPTS certified or recertified.  The state also would reimburse school districts for substitute fees for each day (up to three days) the eligible teacher participates in preparation for NBPTS certification.  Educators who teach in schools identified as being in school improvement or corrective action would be given first priority to receive funding support for  NBPTS.  Second priority would be given to teachers of early childhood education, mathematics, science, special education or foreign language.

    Both HB 713 and HB 794 have been re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee.

  • State Senate

  • This week, the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 20, which directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study the impact of Pennsylvania's tax credit programs on the Commonwealth's economy, job market and State and local tax revenues and to make recommendations to the Senate no later than one year from the date of passage.  The Educational Improvement Tax Credit program is included in the list of 18 tax credits to be assessed by the study.

  • The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee adopted legislation (Senate Bill 207) this week that prohibits limitations on the wearing of military uniforms on school property or visitations by members of the armed services with school employees or students.  Individuals who violate this provision could be charged with a summary offense and fined up to $500.

  • State Board of Education

    The State Board of Education met at William Allen High School in Allentown this week for its regular bi-monthly business meeting.  No formal action was taken.  For more information, contact the Board at (717) 787-3787.



    A new website sponsored by WITF Inc. and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission provides an overview of the state’s educational development.  A web book authored by Dr. Dennis Downey, Millersville University professor and director of the University Honors College, covers early private education, the rise of public education, education and the quest for equality and education since World War II.  The project titled The Surest Foundation of Happiness: Education in Pennsylvania is a more social, rather than academic, history of Pennsylvania education.  The site includes resources for teachers, but is geared generally for public interest.



  • Rep. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) has been appointed to serve on the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency board of directors by House Speaker Keith McCall.  Yudichak was appointed to serve the remaining two years of Rep. Ron Buxton’s six year term.  Buxton resigned from the PHEAA board in February.

  • Nathan Mains has been hired as the new President and State Director of Communities in Schools PennsylvaniaMains previously held a leadership role with Easter Seals.


    Next week…

  • The Pennsylvania House and Senate return to session on Monday, March 23.

  • The Senate Education Committee meets Tuesday to consider Senate Bills 55, 56, 213, 287, 329 and 332.

  • The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bills 929870 and 705.

  • The Senate Education Committee begins hearings on the state’s education budget with Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak on Wednesday.  The Committee will address higher education on Wednesday morning, and address basic education on Wednesday afternoon, Thursday, and the following Monday.

  • The House Education and State Government Committees hold a joint public hearing on state pension funds 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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