EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, March 27, 2009

    Content in this edition:
    EPLC News
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State Senate
    - State House
    - PA Department of Education

    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 Senate

  • The Senate Education Committee this week began detailed oversight hearings on the state’s education budget.  Senators met with Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak to review each item individually in the Department of Education’s budget.  The Committee completed its discussions on higher education spending on Wednesday, and plans to complete its review of basic education expenditures on Monday (March 30).  In addition to reviewing the education budget, the Committee also received a briefing on the education costing-out study commissioned by the state in Act 114 of 2006.  Click here for a detailed budget spreadsheet that served as a working document for the Committee’s discussions.  Click here for additional budget materials presented at the hearings.

  • The Senate Education Committee passed the following bills this week:

  • Senate Bill 55: Expands the list of criminal offenses that would prohibit a person from being employed in public or private schools.  The bill was amended to create 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.  SB 55 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

    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 was amended to require PDE and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to jointly create an Office of Safe Schools.  Under the proposal, 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.  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.  Administrators would be subject to criminal prosecution and possible civil penalties ranging from $2,500 to $5,000.  SB 56 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

    Senate Bill 213: Authorizes the Commonwealth to join the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children to assist military families with matters related to school enrollment, record transfers, extracurricular activities and graduation requirements. The bill establishes a State Council on Interstate Educational Opportunity for Military Children.  SB 213 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

    Senate Bill 329: Amends the state Public School Building Authority Act to raise the level at which the competitive bidding process must occur in the awarding of contracts to $25,000.  Currently, the School Building Authority must publicize and conduct a competitive bidding process if the cost of a school building project exceeds $4,000.  Under SB 329, the bidding threshold would be adjusted annually by the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U).  SB 329 has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

    Senate Bill 332: Raises the level at which school districts must solicit competitive bids or price quotes for construction contracts and the purchase of materials, supplies and equipment.  The threshold for soliciting competitive bids would be raised from $10,000 to $25,000.  The threshold for obtaining written or telephonic price quotes would be raised from $4,000 to $7,000.  Under SB 332, these thresholds would be adjusted annually by the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers.  SB 332 has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

    Senate Bill 287: Requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education to establish a reporting standard for the annual financial report (AFR) for school districts.  The purpose of the bill is to eliminate duplicative reporting requirements between school districts’ annual audits and the AFRs.  SB 287 has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

    State House

  • The House Education Committee approved the following legislation this week:

    House Bill 929: Allows school boards to establish a program known as “Operation Recognition” to provide high school diplomas to veterans of the Vietnam War who did not graduate because of entry into military service.  Under this proposal, high school diplomas could be awarded posthumously.  HB 929 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

    House Bill 870: Requires the Secretary of Education to establish state standards for business, computer and information technology courses.  HB 870 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

    House Bill 705: Requires school districts to establish parent involvement programs, policies and committees.  The purpose of this legislation is to identify resources available to parents to improve the academic performance of their children.  HB 705 has been placed on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

  • At a joint hearing of the House Education and State Government Committees on Thursday, an analyst from the Council of State Governments gave lawmakers an overview of recent trends in state retirement plans and how states are bolstering their pension systems.  Following the testimony from the national perspective, the Executive Directors of the State Employees Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) briefed members of the committee on the status and performance of the two pension systems.  A review of the projected Pennsylvania employer contribution rate spike and potential options to address funding issues were discussed.  Testimony presented by PSERS and SERS indicates there are only three ways to remedy funding issues – increase funding to the systems, decrease liabilities of the systems, or defer the liabilities.  As a result of the hearing, State Government Committee Chairman Babette Josephs (D-Phila.) will be organizing a workgroup consisting of legislators and state and national pension fund experts to address these issues.

  • PA Department of Education

    The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) this week announced steps it is taking to increase participation in school breakfast programs.  PDE has revised a policy directive that will allow school breakfasts to be included as part of instructional time during regularly scheduled homeroom periods and classroom instruction.  PDE also has created a Breakfast Brigade, including eight members from school districts across the state, which will work with schools to implement or expand participation in school breakfast programs by identifying barriers, analyzing costs and developing implementation plans.  Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak said children who start the day with a healthy breakfast are more likely to be alert and ready to learn.  Currently, more than 668,000 Pennsylvania children are eligible for free or reduced-price breakfast, but only 29% of those eligible participate in the program.



    The Pennsylvania Coalition of Charter Schools this week released a voluntary Code of Accountability for charter schools that addresses academic accountability, ethical accountability and responsible governance, and financial accountability



    Next week…

  • The Pennsylvania House and Senate return to session on Monday, March 30.

  • The Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges holds its annual meeting in Harrisburg on March 30-31.

  • The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials holds its annual conference and exhibits in Valley Forge, PA on March 31 – April 3.

  • The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governors meets April 1-2.

  • The Council for Exceptional Children holds its annual conference and expo in Seattle, WA meets April 1-4.

  • The Pennsylvania State Interagency Coordinating Council for Early Intervention meets Thursday.

  • The House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Education, House Education Committee Subcommittee on Basic Education and the House Urban Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Cities, Third Class hold a joint public hearing on the state of PA’s small city schools in Bethlehem on Thursday.

  • The Learning Policy Center at the University of Pittsburgh hosts a colloquium with Alan Lesgold, Dean of the university’s School of Education, on Thursday.

  • The Pennsylvania Head Start Association holds its Spring Conference on April 2-3 in Harrisburg.

  • The National AfterSchool Association holds its 2009 Convention on April 2-4 in New Orleans, LA.

  • 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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