EPLC Education Notebook

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    Content in this edition:

    Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State Senate
    - State House
    - House Republican Policy Committee
    Research & Reports

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


    Last week, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a state budget bill that would decimate the increased support for public education proposed by Governor Rendell for the next school year. Senate Bill 850 was introduced by Senate Republicans on May 5 and approved along party lines on May 7.

    The Senate budget represents a tremendous step backward for the state’s new education funding formula. It does not allow the state to stay on track with its six-year plan to phase-in more adequate and equitable funding for all students.

    Rather, the Senate budget cuts more than $728 million in state dollars for public education, diverts those state education dollars to other purposes, and uses federal stimulus funds to fill the hole caused by the Senate's cut to flat fund basic education at 2008-09 levels. This budget, if enacted into law, would be the first time the state appropriation for K-12 basic subsidy is actually reduced. This cut would be done while the state appropriation for basic education per student is already below the national average and below each of our contiguous states.

    Nearly half of Pennsylvania's school districts have indicated their revenues are below budget and 60% have indicated they are already tapping into reserve funds to offset deficits this year, so the Senate budget would cause school districts to raise local property taxes or cut effective programs that help students learn - or both. This is unnecessary when federal stimulus funds can be used to support public schools and sustain progress on implementing the fair and predictable funding formula adopted last year.

    Let your State Senator know the Senate budget is bad for kids and homeowners.


    State Senate

  • Last week, the Senate adopted a state budget bill (Senate Bill 850) as an alternative to Gov. Rendell’s proposal for FY 2009-10 that makes numerous cuts to education programs. The Senate budget kills Governor Rendell’s plan to use $418 million in federal stimulus funds to increase basic education funding and keep the state on track with fully implementing the state’s new education funding formula over a six-year period. Instead, the Senate budget cuts $728 million in state funding for basic education, reallocates those dollars to other purposes, and uses federal stimulus funds to fill the gap and flat fund basic education at 2008-09 levels. It also completely eliminates funding for dual enrollment programs, Classrooms for the Future, and Science: It’s Elementary. The Senate budget makes further cuts by reducing current state funding for Pre-K Counts, Head Start and public libraries by half, eliminating the Governor’s proposed increase for community college funding, and reducing current state funding for other programs such as Intermediate Units, early intervention, and more.

  • The Senate recently approved legislation (Senate Bill 674) that would allow school boards to establish “Operation Recognition” programs to grant high school diplomas to honorably discharged Vietnam veterans who did not graduate from high school due to entry into military service. SB 674 has been referred to the House Education Committee.

  • The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee recently approved Senate Bill 196, which would extend educational leave of absence to the spouses of Pennsylvania National Guard members or other U.S. armed forces reservists who are called to active duty. Under current law, institutions of higher education are required to grant an educational leave of absence to members of the PA National Guard or reservists called to active duty. Upon release from military duty, guard members are restored to the academic status they had attained before their call to duty. SB 196 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

  • Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria) has introduced legislation (Senate Bill 833) to establish a 15-member commission to recommend a school district consolidation and realignment plan to the state Legislature. In his 2009-2010 budget address, Governor Ed Rendell called for such a commission to explore consolidation options. The commission, consisting of legislators, teachers, school board members, superintendents, parents, the chairman of State Board of Education and the Secretary of Education, would have one year to devise and submit a plan that identifies an optimal number of school districts and timelines for redrawing district boundaries. Under the proposal, the General Assembly would vote to adopt or reject the plan, but could not amend it. The commission would gather input from at least 10 public hearings around the state.

  • Senator Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin) has introduced legislation (Senate Bill 834) that would establish standards for teacher preparation programs in state statute. Under SB 834, by January 1, 2011, teacher education programs must require at least nine credits or 270 hours (or a combination thereof) of instruction in accommodations and adaptations for students with disabilities in inclusive settings. The bill requires part of these credit hours to focus on literacy skills development and cognitive skill development. It also requires an additional three credits (or 90 hours) of instruction in working with students who are English language learners. SB 834 also prohibits PDE from requiring a specific number of credit hours for approval of a teacher education program or incorporating any formula, scoring system or numerical method in the approval of teacher education programs, and lays out principles the Department should follow in reviewing teacher education programs.

  • State House

  • The House recently adopted the following legislation:

    House Resolution 35: Directs the PA Department of Education to create stimulating ways to implement geography education in the state’s public schools.

    House Resolution 91: Urges institutions of higher education that receive state funding to recognize American Sign Language coursework for foreign language credit.

    House Bill 240: Requires institutions of higher education and private licensed schools to establish sexual violence awareness programs. SB 240 awaits referral to a Senate Committee.

  • On May 6, the House Education Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 704, which would change the way the state funds special education. The Committee heard from representatives of the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, Education Law Center, Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign, Good Schools Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania School Boards Association, and The Arc of PA. The panelists provided lawmakers with an overview of the history of special education funding, findings of a recent special education costing-out study, and an analysis of how the bill intends to improve student outcomes and special education funding in the Commonwealth. The Committee also received testimony which identified several concerns with the proposal and highlighted areas in need of further consideration. Click here to read the testimony.

    Currently, school districts receive funding for special education based on the assumption that 16% of each district’s students have special needs. HB 704 would establish a new funding formula based on the actual number of students in special education, rather than an arbitrary number, and enhance the current accountability system for special education to ensure districts use funding effectively to meet student needs and do not over-identify students.

    The state’s 2007 education costing-out study, and a subsequent follow-up report, identified the need to fix the state’s outdated and unfair special education funding formula. Last year, the state took bold action to establish a more adequate and equitable formula for funding basic education, based on information in the costing-out study, but did not take action to address special education reforms.

    The proposed formula for funding special education in HB 704 would mirror the basic education formula adopted by the General Assembly last year. Specifically, each district would receive special education funds based on: 1) a five-year average of student enrollment in special education; 2) a single multiplier of 1.3 (to reflect additional costs for educating students with all levels of disabilities above the base cost for other students); 3) an additional multiplier providing funding for districts that raise their average rate and quality of education for eligible students in regular classrooms; and, 4) annual adjustments for inflation, local wealth, tax effort and local cost factors.

  • The House Education Committee also recently held a public hearing on two measures that would allow diabetic students and students with severe allergic reactions to carry the necessary equipment and medicine to avert a medical crisis. As proposed:

    • House Bill 1113 would require PDE to develop guidelines for training school employees in diabetes care and treatment when a diabetic student is enrolled in school or newly diagnosed. The bill would require that, at the beginning of each school year, a diabetic student who seeks diabetic care in school submit to the nurse or school physician a diabetes medical management plan. Each school entity would be required to develop a written policy allowing diabetic students to carry the necessary supplies, equipment and prescribed medication to perform self-monitoring and treatment. The legislation provides for immunity from civil liability for school employees and trained personnel.

    • House Bill 1336 would require school entities to develop a written policy to allow students to possess an epinephrine auto-injector in a school setting. The legislation defines school setting to include, but not be limited to, the school, school sponsored transportation, or any activity, event or program sponsored by or in which the pupil’s school is participating. The school entity may require an updated prescription and parental approval on an annual basis. The bill provides for immunity from civil liability for school boards, administrators and employees. Principals or administrators who are aware that a student is in possession of an asthma inhaler or epinephrine auto-injector must notify each of the student’s classroom teachers.

    Parents of diabetic students, clinicians and representatives from the American Diabetes Association testified to the importance of enacting House Bill 1113. Their personal accounts highlighted the inconsistency with which school districts currently handle the needs of diabetic students. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) and the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) testified that they have concerns with certain provisions in the bill. For instance, the proposed legislation requires a staff person trained in diabetic care to be present when a diabetic student is participating in extracurricular activities. It also requires the school to select at least three personnel from each school where a diabetic student attends to receive training in diabetic care. PSBA noted that diabetic students are covered already by federal and state law. Several lawmakers raised questions and concerns that there is not enough guidance to school districts or enforcement of existing laws. For more information, please contact Chris Wakeley, Executive Director, House Education Committee at (717) 787-7044.

  • The House Education Committee recently approved House Bill 689, which requires green building standard costs to be submitted to PDE at the same time that construction cost estimates are submitted for approval. The bill clarifies that additional costs incurred by a school district in the construction of a school building that meets green building standards are excluded from the costs calculated for the purpose of determining whether a referendum or public hearing is required to seek approval for funding the project. HB 689 awaits further consideration by the House Appropriations Committee.

  • On May 7, the House Gaming Oversight Committee met at Westmoreland County Community College for another public hearing on House Bill 1317, which would legalize video poker terminals at bars, restaurants and private social clubs for the purpose of funding the Governor’s Tuition relief plan. Representatives from the Pennsylvania Departments of Revenue and Education, Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, Pennsylvania Tavern Association, Pennsylvania Amusement and Music Machine Association, and Pennsylvania’s community colleges and state-owned universities presented testimony. For more information on the hearing, contact the office of House Gaming Oversight Committee Chairman Dante Santoni at (717) 783-3290.

  • House Republican Policy Committee

    The Pennsylvania House Republican Policy Committee met in Harrisburg recently for a public hearing on remediation of college students. The committee examined the factors driving the need for remedial courses at the post-secondary level and their costs to Pennsylvania families. Lawmakers received testimony from the PA Department of Education, PA Association of School Administrators, Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of PA, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and Pennsylvania Commission on Community Colleges. For more information, contact the office of Policy Committee Chairman Stan Saylor at (717) 783-6426.


  • The Pennsylvania School Boards Association has released a white paper on school district merger/consolidation. The paper reviews the history of consolidation in Pennsylvania and concludes that prior consolidation has not produced the intended monetary savings or improvements in student achievement. The paper also says district mergers require extensive local analysis and due diligence, and that even in areas where a merger is ultimately rejected, merger studies can and do lead to greater cooperation between districts.

  • The Washington D.C.-based Center on Education Policy (CEP) has compiled a compendium of major studies by various organizations and agencies on the implementation and effects of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This resource is intended to help policymakers make decisions based on evidence from research as they reevaluate the federal role in education and take up the reauthorization of NCLB. This collection of research focuses primarily on Title I of ESEA as amended by NCLB.

  • A recent report from McKinsey & Company examines achievement gaps in America’s schools and their consequences to society and individuals. The study focuses on gaps between U.S. students and other nations; between black, Latino and white students; between students of different income levels; and, between students schooled in different systems or regions. The study describes the existing gaps as imposing the “economic equivalent of a permanent national recession – one substantially larger than the deep recession the country is currently experiencing.” Click here to read, “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools.”


    This week...

  • Members of EPLC’s Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program met on Tuesday for a Day at the State Capitol.

  • Tuesday also was Early Childhood Action Day in Harrisburg.

  • The House Gaming Oversight Committee holds a public hearing on House Bill 1317 (authorizing video poker for tuition relief) in Kutztown on Thursday.

  • The House Republican Policy Committee holds a public hearing on school consolidation in Blue Bell on Thursday.

  • The STAR Center Training Institute holds programs on “Helping Teens and Families Manage Self-Injurious Behaviors” and “Evidence-Based Practices for Supporting Students with Behavioral Disorders” in Pittsburgh on Friday.

  • The Media Area Unit of the NAACP hosts its 2009 State Conference on the State of Education in Pennsylvania in Cheyney on Saturday.
  • 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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