EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, May 22, 2009

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State House
    - House Republican Policy Committee
    Pennsylvania State Board of Education

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



    State House

  • The House Appropriations Committee held two days of public hearings this week on the state budget bill approved by the Pennsylvania Senate earlier this month (Senate Bill 850).  One panel on Thursday addressed education issues.  This panel representing the PA Department of Education, teachers, school business officials and school boards appeared before the Committee to discuss how the Senate’s proposal would impact Pennsylvania’s public schools.  Click here for testimony provided to the Committee.

    The Senate budget cuts more than $711 million in state funding for public education and uses federal economic stimulus funds to fill the hole created by the Senate cut and flat-fund basic education at 2008-09 levels.  This approach “throws Pennsylvania off of its six-year schedule to fund the adequacy gaps found in the Costing Out Study,” said Tim Allwein, Assistant Executive Director of the PA School Boards Association.  Allwein also expressed concern that using stimulus funds in this manner will shut out the Commonwealth from its share of $4.35 billion in competitive grants from the “Race to the Top” funds that will be available this fall as part of the second wave of federal stimulus funding.  The competitive grants will be awarded to states based on how well they accomplish four federal education improvement goals for the stimulus funds, none of which are addressed by the Senate budget.

    Jay Himes, Executive Director of the PA Association of School Business Officials, reported that school districts’ local revenues are below budget and that 60% of districts already are tapping reserve funds to balance their budgets this year.  While the stimulus funds are welcome, Himes cautioned that the way stimulus funds are used in the Senate budget will not help minimize further financial erosion at the local level.

    “The lack of flexibility in spending the categorical stimulus funds creates the potential for a district to receive new federal funds and have to increase property taxes.  While it may appear that there is sufficient new stimulus dollars to blunt the financial blow of level funding for Basic Education Funding, it is an illusion,” said Himes.  Using the most flexible stimulus funds – the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund dollars – to cut state basic education funding and free up state resources for other purposes essentially gives school districts funds they have already spent, said Himes.  Further, Himes said it is misleading to argue that stimulus dollars will provide more than sufficient funding for school districts when almost $400 million of the money – Title I, IDEA Part B, and a smaller portion of Title II D technology funds – are restricted by federal law in terms of how they can be spent and (for Title I and IDEA) are subject to future maintenance of effort provisions.  Therefore, school districts cannot use these funds to restore this year’s revenue shortfalls, said Himes.  Moreover, while statewide Title I stimulus funding is significant, these funds must be distributed via a federal formula that directs the majority of resources to high poverty areas, so not every school district will benefit significantly from these dollars.

    The Senate budget makes additional cuts to programs that prepare students for college and the workplace (Classrooms for the Future, dual enrollment, PHEAA higher education grants) and those that support young children’s school readiness (Pre-K Counts, Head Start), as well  as cuts to funding for public libraries, high school reform and more.  Click here for a chart from PDE comparing the Senate budget to Governor Ed Rendell’s education budget plan.

  • On Thursday, the House Gaming Oversight Committee held its final public hearing on the Governor’s Tuition Relief Act (HB 1317) in Harrisburg.  For more information on the hearing, contact the House Gaming Oversight Committee at 717-783-3290.

  • House Republican Policy Committee

    On Monday, the House Republican Policy Committee met in Pottstown for a public hearing on school district consolidation.  The committee heard from representatives of the Pottstown and Spring-Ford school districts, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and an education consultant.  Earlier this year, Governor Ed Rendell proposed, as part of his budget address, a proposal to begin a process to consolidate the state’s 500 school districts to 100 districts.  Under the Governor’s proposal, a commission would be created to develop two strategies that the legislature would approve or disapprove.  If neither plan is adopted by the Legislature, the State Board of Education would decide.  In 2006, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) issued a report on school district consolidation.  For more information on the hearing, contact Nicole Wamsley at 717-783-8063.



    The State Board of Education met this week and approved a Student Nutrition and Wellness grant from the National Association of State Boards of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  This grant will help facilitate activities that lead to the development of state policies and standards for student physical activity, nutrition and wellness.

    The Board also received a briefing on the progress of its state academic standards review.  The review, which began a year ago, is intended to update, consolidate and correct any standards as needed.  Comments received thus far have indicated that some standards may cover too much content and not go deep enough into core areas of learning.  Additional standards in Reading and Mathematics for grades 4, 6 and 7 are expected later this year, and the Board plans to hold hearings to receive public comment on these.  Voluntary standards are being developed in the areas of: Early Learning, Alternative Learning, English Language Learners, World Languages and Vocational Technical Education.  Currently, the state has standards in 12 academic content areas.  In addition to the Board’s activity, PDE reported that it is working on voluntary course outlines for Algebra I.  These guidelines are intended to ensure a certain level of academic rigor across school districts.

    The College Board made a presentation to the State Board on Advanced Placement courses and College Readiness opportunities.  The Panel reported on their efforts in partnering with 16 of the state’s 29 Intermediate Units to boost AP participation and teacher training, particularly in underserved areas.  According to their data for Pennsylvania, 17.9 percent of the public high school class of 2008 took at least one AP Exam during high school, while the national average is 25 percent.

    The Board’s School Safety Working Group shared its findings on other states’ policies relating to school violence reporting and programs aimed at violence prevention.  The School Safety Working Group is charged with reviewing best practices in other states, as well as Pennsylvania, with an emphasis on transparency and identifying social/emotional supports for students.  Comments from members of the Board indicated that they would like to see the following issues included in the Working Group’s considerations: alternative education, students with disabilities, and bullying prevention.

    Finally, Carnegie Mellon Professor Dr. Robert Strauss presented the preliminary findings from his three-year project on Teacher Quality.  The study includes an analysis of PSSA results, instructional spending, teacher test scores, and poverty rates for the state’s 100 top performing schools and 100 bottom performing schools.  According to the report’s initial findings, there is evidence that teacher preparation programs do not require teachers to learn what they must teach once they are employed.  According to the report, teacher preparation schools’ curricula are highly variable and often require an excessive number of pedagogy courses.  A final report is expected later this year which will include findings on teacher demand projections, current and best practices, professional development patterns and student achievement, ranking of teacher preparation schools by Praxis scores, and employment rates.



    Republican Jerry Knowles won a special election to fill the 124th State House District seat vacated when Dave Argall was elected to the State Senate in March.  Knowles, a former grocery store owner and police officer, previously served as a legislative aide to Argall and also has served as a Schuylkill County Commissioner, Mayor of Tamaqua, and as a Tamaqua Councilman.  The 124th District covers parts of Berks and Schuylkill counties.



    The Pennsylvania State Senate and the House of Representatives are currently in recess and will return to session on Monday, June 1.

    Next week…

    • The House Education Committee holds a public hearing on House Bill 1493 (basic education funding legislation) on Tuesday, May 26, in Harrisburg.

    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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