EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, November 30, 2009

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania Education Advocacy Network
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State Senate
    - State House
    - State Board of Education
    - Auditor General
    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.



    The Pennsylvania Education Advocacy Network, a Project of EPLC, is a non-partisan statewide network of legislative district-based teams of volunteers (registered voters) who represent a broad range of education perspectives including early education; K-12; career education; special education; post-secondary education; libraries; literacy; arts; and museums.  Teams include parents and students, professionals, lay leaders and other advocates.  Team members are not expected to represent their employer or any organization with which they may be affiliated.  The statewide network and the legislative district-based teams are intended to promote greater awareness and support for significant education issues.

    An Education Advocacy Team in a state legislative district will:

    • Develop and maintain a continuing effective relationship with a legislator and staff in order to be a reliable and valued resource, effectively becoming a “go-to” information and informed opinion resource for state lawmakers.
    • Become an information resource for media, other community partners, and organizations with which Team members may be affiliated.

    You can read more information and volunteer for the Education Advocacy Team in the legislative district where you vote by going to http://www.eplc.org/advocacy/network.html.



    State Senate

    On November 17, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on Intermediate Unit (I.U.) services and programs as an extension of its deliberations on school district consolidation.  During those previous deliberations, members questioned whether I.U.s can be used more strategically to foster efficiencies and cost savings as an alternative to district consolidation.  Both Majority Committee Chairman Jeff Piccola and Minority Committee Chairman Andy Dinniman expressed a desire to make changes to existing state policies that would compel school districts to consider and take advantage of the cost-saving services offered by the state’s 29 Intermediate Units.

    Dr. James Shields, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units, presented members with an historical overview of Intermediate Units and their function within the state’s public school system.  I.U.s are regional service agencies that provide their local public and non-public schools with a broad array of services, including curriculum development, professional development, special education programs, school psychological services, technology initiatives and joint purchasing.  Consolidating school services at the I.U. level reduces redundancy and maximizes efficiency, allowing services to be offered at a reduced cost.

    Amy Morton, Executive Director of Capital Area I.U. #15, explained the type of services I.U.s typically provide along with a sampling of entrepreneurial services offered to school districts.  These entrepreneurial services, which are purchased piecemeal, are unique to each I.U. and developed in response to needs identified by local school districts.

    Dr. Joseph O’Brien, Executive Director of Chester County I.U. #24 (CCIU), provided further examples of cost saving measures specific to Chester County.  According to O’Brien, CCIU saved its member school districts $5.8 million in special education costs, $1.8 million in career and technical education program costs and another $1 million in prescription drug coverage.

    Click here for testimony and supporting materials presented to the Committee.

    State House

    Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) has introduced legislation (House Bill 2092) that would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to ban teacher strikes and other public school lockouts.  Click here for more information.

    State Board of Education

    The Pennsylvania State Board of Education met on November 18 at Bloomsburg Area High School in Bloomsburg.  No action items were scheduled to be considered.  For more information about the Board, contact the State Board at (717) 787-3787.

    Among the discussion items on the Board’s agenda was the status of Pennsylvania’s application for federal Race to the Top (RTT) dollars.  According to the United States Department of Education (USDE), Pennsylvania could get between $200 million and $400 million to raise academic standards, improve teacher quality, track student gains and turnaround failing schools.  The USDE released the final application for the RTT funds on November 12th.  Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak believes that Pennsylvania is on track to be one of the first states to apply for the federal money.  PDE staff is in the process of revising the application.  The deadline for the first round of applications is January 19th.  For more information, please contact Jennifer Cleghorn, Executive Assistant PDE at 717-982-2421 or jcleghorn@state.pa.us.

    For more information about the RTT application guidelines announced by USDE in the Federal Register, go to:

    Auditor General

    On November 18, Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner released a report based on a special investigation of the use of Qualified Interest Rate Management Agreements (QIRMAs) – commonly referred to as “interest rate swaps” or “swaps” – by the Bethlehem Area School District.  According to the report, swaps are supposedly designed to manage interest rate risk or interest cost in connection with the issuance of debt.  QIRMAs for school districts and other Local Government Units are authorized under the Local Government Unit Debt Act as amended by Act 23 of 2003.  The Bethlehem Area School District lost at least $10.2 million from these risky financial agreements.  Between October 2003 and June 2009, 107 school districts and 86 local government units entered into at least one QIRMA.  For more information, visit www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.



  • The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare recently released the first state Autism Census Project that shows the demand for services for adults and children living with autism will continue to rise.  The report predicts the number of Pennsylvanians living with autism will grow to 25,000 by 2010, up from an estimated 20,000 in 2005, with a dramatic increase expected in the number of adults living with autism.  Click here for more information.

  • The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) recently released a report on the performance of charter schools in Pennsylvania.  Using PSSA scores from 2003-04 through 2007-08, PSBA compared the performance of charter schools to traditional public schools.  Among the report’s key findings:

    • There is little statistical difference between charter schools and traditional public schools overall for the most recent year (2007-2008).
    • Traditional public schools have a lower percentage of buildings in corrective action.
    • Cyber charter students are significantly underperforming both “brick and mortar” charter students and traditional public school students.
    • Charters are outperforming traditional public schools in some areas of Pennsylvania.


    It was recently announced that the Pittsburgh Public Schools will receive a $40 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support initiatives aimed at improving student achievement and graduation rates.  Click here for more information.



    The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is scheduled to return to session on Monday, December 7.

    The Pennsylvania Senate is now tentatively scheduled to return to session on Tuesday, December 15.

    For information on 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.