EPLC Education Notebook

Thursday, January 21, 2010

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - PA Department of Education
    - Governor Rendell
    Pennsylvania Bulletin
    U.S. Department 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.



    Pennsylvania Department of Education

    Pennsylvania this week formally submitted its application to compete for up to $400 million in the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant program; 120 school districts and 59 charter schools have signed on to participate.  To participate in Pennsylvania’s application, a school district’s superintendent, school board president and local teacher’s union president were all required to sign an agreement to implement required reforms and to meet student achievement targets.  Local support is one of the criteria the U.S. Department of Education will use in evaluating RTTT applications.  However, students in every school district would benefit from state-level tools and resources the Commonwealth would develop with RTTT funds even if their individual district did not sign on to participate.

    The Pennsylvania Race to the Top plan is built around five primary objectives: increasing student achievement and developing data systems capable of supporting reform; turning around the lowest performing schools; creating a world-class system for professional development; developing a robust evaluation system for teachers and leaders; and, evaluating programs to identify and spread best practices.

    RTTT rules require that at least half of a state’s grant go directly to local school districts, however Pennsylvania has gone beyond that requirement and committed more than half of the funds to local level reforms.  Districts that agreed to participate could receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for smaller districts and millions of dollars for larger ones.  Further, in its application the Commonwealth committed an even greater level of support – $120 million – to 128 persistently low-performing schools that must commit to one of four bold school intervention models as part of the state’s turnaround schools initiative.

    Forty states and the District of Columbia have submitted applications for RTTT funding.  Not all will receive grants which are to be announced later this spring.  Click here for more information about Pennsylvania’s RTTT application.

    Governor Rendell

    To address declining revenues, Governor Ed Rendell last week placed $161 million of spending approved for 2009-10 into budgetary reserve.  Click here for a list of affected programs.  As of December, the state's revenue deficit exceeded $250 million. The Rendell Administration is estimating that the Commonwealth will end the 2009-10 fiscal year in June with a $450 million revenue shortfall.  The effect of the “budgetary reserve” orders is to reduce funding available to affected agencies for administrative costs as well as various grant programs.  This will affect many organizations and programs across the state.  



    Changes to state regulations establishing Keystone Exams – voluntary, common end-of-course exams for high school students in core academic subjects – took effect on January 9, 2010 with their publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.  The exams would begin with the graduating class of 2015.

    The regulatory changes create a new system for measuring whether students have met the state’s academic expectations for high school graduation.  Students will be able to demonstrate proficiency in English, math, science and social students through one or a combination of the following assessment mechanisms: 1) successfully completing high school coursework, which includes a Keystone Exam that will count as one-third of a student’s final course grade; 2) passing a local assessment (which must be independently validated as aligned with the state’s academic standards once every six years); or 3) passing an advanced placement or international baccalaureate exam in the appropriate content area.  Students also can supplement a Keystone Exam score with a project-based assessment, and will have the ability to retake a Keystone Exam – which must be offered at least three times a year – and to only retake that portion of the exam on which they were not initially successful.

    The PA Department of Education plans to apply to the federal government for approval to use Keystone Exams as its high school assessment system required by the federal No Child Left Behind Law.  Once approved, PDE would discontinue use of the 11th grade PSSA.

    In addition, the plan includes voluntary model curriculum that school districts may choose to use, tutoring for students who are not successful in passing a Keystone Exam, and professional development for teachers designed to help improve their instruction.



    The U.S. Department of Education has released a streamlined Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  The 2010-2011 FAFSA is shorter, simpler and more user-friendly.  The new design eliminates questions that are irrelevant to certain applicants and provides a confirmation email message which indicates Pell Grant eligibility and links to information about schools a student is applying to, such as graduation rates, costs and expenses.  Another feature of the new FAFSA allows applicants to retrieve and import their tax data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to complete the application.



    The Pennsylvania Virtual High School Study Commission has issued its final report to the Governor and legislative leaders in the House and Senate.  The Commission was established by Act 61 of 2008 to examine the feasibility and costs associated with creating a state-operated, Internet-based high school to provide students with equal access to expanded curricular offerings such as higher level math and science courses, foreign languages, advanced placement, summer enrichment and increased options for at-risk, homebound and alternative education students.



    Retirements among state lawmakers will ensure that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives will see a number of changes in leadership next year.  Pennsylvania Speaker of the House Keith McCall (D-Carbon) has announced that he will not seek re-election to the General Assembly.  Representative Paul Clymer (R-Bucks), Minority Chair of the House Education Committee, also has announced that he will not seek re-election.



    The Pennsylvania House and Senate return to session on Monday, January 25.

    Next week…

  • The House Education Committee meets to consider House Resolution 592 on Tuesday, January 26 in Harrisburg.

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education meets Wednesday and Thursday in Harrisburg.

  • The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on public pension issues on Wednesday in Harrisburg.

  • For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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