EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, March 8, 2010

    Content in this edition:
    EPLC News – Candidate Workshops
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State Senate
    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.



    EPLC will host a series of day-long Education Issues Workshops for legislative candidates, campaign staff and interested voters in Harrisburg (March 15), Valley Forge (March 17) and Monroeville (March 26).  Click here for program details and registration information.



    State Senate

  • As part of its annual state budget proceedings, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, March 2 to discuss the Governor’s proposed education budget.

    Several Senators raised concerns about significant cuts in library funding.  State support for public libraries was cut by 20% in the current budget and is slated to receive another 2% reduction in the Governor’s proposed budget for 2010-11.  Funding for library access would be cut about 43% from where it was is 2008-09, while funding for the electronic school library catalog was completely eliminated.

    Senators Larry Farnese (D-Phila.) and Mike Stack (D-Phila.) asked questions related to school safety and the elimination of funding for the Safe School Advocate.  Responding to concerns specific to the Philadelphia School District, Zahorchak said the District has a victims’ services program in place to support students who may otherwise have been served by the safe school advocate.  Statewide, Zahorchak said the Commonwealth is proposing school climate standards and has conducted the largest anti-bullying pilot program in the country.  He also said PDE supports school safety legislation introduced by Senator Jeff Piccola.

    Senators John Rafferty (R-Berks Montgomery) and John Wozniak (D-Cambria) asked whether the state could find savings by standardizing the textbooks used at each grade level or promoting the use of technology-based delivery of these materials.  Zahorchak said for the first time in its history Pennsylvania has identified concepts and competencies for each grade level and that all schools can align their curriculum materials using this state framework, but that the state does not want to control the ends and diminish creativity in how instruction is delivered.

    Senator Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) asked how many school districts were receiving exceptions to limits on the amount a school district can increase local property taxes and if PDE evaluates requests for exceptions to identify things districts could cut back on, like funding for “Taj Mahal buildings” and high administrative salaries.  Zahorchak said PDE acts like a compliance agency when granting exception requests.  If a district meets the criteria established in state law to qualify for an exception, PDE must follow the law and grant it.

    Senators from suburban regions of the state questioned why 25% of the proposed increase in basic education funding would go to the Philadelphia School District.  Zahorchak explained that the state’s funding formula prioritizes funds for students who are English language learners and who are living in poverty to address their extraordinary learning needs.  Philadelphia, which educates 11% of all students in the Commonwealth, has about 25% of the state’s students with English language needs and about 25% of the poorest students.  Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) asked whether the minimum increase many of his districts receive could be bumped from 2% to 3%.  Zahorchak said the new distribution formula for basic education – which was enacted in 2008 and slated to be phased-in over six years – is focused on closing school district adequacy funding gaps.  Districts with the largest gaps and greatest tax effort were targeted to receive a greater share of state funding up front.  However, this year that two-tier approach was eliminated and all districts will receive 41% of the amount necessary to close their adequacy funding gap.

    Committee Chair Jake Corman (R-Centre) asked why increases for K-12 education were prioritized over higher education in the Governor’s budget proposal.  Zahorchak said that Pennsylvania’s higher education institutions were doing a good job of meeting their goals and have other sources of revenue available to them while adequate funding for K-12 rests with the state or falls back on property owners.  Further, improving achievement at the K-12 level also has benefits down the road in reducing colleges’ remedial education rates.

    The state’s community colleges are not given their own opportunity to appear before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees because they are considered part of the Department of Education’s budget.  Governor Rendell has proposed to decrease funding for community colleges by 0.23% in 2010-11 by eliminating funding for regional community college services.  Base operational funding and capital funding for community colleges would be level funded at the 2009-10 level.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee also met with leaders of the state’s four state-related universities (Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University) on Wednesday.  Governor Rendell has proposed to flat fund these institutions using a combination of state dollars and $31.2 million in federal stimulus dollars (which will expire next year).  The Chairmen of the Senate Committee affirmed their support for making the institutions a priority in the budget in response to comments by House Appropriations Committee Chair Dwight Evans (D-Phila.) last week that suggested state funding for the schools could disappear in the future.  The university leaders spoke to the dramatic effect such a move would have on tuition and the message it would send about how Pennsylvania values higher education and its young people.

  • The Senate Education Committee met in York on Thursday for a hearing on the state’s education empowerment law, which is set to expire on June 30, 2010.  Education Committee Chair Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin) has introduced legislation to reauthorize and make changes to the law.  Click here to read Piccola’s legislation.



  • Pennsylvania was selected as one of 16 finalists in the $4 billion federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant competition; the Commonwealth could receive up to $400 million if it is ultimately selected when first-round winners are announced in April.  Other RTTT finalists are: Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Caroline, Tennessee and the District of Columbia.

    Finalists will present their RTTT proposals to a U.S. Department of Education panel in mid-March.  During this stage of the competition, finalists must demonstrate that “the state has the understanding, knowledge, capacity, and the will to truly deliver on what is proposed.”  Click here for more information on how the finalists were chosen and how the winners will be selected.

    Forty states and the Districts of Columbia applied for RTTT during this first phase of funding.  Applications for phase 2 are due on June 1.

  • Last week the White House and the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) announced the Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge, which invites public schools to compete to have President Obama speak at their graduation ceremonies by demonstrating how they are taking steps to meet the president’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.  The deadline to submit an application is March 15, 2010.  For more information, click here.

  • The USDE has made available a summary of state laws, regulations, policies and guidelines regarding the use of restraint and seclusion techniques in schools as a resource for school officials and parents.  The state-by-state summary is the result of an earlier request made by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to chief state school officers to provide a status update on their state’s efforts in reviewing and, if necessary, revising state policies and guidelines to ensure that all students are not unnecessarily and inappropriately restrained or secluded.



  • The Center on Education Policy (CEP) recently released a report titled An Early Look at the Economic Stimulus Package and the Public Schools: Perspectives from State Leaders.  This report examines the early impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and reveals the challenges that states are facing in meeting the four education reform requirements within ARRA.

    In order to receive ARRA funding, states had to commit to making progress in education reform in four areas: increasing teacher effectiveness and addressing inequities in the distribution of highly qualified teachers; establishing and using data systems that track students’ progress from pre-K through college and careers; developing and implementing rigorous standards for college and career readiness and high-quality assessments; and,  providing targeted, intense support and effective intervention to turn around low-performing schools.

    CEP identified seven key findings among states in implementing ARRA’s education requirements and addressing the Race to the Top grant program.  First, state education funding problems are likely to worsen in 2010.  Second, 41 states are applying for Race to the Top (RttT) grants even though its requirements are stricter than ARRA’s as states are looking for any additional sources of funding.  Third, states seem more certain about their plans to fulfill ARRA application assurances that require state actions – such as creating and executing data systems to track student progress and developing and implementing higher academic standards – than they are about fulfilling the reforms that depend more on local conditions – such as improving teacher effectiveness and turning around low-performing schools.  Fourth, the majority of states are considering adopting common standards for core subjects.  Fifth, states are active in overseeing and directing the local use of ARRA funds.  Sixth, the main problems states have in allocating ARRA funds are multiple or inconsistent reporting requirements, lack of administrative funds and lack of state capacity.  Lastly, states reported that in order to allocate ARRA funds, there needs to be timelier distribution of federal regulations and additional guidance from the federal government.

  • The Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics recently released their annual report, Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2009.  Data in the report is based on indicators of school crime and safety which are regularly monitored across the nation.  The 21 indicators used in the report were established through surveys of students, teachers and principles.  Two indicators used were theft and crime.  The new report found that, in 2007, students age 12-18 were victims of more nonfatal crimes in school (1.5 million) than out of school (1.1 million).  Crime was also measured across gender and race.  According to the study, in 2007, 10% of male students, and 5% of female students in grades 9-12 were threatened or injured with a weapon at school.  Comparatively, 10% of Black students, 9% of Hispanic students, 7% of White students, and 6% of American Indian/Alaska Native students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon at school.  Overall, the survey indicates the difference in frequency of crimes across different variables such as school characteristics, student race or gender and teacher’s gender.



    Governor Ed Rendell last week announced that Pennsylvania along with 16 other states has agreed to partner with Complete College America, a national non-profit organization committed to dramatically increasing college completion rates by 2020.  Complete College America will provide participating states with technical support to bring about change in the culture and practices of its public postsecondary institutions.  Pennsylvania has pledged to make college completion a top priority and has committed to setting state and campus specific degree and credential completion goals, developing and implementing aggressive state and campus level action plans, and collecting and reporting common measures of progress toward the state’s completion goals.  For additional information, click here.



    This week…

  • The House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee meets Monday to consider Senate Bill 206.

  • The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center holds its Annual Budget Summit in Harrisburg on Tuesday.

  • The Campaign for Educational Equity hosts a program on “Healthier Students Are Better Learners: A Missing Link in Efforts to Close the Achievement Gap” in New York on Tuesday.

  • The PA Department of Education and the Center for Schools and Communities hold the 2010 Extra Learning Opportunities Conference on March 9-11 in Harrisburg.

  • The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials holds its Annual Conference & Expo on March 9-12 in Hershey.

  • The House Local Government Committee holds a public hearing on property assessment appeals in Harrisburg on Wednesday.
  • The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bill 1090 and House Bill 1863.

  • The Senate Aging and Youth Committee holds a public hearing on Senate Bill 1137 at Westmoreland County Community College on Thursday.

  • The National Conference of State Legislatures holds its annual National Education Seminar on March 12-14 in New York, NY.

  • The National Association of Secondary School Principals holds its Annual Convention & Expo on March 12-14 in Phoenix, AZ.

  • 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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