EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, May 10, 2010

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State Senate
    - State House
    - State Board 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.



    A recent poll for Education Voters Pennsylvania  shows that the state’s voters favor continued investments in education “even in tough times” over pulling back from education funding as a state priority – by a margin of 76 to 17 percent.  This includes strong majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in every region of the state and every age group.
    Schools across the state are using the new funding provided by the 2008 school subsidy formula to improve results for students.  Since the General Assembly enacted its basic education funding formula, schools have provided additional training to improve the instructional skills of teachers of about 482,000 students, as well as advanced courses and more rigorous programs for about 407,000 students.  These are keys to improving student achievement.

    For more information on the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign, please visit www.paschoolfunding.org.



    State Senate

  • The Senate last week passed legislation (Senate Bill 928) that would provide for the divesture of investments by the state and school employees’ retirement systems in companies doing business in Iran and Sudan.  SB 928 awaits referral to a House Committee.

  • On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee approved the following bills:

    Senate Bill 1248: Would require PDE to develop and distribute financial education materials to public, private and nonpublic schools.  The material distributed must incorporate financial concepts into the basic school curricula and be designed to educate students about the importance of financial literacy.  They must assist students in achieving financial literacy and teach the basic principles involved with earning, spending, saving and investing money.  In addition, the materials also must align with and complement existing state academic standards for family and consumer sciences.  SB 1248 creates a task force on financial education to study and make recommendations on improving financial education in grades K-12.  Under this proposal the Secretary of Education, in conjunction with the task force, would be required to submit an annual report on the status of financial education in Pennsylvania to the Governor and the General Assembly.  SB 1248 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

    Senate Bill 1297: Prohibits the Secretary of Education from allowing a school district to reduce the number of instructional days due to school closures resulting from severe weather conditions unless expressly authorized by an act of the General Assembly or unless the school district can demonstrate that the number of days schools were closed due to severe weather exceeds the number of remaining available days through June 30.  Under this proposal, school districts must utilize all available days through June 30 in order to meet the state’s 180 day instructional requirement, including those days previously scheduled for vacation, in-service or Saturdays.  The bill does provide for student absences for religious observances on Saturdays.  The bill does not affect current provisions relating to graduating seniors.  SB 1297 prohibits the Secretary of Education from making payments to school districts for instructional days not completed due to severe weather conditions.   SB 1297 awaits further consideration by the full House.

    Senate Bill 1314: Would establish an Office of Charter and Cyber Charter Schools within PDE to oversee the performance and effectiveness of all charter and cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania.  SB 1314 would grant authority to the office to receive and investigate complaints of fraud, waste, mismanagement, misconduct or persistently unsatisfactory academic performance and to make referrals to law enforcement.  The bill requires all charter school chief administrators and trustee members to undergo a minimum of eight hours of continuing education annually.  The office would be responsible for organizing, providing and selecting eligible providers of continuing education training.  The office is also designated to serve as a clearinghouse for collecting and disseminating best practices.

    SB 1314 also makes revisions to the application procedure for charter schools by requiring a standardized application to be used by all applicants across the state.  SB 1314 clarifies that all charter school administrators and trustee members are public officials subject to the provisions of the Pennsylvania Public Official and Employees Ethics Act and the State Adverse Interest Act. Under this proposal, Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law and Open Meeting Law would apply to all charter school and cyber charter school proceedings.  All members of the charter school board of trustees and administrators must take the oath of office before engaging in the duties of their office.  The bill also limits certain business relationships between and among local school board members, charter school board members, charter school administrators, charter school foundations and their immediate family members.  SB 1314 requires that each charter school board be made up of at least five voting members. Superintendents or their designees of a local school board that granted the charter may sit on the board as non-voting members.  At least one member of the board of trustees of a charter school must be a parent of a child attending the charter school or cyber charter school.

    The bill also requires charters and cyber charters to form an independent audit committee to select a certified public accountant to perform a detailed audit, the results of which must be made public.  Charter and cyber charters would be required to provide a copy of their annual budget that identifies funding sources and salaries of all administrators.  Charter school foundations must make available copies of their annual state and federal tax filings upon request and on the foundation’s website.  PDE and local boards would be required to certify that they have received charter and cyber charter school annual reports within 10 days.  The bill changes the date by which charter schools must submit their annual reports to September 1; the current submission deadline is August 1.

    SB 1314 also adds “failure to maintain the financial ability of the charter school to continue as a going concern according to generally accepted accounting principles” to the causes for nonrenewal or termination of a charter.  It also allows school boards to revoke a charter or demand the replacement of a charter school administrator or board member who has been convicted of offenses pertaining to fraud, theft or mismanagement of public funds or any crime committed in the course of their official duties.  The proposal also allows that when a charter school is in corrective action status due to its academic achievement and seeks renewal of its charter, the school district may place specific conditions in the charter renewal requiring the school to meet certain student performance targets within a defined period of time.  The bill also grants parents the right to file a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas if they believe the charter school’s board of trustees is failing in its duties.  Finally, SB 1314 prohibits the consumption, purchase or sale of alcohol in any charter school facility or cyber charter school facility.

    SB 1314 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

    Senate Bill 1318: Establishes the State Military College Legislative Appointment Program.  Under this proposal, each member of the legislature would be permitted to establish a committee to recommend a resident of the lawmaker’s district for appointment to a State military college.  An applicant would be required to hold a high school or general educational development diploma (GED), maintain residency within the state and satisfy any other conditions established by the State military college, such as admission requirements.  The legislation requires the State Ethics Commission to develop guidelines for the establishment and functions of the selection committees to help ensure that the committees and the legislative appointments do not create any conflicts of interest or violate the Legislative Code of Ethics.  Any legislator who creates a selection committee would be required to file an annual report with the State Ethics Commission.  The act would expire on June 30, 2015.  SB 1318 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.

    Following action on the bills, the Senate Education Committee was briefed by Dr. Corrinne Caldwell, Chair, Student Health and Wellness Committee of the State Board of Education, on proposed changes to Chapter 12 (Students and Student Services) that would govern student nutrition and physical activity, and by Mr. Dane Linn, Director of the Education Division, NGA Center for Best Practices, on Pennsylvania’s participation in the Common Core Standards initiative.  A more detailed description of these policy proposals is included in the State Board of Education activity reported on in this edition of the EPLC Education Notebook.
  • Last Monday, the Senate Finance Committee adopted Senate Resolution 250, which requires the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to study the state’s property tax collection systems and the potential impacts, costs and benefits associated with consolidating those systems.  The LBFC also would be required to compare Pennsylvania’s property tax collection systems to those in other states, particularly states with similar demographics.  SR 250 awaits further consideration by the full Senate.


    State House

  • On Tuesday, the House Local Government Committee passed a package of legislation related to property assessment appeals (House Bill 2020, House Bill 2022 and House Bill 2023).  The legislation would require school districts that are seeking to appeal the assessed value of properties to vote separately on each property appeal.  Further, prior to the vote, a school board would be required to hold a public meeting attended by at least a majority of the elected board members during which the owner of the affected property has the opportunity to address the board.  HB 2020 also would required the property owner to be notified at least 30 days prior to the public meeting and provided contact information for a district employee who can discuss the appeal during normal business hours.  Finally, HB 2020 requires the district’s superintendent, assistant superintendent, business manager or an elected school director to attend all proceedings related to the appeal.  Each of the bills has been re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee.


    State Board of Education

    The State Board of Education held its bimonthly meeting on Wednesday and Thursday last week.  The Board took action to approve initial draft changes to Chapter 12 that address student health and wellness.  It also heard an update on the Common Core Standards initiative and results of a study on how Pennsylvania’s academic standards compare to the voluntary national standards.

    Chapter 12 Regulations

    The State Board of Education approved draft changes to Chapter 12 last week that supporters say represent the most comprehensive approach to addressing childhood obesity in the nation.  The changes add requirements for all students to participate in at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily and establish additional nutritional guidelines for foods served in public schools, such as food served in vending machines and through fundraisers.  Board Chairman Joe Torsella said the changes to get healthier food options and daily physical into schools are simple steps that can have a tremendous impact for our young people.  At its meeting Thursday, the Board heard from three middle school principals that already are incorporating more physical activity into their daily schedules under a Department of Health grant program.  Beyond the health benefits and positive responses they’d received from students, the middle school principals reported their schools had seen improved academic results as well, consistent with the mounting evidence linking student health to academic outcomes.

    Under the proposed regulations each school entity would be required to establish and maintain a coordinated school health advisory committee to assess, plan, implement and monitor school health policies and programs required by the Russell National School Lunch Act or the Child Nutrition Act of 1966.  The wellness committee would be comprised of members of the community, school representatives, students, parents, district food service employees, school administrators and school board members.  Each school entity in collaboration with the school health advisory council (wellness committee) must prepare a written plan that addresses strategies for improving student nutrition, health and physical activity.  School entities are encouraged to include the following practices in the school wellness plan: joint use agreements with local government and community agencies to encourage healthy eating outside of school hours, use of Pennsylvania-produced agricultural products, and school gardens.  Under the draft plan, foods and beverages may not be withheld or provided as a reward, incentive or punishment.  Also, school entities must provide adequate time for meal consumption (ten minutes for breakfast and 20 minutes for lunch once all students have been served).

    The proposed regulations contain new student nutrition standards for competitive foods and beverages sold during the school day in cafeterias, school stores, and vending machines.  General policies governing school parties, celebrations and fundraising for items that are sold during the school day also are included in the plan.  The nutrition rules also affect foods and beverages consumed at afterschool activities such as club meetings, but they do not affect fundraisers that are not conducted during the school day or at school-related events such as sporting events, school plays and band concerts.  School entities must report on the implementation of nutrition standards in their strategic report.  Non-compliance with the nutrition rules may result in sanctions that include suspension or recovery of state and federal reimbursements, removal of vending privileges and/or instituting a probationary period requiring an approved corrective action plan.   

    The proposed changes also establish new student physical activity requirements.  The revised regulations would require schools to provide at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily for students.  Time spent in interscholastic athletics or physical activity after school may not be counted toward meeting this requirement.  This requirement does not have to be met by scheduling one 30-minute period of activity, and can be achieved in a variety of ways by using time differently during the school day to incorporate physical activity or extending the school day.

    Further, elementary and middle schools would be required to provide at least 20 minutes per day of scheduled recess that includes moderate to vigorous physical activity.  High schools are encouraged to offer at least a 20 minute physical activity break.  Elementary schools would be required to provide 150 minutes of physical education per week and middle and secondary schools to provide 225 minutes of physical education per week.  Administrators, teachers and staff could not withhold physical activity for disciplinary reasons or to make-up lessons.  School entities would be required to regularly assess all students to measure individual attainment of physical education learning objectives and fitness goals.  However, an individual’s specific level of fitness as determined by a fitness assessment may not be used as a grading tool. 

    Changes to Chapter 12 also would require schools to provide and properly maintain safe and adequate spaces, facilities, equipment and supplies to achieve the objectives of their physical education programs.  Additionally, schools must report to PDE on safety and hazard assessment of their gyms, playgrounds, athletic fields and sports equipment as part of their strategic plan.  Inspection reports must remain on file for 10 years.  PDE would monitor school implementation and effectiveness of the physical education program and include recommendations for improvement to the State Board of Education, school principal and the school wellness committee.

    Common Core Standards

    The Board also heard from Dr. Suzanne Lane of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education.  She recently conducted an analysis comparing Pennsylvania’s current academic standards to the proposed Common Core Standards.  The Common Core is an effort being led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association to develop voluntary national academic standards.  In her study, Lane examined both the content alignment and alignment of cognitive rigor of Pennsylvania’s reading, writing and math standards in grades 3, 5, 8 and 11.  Lane reported that she found better alignment with the state’s English language arts standards than for math, primarily because the Common Core math standards were more narrow in the domain they assess at particular grade levels.  However, more alignment was found when she looked off grade level in math because some concepts included in Pennsylvania’s standards were introduced at earlier grade levels in the Common Core.  A written report with more details on Dr. Lane’s findings is forthcoming.

    The Board is slated to consider adoption of the Common Core Standards at its June 30-July 1 meeting in order to meet deadlines required to compete in the federal Race to the Top initiative.  If the Board chooses to adopt the Common Core, the voluntary national standards would represent 85% of Pennsylvania’s standards in math and English.  The State Board then would engage in further public deliberations to determine the remaining 15% of state standards in those subject areas.



    Pennsylvania college students saved $35.4 million in 2009 alone thanks to the state’s college credit transfer system.  The report also found that there has been a 15% increase in the number of students transferring from community colleges to universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) since 2007.  The PA Transfer and Articulation Center (PA TRAC) was created by Act 114 of 2006, which required the state’s 14 community colleges and 14 PASSHE universities to identify at least 30 general education credits that would be guaranteed to transfer between schools.  Last year, the state extended that to require community colleges and PASSHE universities to provide for full transfer of an associate’s degree (60 credits) and to require state-related institutions (Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Lincoln University) to identify a minimum of 30 credits for seamless transfer.  Private colleges have the option to participate as well.  For more information about the transfer system and to read the latest report on how it’s benefiting Pennsylvania students, click here.



    Pennsylvania Budget Secretary Mary Soderberg last week announced that $772.5 million in gaming revenue will be available for school property tax relief in 2010-2011.  Click here for details on what that means for local school districts.



    This week…

  • EPLC hosts a Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum in Harrisburg on Wednesday.

  • EPLC continues Workshops in Philadelphia (Tuesday) and Harrisburg (Wednesday) as part of the Parent and Community Leadership Institute.

  • The Independent Regulatory Review Commission meets Thursday to consider Pennsylvania’s Pre-K regulations.

  • The Children’s Coalition of the Lehigh Valley hosts a public forum on the State Budget and Children on Thursday in Bethlehem.

  • The Pennsylvania School Boards Association holds its annual School Design and Construction Conference in Lancaster on May 13-14.

  • 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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