EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, November 19, 2010

    Content in this edition:
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State House of Representatives
    - State Senate
    - Legislative Caucus Elections
    Pennsylvania Bulletin
    State Board of Education
    US Department of Education


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


    House of Representatives

    • The House voted 165-31 on November 15 to approve Senate amendments to HB 2497 and sent it to the Governor for his signature.   House approval came after rank-and-file Democratic members objected to their caucus leaders’ earlier decision to not vote on the legislation due to concerns about its constitutionality.

      If signed into law, HB 2497 will reduce short-term pension contributions for state government and school entities, curtail long-term costs to the two systems and reduce pension benefits for future members of the Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) and the State Employees' Retirement System (SERS).  This legislation will reduce a pending spike in annual required employer contributions that was expected to dramatically increase the cost to state and school district taxpayers.  HB 2497 accomplishes that partly by spreading over more years the employer contributions needed to cover costs for current employees, reducing benefits for new hires, and making structural changes.

      HB 2497 requires several long-term reforms that will considerably affect the benefits offered to all new state employees, school district employees and legislators, including the following:

    • Rolls back the benefit enhancements of 2001 and reduces the benefit multiplier from 2.5 percent to 2 percent for employees and from 3 percent to 2 percent for lawmakers while maintaining employee contribution rates of 6.25 percent for members of SERS and 7.5 percent for members of PSERS. Thus, new employees will get a lower benefit while paying a higher contribution rate.

    • Increases the vesting period from five years to 10 years.

    • Increases the retirement age from 60 to 65 for state employees and from 62 to 65 for school employees.
    • Eliminates the lump sum option that currently permits retiring employees to withdrawal all of their contributions at the end of their career, while receiving a monthly benefit for the remainder of their life.

    • Prohibits the use of pension obligation bonds to prop up or mask the funded status of either plan.

    • Caps the retirement benefit under the new plan at the member's pre-retirement salary, regardless of how many years of service.

    • Reduces the "fresh start" amortization of the plan's liabilities from 30 years to 24 years.

    • Requires any future "purchase of service" to be priced so that they are actuarially neutral.

    • Creates a "shared risk" provision, which the employer or the taxpayer would no longer be solely responsible for investment losses in the future. The contribution rate for employees would be adjusted periodically to reflect any poor investment performance by the fund. If the fund does not achieve its assumed rate of return of 8 percent, employees would be required to increase their level of payroll contributions to the fund.

    These changes would apply to lawmakers taking office on and after Dec. 1, 2010, state employees hired after Jan. 1, 2011, and school employees hired after July 1, 2011.

    On November 15, the House also voted 171-24 to override the Governor’s veto of HB 101, the omnibus school code bill.  HB 101 was sent to the Senate for further action (see below).


    On November 17, the state Senate agreed with the earlier House action and voted 42-7 to override the Governor’s veto of HB 101 HB 101 is now law and is the one and only veto that has been overridden in Governor Rendell’s tenure.

    The 2009-2010 Legislative Session ends officially on November 30.

    Legislative Caucus Leadership Elections

    This week, members of all four legislative caucuses elected leaders for the 2011-2012 Session.  Here are the results.

    Senate Republican (Majority) Caucus Leaders are:
    President Pro Tempore – Joe Scarnati (R-25)
    Majority Leader - Dominic Pileggi (R-9)
    Majority Whip – Pat Browne (R-16)
    Caucus Chair – Mike Waugh (R-28)
    Caucus Secretary – Bob Robbins (R-50)
    Caucus Administrator – TBD
    Appropriations Chair – Jake Corman (R-34)
    Policy Chair – TBD

    Senate Democratic (Minority) Caucus Leaders are:
    Minority Leader – Jay Costa (D-43)
    Minority Whip – Michael O’Pake (D-11)
    Caucus Chair – Anthony Williams (D-8)
    Caucus Secretary – Christine Tartaglione (D-2)
    Caucus Administrator – Lisa Boscola (D-18)
    Appropriations Chair – Vincent Hughes (D-7)
    Policy Chair – Richard Kasunic (D-32)

    House Republican (Majority) Caucus Leaders are:
    Speaker of the House – Sam Smith (R-66)
    Majority Leader – Mike Turzai (R-28)
    Majority Whip – Stan Saylor (R-94)
    Caucus Chair – Sandra Major (R-111)
    Caucus Secretary – Mike Vereb (R-150)
    Caucus Administrator – Dick Stevenson (R-8)
    Appropriations Chair – William Adolf (R-165)
    Policy Chair – Dave Reed (R-62)

    House Democratic (Minority) Caucus Leaders are::
    Minority Leader – Frank Dermody (D-33)
    Minority Whip – Mike Hanna (D-76)
    Caucus Chair – Dan Frankel (D-23)
    Caucus Secretary – Jennifer Mann (D-132)
    Caucus Administrator – Ron Buxton (D-103)
    Appropriations Chair – Joe Markosek (D-25)
    Policy Chair – Mike Sturla (D-96)


    The Pennsylvania Department of Education has announced (PA Bulletin: Vol. 40, No. 45, November 6) that applications for career and technical equipment grant funds for 2010-2011 are being accepted.  Funding is available on a competitive basis to career and technical education centers/AVTS (area vocational technical schools) and school districts that offer approved programs. The maximum amount per project is $50,000 per grant award. Applications are due December 3, 2010.  For more information or to apply via PDE’s E-Grant system, visit www.pde.state.pa.us.

    The State Board of Education met in Harrisburg on November 17 -18. 

    The Council of Higher Education heard testimony and approved the petition from Chester Upland School District to become a local sponsor of the Delaware County Community College.  Recently enacted legislation dedicates a portion of local revenue from table games made to the city of Chester for the purpose of local sponsorship of a community college.  The city of Chester entered into an agreement with the Chester Upland S. D. to distribute $3.9 million of gaming revenue to the district for this purpose.  The full State Board voted unanimously to approve this petition.

    The Council of Higher Education also heard testimony and approved a resolution regarding a pilot alternative certification program: The New Teacher Project (TNTP) in partnership with the Pittsburgh Public Schools.  This program is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and has been reviewed by the Department of Education and determined to be consistent with candidate competencies in the guidelines developed by the Department.  Pittsburgh is working with TNTP to design a residency (Teacher Academy) preparation model for individuals who hold at least a bachelor’s degree, demonstrate relevant content knowledge through state licensure exams and complete a rigorous screening process.  This model includes an intensive summer program followed by a school year working with a Master teacher.  After completing all program requirements, a decision would be made whether to recommend the candidate for state certification. The full State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve this resolution.

    The Council of Basic Education heard testimony and approved a report on the work of the State Assessment Validation Advisory Committee, which was charged with investigating the use of occupational skills test, such as the NOCTI (National Occupational Competency Testing Institute) exams as an alternative pathway to a high school diploma.  The Committee unanimously recommended that to be eligible for this alternative pathway to state high school graduation requirements a Career Technical Education (CTE) student must meet all other requirements for graduating (course completion and grades; completion of a culminating project; and demonstration of proficiency as determine by the local education agency (LEA) in each of the state academic standards). The CTE student must take the Keystone Exams or locally developed assessments and complete a PA State Skill Assessment (such as NOCTI, NIMS, or other PA approved exam).  A CTE student must demonstrate proficiency in Algebra I, biology, and literature.  This proposal ensures that all students have access to a rigorous curriculum aligned with state standards and provides flexibility that assigns value to a rigorous occupational skills test once a student has demonstrated proficiency in the three subjects required for federal accountability purposes. The full Board voted unanimously to approve this alternative pathway.

    The State Board for Vocational Education heard information and approved the Application by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to the U.S. Department of Education seeking accreditation status for the Bureau of Career and Technical Education.  In 2004, PDE was granted this authority but it is set to expire June 2011.  PDE is petitioning the U.S. Department of Education to renew its accreditation status. Career and Technology Centers (CTC) are eligible for Federal funds, in part, by holding accreditation status with an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education.  This allows CTCs to participate in the Federal student assistance programs.  In 2004, when the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges discontinued this service CTCs were forced to find alternative accreditation to prevent a lapse in federal student aid.  Thus, PDE sought and was granted this authority.  The full State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve this application.

    On November 17, Secretary Arne Duncan gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute entitled, The New Normal: Doing More with Less”.   Click here for the speech in its entirety.

    This week…

    • The Council of Chief State School Officers is having its annual policy forum November 18 – 21 in Louisville, KY.

    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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