Education Legislative Update September 13, 2013

Friday, September 13th, 2013 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Education Legislative Update September 13, 2013

Yesterday the State Board of Education approved revisions to its proposed Chapter 4 regulations for academic standards and assessment that are intended to address concerns over the national Common Core Standards, related assessments, the collection of student data and other concerns.

The changes were made following a pause in the regulatory approval process in July when the board had withdrawn from the governor’s offices a Chapter 4 proposal adopted by the board earlier this year.  The pause was made to give the board time to address concerns raised by legislators in both the Senate and House of Representatives over the national Common Core Standards and related assessments, the state standards under Chapter 4, and other provisions of the proposal. The revised proposal will now be re-submitted to the Governor’s Policy Office, Governor’s Budget Office and Office of General Council for review. Following review in those offices, the proposal will be considered by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the Senate and House Education Committees for approval.

One of the key changes sought by PSBA was incorporated into the draft approved yesterday.  PSBA had objected to the proposed process for a new waiver to 12th grade students who have been unsuccessful with both Keystone Exams and the project-based assessment or has extenuating circumstances, because the waiver could only be approved by the secretary of education.  PSBA said that takes the decision of whether a student will graduate away from the local school district and ultimately places it into the hands of the state.  PSBA said this should be a local decision and asked that chief school administrators, rather than the secretary, be authorized to grant waivers for their students.  This change was made in the final version of the regulations.

Among the other key changes approved this week is language that will:

  • Changes the name of the standards from Pennsylvania Common Core Standards to Pennsylvania Core Standards. These standards for English language arts and mathematics are based upon components of the national Common Core standards. The standards will take effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
  • Clarify that the state standards are applicable only to public schools and do not apply to private, religious or home-schooled students. The regulations apply to school districts, charter and cyber charter schools, and area vocational technical schools.
  • Clarify that the state will not require school entities to utilize a statewide curriculum or statewide reading lists.
  • Clarify that Pennsylvania will not participate as a governing state in any consortium for the development of a national assessment, except if one is deemed necessary for special education students and then only in consultation with parents, teachers and other interested parties.
  • Clarify that PDE will not expand the collection of student data and will not collect personal family data due to implementation of the standards.
  • Remove language requiring the transcript to designate whether the level was achieved by taking a Keystone Exam or by a project-based assessment. PSSA scores will continue to be included, and beginning in 2016-17, the performance level demonstrated, not the score, for each Keystone Exam will be on the transcript.

Other provisions under the Chapter 4 proposal:

  • Elimination of state-prescribed strategic plan — However, districts must continue to prepare plans required for teacher induction, student services, gifted education, professional development, special education, and pre-kindergarten (if the school offers it).
  • Keystone Exams –Keystone Exams will be developed in 5 content areas for graduation purposes: Literature, Algebra I, Biology, Composition, and Civics and Government. Keystone Exams in Literature, Algebra I, and Biology will serve a dual purpose as both graduation requirements and for state accountability as required under federal law.
  • High school graduation requirements – Effective with the graduating Class of 2017, students must demonstrate proficiency in Algebra I, Biology and Literature Keystone Exams or related project-based assessment. Beginning with the Class of 2019, students will also have to pass a Composition Keystone Exam. Beginning with the Class of 2020, students will also have to pass a Keystone Exam in Civics and Government.  The proposal also eliminates the requirement for students to complete a culminating project in order to graduate.
  • Alternate pathways for CTC students – Students enrolled in a career and technical education program may demonstrate proficiency on the Keystone Exams or a Pennsylvania Skills Assessment (NOCTI exam) to meet the requirement for testing in Composition, and Civics and Government.
  • Second, CTC students who did not demonstrate proficiency on the Biology Keystone Exam may participate in a project-based assessment without having to take the Keystone twice.  These pathways relate only to graduation requirements; students would still be required to take Keystone Exams for state accountability purposes.
  • Parental opt-out – Parents/guardians have the right to review any state assessment to determine whether the assessment conflicts with their religious beliefs. In asserting a religious objection to the assessment, a parent/guardian must explain the objection in their written request for excusal. Students who are not taking Keystone Exams under the parental opt-out provision must take the project-based assessment for each subject area required for graduation.
  • Supplemental instruction — Students who did not score proficient on a Keystone Exams must participate in supplemental instruction prior to re-taking the Keystone/module.
  • Project-based assessment – Students not able to demonstrate proficiency on an exam or whose parents opted them out of taking a Keystone Exam will participate in a project-based assessment.

Education Legislative Update August 7, 2013

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Education Legislation Update, August 7, 2013

This week the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and the State Board of Education presented testimony to the House Education Committee outlining its suggested revisions to its Chapter 4 regulations that are intended to address concerns over the national Common Core Standards, related assessments, and the collection of student data.

Last month, the State Board of Education announced that it had withdrawn from the governor’s offices its proposed revisions of the Chapter 4 regulations for academic standards and assessment. These regulations, which have been the subject of concern by some legislators in recent months, include provisions for final implementation of the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards that were to become effective on July 1, 2013, and changes for high school graduation requirements. The board’s action was taken to allow it additional time to consider provisions under House Resolution 338 that was adopted by the House of Representatives in June.  The resolution urges the Secretary of the Education and the State Board of Education to ensure that Pennsylvania’s academic standards are thoroughly rigorous, and to ensure that concerns relating to the adoption of the Common Core state standards are addressed by amending state regulations as necessary.

Among the key changes announced this week is language that will be proposed to:

  • Change the name of the standards from Pennsylvania Common Core Standards to Pennsylvania Core Standards. PDE and the State Board said that the change will serve to clarify that the Pennsylvania standards were developed by a group of Pennsylvania educators and while these standards reflect some components of the national Common Core standards, they are not identical. The standards will take effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
  • Clarify that the state standards are applicable only to public schools and do not apply to private, religious or homeschooled students. The regulations apply to school districts, charter and cyber charter schools, and area vocational technical schools.
  • Clarify that the state will not require school entities to utilize a statewide curriculum or statewide reading lists.
  • Clarify that Pennsylvania will not participate as a governing state in any consortium for the development of a national assessment, except if one is deemed necessary for special education students and then only in consultation with parents, teachers and other interested parties.
  • Clarify that PDE will not expand the collection of student data and will not collect personal family data due to implementation of the standards.

What’s next?
The Senate Education Committee will also be meeting with PDE and the State Board later this month to discuss these issues. The changes discussed at this week’s hearing will be amended into the latest set of revisions to Chapter 4 that were approved by the State Board in March. These changes are expected to be voted on at the board’s next meeting in September.  If approved, the full set of Chapter 4 revisions will be forwarded the proposal to the Governor’s Policy Office, Governor’s Budget Office and Office of General Counsel for review. Following review in those offices, the regulation will be submitted to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the Senate and House Education Committees for approval. If the proposal is approved by these panels, it will be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and become final and effective on the date of publication.

Education Legislative Update, April 18, 2013

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Education Legislative Update, April 18, 2013

The General Assembly was session this week. The House of Representatives will be in session next week, and the Senate has adjourned until April 29.

This week:
* PSBA, local government leaders seek prevailing wage reform
* PSBA presents testimony on pension reform
* 300 school officials sign letter urging legislators for increased construction reimbursement
* On the governor’s desk
* House action this week
* Senate action this week
* On the Hill: Upcoming meetings

PSBA, local government leaders seek prevailing wage reform
This week PSBA joined local government leaders at the Capitol to ask the General Assembly to enact meaningful reforms to the Prevailing Wage Act, which was enacted in 1961 and has been unchanged since that time. The event was hosted by the Local Government Conference and attended by elected officials from across the state.
Speaking at the event on behalf of PSBA was Kathy Swope, president of the Lewisburg Area School Board.  Participating Local Government Conference organizations included, in addition to PSBA, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP), Pennsylvania Municipal League (PML), Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association (PMAA), Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs (PSAB), Pennsylvania State Association of Township Commissioners (PSATC), and Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS).

PSBA presents testimony on pension reform
This week PSBA presented testimony to the House State Government Committee on pension reform.  Representing PSBA at the hearing was PSBA Acting Chief Counsel Emily Leader, who urged the committee members to enact pension reforms that would ease the financial crisis facing school districts and their taxpayers. Leader told the committee that without meaningful pension reform, schools will be facing years of strained budgets that will leave them no option but to continue to cut programs and services for students.
Leader also addressed the issue of whether plan changes can be made to current employees’ future benefits. She said that PSBA supports legislation that protects pension benefits that have already accrued for work already performed. However, she suggested that employees’ pension contracts with the commonwealth may be renewed or amended if employees have notice of this and accept other new conditions in their employment. Citing a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case that allowed changes to current employees’ benefits under the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act if they were on notice of its provisions prior to accepting a new term of office, a promotion or new appointment, Leader said this provides a possible blueprint for similar language in pension reform legislation. In order to rein in the pension crisis, the association believes any reform must include this as a strategy.
“We think if an employee accepts a new deal in other ways, new conditions can attach, because it then results in a new contract between the employee and the commonwealth,” Leader said. “Essentially, the General Assembly would create a plan so an employee is deemed to accept the new rules and trigger applicability by accepting a promotion, new position, some kind of new benefit, or perhaps even just a pay raise (or step movement on a salary scale).  Entering into a successor collective bargaining agreement may likely be enough.”

300 school officials sign letter urging legislators for increased construction reimbursement
This week approximately 300 local school officials sent a joint letter to the General Assembly urging legislators to make additional funding available for needed school construction and renovation projects. The letter was signed by school directors, superintendents and business managers from school districts and career and technical centers whose construction projects are in a backlog at Part G of the PlanCon process.  It was endorsed by PSBA, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO).
The letter explained that underfunding of this program has real and significant consequences for school districts and taxpayers across the state that are forced to bear the burden of delayed state payments.
“We cannot ignore our financial obligations or delay our debt payments until it is convenient for our budgets and our taxpayers.  We respectfully ask that you provide additional funding to the PlanCon program to ensure the state does not ignore its obligation to support school construction so that school districts such as ours that are currently trapped in the process receive reimbursement without further delay,” the school officials wrote.

On the governor’s desk:  
Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law SB 66, which moves the State Tax Equalization Board (STEB) from an independent board to a division within the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).  STEB has the power and duty to determine the market value of taxable real property in each school district, and to certify to the Department of Education and to the board of school directors of each school district by July 1 of each odd-numbered year, a list of all school districts showing the market value of taxable real property and the assessed valuation for county tax purposes and by July 1 of each even-numbered year, the changes in market value which result from properties going on or off the assessment rolls for taxation purposes. The STEB board is required to immediately review any finding that shows market values increasing or decreasing by 10% or more when compared to the previous year.

Still on the governor’s desk is HB 2, which implements a new special education funding formula, establishing how any increases in the current special education appropriation are distributed using weighting factors based on category of disability. The bill also creates a Special Education Funding Commission to develop the components of the special education funding formula, including the weighting factors and the parameters of each category of disability.

In House action this week:

The House Labor and Industry Committee approved:
HB 796, which modifies the Prevailing Wage Act. As drafted, the bill increased the threshold for compliance with the Act from $25,000 to $75,000.  The bill was amended to increase the threshold to $100,000.  Another amendment specified that a construction project may not be intentionally divided into multiple parts for the purposes of circumventing the law. A third amendment adds anti-retaliation protection for workers.

HB 1130, which creates the Social Media Privacy Protection Act.  The bill prohibits employers from requesting an employee’s or prospective employee’s social media username or password. The bill also prohibits punishment or dismissal of an employee or failure to hire an applicant based upon refusal to provide the prohibited information. The bill allows employers to install internet or social media policies at the workplace, including internet usage monitoring.

The House Education Committee approved these bills of interest:
HB 324, which repeals the Separations Act requirements for school districts. The bill would allow districts to decide how best to bid a construction project, using either multiple prime contracts as is required now or using a single prime contract to do the needed work.

HB 135, which would revive the mandate waiver program that expired in June 2010 to allow school districts to apply to the Department of Education (PDE) to waive certain statutory and regulatory mandates.  School districts must justify the need for relief from a specific mandate and develop an evaluation procedure to examine the impact of the relief on their district.  Additionally, HB 135 requires school districts that receive a waiver to submit a report to PDE outlining the impact of the waiver three years following approval of the mandate relief.
Four amendments to the bill were approved that would:
* Remove the ability of school districts to waive the provisions of the Separations Act and force districts to continue bidding all projects under separate contracts.
* Allow intermediate units to apply for a mandate waiver on behalf of all member school districts if all member school districts approve the proposed waiver; require PDE to create a uniform application form that allows applicants to apply for single or multiple waivers on one form; extend the time frame for the mandate waiver evaluation from 3 to 5 years; eliminate the requirement that PDE issue an annual report of waiver requests, approvals, and disapprovals; and require PDE to post all requests, approvals, and disapprovals on its website.
* Allow a waiver applicant to appeal any disapproval of a waiver application to the Secretary of Education.
* Include the Chapter 15 regulations (Protected Handicapped Students) in the list of mandates that cannot be waived by a school district or intermediate unit under this program.

The House Education Committee  passed over two other bills that were originally scheduled to be considered:
HB 969, which would require on 75% of the professional employees in a school district to be certified; and HB 1097, which extends the current moratorium on mandatory professional development for educators to June 30, 2014 and requires PDE to create a plan for targeting professional development to those schools with unsatisfactory performance levels as designated under the new School Performance Profiles system.

The House Health Committee approved:
House Resolution 191, which declares youth violence as a public health epidemic and supports the establishment of statewide trauma-informed education.

The House Select Committee for School Safety conducted a hearing pursuant to House Resolution 53, which establishes the committee and charges it to examine the issue of school safety in public and nonpublic schools, and institutions of higher education.  The committee will make recommendations about strengthening school security policies, school safety and security laws, and early detection of potentially violent perpetrators.  The committee’s recommendations to the House of Representatives by Sept. 30, 2013.

In Senate action this week:

The Senate passed:
SB 10, which expands the current Safe Schools Grant program offered by the Office for Safe Schools within PDE and creates a dedicated grant to public and private school entities and municipalities for the purpose of training and hiring school resource officers and school police officers for schools that want them on premises.  Municipalities that receive grants may assign school resource officers following the consent of the school board; the number of students enrolled in the school must be taken into consideration when assigning officers.  Grants to municipalities may not be used for other purposes.

The Senate Education Committee approved these bills of interest:
SB 34, which amends the Professional Educator Discipline Act. Among the changes, SB 34: expands the jurisdiction of the Professional Standards and Practices Commission to include educators holding Private Academic School certification and educators working for independent contractors in public schools; expands the bases for discipline to include founded and indicated reports of child abuse as well as “grooming” behaviors such as sending a student sexually explicit text messages; shortens the time period for mandatory reporting to PDE; requires an educator arrested or indicted for or convicted of certain enumerated crimes to report the indictment, arrest or conviction to the employing school entity within 72 hours; prohibits school entities from entering into confidential settlement agreements that interfere with a school entity’s mandatory reporting; and eliminates the current statute of limitations for the filing of misconduct complaints.

SB 46, which requires an employment history review for all prospective school employees as it relates to any investigation concerning sexual misconduct. The bill applies to all prospective employees of public and private schools, nonpublic schools, intermediate units and area vocational-technical schools, including, but not limited to, teachers, substitutes, janitors, cafeteria workers, independent contractors and their employees, except those employees and independent contractors and their employees who have no direct contact with children.

Senate Resolution 71, which calls upon the President and the Congress of the United States to fully fund all special education mandates imposed by federal laws or regulations upon state, county, municipal or local providers of educational services to students in the Commonwealth.

HB 19, which requires school districts to incorporate an age-appropriate child exploitation awareness education program into the existing curriculum for students in grades K-8. The Department of Education would develop model guidelines and provide educational materials to be used in the creation of the programs.

On the Hill: Upcoming meetings
Upcoming events currently scheduled include:

Tuesday, April 23
* The Senate Education Committee will hold two public hearings from 1-3:15 p.m. and from 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. at Lebanon High School, 1000 South 8th Street, Lebanon. The first hearing will focus on competency based education, including hybrid education; blended learning opportunities; and open campuses initiatives across the Commonwealth. The second hearing will focus on students and their educational experience; testimony will be presented by high school students from Lebanon County.

Wednesday, April 24
* The House Education Committee will meet to consider HB 1031, which creates the      Pennsylvania Community College Affordability Task Force that will examine the statutory requirements for local sponsorship and make recommendations regarding the sustainability of local sponsorship. Recommendations will include interim and long-term steps to stabilize funding.  Task force members will include representatives from school districts who are local sponsors, the secretary of education, the Department of Labor and Industry’s Workforce Investment Board, community colleges, county commissioners, legislators and representatives of the business community.

* The House State Government Committee will hold an informational meeting to discuss HB 211, HB 549and HB 868, which would make various changes to the Regulatory Review Act and the process for promulgating state regulations.

Thursday, April 25
* The House Education Committee will conduct a public hearing on issues related to bullying and suicide prevention.

Educational Legislative Update, February 5, 2013

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Legislative Update, February 5, 2013
 
Gov. Corbett’s 2013-14 State Budget Proposal

Today Gov. Tom Corbett presented a $28.4 billion state spending plan for 2013-14, which is a 2.4% increase over 2012-13. The budget provides $9.55 billion for K-12 education. Funding for the Basic Education Subsidy would receive a modest $90 million, or 1.7%, increase, bringing the total to $5.5 billion. The largest increase in the education budget once again is allocated to pensions. The budget includes $1.08 billion, an increase of $223.9 million, or 26.2%, for school employees’ retirement costs.

Other specific education items under the governor’s plan are:

* Special Education – Special education is level funded again at $1.03 billion, for the sixth year.
* Accountability Block Grant – level funded at $100 million.
* Assessment — $56 million, which is a $3.8 million, or 7.2%, increase for state and federal testing programs, including the Keystone Exams and PSSAs.
* Authority Rentals and Sinking Fund Requirements – the funding that is used for reimbursement to schools for approved construction projects (PlanCon) is level funded at $296 million. The governor also proposed extending the moratorium on new PlanCon projects for an additional year.
* Career and Technical Education – level funded at $62 million.
* Teacher and Principal Evaluations — $6.6 million for continued development of this initiative. Of this amount, $3.9 million is allocated for a teacher evaluation tool that will be fully implemented in the 2013-14 school year. In addition, the budget provides $2.7 million for the development of a new specialist evaluation tool and principal evaluation tool. Full implementation of the principal evaluation tool will occur in the 2014-15 school year.
* Educator Misconduct — $775,000 to establish a dedicated division within PDE’s Office of Chief Counsel to prosecute misconduct by professional educators. Funding will be provided through a $25 increase to the $100 certification fee that educators pay to the Department of Education for certification.
* Pre-K Counts – $87million, which is a $4.5 million, or 5%, increase for Pre-K Counts pre-kindergarten education programs.

Mandate Relief
The budget documents call for a mandate waiver program that may be similar to the program that was previously in effect from 2000 until 2010.  The documents noted that “Innovative school districts will have an opportunity to apply to the Department of Education for a waiver from certain requirements of the Public School Code if the district can demonstrate that the waiver will allow it to improve its instructional program or operate in a more effective, efficient or economical manner.”

Competency-Based Learning
A focus on competency-based education will provide school districts with the flexibility to meet the diverse education needs of students by providing students an opportunity to earn credit at their own pace, rather than by seat time, and to earn credit in settings other than traditional classrooms.

A key component of this initiative is giving school districts the opportunity to apply for waivers from requirements of the Public School Code and regulations that interfere with a district’s plan for implementing competency-based education. In addition, the Department of Education will establish a comprehensive catalog of online course options that are aligned with Pennsylvania Common Core State Academic Standards that can assist districts in providing more options to students.

Digital Learning Opportunities
The budget proposes an Online Course Choice program to expand education beyond the physical walls and limitations of the classroom and provide educators and school districts additional educational options for the delivery of rigorous, high-quality courses in all subject matters. The Department of Education will accept and approve applications from providers that offer rigorous, high-quality instruction through an online delivery system. Local school districts will be responsible for establishing student eligibility requirements, policies and procedures related to their specific district Online Course Choice program to maintain the integrity of locally designed graduation requirements. Given the growing importance of improving STEM education, Pennsylvania will focus on the development, identification and implementation of rigorous digital learning opportunities in STEM content areas in 2013-14 and will expand to other content areas in the future.

Passport for Learning Block Grant
The governor is targeting funds from the privatization of liquor and wine sales, with the revenue from the auction of liquor licenses, to be used for a proposed a new “Passport for Learning” block grant that would provide $1 billion to public schools over the next four years.  The plan would provide $200 million available by the 2014-15 school year and $1 billion in total over four years. It would be based on a formula that considers the school district’s enrollment, characteristics of the student population and wealth. Grant awards would be announced in the spring of 2014, and funds available for use by school districts in the 2014-15 school year.

School districts could use the block grant funds in these four areas:
* School Safety Training for administrators and educators, enhanced security measures and partnerships with local law enforcement.
* “Ready by 3” – early learning programs Grant funding that may be used for improvements to quality kindergarten programs aligned with the current academic standards that promote enhanced academic achievement in elementary reading and mathematics.
* Individualized Learning — Funding from this grant may be used for start-up costs related to implementing Competency Based Education with a focus on self-paced mastery of a customized learning plan based on student proficiency.
* STEM programs — Enhanced student access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics programming in grades six to twelve.

Governor unveils plan for pension reform
Corbett also announced his plan for pension reform for both the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS). The pension reform plan creates defined contribution systems that include no changes to benefits for retirees and no changes to benefits accrued by current employees through the effective date of the plan. The plan would change the formula for future benefits for current employees’ plans.

According to the governor’s office, the commonwealth will realize nearly $2 billion in savings over the next five years, through the employer contribution limit changes. School districts and local education agencies would realize savings of more than $1 billion over five years, nearly $140 million in 2013-14 alone.

Highlights of the governor’s pension reform plan include:

1. Moving new employees to a defined contribution plan
State Employees’ Retirement System, or SERS, employees hired after Jan. 1, 2015 and Public School Employees’ Retirement System, or PSERS, employees hired after July 1, 2015 will be enrolled in a 401(a) defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k) plan.

Enrollment in the 401(a) plan will be automatic, and most state employees will be required to contribute at least 6.25 percent of their salary to their plan, while public school employees will need to contribute at least 7.5 percent.

2. Changing the formula for future benefits for current employees’ plans
Changes to the formula will be effective for SERS employees on Jan. 1, 2015 and for PSERS employees on July 1, 2015, and include:

* Reducing the multiplier in the formula used to determine future pension benefits by 0.5% for all employees that are currently locked into a multiplier above the 2% level, except for those who previously bought up to the higher multiplier. Current employees can still keep their higher multiplier by paying a higher contribution rate.
* Capping pensionable compensation to 110% of the average salary of the prior 4 years when determining an employee’s final average earnings.

* Capping pensionable income at the Social Security wage base, which is $113,700 for 2013.

* Determining an employee’s final salary by averaging the employee’s last five years of compensation.

Corbett’s plan also revises a provision in the retirement calculation that provided an annuity that was higher than the amount that could be supported by the remaining funds in employees’ pension accounts. Moving forward, if current employees choose to withdraw their contributions, their pension payments will be based on the amount remaining in their pension account.

3. Limiting the amount by which the commonwealth’s employer contributions can be increased
The governor is calling for a reduction in current annual employer contribution limits from the mandated 4.5% to 2.25% in 2013-14. That amount would increase half a percentage per year until it reaches 4.5% again, or until it is equal to the annual required contribution rate. This is otherwise known as “tapering the collars.”

Currently, the state must pay an annual required employer contribution rate, which is determined by the amount of unfunded liability and other costs. By law, the state must increase that rate by 4.5% each year. This annual rate, currently hovering over 10% for both funds and expected to rise to close to 30% in the next 8 years, has caused unsustainable growth in employer contributions.

Educational Legislative Update Jan. 24, 2013

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Legislative Report   January 24, 2013

Both the Senate and House of Representatives were in session this week.  The Senate will return to session on Monday, Jan. 28; the House has adjourned until Monday, Feb. 4.  On Tuesday, Feb. 5, Gov. Tom Corbett will present his 2013-14 state budget proposal before a joint meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives.

PSBA Presents Testimony on Special Education Funding Concerns

This week PSBA submitted testimony to the Senate Republican Policy Committee regarding issues related to special education funding and challenges facing school districts. The testimony explained that special education costs are driven by the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Pennsylvania regulations (which cover gifted as well as disabled students), and the unique needs of the students in each district. PSBA said that the U.S. Congress has never come close to its promise of funding 40% of the costs for IDEA and this was compounded in 1991 when Pennsylvania discontinued providing 100% funding of the “excess costs” of providing appropriate special education services to students. The association also voiced concern because school districts are required to reimburse charter schools for special education costs using a different formula, saying that these differences in the special education funding formulas translate into further funding inequities between charter schools and school districts.

The association recommended that reform needs to take a holistic approach in increasing the annual appropriation of state funding, amending the current formula for how money is distributed to school districts, and avoiding new requirements that would cause school districts to experience further financial stress. PSBA encourages legislators to address issues that exist in current special education funding law while also avoiding the adoption of policies related to special education that require already overextended districts to spend more money.

In House Action This Week:

The House unanimously adopted House Resolution 23, designating January 2013 as “School Director Recognition Month” in Pennsylvania. The resolution notes that “being an effective school director is no easy task, particularly in the current climate of school change; and today’s lay school leaders need to be knowledgeable   about many complex educational and social issues.” The resolution also acknowledges that “school board service is perhaps the purest form of grass roots democratic principles upon which our republic was founded,” and described local public school directors as “dedicated, educated, responsible citizens who carry out the truest form of  representative government in our democracy, volunteer public service.”

The House Education Committee reported out these bills of interest:

  • HB 19, which requires school districts to incorporate an age-appropriate child exploitation awareness education program into the existing curriculum for students in grades K-8. The Department of Education would develop model guidelines and provide educational materials to be used in the creation of the programs.
  • HB 75, which prohibits school districts from starting their fall term prior to Labor Day; however, a district could conduct in-service for teachers before the holiday. HB 75 was reported out with a request to re-refer the bill the House Tourism & Recreational Development Committee.
  • HB 91, which amends the Tax Reform Code to allow individual career and technical education schools to be eligible to receive business donations within the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. The bill requires that 10% of the available amount of tax credits initially be set aside for contributions by business firms to EIOs that provide donations to career and technical schools. Tax credits remaining from the amount set aside after July 1 of each year would be made available to business firms for contributions to any EIO.
  • HB 111, which establishes elements to be contained in the State Board of Education’s master plan for higher education. The legislation replaces the current eight requirements of the plan with these new requirements: (1) describe the current higher education landscape in Pennsylvania; (2) identify unmet needs and gaps with regard to career fields, geographic and financial access; (3) identify emerging higher education issues and recommend strategies and options designed to address the issues; (4) identify gaps and opportunities for collaboration with basic education, work force development programs, economic development and other related systems; and (5) outline a plan for action by the board to revise or update its higher education regulations.
  • The House Children & Youth and Judiciary Committees conducted a joint meeting to discuss the Child Protection Task Force Report.  Last November, the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection recently released its report and recommendations to improve state laws and procedures governing child protection and the reporting of child abuse. The House Judiciary Committee is expected to consider bills related to some of the recommendations next month, with meetings tentatively set for Feb. 6 and 12.
  • The House Appropriations Committee approved HB 81, which authorizes students to drive an agricultural vehicle to a school that is hosting an annual agricultural-related event for purposes of participating in the event provided that the distance to the site of the event does not exceed 25 miles. Further provides an exemption from licensing to any person 14 years of age or older operating an implement of husbandry not to exceed 11 feet wide on a roadway for the purpose of driving that implement between sunrise and sunset to an annual agricultural-related event hosted by the school as long as the distance between the person’s residence and the distance to the site of the event does not exceed 25 miles.

In Senate Action This Week:

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed Senate Resolution 6, which directs the Joint State Government Commission to study the issue of violence prevention, to establish an advisory committee to conduct a thorough review and comprehensive analysis of the underlying causes of violent crime, including mass shootings. The final report, due Dec. 31, 2013, would include recommendations regarding mental health laws and procedures, necessary changes in state laws and practices, policies relating to violent crime. The report also would include recommendations on ways to make schools safer and to develop awareness, education and other strategies to address issues relating to violent crime.

The Senate Inter-Governmental Operations Committee approved SB 66, which moves the State Tax Equalization Board (STEB) under the purview of the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).  STEB has the power and duty to determine the market value of taxable real property in each school district, and to certify to the Department of Education and to the board of school directors of each school district by July 1 of each odd-numbered year, a list of all school district showing the market value of taxable real property and the assessed valuation for county tax purposes and by July1 of each even-numbered year, the changes in market value which result from properties going on or off the assessment rolls for taxation purposes.

Educational Legislative Update Jan. 22, 2013

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PDE Recalculation of Charter School Achievement Shows Significant Decline
January 22, 2013

As required by the U.S Department of Education (U.S. DOE), the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has recalculated the academic performance of charter schools for 2011-12, with the data showing a marked decline in the number of schools that met targets for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and an increase in those charter schools that are in warning, improvement or corrective action status. The recalculations show that only 28% of all charter schools met AYP, as compared to 49% determined under the calculations made last fall.
The recalculations affected 144 brick and mortar charter schools, and 12 cyber charter schools.  According to the recalculations released in January:

There are 34 fewer charter schools in total met AYP, dropping from 77 (49%) to 43 (28%).
No cyber charter schools met AYP.
There are 7 fewer charter schools that received a “Making Progress” designation.
There are 27 more charter schools that received a “Warning” designation.
There are 9 more charter schools in either “Corrective Action I or II” under the recalculations.

What happened last fall, 2012

Last fall, PDE implemented a new way of determining whether charter schools have met student achievement milestones for AYP under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The new method was less stringent than the standards that must be met by traditional public schools, which until last fall were also applied to charter schools. Use of the more lenient method made it appear that more charter schools made AYP last year than was actually the case.

PSBA had tracked the basis of the new approach to a very subtle change in the wording of Pennsylvania’s Accountability Workbook, the plan outlining the state’s NCLB accountability system that must be submitted to and approved by the U.S. DOE.  A request by PDE to calculate charter school AYP by the same method used for districts instead of traditional schools was submitted by the department to the U.S. DOE in late summer, but PDE went ahead with the calculation change without federal approval when it released 2012 AYP results in September.

PSBA had submitted a formal letter of objection to the U.S. DOE in early October once it discovered the calculation change for charter schools had not been approved and was still under consideration. On Nov. 19, the U.S. DOE agreed with PSBA objection to charter school AYP and ordered PDE to recalculate results by end of fall semester.

The recalculation more accurately reflects the performance of charter schools in meeting AYP for 2012, as compared with traditional public schools. Currently approved standards for individual Pennsylvania schools require that for a school to meet the academic performance component of AYP based on PSSA testing, the overall student body must meet the annual targets for the percentage of students scoring proficient or above, on both math and reading assessments. In addition, the necessary percentage of proficient students in each measurable subgroup (students grouped by race, ethnicity, English language learners, special needs, economically disadvantaged, etc.) must be attained in order for the school to make AYP.

Under the new method PDE had applied to charter schools, the school’s overall student body did not have to meet PSSA proficiency percentage targets. Instead, a school’s student body was divided into up to three grade spans (elementary grades 3-5, middle grades 6-8, and high school grades 9-12), and if the students in at least one of those grade spans met proficiency percentage targets, including the subgroups within that span, the entire school was regarded as having met that component of AYP. In addition, PDE did not require that a single grade span meet targets in both math and reading, but awarded AYP designation if at least one grade span met targets in each subject.

Under this methodology, the proficiency percentage of a charter school’s overall student body could decline, and yet PDE would still classify the charter school as having made AYP. There are a number of examples of such declines on PDE’s charter school AYP list issued in September. Another result is that the assessment performance of charter school students in the other grade spans simply did not matter for AYP purposes, allowing those children to be left behind without consequences for the school.

It should be noted that the fact that a charter school’s entire student body and all subgroups did not meet statewide proficiency percentage targets does not necessarily mean that the charter school could not have made AYP under one or more of several alternative ways targets can be considered as having been met, such as the “safe harbor,” “confidence interval,” and “growth model” exceptions, as well as the option to combine data over multiple years. These alternative benchmarks must be calculated separately for each school, and the individual school data for doing that are not yet publicly available. Nonetheless, failure to meet the statewide proficiency targets makes it far less likely that the charter school would have made AYP without the advantage of the single subject grade span method.

PSBA had expressed concerns that this attempt to artificially inflate the number of charter schools regarded as making AYP served to mask deficiencies in charter schools and deny families the information necessary to make informed choices, misleading them about the charter schools they are considering choosing, or that they already attend. It also had the effect of delaying crucial improvement and corrective action measures for a failing charter school, or prematurely ending those measures for a charter school that was already in improvement or corrective action status. These academic achievement issues should be critical considerations in the charter school renewal process.

Historical data indicate that making AYP under NCLB has been a significant struggle for Pennsylvania charter schools, with a consistently lower percentage of charter schools making AYP than traditional public schools. As shown by the recalculation of AYP status for 2011-12, this trend is continuing.

Educational Legislative Update October 11, 2012

Thursday, October 11th, 2012 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Inquiry Reveals PDE Using Unapproved Formula for Charter School AYP

October 10, 2012

PSBA inquiry reveals that PDE is using unapproved formula to artificially inflate charter school AYP numbers.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has implemented a new way of determining whether charter schools have met student achievement milestones for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The new method is less stringent than the standards that must be met by traditional public schools, which until this year were also applied to charter schools. PSBA’s analysis of publicly available data reveals that 44 of the 77 charter schools that PDE has recently classified as having made AYP for 2011-12 in fact fell short of the targets for academic performance that other public schools had to meet, some even declining in proficiency percentages rather than making gains.

PSBA researchers were able to track the basis of the new approach to a very subtle change in the wording of Pennsylvania’s Accountability Workbook, the plan outlining the commonwealth’s NCLB accountability system that must be submitted to and approved by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). However, PSBA inquiries to DOE officials also revealed that this amendment change has not yet been federally approved and should not have been implemented without such approval. PDE submitted a request in August 2012 for approval of this and other revisions to its accountability system, but that request has not yet been acted upon. Under the methodology set forth in the only currently approved Accountability Workbook for Pennsylvania, AYP for charter schools was supposed to have been determined as it has been in past years, in the same way as for other public schools.

Consequently, claims by proponents for charter school expansion that charter schools overall appear to be outperforming traditional public schools based on the percentage of schools making AYP this year are largely false. When the standards currently having federal approval are applied to charter schools, the numbers show that it is likely the other way around.

Since PSBA broke this story and notified the media on Oct. 5, the story has been picked up in Associated Press articles as far away as Indiana and Georgia, the Allentown Morning Call did further investigating and reporting, well-known national public education advocate Diane Ravitch reported on this in her popular blog (http://dianeravitch.net/2012/10/08/pennsylvania-official-altered-test-rules-to-inflate-charter-scores/) and Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss covered it in her Oct. 8 blog (www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/10/08/pennsylvania-eases-nclb-rules-to-help-charter-schools/).

Currently approved standards for individual Pennsylvania schools require that for a school to meet the academic performance component of AYP based on PSSA testing, the overall student body must meet the annual targets for the percentage of students scoring proficient or above, on both math and reading assessments. In addition, the necessary percentage of proficient students in each measurable subgroup (students grouped by race, ethnicity, English language learners, special needs, economically disadvantaged, etc.) must be attained in order for the school to make AYP.

Under the new method PDE is now applying to charter schools, the school’s overall student body would not have to meet PSSA proficiency percentage targets. Instead, a school’s student body would be divided into up to three grade spans (elementary grades 3-5, middle grades 6-8, and high school grades 9-12), and if the students in at least one of those grade spans met proficiency percentage targets, including the subgroups within that span, the entire school would be regarded as having met that component of AYP. In addition, PDE is not requiring that a single grade span meet targets in both math and reading, but is awarding AYP designation if at least one grade span meets targets in each subject.

Under this methodology, the proficiency percentage of a charter school’s overall student body could decline, and yet PDE would still classify the charter school as having made AYP. There are a number of examples of such declines on PDE’s charter school AYP list. Another result is that the assessment performance of charter school students in the other grade spans simply will not matter for AYP purposes, allowing those children to be left behind without consequences for the school.

It should be noted that the fact that a charter school’s entire student body and all subgroups did not meet statewide proficiency percentage targets does not necessarily mean that the charter school could not have made AYP under one or more of several alternative ways targets can be considered as having been met, such as the “safe harbor,” “confidence interval,” and “growth model” exceptions, as well as the option to combine data over multiple years. These alternative benchmarks must be calculated separately for each school, and the individual school data for doing that are not yet publicly available. Nonetheless, failure to meet the statewide proficiency targets makes it far less likely that the charter school would have made AYP without the advantage of the single subject grade span method.

In PSBA’s Oct. 5 press release breaking this story, PSBA expressed concerns that this attempt to artificially inflate the number of charter schools regarded as making AYP will help to mask deficiencies in charter schools and deny families the information necessary to make informed choices, misleading them about the charter schools they are considering choosing, or that they already attend. The press statement also pointed out that it will have the effect of delaying crucial improvement and corrective action measures for a failing charter school, or prematurely ending those measures for a charter school that was already in improvement or corrective action status.

Historical data indicate that making AYP under NCLB has been a significant struggle for Pennsylvania charter schools, with a consistently lower percentage of charter schools making AYP than traditional public schools. If not for the less stringent AYP calculation for charter schools used by PDE for 2011-12, that trend would continue this year as well.

Due to the change being implemented by PDE, AYP no longer has the same meaning for individual charter schools as it does for other individual public schools in the state, and families and other stakeholders no longer can compare the performance of particular schools on an apples-to-apples basis. The change also will hurt children by excusing failing charter schools from engaging in the performance improvement measures that NCLB dictates should be triggered by repeated failure to make AYP.

PSBA also has pointed out that this change for Pennsylvania violates two key principles at the heart of the federal NCLB requirements. First, NCLB requires that every public school is to be evaluated in the same way and in accordance with the same criteria and methodology. Second, NCLB requires that schools be held accountable for the achievement of all students in the school, not just some of them.

August 22, 2012 Education Legislative Update

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Legislative Update, August 22, 2012

Provided by PASA (Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators)

EITC Voucher Program –

  • Funds for the Program: Last month, the state sent a clear message that some students of low-performing schools can go elsewhere for their education — as early as this school year.  But a week before many schools resume classes, students attending what the state considers low-achieving schools have few places to turn, because schools willing to open their doors to qualifying students don’t have the money to take them in.  Read the rest of the story: “State Advertised Grants for Student-Aid Program Haven’t Been Funded” (from The Morning Call, 8/20/12)             
  • Accepting Schools: Officials from Catholic and other private and religious schools have been quick to sign up their institutions to accept students who qualify for the opportunity scholarships expected to be available through the expansion of the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.  But public school officials don’t appear to be rushing to get on the list.  Of the approximately 350 schools on the list as of Friday, only two — Clarion Area Elementary and Clarion Jr./Sr. High School — are public. The rest are a mixture of religious, Montessori and other private schools.  Read the rest of the story: “Private Schools Embrace Opportunity Scholarships” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/18/12)

May 29, 2012 Legislative Education Update

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Student Learning Opportunities Slashed Across State
As Financial Condition of School Districts Continues to Deteriorate

New survey provides insight on impact of state education policy choices
HARRISBURG, PA—(May 22, 2012)—A new survey indicates that, for a second consecutive year, school districts’ are again forced to consider cuts to instructional programs and school personnel actions as they anticipate continued worsening of their financial condition, unless state and local funding improves. Having already made cuts this fiscal year as a result of steep state budget cuts and declining local revenues, school districts will be forced to implement even deeper cuts, further limiting students’ opportunities to learn.

Two hundred and eighty-one, or 56 percent, of the state’s 500 districts participated in the third annual school budget survey conducted in late April by the PA Association of School Administrators (PASA) and the PA Association of School Business Officials (PASBO). The survey asked school districts to answer questions related to their financial health and the impact of the enacted FY 2011-12 and proposed FY 2012-13 state budgets.

The survey report documents in nearly half of the districts responding that financial distress is anticipated within three years if state and local funding does not improve. Three percent of districts reported that they are already in such distress.

“Unfortunately, there does not appear to be any relief in sight,” said Jay Himes, executive director of PASBO. “Without additional revenues or significant mandate relief, particularly from charter school costs, we will begin to see many more districts in financial distress, particularly when fund balances are depleted.”

Survey results indicate that districts anticipate using three times more fund balance in 2012-13 as used for the current year. About one-in-five districts had diminished their excess funds by 50% or more in the last two years.

“The use of fund balances at this rate is simply not sustainable, and districts are susceptible to creating large structural deficits,” Himes said.

As a result of the continuing deterioration of school district finances, the anticipated round of instructional cuts goes even deeper than cost reduction efforts taken by school districts across the state this year.

  • Class sizes will increase in about 60 percent of the districts surveyed.
  • Students in 58 percent of districts will face reduced instruction in art and music, reduced physical education classes, and fewer elective and advanced placement course offerings.
  • Nearly half of the districts are delaying textbook purchases.
  • Forty-six percent are trimming or eliminating field trips and extra-curricular programs, including sports.
  • Thirty-seven percent are cutting tutoring programs and 34 percent are eliminating summer school.
  • Research-proven early childhood education programs such as full-day kindergarten will be reduced or eliminated in 19 percent of responding districts.

“School districts are being forced to cut into core educational programs, creating greater obstacles for success both now and long into the future for many of Pennsylvania’s 1.7 million students,” said PASA Executive Director Jim Buckheit.

Survey respondents also anticipate additional school personnel actions in the upcoming school year. Three-quarters of the survey respondents indicate they will furlough or not fill vacancies in their district for 2012-13. More than half said that a wage freeze was in place in 2011-12—an increase from 16 percent in 2010-11.

The survey results reflect continuing declines in local revenues for 2011-12, including earned income taxes, realty transfer taxes, delinquent taxes and earnings on investments. As a result of that reduced local funding, combined with state budget cuts and a 45 percent increase in mandated retirement expenditures for 2012-13, more than half of respondents believe that their financial condition will worsen in 2012-13.

For more information about this survey, contact:
Jay Himes, Executive Director, PA Association of School Business Officials: (717) 540-9551
Cell: (717) 350-8593 Email: jhimes@pasbo.org
Website: http://www.pasbo.org

Jim Buckheit, Executive Director, PA Association of School Administrators: (717) 540-4448
Cell: (717) 805-8213 Email: jbuckheit@pasa-net.org
Website: http://www.pasa-net.org

About the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials
The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) is a statewide association, 3,000 members strong. We are devoted to providing members with education, training, professional development and timely access to legislative and policy news.

About the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators
The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) represents school superintendents and other school leaders from across the Commonwealth. PASA’s mission is to promote high quality public education for all learners through its support and development of professional leadership.

May 8, 2012 Legislative Education Update

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012 | Uncategorized | No Comments

Senate Republican Budget Eliminates SAEBG, Restores ABG Funding

Today the Senate Appropriations Committee amended and unanimously approved a 2012-13 state budget plan crafted by Senate Republican leadership that is significantly different to the one introduced by Gov. Corbett in February and contained in SB 1466.  As amended, SB 1466 will now go to the Senate floor where it could be further amended. Once passed, the bill will move to the House, where additional changes will be made. The amendments to SB 1466 raise the budget from $27.15 billion as proposed by the governor to $27.65 billion. The new plan restores about $500 million in cuts to higher and basic education and social services. In general, the plan adds enough to higher education to bring state system and state-related universities at level funding for next year, restores some money for early childhood programs and mental health services, and makes various distinctions.

Major restorations affecting K-12 education:

* The addition of $50 million for the Accountability Block Grant program.

It has been suggested that additional funding for the ABG could be included by the House when the bill moves to that chamber.

* The addition of $50 million in supplemental subsidy funds for distressed school districts.

* The addition of $650,000 for the Science in Motion program.

* No inclusion of the Student Achievement Education Block Grant (SAEBG) proposed by the governor for distribution of education funds currently calculated through separate formulas, including the basic subsidy, pupil transportation and Social Security.  The SAEBG is zeroed-out in the Senate Republican plan.

* Funding for the basic education subsidy, pupil transportation, non-public and charter school pupil transportation and school employees Social Security are continued under separate line items.

What this means for school officials:
Your voices are being heard, and you must continue to bring these key messages and “asks” to your members of the Senate and House:

* Oppose the creation of the Student Achievement Education Block Grant which collapses four education line items into a single block grant.  Support continued separate funding and the formulas in place for the calculation of each school district’s payments for Basic Education Funding, Pupil Transportation and School Employees’ Social Security.  The SAEBG not only underfunds public education for the 2012-13 fiscal year, but also shifts costs to the local property taxpayer.  This block grant has nothing to do with achievement or flexibility. The SAEBG combines four separate funding streams and disconnects the relationship that exists between the cost of services and the responsibility of the state to fund each adequately. The SAEBG approach abandons current formulas that count students, look at the costs associated with the service, and consider the wealth of a community and its ability to support its students. There is no real additional flexibility since all revenues received for the targeted programs are used to pay invoices and obligations. For example, social security must be paid in the exact percentage now being assessed by the federal government and cannot be changed.

* Support restoration of the Accountability Block Grant.  The Senate restored $50 million of this $100 million program that provides real flexibility for school districts. The grant is used to fund research-based programs such as full-day kindergarten, tutoring and other programs proven to increase student achievement. Loss of these funds and the programs they support will have a detrimental effect on student success.

* Support continued reimbursement for school construction projects and oppose the moratorium on school construction projects. There are numerous school construction projects now in process that are not expected to receive partial reimbursement from the state via its PlanCon process. Notifying school districts after they have borrowed funds that the repayment is to be solely funded by local taxpayers is irresponsible.

* Support the overall need for mandate relief that gives school districts the flexibility to control their costs and direct more funds to where they are most needed –the classroom. Reform of the Prevailing Wage Act, the Separations Act, and the process for delinquent tax collection, just to name a few, would be positive steps forward in reducing the burden of mandates on our districts, allowing them to focus valuable dollars on education.

* Specifically, support funding reform to the charter school law to reduce the financial drain on districts so that payments to charter and cyber charter schools reflect the true cost of providing instruction for those students that are actually attending their schools. Under current Pennsylvania law, how much funding a cyber charter school receives does not correspond to how much it actually costs to run a cyber charter school.  The absence of accounting for how much it truly costs to provide a cyber charter education leads to a lack of accountability for many.  Pennsylvania’s Auditor General reports that it actually costs virtual schools about $2,000 per student less than brick and mortar charter schools to educate students. With funding reform and additional proper oversight by the Commonwealth, virtual charter schools can be appropriately funded, transparency can be enhanced and, hopefully, student success achieved.

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