EPLC Masthead
EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, December 16, 2011

In this issue

The EPLC Education Notebook (current and past editions) also is available by visiting the EPLC web site at http://www.eplc.org/publications-reports/weekly-policy-notebook/





On December 14, the Senate approved Senate Bill 1249 which redraws congressional districts by a vote of 26-24.  SB 1249 was sent to the House for its consideration where there are three remaining session days left before the holiday break.


 The Senate finished its work this week and is not scheduled to return until after January 1.



House - Voucher Legislation Update


This week, the House of Representatives rejected major pieces of Governor Corbett's education reform package.  The failure to even consider voucher legislation, and the defeat of an amendment promoting the Governor's request for an expansion of existing laws pertaining to Charter Schools and the Educational Investment Tax Credit highlights the absence of any clear legislative majority on these controversial issues.


On December 14, Senate Bill 560 (Sen. Bob Mensch, R-24), which would establish the State Military College Legislative Appointment Program, became the vehicle for the House to consider two of the four pillars of Governor Corbett's education reform package.  By a vote of 105-90, the House rejected the amendment, offered by Rep. Thomas Killion (R-168), that would have expanded the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC) and overhauled the Charter School Law.  Over the past few days, House Republican leaders tried to garner support for a scaled back version of Senate Bill 1, but backing from state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle was lacking and no voucher language was included in the House-defeated amendment.


There is some speculation that there will be another attempt at charter school reform legislation at a later date.  As reported in an earlier edition of the Notebook, the House did approve overwhelmingly a similar measure (House Bill 1330) that included only the EITC expansion language, by a vote of 190-7 earlier this year. What is clear, based on media reports, is that House Republican leadership does not have the desire to take up any more voucher proposals during this legislative session, which runs until November 30, 2012.



On December 11, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) issued a Basic Education Circular (BEC) to provide guidance to school district administrators regarding additional duties pertaining to background checks of prospective employees as required by Act 24 of 2011.  Act 24 amended the Public School Code by:  including several additional offenses under the PA Crimes Code that require a lifetime ban on employment; established a tiered system for certain offenses and created a mechanism to include school employees who may not have been subject to previous background check requirements.  On September 24, the PDE published in the PA Bulletin the Arrest/Conviction Report and Certification Form, known as the PDE -6004.



On December 9, the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) Board of Trustees certified an employer contribution rate of 12.36% for the fiscal year 2012-2013, which begins July 1, 2012.  The rate cap certified by the board reflects the rate caps defined in Act 120 of 2010.  Act 120 set up the employer contribution rate in predictable increments and allows for advance notice to school districts and the state for budget planning purposes.  According to Jeffrey Clay, Executive Director of PSERS, "The rate caps in Act 120 have had a dramatic impact on the employer contribution rate.  If Act 120 was not in effect, the employer rate would have jumped to 29.65% next year, rather than 12.36%."  For more information on the employer contribution, including long term projections, visit PSERS website at: http://www.psers.state.pa.us/pfr/pfr.htm.



On December 13, First Lady Michelle Obama along with the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack marked the one year anniversary of the enactment of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 by highlighting the achievements in fighting child hunger and obesity and improving the overall health and nutrition of children living in the U.S.  Some of the accomplishments in the first year include:  Nutrition Standards for School Meals; Common Sense Standards for Revenue; Nationwide Expansion of At-Risk Afterschool Meals; and Categorical Eligibility for Foster Children.  Several initiatives and activities were identified for the coming year and beyond to advance the goal of making sure "all children have the basic nutrition they need to learn, grow and to pursue their dreams." 


Some of the items on the USDA's agenda for 2012 include:  Finalizing and aligning the nutrition standards for school meals with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in early 2012; propose new standards for food sold in school other than reimbursable meals such as those sold in school stores, a la carte lines and vending machines; and  implementation of performance-based reimbursement.  For more information on USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs, including the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program and the Summer Food Service Program, click here.



Thirty-four Pennsylvania school districts were among 367 school districts across the United

 States and Canada being honored by the College Board last month for increasing access to

Advanced Placement course work and maintaining or increasing the percentage of students

earning scores of 3 or higher on AP Exams.  Achieving both of these goals is an indication that a

district's AP program is successfully identifying motivated, academically prepared students who are

likely to benefit most from AP course work.  For more information on the College Board's "AP District

of the Year" Annual Honor Roll, click here

On December 7, the
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reported that there are now

more than two million students attending public charter schools across the nation.  Over 500

new public charter schools were created in the 2011-2012 school year, an estimated increase of

200,000 students.  According to the Alliance, this year marks the largest single-year increase in

terms of the number of additional students attending charters.  For more information on national and

statewide public charter school data, click here.

On December 9, a Colorado district court judge issued a rulingthat the state's system for funding schools is "irrational" and "divorced from the reality" of the state's constitution and has been "completely unresponsive" to the escalating and expensive academic mandates placed on schools.   In her ruling, Judge Sheila Rappaport emphasized the link between amount of money appropriated to schools and student achievement. In her words, "All of the evidence demonstrates a systemic failure to provide all students with the knowledge and skills mandated by the education clause and standards-based education. This failure is directly correlated to inadequate and irrational funding." The judge rejected several state key witnesses' testimony that argued that it is less about the amount of money as how wisely it is spent to close student achievement gaps. It is expected the court's decision will be appealed. The state's Attorney General has indicated that he will consult with the Governor in response to the court ruling, but has stated that school funding matters are best left to the General Assembly and the Governor to handle.



On December 7, the Highmark Foundation released Bullying Prevention: The Impact on Pennsylvania School Children, which indicates that thirteen percent (210,000) of Pennsylvania public school children are experiencing a safer, more responsive school climate thanks to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP).  The OBPP has been recognized as a national model by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado.  According to the report, "The 2011 data, compiled through student self-reports, indicates that the percentage of students who bully others two to three times per month or more (between 2008 and 2010) decreased by 27 percent among elementary students, 35 percent among middle school students and 31 percent for high school students. Students' reports of being bullied two to three times per month or more also decreased.  The report findings also demonstrate that Pennsylvania school students are beginning to reach out to their peers in a more positive way. Findings show that the percentage of students who said they would "just watch" when someone is getting bullied decreased by 27 percent among elementary students, 17 percent among middle school students and 33 percent among high school students."


Earlier this month, The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released results of a survey that examined data about student enrollment in distance education courses in public schools during the 2009-2010 school year.  The survey defined distance education programs as having the following characteristics:  credit granting courses, are technology delivered, and have an instructor in a different location than the students and /or have course content developed in, or delivered from, a different location than that of the students.  The survey examined student enrollment, monitoring and accountability, deliverers and developers of distance education courses, types of courses and the extent to which various technologies were used to deliver distance education courses.  Among the key findings:


Fifty five percent of public school districts reported having students enrolled in distance education courses in 2009-2010. Among those districts, 96 percent reported having students enrolled in distance education courses at the high school level, 19 percent at the middle school or junior high level, 6 percent at the elementary school level and 4 percent in combined or ungraded schools.


Districts reported an estimated 1,816,000 enrollments in distance education courses for 2009-2010.  Seventy four percent of the distance education enrollments were in high schools, 9 percent were in middle or junior high schools and 4 percent were in elementary schools. 


Fifty percent of districts reported that a postsecondary institution in the U.S. delivered distance education courses in which students in their district were enrolled.  Other reported entities delivering distance education included independent vendors (47 percent) and a state virtual school in their state (33 percent).  Seventy five percent of districts reported that all distance education courses were developed by entities other than their district.


Districts reported that the types of distance education courses in which students enrolled were credit recovery (62 percent), dual enrollment (47 percent), Advanced Placement (29 percent), career and technical education (27 percent) and other types of academic courses (65 percent).


To read the full report, click here. 


According to a report issued this month by The National Center on Homelessness, 1.6 million American children, or 1 in 45 children, are homeless in a year.  This equates to more than 30,000 children each week and more than 4,400 each day.  Children living in a state of homelessness suffer from hunger, poor physical and emotional health and missed educational opportunities, including limited educational proficiency in math and reading.  The Center's report, America's Youngest Outcasts 2010, ranks states in the following four domains: the numbers of homeless children, their well-being, risk for child homelessness and state level planning and policy activities.  In addition to the rankings, the Outcast 2010 report offers solutions to address and prevent family homelessness.


To read the full report and to find out where Pennsylvania ranks, click here.



The House will reconvene on Monday, December 19 at 1:00 PM. 


The Senate is not scheduled to return to voting session until after January 1.


The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee will discuss and release a report on Community and Technical College Programs and Rural Communities conducted pursuant to Senate Resolution 147 on Wednesday, December 14 at 10:00 AM.


The State Board of Education will meet January 11-12 in Harrisburg.

For information on upcoming events, please visit www.eplc.org and click on "Events Calendar".
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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 the Education Policy and Leadership Center is to encourage and support the development and implementation of effective state-level education policies to improve student learning in grades P-12, increase the effective operation of schools, and enhance educational opportunities for citizens of all ages.