EPLC Masthead
EPLC Education Notebook

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

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 March 14, EPLC released Creating Pennsylvania's Future through Arts and Education. Through the work of the 32-member Study Group and assistance from the 13-member Advisory Committee, AEI has developed recommendations for policymakers and other key arts and education audiences. The Report and its recommendations will be the subject of an EPLC Policy Forum breakfast in Harrisburg on March 28, and a series of regional community forums beginning in Lancaster on March 27 and State College on April 4.  To read the full report and learn more about the regional community forums, click here.



The Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the Senate are not in session this week.  They will reconvene in voting session on Monday, March 26 at 1:00 PM. 


On March 14, the Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 209 (Sen. M. White, R-21) that would require public schools to annually disclose interscholastic athletic opportunities provided to secondary school students.  The disclosure would be on a form provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).  Under SB 209, PDE would be required to submit an annual compliance report to the General Assembly.  The bill now awaits further action in the House.

On March 6, the Senate Education Committee unanimously reported the following bills:

  • Senate Bill 1115 (Sen. Browne, R-16) would establish a Legislative Commission on Special Education  Funding to develop a formula for the distribution of any increases in special education funding above the 2010-2011 funding level.  The bill sets forth certain elements that must be contained in any formula developed by the Commission, including three categories based on the costs of educating students with various disabilities.  The Commission, a twelve member panel, must develop the formula within 120 days of the bill's effective date and issue a report of its findings to the Governor and legislature.  In addition, the Commission is charged with receiving public input and gathering information on charter and cyber charter school funding reimbursement related to special education students and to draft proposed regulations and legislation based on its findings. 

    SB 1115 would establish new accountability requirements for school districts serving special education students including new requirements for special education plans filed with the Department of Education (PDE).  The bill requires PDE to set aside 1 percent of state special education funding and distribute this set-aside amount on a pro rata basis based upon the number of students in each district having the most expensive category of disability. 
    SB 1115 would also establish a competitive grant program for school districts or charter schools that meet certain criteria with respect to providing instruction to special education students in a regular classroom, meeting state reading and math standards for special education students and implementing programs or services that serve as a model of excellence for meeting high standards for inclusion and student achievement through quality special education.
  • Senate Bill 1296 (Sen. Piccola, R-15) would amend the Public School Code by removing the exception for school districts of the first class that allows superintendent and assistant superintendent contracts to be for a period of three to five years and replaces it with a provision that all initial contracts and renewed contracts must be for a period of three years.  SB 1296 would subject superintendent contracts to the Right-to-Know LawThe bill also outlines provisions that contracts for superintendents and assistant superintendentsmust contain and prohibits severance compensation for superintendents and assistant superintendents.
  • Senate Bill 1406 (Sen. Folmer, R-48) would amend Title 24 (Education) by adding a new section to allow private nonprofit colleges and universities that are accredited by a regional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and have operated continuously in the Commonwealth for the immediately preceding ten years to add programs, majors and degrees without prior review of the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

    An informational briefing was held, but no vote taken, on
    House Bill 1610 (Rep.Vereb, R-150) which would require the Departments of Health and Education to post on their websites guidelines and materials to inform and educate student athletes, coaches and others about the warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest.  Students participating in interscholastic athletics and their parents/guardians must sign a form acknowledging that they have received and reviewed these guidelines.  School districts may hold an informational meeting on the subject prior to each athletic season.  An athlete who exhibits signs or symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest must be removed from play.  The athlete may not return to play until he or she is cleared by a licensed physician or certified registered nurse practitioner. 

House of Representatives

A supplemental Notebook will report on the recent hearing held by the House Appropriations Committee for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.


On March 14, the State Board of Education's Committee on Academic Standards/ Chapter 4 conducted a public hearing to receive input from interested parties on
draft proposed revisions to Chapter 4 pertaining to Keystone Exams.  The most significant change being proposed to the regulations is the reduction in the number of Keystone Exams.  Under the current regulations, PDE is charged with developing ten Keystone Exams.  Students have to score proficient or above in six of the exams in order to graduate.  Under the proposed changes, PDE will develop only three exams (Algebra I, English language arts and biology) and students must score proficient or above in all three in order to graduate.  Also, as part of the new proposal, the requirement for the Keystone Exam score to count as one-third of the student's grade is removed.  In addition, the draft revisions to Chapter 4 also eliminate the requirement for students to complete a culminating project in order to graduate.  These new graduation requirements would begin with the Class of 2017. 


The Committee received testimony from state education organizations representing school administrators and teachers, the business community, and child advocates.  Most of those who testified at the hearing raised concerns with making the Keystone Exams (an end-of- course assessment) a high stakes test.  Others pointed to the proposed elimination of certain exams, specifically English composition and literature, and the elimination of the culminating project requirement for graduation as troublesome.  They felt that the Board's proposal could lead to a narrowing of curricula and substantially diminish the quality of education offered to students.  The board may consider the new proposal at its May meeting.  


The full board approved two action items: A resolution establishing a Special Committee on the Reigelsville Independent School District and the withdrawal of Chapter 10 (Safe Schools) from the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) to make technical revisions for form and legality.  The next meeting of the State Board of Education is May 9-10 in Harrisburg. 


Click here for reports of the Councils for Basic Education, Higher Education, and Vocational Technical Education.




The first meeting of the Governor's Advisory Commission for Postsecondary Education was held on March 12.  The Governor challenged the commission, which is comprised of educators and business leaders, to have a thorough and candid conversation about the issues challenging postsecondary education.  The Commission is being led by Senator Rob Wonderling, current President and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.  Several meetings will be held throughout the state to gather public input before a report is issued to the Governor in November.  The next meeting of the Commission is Monday, April 16, 2012. 


To contact the commission, please email ra-pahigheredcomm@pa.gov.



On March 13, the Keystone Research Center released a study that examines the cost of transportation services for Pennsylvania's school districts, focusing especially on the impact on costs of private contracts for transportation services.  According to the study, Pennsylvania school districts that contract with private bus operators end up spending more taxpayer dollars on transportation than those that manage their own bus fleets.  On average, 72 percent of transportation services were contracted out by Pennsylvania school districts in 2008, up from 62 percent in 1986.  In analyzing school district transportation costs, the Keystone study finds that:


         Contracting out significantly increases total costs.

         Contracting out also increases costs to the state, in part because the state  
      reimburses contracted transportation services at a higher rate than district self
      provided services.

         For local school districts, there is no statistically significant difference between what
      they pay for transportation services when they contract out versus when they self
      provide transportation-in effect, the more generous state reimbursement of
      contracting out compensates for the increase in total costs.


The Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington has released recently a new working paper series that takes a look at the political forces and the human side of policies designed to improve schools.  The series, Better Schools through Better Politics: The Human Side of Portfolio School District Reformexamines initiatives in New York City, Chicago, Denver, and Oakland.
  • PowerPoint presentations and other resources from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center's Budget Summit held on February 23 in Harrisburg are now available by clicking here.
  •  EPLC will be hosting a PA School Choices Forum in State College on Wednesday, April 4.  Click here for more information and registration details.

         MARK YOUR CALENDAR! March 26 is the last day to register to vote in the April 24 PA
      Primary Election.


         Arcadia University's Education Department will hold a panel discussion on "Unpacking
      the PA School Budget:  What does this Mean for me
?"  on March 29 from 5:30 PM to
.  For more information on this event,
click here.


         SAVE THE DATE!  The Center for Safe Schools will be holding a two-day conference
      "Keeping Our Children Safe: Strategies for Schools and Communities" May 8-9 in
      Harrisburg.  For more information,
click here. 


         The Pennsylvania State System of Assessment (PSSAs) will be administered:


    • March 12-23      PSSA Math and Reading (Grades 3-8, 11)
    • April 16-20        PSSA Writing (Grades 5, 8 and 11)
    • April 23-27        PSSA Science (Grades 4, 8 and 11)

      To view the complete 2011-2012 PDE Testing Calendar, click here

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.