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EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, April 6, 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/


REMEMBER TO VOTE! Tuesday, April 24 is Primary Election Day in Pennsylvania. Polls open at 7:00 a.m. and close at 8:00 p.m. Click hereto find your polling place. During the Primary, registered members of the Republican and Democrat parties are eligible to vote to nominate the candidates that will represent their party on the ballot in the November General Election. ALL voters will be required to show a photo ID before voting at a polling place in the November 2012 Election. Click here for more information on the new Voter ID law.



The Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the Senate reconvene in voting session on Monday, April 30 at 1:00 PM.


  • On March 16, Senator Jeffrey Piccola (R-15), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee introduced legislation that would create an "early warning system" to identify and assist financially distressed school districts. Senate Bill 1450 would establish the Office of Financial Recovery within the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to monitor school districts showing signs of financial difficulty and provide necessary assistance. Under the Piccola proposal, the Secretary of Education would be able to declare a school district to be in financial recovery status if any one of several triggers identified in the bill would occur. For instance, a district may be declared in financial recovery status if it fails to meet payroll or requests its basic education funding in advance.

    Once a district has been declared to be in financial recovery status by the Secretary of Education, a Chief Recovery Officer (CRO) would be appointed to develop and implement a financial recovery plan for the district. The bill includes several recovery tools that would be available to the CRO in developing the plan. SB 1450 would allow economic furloughs and conversion of an existing school building to a charter school.

    The bill also would allow PDE to award a long-term, interest free loan to a financial recovery school district that approves and implements a financial recovery plan. There is also language included in SB 1450 that would allow the Secretary of Education to petition the court for receivership appointment in the event that the elected school board fails to approve the plan developed by the CRO or fails to implement its recovery plan. The Secretary may also petition the court if the school district fails to satisfy criteria and milestones set forth in the plan to remain out of financial recovery status.

    B 1450 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee and awaits further action 
  • On April 3, the Senate unanimously approved House Bill 823, sponsored by Representative Mario Scavello (R-176), which would require municipalities to notify in writing the superintendent of a school district when residential development plans are finally approved by the municipality. The House passed HB 823 on October 3, 2011 by a vote of 197-2. The bill was re-reported on concurrence, as committed from the House Rules Committee on April 4, and awaits final approval by the full House.
On March 27, the Senate Education Committee reported the following bills from Committee:
  • Senate Bill 1225 (Sen. Dominick Pileggi, R-9) would codify the Library Code in consolidated statute form to improve the readability and reconcile conflicts between the Library Code and regulations that have been issued under it. SB 1225 was amended in Committee to include language that would set forth the manner in which State aid for libraries would be allocated for FY 2012-2013, which is identical to the manner in which State aid for libraries was allocated in the previous year. SB 1225 was reported as amended by a vote of 10-0 and referred to the Appropriations Committee for a fiscal note.
  • Senate Bill 1410 (Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-38) would provide the for reenactment and extension of Pittsburgh Public School District's designation as a Commonwealth Partnership District, which is set to expire on June 30, 2012. SB 1410 was reported as amended by a vote of 10-0.
  • Senate Bill 1436 (Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-15) would prohibit the Pennsylvania Department of Education or the State Board of Education from taking action prior to June 30, 2020 to eliminate, limit or delay the development of the Keystone Exams. In addition, the bill would require the Keystone Exams to maintain the current requirement that the exams count for at least one-third of a student's final course grade. SB 1436 was reported as amended by a vote of 10-0 and referred to the Appropriations Committee for a fiscal note.
  • Senate Bill 1440 (Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-19) would require the Commonwealth to provide reimbursement to school districts, charter schools and cyber charter schools for costs incurred should the Pennsylvania Department of Education or the State Board of Education reduce the number of Keystone Exams to be developed or implemented. SB 1440 was reported as amended by a vote of 10-0 and referred to the Appropriations Committee for a fiscal note.

On April 2, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported as committed Senate Bill 1466 (Sen. Jake Corman, R-34) which reflects the Governor's proposed budget for FY 2012-2013. The purpose of the Committee's vote on SB 1466 and the other appropriation bills is to report the legislation in order to have a reading on the floor prior to the bills being returned to the committee. This bill positioning activity by the Senate Appropriations Committee marks the start of the legislative budget process.


The Committee also reported the following education-related bills that now await further action by the full Senate:

  • Senate Bill 157 (Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-42) would establish a task force on homeless education within the Department of Education and would require it to study the homeless children population and their educational needs. Under SB 157 the taskforce would be required to make a report of its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly within one year of its first meeting and periodic reports every three years.
  • Senate Bill 1296 (Sen. Jeffrey 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 Law. The bill also outlines provisions that contracts for superintendents and assistant superintendentsmust contain and prohibits severance compensation for superintendents and assistant superintendents.

On April 2, the Senate Rules and Executive Nominations unanimously re-reported on concurrence as committed Senate Bill 743 (Sen. John Rafferty, R-44) which would allow a school district to contract with a private driver training school to teach driver education theory, even if the instructor is not a professional educator certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). Under SB 743, the school district must first post notice of the vacant position for a minimum of ten days on the district's website. If no qualified candidate certified by PDE to teach driver and safety education applies to fill the position, the district may then fill the vacancy with an individual qualified to teach under the "Private Driver Education or Training School Act." The bill was signed in the House and the Senate and awaits further action by the Governor.


On April 3, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on the modernization of the "Professional Educator Discipline Act." The Committee received testimony regarding Senate Bill 1459, introduced by Senator Lloyd Smucker (R-13), which contains recommendations developed by the Professional Standards and Practices Commission (PSPC) that are a result of their work, over a two year period, to modernize and overhaul the "Professional Educator Discipline Act." The PSPC oversees the state's professional educator discipline system and adjudicates cases of educator misconduct.

Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis and Carolyn Angelo, Executive Director of the Professional Standards and Practices Commission offered testimonies that reviewed and endorsed the PSPC and PDE's proposed amendments to the "Professional Educator Discipline Act" as embodied in SB 1459. Some of the significant changes to the act would include: expansion of the Commission's jurisdiction to include those educators who hold Private Academic School certification; inclusion of "sexual misconduct" as an independent basis for discipline and defining the term broadly to include "grooming behaviors"; broaden and clarify mandatory reporting by school administrators to include reporting for all allegations involving sexual misconduct, sexual abuse or exploitation or physical injury by an educator against a child or student; and the removal of the limitation period for filing of educator misconduct complaints. Jane Allis, Chair of the State Board of Private Academic Schools, testified that the State Board of Private Academic Schools unanimously voted that Private Academic Teaching Certificates be included under the Commonwealth's professional discipline system. Currently, there is no system in place to suspend or revoke a Private Academic School certificate for any reason.

Stuart Knade, Chief Counsel, Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) and Dr. James Capolupo, Superintendent of Springfield School District representing the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) also presented testimony that included several recommendations for the Senate Education Committee to consider before approving SB 1459.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Jeffrey Piccola (R-15) announced that he will schedule a committee meeting in early May to vote SB 1459 along with Senator Anthony William's (D-8) Senate Bill 1381, which provides for additional employment history review--also known as "Pass the Trash" legislation.

For a video and audio account of the Senate Education Committee's' hearing and to read written testimony submitted, click here.


House of Representatives


On March 20, the House Education Committee held an informational hearing with Pennsylvania's Department of the Auditor General (DAG). The purpose of the meeting was to provide testimony about the department's school audits, enforcing audit findings and the impact of cyber charter schools on financially distressed districts. Thomas Marks, Deputy Auditor General for Audits, and Danielle Mariano, Director of the Bureau of School Audits, presented an overview of the department's responsibilities for auditing school districts, charter and cyber charter schools, vocational technical schools and intermediate units, as well as many other state and local entities that collect funds on behalf of the state.


Specifically, the Bureau of School Audits conducts performance reviews that analyze an array of activities in those educational entities and determine their effectiveness, their efficiency, and their compliance with state laws. For instance, auditors determine whether teachers are properly certified, whether bus drivers have the appropriate qualifications, and whether the district has a deficit fund balance or has over expended its budget. When auditors uncover problems, they make recommendations to correct the problems. In some instances, when there are serious infractions discovered and corrective action is not taken, the department can withhold state funds from an agency. However this is not the case with regard to school audits. While the DAG cannot withhold state dollars from local education agencies, the department does provide their audit reports to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which can determine whether such action is warranted.

Speaking to the issue of cyber charters and their fiscal impact on school districts, Deputy Auditor General Marks noted the following:

  • During the 2009-2010 school year, school districts paid nearly $800 million to charter and cyber charter schools. Cyber charter schools received over one-third of this money.
  • Cybers continue to receive the same funding as brick and mortar charters even though they spend approximately $3,000 less per student.
  • Taxpayers and school districts could have saved approximately $86 million in 2009-2010 if cybers received funding based on what they spent per student.
  • Cyber enrollment has more than doubled over the last five years, which has resulted in school district tuition payments to cybers tripling from $70 million in 2004-2005 to over $250 million in 2009-2010.
  • The amount of required tuition payments from school districts are expected to climb even faster and higher due to the addition of two new cybers over the past two years, and seven new cybers projected to open in September 2012.

Marks also reminded lawmakers of the AG's special report (issued in 2010) on charter and cyber charter school funding that concluded that the current charter school funding formulas for non-special and special education students resulted in tuition inequities that were unfavorable to school districts, charter schools, and taxpayers. Since the release of that report, no action has been taken to correct the flawed charter school funding formula. In fact, the action by the Governor and the General Assembly this past budget, which eliminated funding for charter school reimbursement to school districts, only exacerbated the funding inequities and created a $224 million local funding gap for school districts and taxpayers to fill.


To read the written testimony, click here.

On March 27, the House passed  Senate Bill 560 (Sen. Bob Mensch, R-24) which would establish the State Military College Legislative Appointment Initiative Program, by a vote of 165-31. The Senate passed SB 560 on October 19, 2011 by a vote of 47-3. The bill was signed in the House and Senate and was presented to the Governor for his signature on April 2.

On March 28, the House Education Committee reported as amended, House Bill 2028 (Rep. Garth Everett, R-84) which would amend the Public School Code to remove "Separations Act" (Act 104 of May 1, 1913 P.L.155, No.104), requirements which currently direct school districts to bid individual portions of school construction contracts separately, by a vote of 15-8. HB 2028 awaits further action by the full House.


To contact the commission, please email [email protected].


On March 19, the Alliance for Excellent Education, America's Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University released the 2012 report Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, which shows that the nation continues to make progress, with more than half of states increasing graduation rates. According to the report's findings, Pennsylvania's graduation rate of 80 percent has remained virtually flat between 2002 and 2009. The America's Promise Alliance and others, as part of the Civic Marshall Plan, strive for a national 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Researchers say it's now at 75 percent, following a 3.5 percentage point increase from 2001 to 2009. To meet the 90 percent goal in Pennsylvania, 15,000 more students must receive diplomas in 2020 than in 2009.


On April 2, the U.S. Department of Education released a report called "Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999-2000 and 2009-10." The report presents selected findings from a congressionally mandated study on arts education in public K-12 schools. The data were collected through seven Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) surveys during the 2009-10 school year. This report provides national data about arts education for public elementary and secondary schools, elementary classroom teachers, and music and visual arts specialists. Comparisons with data from the 1999-2000 FRSS arts education study are included where applicable. For a summary of the information, and what you can be doing to support arts education in your community, please read our blog post about the release of this report.



  • The week of April 9 is "Bake Sale for Public Education" week. Parents and community groups will be hosting local mock "Bake Sales" throughout the Commonwealth to send a message to Governor Corbett and the State Legislature:  There are NOT enough cookies in the state of Pennsylvania to protect our children from the damage that is BEING DONE to the Commonwealth's schools! Click here to learn more about these mock bake sales and how you can host one in your own community.
  •  A town hall meeting on education will be held on Wednesday, April 11 at Bucknell University at 7:00 PM. State legislators from Columbia, Northumberland, Montour, Snyder and Union counties will be on hand to hearschool directors and administrators discuss the impact of Governor Corbett's 2011-12 budget proposal on their school districts. At 7:30 PM, the meeting will be open to all interested parents and other members of the community who would like to come out in support of their public schools and ask their legislators to take their message back to Harrisburg. Please RSVP to Kathy Swope, PSBA Region 6 director, at (570) 523-3336 or [email protected].
  • On Thursday, April 12, the League of Woman Voters will hold an Allegheny County Legislative Forum at the North Hills Senior High School, Pittsburgh at 7:00 PM. All public education stakeholders are invited to this special event, which will be moderated by the League of Women Voters. Several key state legislators from Allegheny County and other education experts will help explain local impacts of the governor's proposed budget. To register for this event: NorthernAreaLegislativeForum.eventbrite.com.
  • On April 14, Education Voters PA and the Western PA Writing Project are joining forces to help students from public schools in Allegheny County write and publish letters, tweets, phone calls, screen prints, and paintings to communicate about why their public school matters. These materials will be used to educate community members, elected officials, and education policy makers about the importance of high quality public education. Children of all ages are encouraged to participate. For more information, click here.
  • The Governor's Advisory Commission on Postsecondary Education will be meeting Monday, April 16, 2012. The meeting will begin at 12:30 p.m. in the Rachel Carson State Office Building, Room 105, 400 Market Street, Harrisburg, PA. Persons with any questions should contact Becky Myers at (717) 772-9048 or [email protected].
  • EPLC Arts and Education Initiative will be holding regional community forums to discuss the recommendations in Creating Pennsylvania's Future through Arts and Education, a new policy report just released by EPLC. Please join us as we help build a public policy agenda for the arts and arts education and discuss policies, priorities, and next steps for effective advocacy for arts and arts education. The next Community forum will be held on Wednesday, April 25 (Pittsburgh). Click here for details and registration information.
  • The Arts Education Collaborative (AEC) is now accepting applications for its Leadership Academy 2012. AEC's Leadership Academy is a yearlong opportunity for arts educators throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. Recognized as a model for professional development, the leadership academy was designed to strengthen education by making the arts central to learning and empowering teachers to become effective leaders in and advocates for arts education. For more information or to download an application, click here, or contact Mia Fuqua at 412-201-7405 or [email protected]. The deadline for submitting an application is April 30, 2012.

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.