EPLC Masthead
EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, October 26, 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/


Election Day is Tuesday, November 6 - Polls open 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.

Last day to apply for a civilian absentee ballot: Tuesday, October 30

Last day for County Boards of Elections to receive voted civilian absentee ballots:  Friday, November 2

 For more information visit www.votespa.com    

EPLC will host its annual Pennsylvania Education Finance Symposium in Harrisburg on Friday, November 16. Topics include the impact of state education budget cuts on programs and services for students, growing challenge of the funding the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System, property tax reform proposals, and implementation of the new School District Financial Recovery Act.


Click here for Symposium details and registration.   


The 2011-2012 Legislative Session officially ends November 30, otherwise known as Sine Die. The House and Senate will be in recess until after the November 6 election. Each chamber has at least one session day scheduled in November to take care of caucus business and bid farewell to retiring or departing legislators. Republican majority leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate have indicated they do not intend for the Legislature to consider legislation during any lame-duck session between Election Day and the end of Session on November 30.  


State lawmakers and Governor Corbett again were unable to close the deal when it appeared that approval of charter school reform legislation was imminent. After months of negotiations, it appeared as though state lawmakers were ready to hand Governor Corbett a charter school reform bill in the waning days of the 2011-2012 Legislative Session. While the Senate approved the apparent compromise legislation, the legislation never came to a vote in the House of Representatives when Republican leaders determined there were not enough votes for passage.


It is important to note that "reform" is in the eye of the beholder. Some charter school proponents felt the legislation did not make enough changes to current law to make it easier to establish a charter school. Many public school advocates argued the proposed legislation did not provide for enough funding reform or accountability measures. It also is important to note that the negotiations involved Republican legislative leaders and the Governor's Office, but not Democratic leaders in the House and Senate.


The original bill, Senate Bill 1115, would have created a special education funding commission to develop a three-tiered distribution formula to reimburse school districts for special education services. Senate Bill 1115 was amended with charter school reform language by the House in late June as part of the state budget process. Both chambers had passed their own versions of charter school reform legislation earlier in the year, but were unable to reach a compromise in late June.


Negotiators worked through the summer to craft an agreement. Over the past few weeks, there was talk that indeed a compromise had been reached and that the Legislature would be sending the Governor a charter school reform bill before the legislative break for the November 6 General Election. On October 16, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1115 with the newly agreed-to-language positioning it for approval in the House on the following day. However, by the evening of October 17, the deal between Republican legislative leaders and Governor Corbett had fallen apart as a result of lawmakers scrutinizing details of the new plan and lobbying efforts of state education organizations. The following are highlights of the near compromise on Senate Bill 1115:  

  • Included original language pertaining to the creation of a Special Education Funding Commission;
  • Did not include statewide authorizing board but would have allowed two or more charter schools to consolidate and transfer oversight to the Pennsylvania Department of Education;
  • Removed language that would make it easier to convert school district buildings to charter schools;
  • Created a direct pay system, which would have the Department of Education withhold funds from state subsidies to school districts and make payments directly from the state to charter schools;
  • Created a Charter School Funding Advisory Commission;
  • Included language stating the "Ethics Act" would apply to all charter school entity trustees and employees, prohibited conflicts of interest, and required annual ethics filings;
  • Did not include language dealing with the "Right to Know" law but did require charter schools, educational management service providers, and their non-profit charter school foundations to follow standardized reporting requirements; and
  • Required all initial and renewal charter school applicants to include a teacher evaluation system.  

Click here to see how Senators voted on Senate Bill 1115.


Click here to read the Fiscal Analysis of Senate Bill 1115 prepared by the staff of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations.


If the House does not approve Senate Bill 1115 before November 30, and approval is very unlikely, the process begins anew next year with the introduction of new legislation. The language in Senate Bill 1115 or any other proposal for charter school reform will need to be introduced as a new bill(s) during the next legislative session. Bills are not automatically carried over to the new session.  


On October 18, the State Board of Education's Advisory Committee on Financial Recovery (Chapter 18) held a meeting in Harrisburg to review a draft of the proposed Chapter 18 regulations, relevant Pennsylvania statutes, and criteria used by other states in determining fiscally distressed school districts. The Advisory Committee, created by Act 141 of 2012, is charged with two specific tasks: 1) establishing additional criteria which the Secretary may consider in determining whether to issue a declaration that a school district is in financial recovery status; and 2) establishing criteria which the Secretary may consider in determining whether a school district in financial recovery status shall be deemed a moderate or a severe financial recovery school district.


Members of the advisory panel offered suggestions regarding other criteria the Secretary may use in determining a declaration such as the ability of third parties (taxpayer groups and creditors) to initiate a review by the Secretary. The Committee also suggested adding factors such as: natural disasters, loss of major industries within the school's community, quality of educational programs, and the burden of unfunded mandates to the mix of criteria that may be considered. A revised draft of the Chapter 18 regulations based on comments received at this meeting will be available at the November 14 meeting of the Advisory Committee. At the November meeting, the Committee will begin discussions on identifying which factors or combination of factors the Secretary may use in determining whether a district is in moderate or severe financial recovery status. The Advisory Committee plans to have a final draft for consideration by the State Board of Education in January.  


Click here for additional information on the work and composition of the Chapter 18 Advisory Committee. To review the handouts from the meeting, click here . 

On October 20, notice was published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin (Vol. 42, No. 42) announcing that the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has scheduled four public hearings regarding eight cyber charter school applications that it received on October 1, 2012. The hearings will be held on November 26, 28, 29, and 30 in Harrisburg. The hearings pertain to applicants seeking to operate cyber charter schools beginning in the 2013-14 school year, which include: Urban Cyber Charter School, Akoben Cyber Charter School, Mercury Online Charter School of Pennsylvania, Insight PA Cyber Charter School, V3 Cyber Charter School, PA Career Path Cyber Charter School, MB Resiliency Cyber Charter School of Pennsylvania, and Phase 4 America Cyber Charter School. The purpose of the hearings is to gather information from the applicants about the proposed cyber charter schools as well as receive comments from interested persons regarding the applications. The applications can be viewed on the PDE's web site at www.education.state.pa.us 
  • Earlier this month, Governor Tom Corbett unveiled Pennsylvania Career Coach, a first of its kind, statewide, free online tool designed to help Pennsylvania students and job seekers make lasting career choices. Developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Pennsylvania Career Coach will provide up to date local employment data such as current and projected job openings, recent job growth areas, estimated earnings, and occupations that match with a user's current skills and knowledge, as well as specific educational programs in the local area that will prepare an individual for a given occupation.
  •  Be sure to visit the U.S. Department of Education's  new parent web page that provides resources aimed at parent and family engagement. This new addition to the USDE's website is a valuable resource for those interested in learning more and getting involved in their child's education.  
  • Recently, the U.S. Department of Education launched the  School Turnaround Learning Community(STLC), an enhanced version of its online learning community for school turnaround. The site features improved search and chat functions and a user-friendly reorganization of STLC resources and materials. The STLC was first created in July 2011 to provide support to state, district, and school leaders working to turn around the nation's persistently lowest-achieving schools through the School Improvement Grant (SIG). The site offers resources, training, and discussion tools enabling users to share and comment on school turnaround practices and lessons learned. To date, the site has over 4,300 subscribed members, has offered over 500 school turnaround resources, and has hosted nearly 60 webinars on various topics including teacher and leader effectiveness, family and community engagement, increased learning time, early learning, and supporting rural and secondary schools. 


  • The Public Employee Retirement Commission will hold a public hearing on topics of Pension Reform and Funding Status on Thursday, November 15 at 9:30 AM.
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania's Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness Program in partnership with Center for Schools and Communities will hold "Meeting the Challenge Educating Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness in Pennsylvania" November 19-20 in State College. Click here for details.

For information on upcoming events, please visit www.eplc.org and click on "Events Calendar".

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.

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