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Education Update

Below is the current Education Update.  Click here for a list of other recent updates.

June 26, 2017

In State Budget News…
 
Budget Update There is one week left in June, and it looks like it’s going to be a bumpy and scary ride to a final 2017-18 state budget.
 
Budget negotiations continued over the weekend, and it appears that they are working towards a total spend number for 2017-18. Initial reports are that the proposed number is somewhere slightly above the $31.5 billion the House included in their budget, but less than the $32.3 billion the governor proposed in his…maybe somewhere in the $31.8 billion neighborhood.
 
Revenues remain a challenge, and the fights, such as whether to authorize video gaming terminals across the commonwealth and whether to borrow against future Tobacco Settlement Fund dollar, are coming.
 
All of this uncertainty leads to questions about the viability of the proposed $100 million increase for BEF and if the proposed $50 million cut to transportation will be carried into the final budget.
 
*BEF: Both the governor and the House included the $100 million BEF increase in their proposals, so it’s possible that this will still be carried in the final budget. However, as discussions continue over the next several days, we do have concerns that they will look to reduce this proposed increase to mitigate the financial challenges they’re facing.
 
*Transportation: The transportation funding issue is just as uncertain as is has been since the day in early February when the governor proposed the $50 million cut. We still have no clarity on how the proposed cut would be accomplished and what it means for individual school districts, and while we know that discussions are happening about potential formula changes, delays and other creative “solutions,” there is no agreement on a direction for transportation. We continue to ask for them to fully fund this line item, but we have concerns that the proposed cut could become baked into the final budget.
 
In addition to the discussion regarding the budget itself, negotiators continue working on the list of education priority items to include in an omnibus School Code bill.
 
Assessment Appeals Bill Despite being bad policy and tremendously bad for many school districts, HB 1213, the assessment appeal bill won’t go away. In fact, the bill is currently on the House calendar for consideration tomorrow (Tuesday, June 27).
 
With only one week away from the official budget deadline, this becomes a very scary proposition, as this is the time when trades are being made and bills are strategically combined to make it more difficult for anyone to slow their pace.
 
It is vital that school officials reach out again on HB 1213 to ensure that this bill does not become law, is not part of the budget process, and is not shoe-horned into an omnibus bill over the next couple of weeks. WHEN this bill comes up, please make sure your House member is prepared to vote YES on the following two (2) amendments:

*Amendment #A01336: applies the restrictions in the bill to only homestead/farmstead properties.
*Amendment #A01430: implements a $10,000 threshold before which a taxing district could engage in a reverse appeal. 

Pension Reform and Credit RatingsAccording to a story published on Capitolwire (6/19/17), both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s have issued statements skeptical about the impact of recent passage of pension reform on the state’s financial condition. While S&P referred to the impact on the state budget and credit as “negligible,” Moody’s stated that “…any significant savings from risk shifting will take decades to materialize and will not reduce already-accumulated unfunded liabilities.”
 
In School Funding & Finance News…
 
Cost Drivers and the State Budget It's the same problem, year after year: School districts across the state must adopt budgets for the upcoming school year before knowing how much money they'll receive in state funding. And as mandated costs — programs and services public schools are required to provide according to state and federal laws — continue to increase, district administrators, school board directors and public school advocates say it's harder than ever to balance district budgets. “Unfortunately, more money will be going out of districts just on pension costs, special education costs and charter school costs,” said Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. Schools are at a tipping point, he said. They simply can't keep up with rising mandated costs. Read the rest of the story: “State Budget Process, Mandated Costs Bedevil Pennsylvania Schools” (from The Tribune-Review, 6/18/17).
 
Update: Tax Increase CaseLower Merion School District officials are ready to appeal the affluent suburban school system's battle with a community resident over tax increases to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after reportedly losing its latest efforts calling for a review and reargument of its April appeal loss. The Commonwealth Court judge's denial of LMSD's latest appeal is the latest chapter in the legal fight mounted by Arthur Wolk, a Lower Merion resident and attorney, who says the district misled its taxpayers and continued to raise taxes despite a funding surplus. Last week, Wolk submitted his own motion in the case, calling for a judge to declare the district's budget for the upcoming school district illegal. Read the rest of the story: “Lower Merion School District Heading to Pa. Supreme Court over Tax Increase Fight” (from The Philadelphia Business Journal, 6/21/17).
 
In Other Legislative News…
 
This Week’s Legislative ScheduleExpect to see both chambers in session most of the week as the June 30 budget deadline looms ahead.
 
LAST WEEK’S LEGISLATIVE ACTION
 
* Drug Abuse Education: HB 121; amended and approved by the House Education Committee. The bill requires schools to include information about opioid and prescription drug abuse and prevention in their drug abuse programming.
 
* School Security Drills: HB 178; approved by the Senate Education Committee. The bill amends the School Code to replace one of their fire drills each year with a school security drill, completed in coordination with local law enforcement and local emergency management associations and with prior parent notification. The bill already passed the House.
 
* Graduation Requirements for CT Students: HB 202; signed into law as Act 6 of 2017. The act amends the School Code to eliminate the requirement that the PDE develop additional Keystone Exams in English composition, Algebra II, geometry, U.S. history, chemistry, civics and government and world history. The act also creates an alternative pathway for CTE students who do not reach proficiency on a Keystone. Specifically, CTE student will need to complete grade-based requirements for the associated academic content area for any Keystone Exam on which a CTE student has not obtained proficiency in order to meet graduation requirements. CTE students utilizing this option also will be required to either obtain an industry-based competency certification related to the CTE student’s program of study or demonstrate a high likelihood of success on an approved industry-based competency assessment, such as NOCTI or NIMS exam, or readiness to continue in the CTE student’s chosen program of study, as demonstrated through benchmark assessments, course grades, and other factors consistent with the CTE student’s career plans.  
 
* Agriculture Education: HB 944; passed by the House, 188-3. The bill creates a Commission for Agricultural Education Excellence to assist in developing a plan for agricultural education and coordinate the implementation of agricultural education programming with the Department of Agriculture and PDE.
 
* Emergency Drill Reports: HB 1021; approved by the House Education Committee. The bill requires school entities to produce a record of all fire and emergency drills that is sent to PDE annually. The information is then shared with the Office of the State Fire Commissioner.
 
* Prevailing Wage: HB 1479; approved by the House State Government Committee. The bill excludes from the definition of “public body” under the Prevailing Wage Act, school districts that are in financial watch or financial recovery status.
 
* Economic Furloughs: HB 1495; approved by the House Education Committee. The bill allows school entities to furlough employees for economic reasons based on employees’ professional evaluations. Prior to furloughing any employees for economic reasons, a school district must pass a resolution that includes specific information about the reasons for, the cost savings associated with and the educational impact of the proposed furloughs. A school district engaging in economic furloughs of professional employees must also furlough an equal percentage of administrative staff; however, five administrative positions in each school district are exempt from this requirement, and a school district can apply for a waiver from PDE.
 
*Advance Notice of Superintendent Hiring and Terms: SB 592; passed by the Senate, 36-14. The bill requires offers of employment made to a prospective superintendent, assistant superintendent, associate superintendent and principal to be posted on the school district’s website for two weeks before the board takes official action. The bill also provides the same for offers of employment made to prospective executive directors or assistant executive directors of an intermediate unit. The posting would need to include the details of the final offer, including salary and the length of the employment contract. PASA opposes the bill, not because we are opposed to transparency but because the existing process for developing and approving contracts already requires locally elected public officials, accountable to their communities, to utilize a thorough, thoughtful and considered process that is fair to the potential employee(s), the employer and the community. PASA also believes that the bill would complicate the hiring process, has the very real potential of reducing the entire pool of qualified candidates for these positions, and does not reflect how contracts are finalized on the district level.
 
* Assessment & Teacher Evaluation: SB 756; amended and approved by the Senate Education Committee. The bill eliminates the Keystone Exams, replacing them with the SATs and PSATS for federal assessment purposes, and forms a task force to examine continued use of the PSSAs. The bill also comprehensively rewrites the teacher evaluation system, changing the percentages applicable to each component of the measure, adding parent and student components. The bill was amended to delete provisions that would require mandated observation by third-party evaluators and a peer-review component. PASA does not support the bill as amended. PASA is not supportive of using the Keystone Exams as a graduation component. PASA sees potential with using the SAT in place of the Keystone Exams (but not for graduation purposes), although whether that switch would be approved for federal accountability standards is questionable. In addition, any switch to the SAT should allow for additional time for school districts to re-tool curriculum to meet the structure of the SAT, which is based on the Common Core, not the PA Core Standards, and therefore should not be required in the next school year. Generally, PASA believes it is important to work carefully through changes to assessment and evaluation to ensure both are meaningful, professionally appropriate and appropriate for students and staff.
 
THIS WEEK – Committee Schedule
 
Monday, June 26
 
EIT Credits and Rates: HB 866; to be considered by the Senate Finance Committee. The bill amends the Local Tax Enabling Act to do several things including expanding the provision related to credits for payments to other states, allowing any other EIT assessed or any change in EIT rates made by other state law to be credited and allowed as a deduction from EIT liabilities. This is a reintroduction of House Bill 245 from last session, which was vetoed by Governor Wolf.
 
THIS WEEK – House Floor Calendar. The full House plans to vote on the following bills this week:
 
* Drug Abuse Education: HB 121; amended and approved by the House Education Committee. The bill requires schools to include information about opioid and prescription drug abuse and prevention in their drug abuse programming.
 
* Restricting Assessment Appeals: HB 1213. The bill restricts taxing district assessment appeals, applies the restriction retroactively for appeals that have not been finally adjudicated, gives the taxing district seeking to increase an assessment under the bill the burden of proving that the proposed increased assessment isn’t unconstitutional, and dictates how this constitutionality will be determined, stating that appraisals are not necessary and that an assessment will be deemed constitutional if it is the lesser of either the amount provided in section 8844(e)(2) or an amount that is comparable to other similar properties.
 
THIS WEEK – Senate Floor Calendar. The following bills may be considered this week:
 
* School Security Drills: HB 178; approved by the Senate Education Committee. The bill amends the School Code to replace one of their fire drills each year with a school security drill, completed in coordination with local law enforcement and local emergency management associations and with prior parent notification. The bill already passed the House.
 
*Censorship of Historical Documents: SB 88. The bill prohibits content-based censorship on historical U.S. or Pennsylvania documents and ensures that no teacher or administrator is prohibited from using, reading from or posting in a public school excerpts from historical documents, including the U.S. Constitution, the Mayflower Compact, the national anthem and the Declaration of Independence, during the course of educational instruction.
 
* Mandated Leave: SB 229. The bill removes several provisions from the School Code, including the provision requiring a minimum of 10 days of sick leave, the requirement to provide up to 25 days of accumulated sick leave (with the exception of when schools consolidate) to employees switching employers, the requirement to provide bereavement leave, the requirement to provide alternative payment plans and the requirement to provide sabbatical leave.
 
* Employee Gun Possession in Schools: SB 383. The bill permits school boards to adopt policies allowing school personnel to have access to firearms on the grounds of a public school. As amended, the bill requires those employees to go through an approved training program in order to have that access and to prohibit disclosure of the names of employees with access either through right-to-know requests or in a public meeting.
 
* Union Leave: SB 494. The bill prohibits a collective bargaining agreement from permitting full-time union leave.
 
* Restricting Assessment Appeals: SB 586. The bill prohibits a taxing district from appealing an assessment based on the purchase or sale of a property, the financing or refinancing the property or following certain investments or improvements to the property. The bill only allows taxing districts to appeal an assessment following a countywide reassessment, when the parcel has been divided or when a change has occurred in the productive use of the property.
 
* Assessment & Teacher Evaluation: SB 756; amended and approved by the Senate Education Committee. The bill eliminates the Keystone Exams, replacing them with the SATs and PSATS for federal assessment purposes, and forms a task force to examine continued use of the PSSAs. The bill also comprehensively rewrites the teacher evaluation system, changing the percentages applicable to each component of the measure, adding parent and student components.
 
Charter Schools…
 
Questioning Delivery of Special Education ServicesCatasauqua Area and Allentown school boards are seeking answers from Innovative Arts Academy leadership about concerns raised publicly by two teachers over the charter school's special education program. The teachers, Ann Tarafas and Elizabeth Fox, told charter school trustees on June 7 and Catasauqua Area School Board members on Tuesday that the school could be falling short of state compliance for students' individualized education programs because of lack of staff. The school was missing a psychologist and speech therapy services for months because a contractor was not paid, they said at the meetings. Read the rest of the story: “Catasauqua, Allentown School Boards Want Answers from Innovative Arts Academy after Teachers' Statements” (from The Morning Call, 6/17/17).
 
Staff LayoffsThe charter-school operator Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania abruptly laid off 18 of its 23 security employees at Olney Charter High School on Tuesday in the midst of a union-organizing drive.
Members of what Aspira calls the school’s “safety team” said they were summoned to the human resources office at the nonprofit’s headquarters in Hunting Park and told they were being terminated because of “budget problems.” “They never discussed anything before about a budget anything,” said Louis Alvarez, who had been a member of Aspira’s safety team at Olney for two years. “This came out of nowhere.” Read the rest of the story: “Aspira Lays Off Most of Security Staff at Olney High” (from philly.com, 6/21/17).
 
In National News…
 
Senate Healthcare Reform Bill:  Response to Medicaid Cuts: In response to the proposed Medicaid cuts in the Senate healthcare bill, AASA released a statement in opposition. “This bill reneges on Medicaid’s 50+ year commitment to provide America’s children with access to vital healthcare services that ensure they have adequate educational opportunities and can contribute to society by imposing a per-capita cap and shifting current and future costs to taxpayers in every state and Congressional district,” AASA said. “The policy changes put forth in this bill will disproportionally harm children’s access to care, including services received at school.
 
“School-based Medicaid programs serve as a lifeline to children who can’t access critical health care and health services outside of their school. However, the projected loss of hundreds of billions in federal Medicaid dollars will compel states to ration health care for children. Under the per-capita caps included in the AHCA, funding for health care will be limited and schools will be forced to compete with other critical health care providers—hospitals, physicians, and clinics—that serve Medicaid-eligible children. School-based health services are mandated on the states and those mandates do not cease simply because Medicaid funds are capped by the AHCA.
 
“Our nation’s vulnerable youth deserve better.  We urge the Senate to reject these harmful proposals and preserve the availability of comprehensive Medicaid services, including those provided at school.”
 
Civil Rights Investigation The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent agency charged with advising Congress and the President, has launched a two-year investigation into civil rights practices at several federal agencies under the Trump administration, including the U.S. Department of Education. The commission, which made the move on Friday, plans to take a closer look at civil rights enforcement across the government, including the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development. The panel is particularly concerned that the Trump administration is seeking to cut the budgets of the civil rights arms of these agencies. And it is bothered by statements by some cabinet officials, including U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, that the commission says may demonstrate that the Trump administration isn't going to take civil rights enforcement seriously. (DeVos is, in fact, the only cabinet official the statement mentions by name). Read the rest of the story: “Civil Rights Commission Launches Investigation Into Ed. Dept., Other Agencies” (from Education Week, 6/16/17).
 
Interpreting ESSA: Federal Dictates, State Plans In a muddled if not contrarian response to a state plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, the U.S. Department of Education has suggested, among other things, that student performance can only be measured by math and reading scores. The surprise pronouncement, included as part of the department’s review of Delaware’s plan for meeting ESSA requirements, stands in stark contrast to what architects of the law said were two key goals—giving states the freedom and the responsibility for designing their own accountability systems; and removing the federal government as arbiter over school performance. “It is very much within the authority of Delaware to come back and say, ‘No, that’s not how we interpret this,’” said David DeSchryver, senior vice president and co-director of Whiteboard Advisors, a D.C.-based education consulting firm. “This is a peer review letter (from the Education Department), so it’s not binding legal document and there’s still a lot of room for Delaware to respond, and we’ll see where it goes,” DeSchryver said. Read the rest of the story: “DeVos Breaks Ranks with GOP, Wants Changes in ESSA Plan” (from cabinetreport.com, 6/19/17).
 
Challenges and Opportunities in Rural EducationIn the aftermath of a rancorous presidential election that frequently addressed hardships facing rural communities, the challenges and opportunities for rural educators and administrators are receiving increased attention, according to Alan Richard, chair of the Rural School and Community Trust. “One thing that’s different is that rural is sort of a hot topic right now,” he said. “And that’s encouraging to us, because we’re not used to being cool.” However, Richard cautioned that the umbrella term ‘rural’ consisted of many diverse communities and regions, from sections of Pennsylvania, to areas like the Mississippi Delta, the Desert Southwest and Alaska, and it would be a misnomer to think all rural school districts faced comparable challenges. Richard hopes the release of the Trust’s report, “Why Rural Matters 2015-2016: Understanding the Changing Landscape,” will help add clarity to an increasingly populated dialogue. Read the rest of the story: “Rural Districts Face Resource Challenges and Blended Learning Opportunities” (from Education Dive, 6/20/17).
 
Cutting Back on Education RegulationsGot ideas for the Trump administration on how to get rid of "burdensome" education guidance and regulations? The U.S. Department of Education wants to hear from you. The agency put a notice in the Federal Register last Wednesday asking the education community to identify specific guidance and regulations that are driving up costs, or creating too much extra work for states, districts, and educators. And the department wants the responses to be as specific as possible, including, if possible, actual citations to regulations and guidance. The administration wants to hear back in the next 60 days. Read the rest of the story: “Trump Administration Wants Advice on Cutting Back Education Regulations” (from Education Week, 6/21/17).
 
On the Calendar…
 
June 28 – PLUS Caucus meeting (PASA office)
July 4 – PASA office closed
July 10-12 – AASA Legislative Advocacy Conference (Washington, D.C.)
July 11-12 – New Superintendents’ Academy Part 1 (PASA office)
July 23-25 – PA Educational Leadership Summit (Altoona)
 
 (pdf for printing)