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Education Update

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

May 22, 2017

The Update will not be published next week due to the Memorial Day holiday. The next Update will be published on June 5.

In State Budget News…
 
Budget Update This week’s budget discussions will continue on potential revenue sources and budget spend numbers, with the chambers and caucuses still working relatively independently at this point to get a sense of where their members are comfortable.
 
Pension Reform UpdateAnother potential component of the budget—pension reform—appears to be coming together for another round of discussion. The Senate introduced SB 1, which is likely to be the vehicle for pension reform this June.
 
Unemployment Rate Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was up one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.9 percent in April, the first increase following four consecutive declines. The commonwealth’s rate remains above that of the U.S. (4.4%), which decreased one-tenth of a percentage point from March. Over the year, the Pennsylvania unemployment rate declined by six-tenths of a percentage point, matching the national 12-month change. (from a Department of Labor & Industry press release, 5/19/17)
 
In School Funding News…
 
ALERT! Restricting Assessment AppealsA major topic of conversation in both the House and Senate this week continues to be the issue of restricting assessment appeals by school districts and changing the way property is valued—via HB 1213 and SB 586.  These bills will increase property taxes for homeowners while undervaluing commercial properties. PASA opposes this bill. ACTION NEEDED: It is important that you reach out to your House representatives ASAP to tell them the impact this bill would have on your district and on the homeowners in your community! CLICK HERE for talking points and an update on HB 1213 from the May 16 PASBO web forum.
 
No Taxes on BillboardsBillboards have long been excluded from property taxes in Pennsylvania, but that did not stop two Delaware County school districts from taking a novel approach to increasing tax revenue from nearly two dozen signs along I-95 and Route 322. Instead of taxing the billboards and the structures that support them, Chester-Upland and Chichester School Districts decided they could increase the assessment of the land the signs were on because the revenue from the signs made the land worth more. The bid failed late last month when a judge in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas upheld a decision by the Board of Assessment and Appeals that the presence of billboards could not be used to increase the assessment, but the case illustrates both the vagaries of taxation and school districts’ hunger for new revenue amid strained budgets. Read the rest of the story: “Billboards Keep Property-Tax Exemption in Delco Case” (from philly.com, 5/22/17).
 
In Legislative News…
 
This Week’s Legislative ScheduleAfter a relatively quiet week in Harrisburg, the House and Senate return to session this week for three days before breaking until early June.
 
LAST WEEK
 
* Epi-Pen Administration: HB 224; signed into law as Act 2 of 2017. The law, which amends the School Code, provides immunity to school bus drivers and crossing guards who administer an epi-pen to students in a manner that complies with the policies of the school district or the independent contractor that employs them and who complete a Department of Health training program.
 
THIS WEEK – Committee Meetings
 
TUESDAY, MAY 23
 
House Finance Committee to consider:
 
* Tax Shift: HB 966. The bill amends the Local Tax Enabling Act to remove the disincentive to convert an occupational tax to an EIT by eliminating the requirement that the tax generated by the occupational tax was limited to the revenue obtained in the 2009 fiscal year. The bill provides for a revenue neutral shift.
 
* Homestead Tax Exemption: HB 1285. The bill amends the PA Constitution to permit taxing jurisdictions to exempt from taxation up to 100% of the assessed value of a homestead property.
 
Senate Education Committee to consider:
 
* Burden of Proof for Student Placement: SB 541. The bill places the burden-of-proof on the school district, rather than on the party seeking relief, in a hearing to determine whether the district is providing a child with disabilities the special education he or she needs in the least restrictive environment. The bill also clarifies that the burden-of-proof for determining the appropriateness of a private school placement unilaterally selected by a parent or guardian is the responsibility of the student, parent or guardian, not the LEA. Background: In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court in Schaeffer vs. Weast held that, under IDEA, the burden of proof is on the party seeking relief, usually parents or guardians. The court did not invalidate state laws that placed the burden on the school district. Currently, Pennsylvania has no such statute or regulation in effect.
 
* College Credit for AP Test Scores: SB 634. The bill ensures that students who have taken an AP course and scored 3 or higher on the AP exam receive college credit from Pennsylvania’s public institutions of higher education.
 
* Legislative Approval of State ESSA Plan: SB 725. The bill requires the House and Senate Education Committees to sign off on the ESSA state plan prior to submission to the U.S. Department of Education and requires the General Assembly to approve the plan or appropriate state funds for the plan prior to implementation of the plan.
 
WEDNESDAY, MAY 24
 
House and Senate Education Committees to hold a joint public hearing on Educational Savings Accounts and how they have worked in other states
 
Senate Urban Affairs & Housing Committee to consider:
 
* 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. (Senate version of HB 1213)
 
* Property Tax Abatement: HB 758. The bill creates a program for tax abatement for deteriorated properties in certain areas of the commonwealth for a period of ten years during which the properties must be updated, improved and developed into mixed-use properties.
 
Joint Legislative Budget & Finance Committee to meet and release several reports, including one on the fiscal impact that charter schools have on school districts
 
THIS WEEK – House Floor Calendar. The following bills remain on the House Floor schedule for possible consideration this week:
 
* Military Recruiter Access: HB 524; amended and approved by the House Education Committee. The bill requires school entities to provide armed forces recruiters with access to lists of secondary school students (current law says “seniors”) upon request. The bill also requires school entities to notify their 10th, 11th and 12th grade students of this requirement and provides for a student opt-out process.
 
* Prohibition on Assessment Appeals: HB 1213. 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. The bill was amended to include new definitions for “fee simple,” “market value,” and “real estate.” These definitions would redefine property valuation, requiring commercial properties to be valued as though they are vacant, slashing their assessments and tax liability at the expense of school districts.
 
* Clearinghouse of Online Courses: HB 679; approved by the House Education Committee. The bill creates a clearinghouse of online courses for students in grades 6-12 developed and maintained by PDE. By 2018-19 a database of online courses that contain Keystone Exam-related content must be developed. By 2019-20, a broader database of online courses offered by other providers (which can include other school entities) will be developed. School entities can contract with providers to use the courses they developed.
 
* Licensing Online Schools: HB 857; approved by the House Education Committee. The bill amends the Private Academic Schools Act to allow online schools to become licensed by the State Board of Private Academic Schools.
 
* Educator Training in Transition Services: HB 1305; approved by the House Education Committee. The bill requires professional educators in school entities that provide secondary transition services to students in grades 8 to 12 (or to those who are ages 14 or older) to complete training to be developed by PDE beginning in 2018-19.
 
THIS WEEK: Senate Floor Calendar. The following bills remain on the Senate Floor schedule for possible consideration this week:
 
* Graduation Requirements for CT Students: HB 202The bill 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 bill also creates an alternative pathway for CTE students who do not reach proficiency on a Keystone. Specifically, the bill would require a CTE student 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 would 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.  
 
*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.
 
*Homeschoolers and Vo-Tech Access: SB 93. The bill permits students who are homeschooled to access additional programs, such as vocational or technical education programs, established by a school district.
 
* 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.
 
* Penalties for Child Abuse: SB 363The bill provide penalties against any employee of a school, contractor and educational agency who provides assistance, other than routine transmission of personnel files, in gaining employment at other educational institutions when they know or should know that the applicant has engaged in sexual misconduct as defined under the law.

*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.
 
*Executive Session: SB 503. The bill limits executive sessions concerning collective bargaining negotiations to those related to information and strategy sessions, not actual negotiation.
 
*Right-to-Know: SB 504. The bill removes from the Right-to-Know Law exception collective bargaining negotiations and negotiations related to arbitration of a dispute or grievance under a collective bargaining procedure.
 
*Approval of Regulations: SB 561. The bill requires the General Assembly and the Governor to approve all regulations with an economic impact or cost to the Commonwealth, to its political subdivisions, and to the private sector exceeding $1 million. Under the current regulatory review process, the General Assembly must pass a concurrent resolution disapproving a regulation and the Governor must sign it to bar the governor’s own agency from enacting the regulation.
 
*Advance Notice of Superintendent Hiring and Terms: SB 592. 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.
 
In State News…
 
Overturning Charter Appeal Board Decision After a four-year battle, backers of a proposed cyber charter school moved closer to opening what would be Pennsylvania's 15th school that provides online instruction to students in their homes. Commonwealth Court on Thursday overturned a ruling by the state Charter Appeal Board that had denied an operating agreement for the proposed Insight PA Cyber Charter School on the ground that its for-profit management firm, K12 Inc., would be effectively running the school rather than Insight’s nonprofit board. The court disputed that finding and ordered the appeals board to direct the state Department of Education to issue a five-year charter to Insight. Read the rest of the story: “Court Sides with Proposed Cyber Charter Backed by K12 Inc.” (from philly.com, 5/18/17).
 
From AASA… Medicaid Funding: CALL TO ACTION
 
Earlier this month the U.S. House of Representatives passed a health care bill that will result in significant funding cuts to public schools. The American Health Care Act not only repeals and replaces parts of Obamacare, but changes the way public schools receive Medicaid funds necessary to provide services to students with disabilities. The bill puts at risk $4 billion of Medicaid funding public schools receive annually. AASA and NSBA are urging you to invite your members of Congress, specifically Senators, to visit your schools and see firsthand how cutting Medicaid funds will directly undermine the ability of public schools to meet the educational needs of students with disabilities and students in poverty. Congress is in recess during the week of May 29 – June 2. Please contact your Senators ASAP.
 
In National News…
 
Federal Budget Plan for EducationFunding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post. The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies. Read the rest of the story: “Trump’s First Full Education Budget: Deep Cuts to Public School Programs in Pursuit of School Choice” (from The Washington Post, 5/17/17).
 
Net Neutrality RollbackThe Federal Communications Commission last Thursday took an initial step toward rolling back regulations adopted two years ago that were designed to protect “net neutrality.”  The agency’s shift is drawing strong objections from school and advocacy organizations, who fear it will impede access to valuable online content. Organizations supporting ed-tech and schools have raised a number of concerns about efforts to weaken net neutrality. One worry is that deep-pocketed organizations would be able to streamline the delivery of content over the web, while those that cannot afford to supercharge delivery–such as providers of online K-12 content–would be relegated to a slow lane. Critics of the FCC’s reversal also worry that schools’ ability to stream online resources requiring heavy bandwidth, like education videos, could also be hindered by the new policy. Read the rest of the story: “FCC Makes First Move Toward Weakening Net Neutrality Protections” (from Education Week, 5/19/17).
 
Perkins ReauthorizationThe House education committee approved a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act last Wednesday. The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, with Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi as the lead co-sponsors, passed unanimously out of the committee. It now moves to the full House for consideration, and could become the first major education legislation sent to President Donald Trump during this Congress. The legislation is tailored to give states more flexibility in their plans for Perkins funds and for prioritizing programs that meet their particular workforce environments. Read the rest of the story: “Career and Technical Education Overhaul Bill Approved by House Ed. Committee” (from Education Week, 5/17/17).
 
Education and Civil Rights – In a recent opinion blog published on Education Week, David Powell, who teaches education policy and the politics of education at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, warns against buying the school choice rhetoric masquerading as civil rights. “I’m positive that making our schools better could do much to address the racial, social, and economic barriers to justice that many Americans face,” he writes. “I’m also certain that if we did more to address the larger social issues we face—such as continued racial discrimination, a fraying social safety net, the role of money in politics—our schools would improve immediately. This is, of course, because the relationship between public schools and society is a symbiotic one. Schools both reflect and shape the societies in which they exist, meaning that healthy schools make healthy societies, and vice versa. We should recognize the role public education can play in addressing social problems. But what we need now, more than ever, is a comprehensive approach to solving these social problems that acknowledges that schools can only do so much, especially after having served as political punching bags for so long. Instead, we're being offered a false choice between a public education system that is truly accessible and accountable to the American public and a system that shares nothing in common with the one that Adlai Stevenson once described as ‘the most American thing about America.’” Read the rest of his op-ed: “No, Education Isn't the Civil Rights Issue of Our Time” (5/15/17).
 
Charters and Vouchers…
 
Public Loss, Private Gain – “Public Loss, Private Gain: How School Voucher Tax Shelters Undermine Public Education,” a new report by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, exposes how state and federal tax policy promotes the privatization of education funding while simultaneously draining public coffers to enable savvy taxpayers to turn a profit. “Seventeen states divert a total of over $1 billion per year toward private schools via school voucher tax credits,” the executive summary of the report notes. “When combined with a federal tax loophole, nine of these states’ credits are so lucrative that they allow some upper-income taxpayers to turn a profit (at federal taxpayer expense) on contributions they make to fund private school vouchers, all while leaving less resources available for federal investments in education. Simply put, wealthy taxpayers are benefiting from a federally sanctioned voucher tax shelter.” Click here to see the report.
 
Public Knowledge of School Choice, Charters Even as fierce political battles rage in Washington over school choice, most Americans know little about charter schools or private school voucher programs. Still, more Americans feel positively than negatively about expanding those programs, according to a new poll released on May 12. All told, 58 percent of respondents say they know little or nothing at all about charter schools and 66 percent report the same about private school voucher programs, according to the poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But even though they are unfamiliar to many, Americans have largely positive reactions to charter schools and vouchers. Read the rest of the story: “AP-NORC poll: Most Know Little about Charter Schools” (from ABC News, 5/13/17).
 
School Choice Disagreement For two decades, a loose-knit group that includes some of the country’s wealthiest people has underwritten the political push for school choice, promoting ballot initiatives and candidates who favor competition for traditional public schools. But when a member of this elite group was elevated to education secretary, the appointment opened a philosophical schism that now threatens to shatter the alliance, turn billionaires against each other and possibly lead some school-choice advocates to join with teachers’ unions, their archenemies. Read the rest of the AP story: “Voucher Proposals Expose Rift in School Choice Movement” (from The York Dispatch, 5/14/17).
 
From Indiana: The Truth about VouchersIn 2013, Mike Pence succeeded Mitch Daniels as Indiana's governor, and, within months, the now ­vice president oversaw a dramatic expansion of the state’s school voucher program. Lawmakers added new pathways for students to qualify, making the voucher more accessible to children who had never attended a public school. They also expanded the program's reach to include some middle ­class families. Voucher enrollment doubled in one year. "It's actually grown almost exponentially as you look at the numbers," says the law's proud architect, state Rep. Robert Behning, a Republican. But the biggest headline from the program's growth is this: Today, more than half of all voucher students in the state have no record of attending a public school. Read the rest of the story: “The Promise and Peril of School Vouchers” (from NPR, 5/12/17).
 
On the Calendar…
 
May 29 – PASA office closed
June 6 – Lobby Day
June 7 – Professional Development Committee meeting (virtual)
July 11-12 – New Superintendents’ Academy Part 1 (PASA office)
July 23-25 – PA Educational Leadership Summit (Altoona)

(pdf for printing)