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Education Update

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

January 23, 2017

In State Budget News...

Update on 2016 Gaming Revenues – Although slot machine revenue in 2016 came in slightly below 2015 revenues, table games revenue came in well above last year’s total, bringing overall gambling revenue in 2016 above the 2015 levels. Tax revenue in 2016 from both slot machines and table games totaled nearly $1.39 billion, or about seventh-tenths of a percent better than 2015’s total tax revenue.
 
PA Unemployment Rate According to the PA Department of Labor & Industry, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate in December was down one-tenth of a percentage point from November to 5.6 percent. The commonwealth’s civilian labor force was down 19,000 over the month to 6,510,000. Resident employment decreased by 12,000 and the unemployment count declined by 7,000.
 
In School Funding News…
 
School Property Tax Elimination
 
*Response to Elimination Proposal: Bethlehem Area School District officials say they don't want to just lobby against a proposal to ax school property taxes, they want to offer solutions. Tuesday night Superintendent Joseph Roy outlined ideas to give property tax relief to Pennsylvania homeowners without letting businesses off the hook. The district advocates for a significant increase in the state's senior citizen property tax rebate program and the homestead tax credit amongst other ideas. "You don't need to throw the whole property tax out to give significant relief to senior citizens," Roy said. Read the rest of the story: “No School Tax Means Bethlehem Businesses Pocket $18.2M” (from lehighvalleylive.com, 1/18/17).
 
*Loss of Local Control: Parkland School District is expecting to keep any real estate tax increase this year within the state's Act I Index of 2.5 percent. But the bigger question at Tuesday's school board meeting was whether Pennsylvania will end property taxes altogether. State Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, believes he has the votes in the state Senate for a proposal that would increase the state income tax rate by 60 percent and the sales tax rate by 17 percent, but would effectively eliminate property taxes. Such talk in Harrisburg prompted Parkland Superintendent Richard Sniscak to warn that scrapping property taxes could weaken local control of schools. "My biggest fear is we lose local control over our budget," Sniscak said. "That's a scary proposition because the history of the state managing funds isn't very good, aka the pension system.” Read the rest of the story: “Parkland Chief: Axing Property Taxes Could Weaken Local Control of Schools” (from The Morning Call, 1/19/17).
 
In Legislative News…
 
Legislative ScheduleToday legislators return to Harrisburg for the real start of the 2017-18 legislative session. The session begins with new education committee chairmen in both the House and Senate, a property tax elimination proposal on the table and a projected $3 billion deficit for the 2017-18 state budget. This week is likely to be focused on reorganizing committees and getting back into the groove of things, but with so much on the table, things are expected to get into full swing pretty quickly.
 
Coming Next Month: State Budget HearingsWith the legislature back in session, it’s just a matter of weeks (Feb. 7) before Governor Wolf presents his proposed budget to the General assembly, Kicking off the official start of state budget season. Following his address, the appropriations committees in both the House and Senate will hold hearings with his cabinet officials to discuss his proposal. These hearings kick off in February and will continue through early March. The dates and times for some of the most important hearings are below. Hearings are streamed live.
Feb. 22: PSERS (House, 10 a.m.) and Auditor General (Senate, 1 p.m.)
Feb. 23: Auditor General (House, 11 a.m.)
March 6: Department of Education (House, 10 a.m.)
March 7: Budget Secretary (House, 10 a.m.) and Department of Education (Senate, 1 p.m.)
March 9: Budget Secretary – Senate 1 p.m.
 
Special Election Scheduled Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) has scheduled a special election for March 21 to fill the seat left vacant following the resigned of Rep. Leslie Acosta of Philadelphia. Acosta resigned on January 3, having pled guilty in March 2016 to a federal felony charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.   
 
In State News…
 
Proposed SPP ChangeGoodbye “School Performance Profile” (SPP), hello “Future Ready PA Index.” Pennsylvania Department of Education officials outlined the proposed new system for measuring school success during a teleconference last Wednesday. The new system should be in effect by the fall of 2018, replacing the short-lived SPP, introduced in 2013. SPP was itself a replacement of the “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) gauge mandated by the 2001 federal “No Child Left Behind” law, which ushered in an era of heavy reliance on standardized test results when measuring school success. “There is a strong desire to have more holistic measures, to insure the school measuring system is aligned to college and career-ready outcomes,” said Matt Stem, PDE Deputy Secretary with the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. Nothing is final, Stem noted. The process began nearly two years ago and is roughly two-thirds done. Read the rest of the story: “State Firming Up Changes in Judging School Success” (from The Times Leader, 1/19/17).
 
Actions of the State Board of EducationThis month the State Board of Education took several actions:
 
*Approved the final-omitted revisions to Chapter 11 regulations concerning school entry and immunizations. The regulations align State Board regulations with new Department of Health regulations that make changes to immunization requirements beginning with the 2017-18 school year. The DOH regulations were approved in October 2016.
 
*Approved its report on data collection reduction. The Board also approved its report on “Public School Entity Data Collection Reduction.” Under Act 86 of 2016, the State Board was required to undertake a review of existing data collection requirements for public school entities in eight categories: finance, human resources, food services, transportation, child accounting, athletics, health and special education. The purpose of the review was “to consider whether the data collection has a valuable purpose to inform policymakers and the public about the operation of public schools and to identify those data requirements that are redundant, overly burdensome or no longer necessary.” Federal data collection requirements were not part of the review.
 
Among the Board’s findings and recommendations for the Department of Education were the following:
-streamline into one collection the collection of data on school safety and discipline that currently spans two offices (Office of Safe Schools and the Bureau of Special Education)
-consolidate the collection of the final budget report on Juveniles Incarcerated in Adult Facilities into the Annual Financial Report beginning in 2018-19
-explore developing and utilizing an automated web service tool that could pre-populate in non-PIMS data collection tools staff and demographic data already available in PIMS
-explore the cost of providing to LEAs a common financial reporting system
 
The Board’s report also recommended that the General Assembly consider whether annual reporting requirements in Act 82 (interscholastic athletic opportunities) are relevant to the goals of the original legislation and whether there are unintended consequences of the legislation.
 
*Approved the Board’s 2016 Annual Report.
 
Tuition Reimbursement IssueLast year the West Mifflin Area School District sued its counterpart in Duquesne, the state Department of Education and others in an effort to recoup more than $800,000 it claims it is owed for educating Duquesne’s students. Tuesday, a three-member panel of Pennsylvania appellate judges told West Mifflin that it needed to look somewhere besides the courts for help. Commonwealth Court dismissed various counts and directed the West Mifflin district to plead its case before the education department through an administrative hearing. Read the rest of the story: “State Court Tells West Mifflin To Seek Other Recourse in Duquesne Tuition Dispute” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/17/17).
 
Principal-Prep Grants Governor Wolf and Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera announced last week that LaSalle University, Shippensburg University, and Temple University have received more than $3 million in federal grant funding under the Eligible Partnership Grant Program, a program administered and monitored through the Department of Education’s (PDE) Bureau of School Leadership and Teacher Quality (BSLTQ) to help prepare future principals and supports elevated instructional performance in schools. “Since day one of my administration, I have made improving Pennsylvania’s education system a top priority,” said Gov. Wolf. “I have invested a historic $640 million additional dollars into our schools and signed a long overdue fair funding formula into law to ensure that all children, despite their zip code, receives the education they deserve. These grants will further strengthen the commonwealth’s public education system by developing future principals into successful leaders of our schools.” (from a press release)
 
In National News…
 
Charter Groups Respond to Trump’s Voucher PlanAspects of President-elect Donald Trump’s proposal for a massive $20 billion “school choice” program are running into resistance from an unexpected source: charter school advocates in at least two states. According to the plan he announced last September, the goal would to allow parents to use federal and state dollars to enroll their children “in the local public, private, charter or magnet school that is best for them.” But so far, charter school associations in two states — California and Massachusetts — are expressing concerns about different parts of Trump’s school choice plan. In a letter to California legislators last month, the California Charter School Association came out strongly against any effort by the Trump administration to extend private school vouchers to the state. In addition to vouchers, the Massachusetts Public Charter School Association has other concerns. In a forceful letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, last week, it worried that based on DeVos’ history with charter schools in Michigan, a school choice plan she would spearhead would promote charter school expansion without holding them sufficiently accountable for results. Read the rest of the story: “Charter School Advocates in Two States Oppose Aspects of Trump's ‘School Choice' Proposal” (from EdSource, 1/16/17).
 
Nomination HearingBetsy DeVos gave education policy and politics watchers lots to talk about after her confirmation hearing for education secretary on Tuesday. She provided detailed arguments about Michigan charter schools and school accountability in that state, and for how she'd be a "crusader" for parents and students rather than the education establishment. DeVos also made waves for her comments on special education law and states' responsibilities in that area. But there were also areas of K-12 policy where DeVos gave general or somewhat limited answers to senators' question. Perhaps it's not surprising that in several respects, DeVos didn't want to spell out detailed views on every issue raised, in part because she might have worried that she would come across as prejudging certain situations. And sometimes, senators left notable issues out of their lines of questioning. Still, DeVos' comments at the hearing leave some interesting questions about her positions. Read the rest of the story: “Six Education Policy Areas Where Betsy DeVos' Views Still Aren't Clear” (from Education Week, 1/18/17).
 
Withdrawing ‘Supplement-Not-Supplant’ Proposal That big fight over spending rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act has ended not with a bang, but a whimper: In one of his last actions last week, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. threw in the towel, withdrawing a proposed regulation for a section of the law known as "supplement-not-supplant" that had strong backing in the civil rights community, but angered state chiefs, advocates for districts, and Republicans in Congress. The proposal was all but certain to be tossed by a Republican-backed Congress and the Trump administration. The department's draft rule, released in August, would have pushed for districts and states to make sure they were spending roughly same amount of money—including for teachers' salaries—in schools that serve a sizeable population of poor students and less-poor schools. Civil rights advocates applauded the secretary for trying to fix what they saw as a long-standing problem when it comes to making sure students in poverty get their fair share of resources. But advocates for districts and states said the regulation would have been nearly impossible to comply with and could have led to unintended consequences, including forced teacher transfers. Read the rest of the story: “Education Department Withdraws Controversial ESSA Spending Proposal” (from Education Week, 1/18/17).
 
Impact of School Improvement GrantsOne of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis. Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not. The Education Department published the findings on the website of its research division last Wednesday, hours before President Obama’s political appointees walked out the door. Read the rest of the story: “Obama Administration Spent Billions To Fix Failing Schools, and It Didn’t Work” (from The Washington Post, 1/19/17).
 
Rising Costs of AP ExamsLow-income students across the country are facing a steep hike in the cost of taking Advanced Placement exams this year, and teachers are worried that the change could lead many promising students to bail out of the tests. News of the price hike—from $5 or $15 per test to $53—is just beginning to reach students and counselors as they begin to talk about sign-ups for this spring's AP tests. And it's putting needy students in a bind. "With the way my financial state is, I might not end up taking the test if it's that much money," said Kailee Giles, a junior who's taking AP Language and Composition this year at Tumwater High School, near Olympia, Wash. Giles is feeling the effect of a little-noticed provision in the 1-year-old Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. That law ended a federal grant program that has helped subsidize the cost of AP and International Baccalaureate exams for students from low-income families for 17 years. Last year, $28 million in grants lowered the cost of 862,000 exams in 41 states and the District of Columbia. Read the rest of the story: “Schools Grappling with Fee Hikes for AP Exams” (from Education Week, 1/17/17).
 
Across the Nation…
 
Florida: Voucher ChallengeFlorida's high court has thrown out a lawsuit challenging one of the country's largest private school choice programs, according to the Associated Press. The Florida Supreme Court did not say why it declined to hear the lawsuit backed by the Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers' union, but the justices rejected the suit, McCall v. Scott, 4-1. "Who is allowed to challenge the constitutionality of the tax credit vouchers?" FEA's president and one of the plaintiffs, Joanne McCall, said in a statement. "This ruling, and the decisions by the lower court, don't answer that question. We still believe that the tax credit vouchers are unconstitutional, but we haven't had the opportunity to argue our case in court." Read the rest of the story: “Florida Supreme Court Rejects Lawsuit Challenging Private School Choice” (from Education Week, 1/18/17).
 
FYI – For Superintendents…
 
The PA Principals’ Association currently has a list of 30 retired principals who would be interested in serving as substitute principal in school districts who are in the process of seeking to fill a vacancy but need an experienced administrator to fill the position temporarily. Superintendents who may be looking for someone to fill that need should contact the association for information at (717) 732-4999.
 
On the Calendar…
 
Jan. 23 – Leadership for Learning – Module 2 (I.U. 4)
Jan. 26 – Joint Boards Meeting (Hershey)
Jan. 27 – Board of Governors’ meeting (PASA office)
Jan. 30 – Leadership for Learning – Module 2 (I.U. 13)
Feb. 1 – Prof. Dev. Committee meeting (virtual)

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