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Education Update

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

August 14, 2017

In State Budget News…
 
State Budget UpdateNo news. Talks are continuing. Rumors are that there "may" be a revenue agreement by the end of August. Stay tuned....

School Code Bill SummaryWhile we wait to see what the House does with the Senate-passed revenue bill (and when), along with numerous Code bills, below find a summary of what is in the School Code bill passed by the Senate in late July (HB 178). We anticipate that most of these provisions will be included in a final Code bill, although how that final bill will address the EITC/OSTC programs is unclear. The Senate had stripped out the bill any increase in tax credits for the programs, something that is a priority for Speaker of the House Mike Turzai.
 
Initially, HB 178 was introduced to require school districts to swap out one of their monthly fire drills with a school security drill, requiring them to work with local law enforcement and emergency services agencies and to notify parents prior to the drill. The rest of the language amended into House Bill 178 is basically the same as what was included in the House’s not-yet-passed version of the School Code bill—with the notable exception that the bill does not include the $20 million increase in tax credits for the EITC/OSTC programs.
 
Some highlights of the Senate-passed School Code bill are below:
 
*Basic Education Funding: Makes technical changes to the calculation of the basic education funding formula:
-Codifies the fix to lock data elements in place, fixing the data as of June 1 of the preceding school year. Allows modification of data elements only when an error or inaccuracy exists. 
-Modifies the definition of “current expenditures” in the formula to exclude revenue received for tuition from patrons. This impacts the calculation of the local effort index to more accurately reflect a school district’s local effort, instead of artificially inflating expenditures without the corresponding ADMs.
-Includes Philadelphia’s sales and use tax and cigarette tax in the definition of “local tax-related revenue” beginning in 2016-17.  
 
*Market Value Change: Clarifies that for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2017, a school district’s market value cannot exceed $47 billion, and in each subsequent year, the maximum market value will increase by the percentage increase in market value for all school districts.
 
*IU Funding: Funds IUs at 5.5% of the Special Education Funding appropriation—level-funding from 2016-17.
 
*Undistributed Funds: Allows PDE to use up to $5 million in undistributed funds in 2017-18 for districts in financial distress or financial watch status.
 
*Ready-to-Learn Block Grants: Distributes Ready-to-Learn Block Grants to each school entity in the same amount as in fiscal year 2016-17.
 
*PlanCon Moratorium: Extends the PlanCon moratorium during the 2017-18 fiscal year, and makes extension retroactive to July 1, 2017.
 
*Economic Furloughs: Allows school entities to furlough employees for economic reasons based primarily on employees’ professional evaluations. Requires districts to pass a resolution that includes specific information about the reasons for, the cost savings associated with and the educational impact of the proposed furloughs. School districts 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.
 
*Lunch Shaming: Prohibits schools from publicly identifying students with unpaid meal balances. Requires schools to work with the families to enroll eligible students in the Free and Reduced Lunch Programs.
 
*School Security Drills: Requires public schools 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.
 
*Financial Administrator for Financial Watch School Districts: A financial administrator shall be appointed for a school district in financial watch status that receives educational access funding (a line item in the budget). Requires the financial administrator to create a financial improvement plan for the district that can recommend changes to staffing levels, school district policy, accounting procedures, performance goals for administrative staff, sale, lease or conveyance of school district assets, consolidation of buildings and greater use of IU programs. If the school board does not implement the approved plan, the financial administrator will assume authority of the school board and continue to implement the plan.
 
*Superintendent Contracts: Changes the date of the required board action on a superintendent or assistant superintendent’s contract from 150 days prior to expiration to 90 days prior to expiration. Extends the existing contract by one year for failure to take action, but limits extension under this section to a one-time-only occurrence. PASA argued against the bill and noted that, at the very least, the extension should be limited to one-time-only. That provision was inserted.
 
*ESSA Plan Review: Requires PDE and the legislature to develop and implement the ESSA state plan. Prohibits PDE from submitting the state plan or revisions to the state plan to the US Department of Education until the House and Senate Education Committees have had 15 days to review the content. NOTE: In order to comply with federal requirements for submitting a state plan by September 18, the PA Department of Education has posted the proposed state plan for public comment through August 31. It is unclear how the PDE could comply with the 15-day review requirement if this provision is included in the final omnibus School Code bill but not passed and signed into law before September 4.
 
*School Board Training: Requires school board members and charter school trustees to receive training – four hours for newly elected or appointed members and two hours upon reelection (or during the 5th year of service for a trustee – on instruction and academic programs, personnel, fiscal management, operations, governance and ethics. PDE will provide the training and can approve alternative training programs.  
 
*Keystone Exams: Delays the requirement that Keystone Exams be used as a graduation requirement until the 2019-20 school year.
 
*Reports to the Secretary of Education: Clarifies that PDE can require school district superintendents to submit reports.
 
*Nonpublic School Truancy: Applies the 2016 truancy law to nonpublic schools beginning in the 2018-19.
 
*Opioid Education: Requires schools to include information about opioid and prescription drug abuse and prevention in their drug abuse programming.
 
*Drug and Alcohol Recovery High School Pilot Program: Makes technical changes to delay implementation of the pilot program to 2017-18.
 
*Agricultural Education: 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.
 
*Teacher Preparation Programs: Prohibits teacher preparation programs from requiring passage of the Praxis exam for graduation or from including a student's Praxis exam score as a component of the student's grade.
 
*College Credit for Prior Learning: Ensures that students who have taken the and scored well on the Advanced Placement exam, International Baccalaureate exam, College Level Examination Program exam or Dante's Standardized Tests receive credit towards graduation at PA community colleges and state-owned universities.
 
In State News…
 
Reduction in PSSA Testing TimeToday (Monday, Aug. 14), Gov. Wolf and Secretary of Education Rivera, announced changes to the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) that will reduce the length of the tests by 20 percent in grades three through eight.
 
“As I have traveled the commonwealth on the Schools That Teach tour, I have heard from parents, students and educators concerned about the amount of time devoted to taking standardized tests,” said Governor Wolf during a ‘Schools That Teach’ tour stop at Susquehanna Middle School in Dauphin County. “This reduction will ease the stress placed on our kids, and will allow students and teachers to focus more on learning than on testing. This change should also reassure parents that we’ve listened to their concerns about over-testing.”
 
The reduction in test time arose from discussions between the Department and stakeholders for nearly a year as it developed its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Consolidated State Plan.
 
Beginning this school year, students and teachers in grades 3 through 8 will spend an average of 20 percent less time on statewide testing, and an even greater reduction – nearly 25 percent – for Pennsylvania’s youngest students. The Department has identified and removed two sections – one in math, one in English language arts – and additional questions from the science section, which could eliminate up to two full testing days for some schools. The math assessment will be shortened by 48 minutes for students in grades 3 through 8 by removing a section of multiple choice questions. The English Language Arts assessment will be shortened by 45 minutes and the Science assessment will be shortened by 22 minutes.
 
Additionally, the Wolf Administration worked with internal and external stakeholders to review the proposed changes and ensure the assessments retained their rigor, accuracy, and alignment with Pennsylvania state standards. Standardized tests are mandated under federal law, and can serve as important tools for schools to review their progress and achievement. However, noting that standardized tests not only interrupt learning, but can also be disruptive for students, even those in non-testing grades, the Department plans to continue to identify ways to further reduce those disruptions in coming years. (from a press release, 8/14/17)
 
Charter School Case Ruling on Changing ContractsIn a victory for school districts, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last Tuesday that charter schools cannot unilaterally change their operating agreements to add more students, schools or other functions that are not specifically listed in a contract. The unanimous decision overturned multiple lower court rulings issued in recent years in favor of charter schools and could lead to more calls for the Legislature to fix the state’s much-maligned 1997 charter school law. The court’s ruling dealt specifically with a Philadelphia dispute over enrollment caps with Discovery Charter School. It also was tied to a Bethlehem Area School District lawsuit with Dual Language Charter School that nearly reached the state’s high court, too, and involved Dual Language’s bid to operate more than one school in violation of its original contract. The opinion, written by Justice Max Baer, boils down to a contract being between two parties. Read the rest of the story: “Court: Charter Schools Cannot Unilaterally Change Contracts with School Districts” (from The Morning Call, 8/9/17). Click here to read a story on the ruling from The Philadelphia Inquirer.
 
‘Attendance’ Definition in Cyber ChartersIn Pennsylvania [sic] state regulations place the responsibility on cyber charter schools to determine how they track attendance. These schools have the freedom to create their own attendance policies — which are approved as a part of the application process — and then simply report back to the state with measures that show they’re adhering to them…. Charter schools in Pennsylvania are funded based on the number of students attending their school for any given time. National charter school leaders say states should have uniform policies for all cyber charter schools to establish accurate tracking of attendance; it’s a measure that would make it easier to ensure students are actually learning and taxpayers aren’t getting duped. “You’re dealing with public dollars and for a state to simply say schools can count however they want and then tell us that they’ve done that, it doesn’t strike me as a sound state policy,” said Nelson Smith, senior advisor with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. “You need consistency across the various schools that the state is financing in order for taxpayers to know that the dollar is being spent well.” Read the rest of the story: “What Is the Definition of ‘Attendance’ at Cyber Charter Schools in Pennsylvania? It Depends on Who You Ask” (from publicsource.org, 8/7/17). This is one in a series of articles Public Source is running on charter schools in Allegheny County.
 
Reminder: Public Comment on State ESSA PlanThe PA Department of Education is providing an opportunity for public comment through August 31 on the proposed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Consolidated State Plan. The plan is available for review on the PDE website. The Department will submit its Consolidated State Plan to the U.S. Department of Education on September 18. Initial implementation of the plan will begin in the 2017-18 school year, with full rollout by 2018-19.
 
In National News…
 
Investments in Questionable ScienceSince being confirmed as U.S. secretary of education in February, Betsy DeVos has significantly increased her family’s financial stake in a company that makes questionable claims about its treatment for conditions such as anxiety, autism, depression, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The new investments in the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Neurocore could total as much as $5.5 million. The investments were reported on two separate financial disclosure forms that DeVos filed with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in April and June. That office certified both forms. The transactions could reflect purchases made either by DeVos herself or by an immediate family member. The moves raise new ethical questions for the education secretary and prompt fresh worries from some researchers about DeVos’s commitment to rigorous scientific research. Read the rest of the story: “DeVos Invested More Money in 'Brain Performance' Company, Despite Weak Evidence” (from Education Week, 8/7/17).
 
Across the Nation…
 
Alabama: Seceding from a School District A national civil rights group has appealed on behalf of black schoolchildren seeking to overturn a federal district court ruling that permits a new school district for a predominantly white Alabama city to take control of two schools from a larger county system despite a finding that the move was racially motivated. The appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, comes in a case that has drawn nationwide attention since last spring. In April, U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala ruled in Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education that the Gardendale school district, formed in 2014 by a predominantly white community near Birmingham, could take control of two elementary schools within its boundaries from the larger Jefferson County school system. The judge held that two other schools operated by the Jefferson County system within Gardendale—a middle school and high school—would remain under the county system's control for at least three years. The judge allowed Gardendale to take control of the elementary schools despite her findings that race was a motivating factor in the community's efforts to secede from the county system and that Gardendale could not show that its secession efforts would be unlikely to harm Jefferson County's desegregation efforts. Read the rest of the story: “Civil Rights Group Seeks to Halt Town's Secession From Diverse Alabama District” (from Education Week, 8/8/17).
 
Arizona: Blocking School Choice Expansion A few months after Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a major expansion of the state's most ambitious private school choice program into law, the program is on the verge of being blocked. A group that aims to halt the expansion says it has collected enough signatures for a petition to stop the new law from taking effect.Save Our Schools Arizona says it has more than 100,000 signatures—enough to put the expansion on hold so that voters can directly weigh in on the law at the ballot box next year. The Associated Press reports that's 25 percent more signatures than required. Read the rest of the story: “Massive Expansion of Arizona School Choice Program Could be Blocked” (from Education Week, 8/8/17).
 
On the Calendar…
 
Aug. 24 – Women’s Caucus Board meeting (PASA office)
Sept. 14-15 – Board of Governors’ meetings (PASA office)
Sept. 27-28 – New Superintendents’ Academy Part 2 (PASA office)
Oct. 2 – Leadership for Learning Module 2 (PASA office)
Oct. 4 – Professional Development Committee meeting (virtual)
 
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