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Education Update

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

March 27, 2017

In School Funding News…
Spending and Student Performance in Rural Schools State funding for public education impacts student achievement in rural Pennsylvania according to a report released last week by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children that looks at how spending levels in the state's 260 rural school districts impacts student results on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs). The report, "Spending Impact on Student Achievement: A Rural Perspective," shows when rural school districts spend below the amount needed to educate students – or their adequacy target – that underspending is a direct result of inadequate state support and negatively impacts student achievement. "What this report tells us is that insufficient school funding is not just an urban or suburban problem, it is a state problem," said PPC President and CEO Joan Benso. "With budget negotiations underway, our hope is for policymakers to consider the widespread, significant impact that underfunding public education has on all students and their achievement. Today's students are the key to our future economic viability." According to the report, 202 rural districts are not receiving their fair share of state funding, forcing them to either spend less and risk student achievement, which the report reveals is happening already, or increase local taxes. Click here to access the report.
Lack of Equity in School FundingKeystone Crossroads, a joint reporting initiative of public media stations across Pennsylvania, has created a video providing a sharp focus on education equity. “Every child in Pennsylvania is offered an education through their local school district, but not every district is able to provide the same opportunities,” a video description states. “A lot depends on the where the student lives.” The video examines the historical problems with funding of public schools in the commonwealth, the current funding lawsuit in the courts, the growth of charter schools, and how inequity is impacting schools and students today. Click here to view the video.
Op-Ed: More Fiscal Hardship Ahead In a March 24 op-ed published on, William Nichols, superintendent of the Corry Area SD, writes, “Although many people are surprised at the Erie School District's financial situation, it is clear that the present and projected funding for schools throughout our region and the state means schools will be making very serious reductions to their programs and their staffs. It is important to understand that some of the same factors that brought the Erie district to this point are bearing down on other districts here in Erie County and around the state. Unless the state begins paying its fair share of education costs, more school districts will face similar struggles. According to a recent report from the Center on Regional Politics at Temple University, ‘the phenomenon of shortfalls for a substantial majority of districts in the state is not a one-year or even a short-term condition. It is a persistent, ongoing, and systemic crisis that will continue and worsen unless structural changes are made in the Pennsylvania school funding system.’" Read the rest of the op-ed: “Without Funding, More Districts Will Face Erie’s Plight.”
In Legislative News…
Legislative ScheduleBoth the House and the Senate were in Harrisburg this week, and many bills were moving through the process. Fortunately, not many of them were education-related. After the flurry of activity last week, only the Senate will return for three days this week. It does not appear that there will be much education-related action; however, it’s still early, and there are rumors of a potential Education Committee meeting on the horizon.
In Last Week’s House Action
* Right-to-Know Costs: HR 50; passed by the House on a 197-0 vote.The resolution requires the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee to study the annual costs associated with compliance with the Right to Know Law.
In Last Week’s House Committee Action
* The House and Senate Education Committees held a joint hearing last week to discuss the Every Student Succeeds Act. The committees heard testimony from the PDE, the Education Commission of the States and the Foundation for Excellence in Education. This hearing is the first in a series of hearings on this topic. Representatives from education associations likely will be providing testimony in future hearings.
* The PlanCon Advisory Committee held a hearing in western PA last week as they continued their review of the current PlanCon process and their discussion regarding the future of the state’s role in school construction. They also toured two school facilities. The committee will continue to hold hearings throughout the spring.
* Tax Collection Fraud Prevention: HB 16; approved by the House Local Government Committee. The bill amends the Local Tax Collection Law to require a tax collector’s account to include his or her title and the name of the municipality and to require tax notices to include the name of the account to which taxes must be paid.
* Taxpayer Protection Act: HB 110; approved by the House State Government Committee. The bill  amends the PA Constitution to limit state budget spending to prior year levels plus an inflation adjustment. The bill provides a mechanism to exceed that amount for items such as pension costs.
* Use of School Facilities: HB 397The bill requires school districts to provide their facilities to the Game Commission for hunter education courses that occur after school hours, on weekends or any other time school is not in session and requiring the Game Commission to reimburse the district for actual costs incurred. The bill was considered but not given final approval last session.

* Performance-Based Budgeting: HB 410; approved by the House State Government Committee. The bill requires the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) to examine and evaluate state agency line items to develop a performance-based budget plan for each agency beginning in the 2018-19 state budget. The bill also creates a performance-based budgeting board to review the IFO-created plans.
* Property Tax Abatement: HB 758; approved by the House Urban Affairs Committee. 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.
On This Week’s Senate Floor CalendarThe following bills remain on the Senate floor calendar for possible consideration this week:
* Employee Leave Policies: SB 128. The bill prohibits municipalities from mandating that all employers within that municipality comply with certain employee leave policies. This legislation would impact school districts as employers.
* Paycheck Protection: SB 167. The bill seeks to amend the PA Constitution by prohibiting school districts from using their payroll systems to collect membership dues, non-membership fees and political contributions from public employee paychecks.
* Superintendent Contract Timelines: SB 227. The bill 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. The bill also extends the existing contract by only one year for failure to take this required action.
* 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.
On the Senate Committee Schedule The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to consider the following bills on Wednesday, March 29:
* Graduation Requirements for CT Students: HB 202. The bill amends the School Code to create 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.
* Epi-Pen Administration: HB 224. The bill, which amends the School Code, provides immunity to school bus drivers 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.
* PASSHE Study: SR 34. The resolution directs the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee to engage in an investigation of the long-term sustainability of the PA State System of Higher Education.
* Penalties for Child Abuse: SB 363. The 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.
* Restrictions on Raising Property Taxes: SB 406. The bill requires a 2/3 majority school board vote to increase property taxes from the prior year.
* Union Leave: SB 494. The bill prohibits a collective bargaining agreement from permitting full-time union leave.
In State News…
Snow Make-Up Days Last week Gov. Wolf announced his administration was making emergency declarations to provide schools in northeast Pennsylvania that were forced to close due to a recent snowstorm with options to otherwise satisfy the 180-day requirement. Under Act 4 of 2016, when the Secretary of Education issues an emergency declaration following approval of a request, a school can satisfy the School Code’s instructional day requirement in two ways: meeting a minimum of 900 hours of instruction at the elementary level and 990 hours of instruction at the secondary level in lieu of 180 days, or scheduling additional instructional days on one Saturday per month to complete 180 instructional days or 900 hours at the elementary level and 990 hours at the secondary level. (Student excusals for certain reasons are included in the latter option.) Both options must be approved by a majority of the school board or other governing body. (from a press release, 3/22/17)
Big Issues in the News…
Lawsuit on Transgender Policies The Boyertown Area School District was sued last Tuesday by a high school student and his parents who say his “bodily privacy” was violated when he saw a transgender student -- identified as female in the filing -- undressing in the locker room as he also was changing. Two conservative faith-based organizations, Alliance Defending Freedom and Independence Law Center, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It claims the Berks County school district did not notify parents or students that it was allowing transgender students at Boyertown Area High School to use restrooms and locker rooms matching their chosen gender identity. Rather, the suit charges, the district “secretly opened” its sex-specific restrooms and locker rooms to students of the opposite sex. Read the rest of the story: “Conservative Groups Sue Berks School District over Transgender Student” (from The Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/21/17).
In a written response posted on the district’s website, Superintendent Richard H. Faidley said the district “contests the claims and will appropriately respond and defend its actions that we believe were consistent and compliant with the law.” Faidley went on to say that, at the time, the district discussed options with the student’s guardians, “explaining that at the time we were following the law of the land… .Even though the Federal government’s position has changed since then, we are now guided by a recent Federal court ruling in a Pennsylvania case, and await additional guidance form the State of Pennsylvania.” Read the rest of the story: “Boyertown School District Will Defend Transgender Policy Against Lawsuit” (from The Mercury, 3/22/17).
U.S. Supreme Court Decision on FAPE The Supreme Court last Wednesday unanimously raised the bar for the educational benefits owed to millions of children with disabilities in one of the most significant special-education cases­ to reach the high court in dec­ades. The opinion rejected a lower standard set by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and used in a subsequent case by President Trump’s nominee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch, during his tenure on the appeals court.
In its unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said that a child’s “educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances” and that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives” even if the child is not fully integrated into regular classrooms. The court stopped short of setting a bright-line rule, deferring to the expertise and judgment of school officials and acknowledging the unique set of circumstances of each child with a disability. But the justices sent a strong, clear message with their unanimous decision that the 10th Circuit standard was too low.
The decision more clearly defines a uniform nationwide standard for the more than 6 million children with disabilities who qualify for services under IDEA. Advocates said that the ruling would not only affect decisions in the relatively few special-education disputes that go to court but would also more broadly shift the balance of power between families and school officials, pushing schools to set more ambitious goals tailored more carefully to each student’s particular needs. Read the rest of the story: “Supreme Court Sets Higher Bar for Education of Students with Disabilities” (from The Washington Post, 3/22/17).
For another summary of the court’s decision, click here for an article from Education Week.
Click here for AASA’s analysis of this decision.
Healthcare Bill and Medicaid Funding Last week U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan pulled the healthcare bill from consideration after the legislation failed to garner sufficient Republican support for passage. The bill would have imposed steep cuts in Medicaid, including substantial cuts to funding available for school-based support for students with disabilities, and, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s initial analysis, and result in 24 million Americans without health insurance by 2026. However, reports are that congressional Republicans will continue to seek ways to reduce Medicaid funding through future legislation, with or without a healthcare component. Stay tuned…
In National News…
Slow Start for U.S. Education DepartmentUnder the last two presidents, the U.S. Department of Education was a mighty—and mighty well-funded—agency. But, all signs point to it being much sleepier under President Donald Trump. For one thing, the department’s bottom line may be about to plummet. Trump has proposed a 13 percent cut in funding for the agency, to $59 billion for the coming fiscal year. That could mean serious reductions to the department’s current workforce of about 4,000 employees. The Trump administration also has been slow to hire a support team—even though the department is about to face the mammoth task of reviewing dozens of state plans to implement the new Every Student Succeeds Act. Those plans are due to start rolling in the beginning of next month. Read the rest of the story: “Trump Ed. Dept. Has Yet to Hit the Accelerator” (from Education Week, 3/17/17).
AASA Advocacy
* Response to Federal Budget Proposal: In a statement on Pres. Trump’s proposed budget, AASA Executive Director Don Domenech stated opposition to the drastic cuts in education funding. “AASA is deeply concerned that the first budget proposal from the new administration doesn't prioritize investment in the key federal programs that support our nation's public schools, which educate more than 90 percent of our nation's students,” he said. “While we would normally applaud a proposal that increases funding for Title I by $1 billion, we cannot support a proposal that prioritizes privatization and steers critical federal funding into policies and programs that are ineffective and flawed education policy. The research on vouchers and portability has consistently demonstrated that they do not improve educational opportunity and leave many students, including low-income students, student with disabilities and students in rural communities-underserved." Click here for AASA's complete response.
* Stakeholder Involvement in ESSA Plans: Eleven national organizations, including AASA, recently sent a joint letter to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) expressing their continued strong support for stakeholder engagement, their concern with USED’s removal of stakeholder engagement elements from the ESSA template plans, and their ask that CCSSO commit to monitoring members to ensure they uphold the law’s requirement for meaningful consultation with stakeholders. Click here to read the letter.
Across the Nation…
Iowa: Opposition to School ChoiceFew topics in education are more controversial than the idea of diverting public money to private institutions, and Iowa has become a study in the kind of political fights that may be in store for the administration. Despite Republican control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the State Legislature, proposals to significantly expand school choice programs in Iowa are stalled, at least for now. The pushback has come from groups traditionally opposed to the idea — Democrats, school districts, teachers’ unions and parents committed to public schools — but also from some conservatives concerned about the cost to the state. Iowa is one of 31 states where legislators have proposed creating or expanding school choice programs this year, without Washington even lifting a finger. Even if just a few of the bills pass, the number of children attending private schools with public money could greatly increase, one reason the proposals are meeting resistance. Read the rest of the story: “School Choice Fight in Iowa May Preview the One Facing Trump” (from The New York Times, 3/21/17).
From the PDE…Competency-Based Hiring of Principals in Turnaround Schools...
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has contracted with American Institutes for Research, who has developed the Quality School Leadership Identification (QSL-ID) process for school districts seeking a competency-based approach to hiring principals in turnaround and non-turnaround school contexts, to offer a professional development opportunity at no cost to participating districts.
The QSL-ID process leverages state/local principal performance and turnaround principal frameworks as the backbone of the hiring process, and trains district staff to use the hiring process to gather evidence about candidate performance and leadership styles. QSL-ID also uses school performance data to create a school leadership profile.
These trainings, offered from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., will prepare LEA hiring teams to use the QSL-ID process and tools during their principal hiring process. Trainings are scheduled to be held regionally for LEAs at these locations:
April 17-18: Allegheny IU 3 and King of Prussia PaTTAN
April 19-20: Harrisburg PaTTAN and Allentown Marriott Courtyard
Each LEA may register up to two participants on a first-come, first-served basis. Priority will be given for high average LEA free/reduced percentage (or CEP equivalent) and low average principal/assistant principal years of experience in the LEA. Maximum registration for each regional training is 23. Working lunch will be provided.
Click here to register for the event. Questions should be directed to: (Thirty (30) Credits in Act 45/48 are available for this training.)
On the Calendar…
March 29-30 – Education Congress (Harrisburg)
March 30 – Education Research Symposium (Harrisburg)
April 5 – Professional Dev. Committee meeting (virtual)
April 10 – Women’s Caucus Board meeting (PASA office)
April 20 – Resolutions Committee meeting (PASA office)
April 20-21 – Board of Governors’ meetings (PASA office)
April 30 – May 2 – Women’s Caucus Annual Conference (Hershey)

(pdf for printing)