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Education Update

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

February 13, 2017

The Education Update will not be published on Monday, Feb. 20. The next Update will be published on Feb. 27.

The 2017-18 Proposed State Budget...

The General Budget Plan The 2017-18 budget process was officially kicked off last week when Governor Wolf presented his proposed budget to the General Assembly. The $32.3 billion budget plan, providing a 1.8% increase in total funding from the current fiscal year, includes no broad-based tax increases. Rather, it is based upon $1 billion in limited tax increase (shale tax, limited expansion of the sales tax, etc.) and a $2 billion reduction in costs by consolidation of state agencies, achievement of “efficiencies” and a vast collection of other items that save relatively small amounts of cash.
The reaction to the budget by House and Senate Republicans was more positive than was the case with Governor Wolf’s two prior budgets. However, legislative leaders noted several areas of concern, including the lack of regard to the pension crisis in the budget and the potential impact of some of the $1 billion in taxes, acknowledging that negotiations will start quickly and those items will certainly be included in the discussions.
For budget updates and links to information, see the PASA website at
Education FundingThere are still several unanswered questions about the proposed budget for education and how it will impact LEAs. Some highlights of Governor Wolf’s proposal are below:

* $100 million increase for BEF. Funding would be distributed through the new formula. Although the PDE has posted spreadsheets based on the plan, several of the data components in them will change before June 2017—so they are estimates at best.

* $25 million increase for Special Education Funding.  Funding would be distributed through the new formula. Again, the spreadsheet is posted, but NONE of the data is updated from 2016-17—including the Act 16 data—so these numbers will change before June 2017.

* Level-funding of the Ready to Learn Block Grant ($250 million). Unlike past years, the governor did not propose to roll this into the BEF line item.

* $50 million CUT to transportation via modifications to the transportation formula. Neither the governor’s office nor PDE have provided any details about these changes, and it appears they have not yet finalized the changes. Legislation would be required to make this happen.

* $11.7 million increase for Early Intervention.

* $75 million increase to Early Education ($65 million for Pre-K Counts and $10 million for HeadStart).

* $30 million for PlanCon. This amount contains about $19 million for ongoing reimbursement and $10 million for lease payments. The debt on the bonds borrowed in the fall will be paid by sales tax revenue. School districts should continue to receive reimbursement as planned.

* $2 million competitive grant program for school breakfast programs, targeted to school districts with at least 60% free and reduced price lunch-eligible students and focusing on providing additional options to target breakfast to students.

* Level funding for Career/Technical Education ($62 million). The proposal also carries forward the $3 million in CTC equipment grants.
Budget HearingsThe next step in this budget process is budget hearings, which begin on February 21 and go through early March. During this process, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have the opportunity to ask administration officials about the proposed budget. The two most important hearings will occur in early March, when Education Secretary Pedro Rivera will sit before the committees to explain the governor’s proposed education budget and answer questions. Those hearings are scheduled for March 6 (10 a.m.) in the House and March 7 (1 p.m.) in the Senate.

In School Funding News…
Winning Back Charter School StudentsThe drive to woo students away from charters, or persuade them not to enroll in the first place, is high-stakes. At the start of the 2015-16 school year in New Jersey, an estimated 42,000 attended charters. In Pennsylvania, there were nearly 135,000, or 65,000 more than in 2007-08. Much of that 97 percent increase occurred in the Philadelphia region. Meanwhile, in the same period, the amount of money that Pennsylvania districts paid to charters to educate those students rose even faster – by $865 million to $1.5 billion, a 139.3 percent jump. Tuition reimbursements to charters eat up, on average, 5.4 percent of school budgets in Pennsylvania. Calculated according to a state-established formula based on the district's per-pupil expenses from the previous year, payments can range from about $6,000 to nearly $30,000 per student. In trying to hold on to that money, districts are jumping on a national trend, which in various parts of the country has manifested itself in digital billboards and gimmicks like promotional “baby bags” for new parents. The efforts in Southeastern Pennsylvania have been more low-key, with superintendents noting that wary taxpayers would be resistant to slick ad campaigns.  Read the rest of the story: “Public Schools Step Up Fight to Win Back Charter School Students” (from The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/12/17).

In Legislative News…
Legislative ScheduleNeither the House nor the Senate will be in session until after appropriations hearings are completed in early March. The House is scheduled to return on March 13 and the Senate on March 20.
Last Week’s Legislation ActionThe following bills saw action last week:
* Paycheck Protection: SB 166; passed by the Senate, 28-22. The bill prohibits public employers from making deductions for political contributions from public employee wages.
* School Calendar: HB 73; re-referred to the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee. The bill amends the School Code to prohibit the beginning of a school term before Labor Day.
* School Security Drills: HB 178; approved by the House Education Committee. The bill amends the School Code to require school entities to conduct one school security drill per school year in each school building in place of a monthly fire drill
* Graduation Requirements for CT Students: HB 202; approved by the House Education Committee. The bill amends the School Code to eliminates the Keystone Exams in English composition, Algebra II, geometry, U.S. history, chemistry, civics and government and world history, and allows students enrolled in vocational education programs to demonstrate proficiency on one Keystone Exam by demonstrating proficiency on a NOCTI or NIMS exam
* Epi-Pen Administration: HB 224; amended and approved by the House Education Committee. As amended, the bill, which amends the School Code, provides civil immunity to both school bus drivers and school crossing guards administering ephinephrine auto-injectors.
* EITC Funding: HB 250 – amends the School Code to increase the amount of tax credits available under the EITC program by $50 million (to $175 million) and the amount of tax credits available under the OSTC program by $25 million (to $75 million)

In National News…
Confirmation of Betsy DeVos
* Close Vote: Vice President Pence cast the deciding vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as education secretary last Tuesday after opponents failed amid a groundswell of opposition to produce the additional “no” vote required to sink her nomination. DeVos was confirmed by a vote of 51 to 50 just at 12:30 p.m., with Pence breaking a 50-50 tie — the first time a vice president has cast a Senate vote since Richard B. Cheney helped break a tie on a procedural matter in 2008. Nodding to thousands of constituents’ fury over Trump’s nominees, Democrats held a 24-hour protest against DeVos on the Senate floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote, charging throughout the night and early hours that the Republican billionaire power broker and charter school advocate lacked the experience to lead the U.S. public school system. Read the rest of the story: “Pence Casts Deciding Vote to Confirm DeVos as Education Secretary” (from The Washington Post, 2/7/17).  
* What’s Ahead? Hundreds of education organizations—from teachers' unions, to civil rights organizations, even some charter school supporters—sent letters to Capitol Hill in the past few weeks urging senators not to support Betsy DeVos' nomination as education secretary or raised concerns about her. Now that she's been confirmed, by the closest margin of any cabinet official in history, can those groups and the educators they represent find a way to work with her, after expressing big concerns about her qualifications and positions? And will DeVos want to work with them? Read the rest of the story: “What Does DeVos Running the Ed. Department Mean for Her Critics?” (from Education Week, 2/8/17).
School Choice and Rural AmericaWashington has long designed education policy to deal with urban and suburban challenges, often overlooking the unique problems that face rural schools. With a new administration in the White House that prefers “school-choice” approaches — favoring charter schools and private-school vouchers so parents can opt out of public schools and bring taxpayer dollars with them — the nation’s rural schools are left to wonder about their fate. Education Secretary Betsy ­DeVos’s emphasis on school choice means very little out here in the wilds of Northern Maine, where the closest “good” schools are all impossibly far away. For students here, Schenck High is really the only choice. Read the rest of the story: “Where School Choice Isn’t an Option, Rural Public Schools Worry They’ll Be Left Behind” (from The Washington Post, 2/10/18).
Federal Education Budget Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump, aiming to break years of fiscal gridlock, could make significant changes to the U.S. Department of Education's budget—changes that might include major cuts. There are conflicting signals about whether they'll impose big cuts that hit students in special education, educators in teacher training, and other beneficiaries of federal education programs. Budget sequestration, the mandated caps on spending that have defined the fiscal environment in Washington in recent years, may not make the headlines it used to. But lawmakers still have to decide if they want to end that constraint for education and other domestic programs—and if so, how those budgets will look for what's left of fiscal 2017 and for fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1. Read the rest of the story: “Big Stakes for K-12 as Federal Budget Process Gears Up” (from Education Week, 2/7/17).
Transgender Court Case The U.S. Supreme Court has set March 28 as the date it will hear arguments in the major case over transgender rights in school and U.S. Department of Education authority to interpret its own regulations. The justices will hear one hour for arguments on that Tuesday in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. (Case No. 16-273), which stems from efforts by a transgender boy, Gavin Grimm, to use the boys’ restroom at his Virginia high school. The high court granted review in the case in late October after getting involved last summer by granting the Gloucester County school district a stay of lower court orders that would have required it to allow Grimm to use the restroom corresponding to his gender identity. There is widespread speculation that the Trump administration may withdraw the transgender guidance issued by the Obama administration or assert a position in the Supreme Court that differs from that of the previous administration. (from Education Week, 2/3/17)

On the Calendar…
Feb. 13 – Commonwealth Budget Seminar (Grantville)
Feb. 14 – Commonwealth Budget Seminar (Norristown)
Feb. 16 – Commonwealth Budget Seminar (webinar)
March 2-4 – AASA National Conference on Education (New Orleans)

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