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Education Update for September 15, 2014

In Budget News…

PlanCon Reimbursement Last week the Department of Education approved reimbursement payments for 19 school construction projects across Pennsylvania. The reimbursement approvals were made possible as a result of an additional $10 million approved with the state budget for school construction payments and changes in the state Fiscal Code to free up an additional $70 million, with priority given to those who have submitted all required documents and received approval from the PDE. More than 200 construction projects remain in the PlanCon pipeline. The 18 school districts and one school authority to receive reimbursement are: Lancaster, Reading, Eastern Lebanon County, Catasauqua Area, East Penn, Portage Area, Pittsburgh, York Suburban, Fleetwood Area, Bethel Park, East Lycoming, Chartiers-Houston, Cheltenham Township, Pottsgrove, Pennsbury, Elizabethtown Area, York City, State College Area and Chester County School Authority.

Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), whose bill, HB 2124, which has passed the House, would overhaul the PlanCon process, praised the release of reimbursement funds, while calling for action on reforms to the process. “This is great news for school districts across the state,” he said. “The process of receiving reimbursement for a school district project in Pennsylvania is outdated and archaic. This is a step in the right direction, but we need to act soon on reform to eliminate the backlog of projects waiting for approval and to modernize this system once and for all.”  (from a press release issued by Rep. Grove, 9/10/14, following a Sept. 9 press conference at the Capitol announcing the department’s action. Click here for a related news story on the event published in The Lebanon Daily News, 9/11/14.)

School Funding Discussion On Air – The second half of this week’s Pennsylvania Newsmakers, a weekly TV show chaired by Dr. G. Terry Madonna, Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, includes a discussion about public school funding with Jay Himes, Executive Director of the PA Association of School Business Officials (PASBO), and Dr. Sherri Smith, superintendent of the Lower Dauphin SD and PASA President-Elect. Click here to view the video.

Funding Campaign Update –

  • About the Campaign: PASA, along with PSBA, PASBO, PARSS and PAIU, and with the support of other organizations, is mobilizing a campaign to provide information and advocacy support for school officials across Pennsylvania. Now officially named The Campaign for Fair Education Funding, the initiative aims to provide support for local school leaders, parents, organizations and communities in their efforts to advocate for changes in the way Pennsylvania’s public schools are funded.  
  • Kick-Off Event: The kick-off event for the “circuit riders” component of the Campaign will be a videoconference event hosted in participating intermediate units across the state on Tuesday, Sept. 30, from 7-8:45 p.m. The kick-off will give participants an opportunity to meet the newly selected “circuit riders,” who will provide local leaders with advocacy information and support, allow participants to start planning local action to build support for a new school funding formula, and learn more about the current state of school funding in PA and what is required to support students and school everywhere in the Commonwealth.

Corporate Sponsors – When Conestoga Valley students drive to school, they park in the Lancaster Toyota Parking Lot. At Hempfield High School, hungry teens eat in the Wheatland Federal Credit Union Cafeteria. Lampeter-Strasburg athletes may play in JK Mechanical Football Stadium or run on the Willoughby & Associates Track. Corporate sponsorships of facilities have brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars to some local schools in recent years, and School District of Lancaster is the latest looking to get in on the marketing game. Read the rest of the story: “With Budgets Tight, Schools Turn to Corporate Sponsorship” (from The Intelligencer Journal, 9/10/14).

In Legislative News…

Legislative Calendar – The General Assembly returns to voting session this week. The Senate is scheduled to be in voting session for 10 days and the House 11 days before the General Election on Nov. 4. At this point, neither chamber is scheduled for any “lame-duck” voting session days following the election.

This Week’s Floor Calendars – The following bills are on the House and Senate floor calendars for possible consideration this week:

House Floor:

  • HB 1353 (creates a defined contribution plan for all new state employees, and once amended, will be the vehicle for any pension reform. There are over 100 amendments filed to this bill, including the Rep. Tobash stacked hybrid proposal.)   
  • HB 2348 (restricts taxing authorities’ ability to engage in reverse assessments, allowing such assessments only following countywide reassessments and in limited circumstances following an improvement to a property)

Senate Floor:

  • SB 903 (provides some restrictions on local governments’ use of interest rate management agreements, or swaps, and puts in place several safeguards for local governments that engage in swaps)  

  • HB 91 (adds career and vocational technical schools to the list of entities to which a business firm may provide donations under the EITC program)

Committee Calendars –

Monday, Sept. 15

House Education Committee: informational meeting on HB 2373 (consolidates the authorizing statutes for the EITC programs and makes some changes including allowing business firms applying for tax credits to choose alternate recipients of donations if the maximum amount of tax credits is reached) and voting meeting on SB 1281 (provides for flexibility in scheduling due to weather emergencies)    

Tuesday, Sept. 16

  • Senate Education Committee: public hearing on SB 1193 (permits school districts to adopt policies permitting employees to have access to firearms in school buildings and on school grounds)   

  • House Judiciary Committee: to consider House Resolution 976 (urges the Supreme Court to examine incarceration for failure to pay fines and costs of truancy violations)    

  • House State Government Committee: public hearing on HB 2408 (modifies the requirements for open meetings, requiring public notification of all agenda items prior to a public meeting and limiting an agency, including a local school board, from taking action on anything not on the agenda)

Monday, Sept. 22

House Education Committee: public hearing on HB 2356 (amends the Public School Code to modify the penalties for truancy violations).

Tuesday, Sept. 23

House State Government Committee: public hearing on HB 2118 (requires the Office of Open Records within the Department of Community and Economic Development to create a statewide website on which local governments, including school districts, can post their legal advertisements. The proposal requires this website to be searchable by the end of 2016 and to eventually post job openings in local government units.)

Wednesday, Sept. 24

House Education Committee: meeting to examine the administration’s recent announcement on the academic standards. PASA will testify at a second hearing scheduled on October 14.

Basic Education Funding Commission – The Basic Education Funding Commission met last Tuesday in Allentown to continue receiving information on the current basic education funding system. Created by passage of HB 1738 (now Act 51 of 2014), the commission is charged with examining current basic education funding and making recommendations on a new formula for the distribution of basic education funding. The Commission’s recommendations must be provided by June 2015. Click here to view the meeting video.

Pennsylvania’s Academic Standards…

Governor’s Call for Standards Review – Last week, just two days before the State Board of Education’s scheduled meetings, Gov. Corbett announced that he would ask the Board to hold “immediate statewide hearings” for “a continued public review of Pennsylvania-specific academic content in English language arts and mathematics standards from Kindergarten through 12th grade,” noting in his press release that “this is the final phase in his nearly three-year effort to permanently roll back the national Common Core plan implemented by his predecessor, Gov. Ed Rendell.”

“Though Common Core began as a state-led initiative to ensure our public schools met the educational standards needed in the 21st century economy, the process has been overly influenced by the federal government,” Gov. Corbett said. “Common Core has become nothing more than a top-down takeover of the education system. It is nothing more than Obamacare for education…. [We want] to ensure that any final influence of the national Common Core State Standards is eradicated from Pennsylvania.”

Changes to Chapter 4 relating to the standards and testing (including reducing the number of required Keystone Exams) went into effect on March 1, 2014. Since that time, a teacher and principal evaluation system based in part on students’ scores on state tests related to the Pennsylvania Academic Standards is now in place.

During last week’s State Board meeting, Acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq outlined the governor’s plan for the review, which will include a website (available on the SAS website beginning Oct. 15) that will provide parents, educators and others with the opportunity to review the Eligible Content grade-by-grade and provide input online. The site will not only describe the Eligible content but also show corresponding test items to clarify them. Those comments then will be utilized in discussion at public meetings of the State Board.

“We are concerned that the public does not have an agreed-upon comfort level with the Pennsylvania standards,” she said. “We continue to hear concerns from parents and educators about the undue influence of the federal government in the academic standards, and allegations that they are not always developmentally appropriate. Generally, we haven’t done a good enough job of explaining the standards for everyone; rather, they are written for educators. This process will offer an opportunity for feedback and review of the ‘Eligible Content,’ tasks that reflect knowledge required by the standards.”

The State Board agreed to the PDE’s plan for a “public review” of Pennsylvania Academic Standards as part of an ongoing review of state regulations. Dates and times for the public meetings, along with further details on the website, will be made available soon.

Reaction to the Governor’s Plan –

  • Questioning the Review: Following the Governor’s press release, state Reps. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) and Seth Grove (R-York) expressed confusion about the governor’s call for review of the academic standards. “We are frustrated and confused by Governor Corbett’s incongruous decision to conduct a public review of Pennsylvania’s Academic Standards, which were developed by his administration to remove Pennsylvania from the grasp of the national Common Core Standards and supported by the General Assembly,” they stated in a press release. “We are extremely disappointed the Corbett administration is considering reversing its own policy and opting to further convolute public understanding of our statewide academic standards. As a result, we have lost total confidence in this administration’s ability to manage implementation of these state-specific academic standards.” Click here to read the press release (9/8/14). 

  • Committee Hearings: In response to the Governor’s announcement, the House Education Committee has now scheduled two “oversight hearings” on the issue. On Sept. 24 Acting Secretary Dumaresq and others will discuss the governor’s position and on Oct. 14, members of PSBA, PASA and PSEA will have the opportunity to discuss the issue.  

  • Reaction from the Field: Some area school officials have come out against Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan for continued review of the state’s English language arts and mathematics standards, with one local superintendent calling the move political. “I don’t see anything coming of the review,” said Bradford Area School District Superintendent Katharine Pude. Read the rest of the story: “Local School Superintendents Have Mixed Review of Pennsylvania Core Standards” (from The Bradford Era, 9/12/14).

From the State Board of Education…

In addition to addressing the governor’s call for a review of PA’s Academic Standards, the State Board last week took the following actions:

Gifted Education – The Board unanimously approved recommendations of the Committee on Special and Gifted Education concerning gifted education. Following a series of public meetings on the issue and a review of Chapter 16 regulations concerning gifted education, the committee recommended that the Board not open the chapter for revisions but rather offered a number of recommendations for the Department of Education to provided better oversight and support for gifted education across Pennsylvania. Included among the recommendations are urging the PDE to:

  • Establish a voluntary Program Endorsement Certificate for Gifted Education   
  • Incorporate instruction in best practices for gifted education within the PDE’s Act 45 continuing professional education programs    
  • Allocate additional resources to the Bureau of Special Education for compliance monitoring and addressing complaints     
  • Make publicly available results of compliance monitoring findings     
  • Research best practices in screening for gifted education eligibility      
  • Provide additional resources on the SAS portal regarding gifted education    
  • Determine actual costs of eligibility evaluation for gifted education and the costs of additional parental requests for such evaluations

The PDE will provide an update on its progress in implementing these recommendations during a State Board meeting in fall 2015. Click here (pdf) to read the Board’s recommendations.

School Safety and MOUs – The School and University Safety Committee agreed to a recommendation from the PDE that no changes be made to the model Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) developed by the department for school districts to use in developing their own MOUs with local law enforcement agencies to improve school safety procedures.

Student Attendance – The Board voted to approve a technical change to Chapter 11 (Student Attendance) regulations to reflect a recent PA Supreme Court decision that found the School Code and regulations to conflict concerning student attendance and “age of beginners.” The ruling found that, when a parent opts to enroll their child in a public school kindergarten program, the child is then subject to compulsory attendance requirements. The Board also approved a resolution asking the department to update its BEC concerning student attendance to clarify the attendance requirement, clarify parental rights in relationship to the decision, and provide guidance on the issue of enrollment/withdrawal from early learning/kindergarten programs when or if a parent and/or professionals find that the enrolled child is not yet ready to satisfactorily continue in the program.

Chapter 18: Financial Recovery Regulations – The Board announced that the public comment period for the State Board of Education’s proposed Chapter 18 (Financial Recovery) regulations ended on Aug. 18, with only one letter received. The regulations were developed as part of Act 141 of 2012, which established new provisions concerning financially distressed school districts (other than the Philadelphia SD). The proposed regulations include 18 criteria for the Secretary to use to determine whether a district is in financial recovery status, and whether the district is in moderate or severe recovery. No more than nine districts may be declared in financial recovery status/receivership at any one time. The Board is expected to take final action on the proposed regulation at its November meeting. 

In State News…

Education and the Gubernatorial Race – Gov. Corbett took Pennsylvania voters to school last week in "Statistics Class," a 30-second TV spot, complete with bar graphs, that asserts he has increased state education spending to "its highest level ever." Democratic challenger Tom Wolf "and his special-interest friends," Corbett says into the camera, "have spent millions trying to mislead you that I cut education spending." Wolf responded with his sharpest attack ad yet, a compendium of news clippings that say Corbett "took an ax" to schools with a $1 billion cut in education dollars that caused 27,000 layoffs and big jumps in local property taxes. "Tom Corbett," a woman announcer concludes. "Can't trust him on education. Can't trust him to be for us." Those sentences are highlighted in red in the final frame. So, the natural question arises: Who's right? Read the rest of the story: “Education Funding Issues Heat Up PA Governor’s Race” (from The Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/14/14).

In National News…

School System Leadership In his recent blog, Dr. Timothy Waters writes, “District leadership—and particularly whether superintendents impact student success—has been in the news over the last week, thanks to a new report from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy, provocatively titled School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant? As a former superintendent, and as a co-author of a McREL study and book on district-level leadership, I read the Brookings report with keen interest. [But their] assertions run counter to what Bob Marzano and I uncovered in our own research just a few years ago.” Click here to read his blog on the issue.  

Standards for Education Leaders - The Council of Chief State School Officers is seeking feedback from the public on draft standards for education leaders that aim to ensure district and school leaders are able to improve student achievement and meet new, higher expectations. The standards detail the leadership skills and knowledge effective district and school leaders need in order to influence teaching and student learning.

For the past several months, CCSSO and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA) have led an effort to refresh the standards to reflect research-based evidence and experience gained since the last update of the standards in 2008. More than 70 principals, superintendents, state education department staff, education professors, researchers, and others have been working on this set of draft standards.

The standards are voluntary. States, districts, schools and university and nonprofit leadership preparation programs use the standards to guide preparation, practice, support and evaluations for district and school leaders, including superintendents, principals, assistant principals, and teacher leaders. Most states adapt them to local needs. The draft standards for district and school leaders include 11 broad standards and specific actions under each one. Among the broad standards: developing and implementing a child-centered vision of quality schooling shared by the school community; enhancing instructional capacity; promoting robust and meaningful curricula and assessment programs; engaging families; and developing an equitable and culturally responsive school.

Click here to review the draft standards. Comments can be provided online until Oct. 10. 

On the Calendar…

  • Sept. 16-17 – New Superintendents’ Academy Part 2 (PASA office)     

  • Sept. 18-19 – Board of Governors’ meetings (PASA office)   

  • Sept. 30 – Kick-off for the Circuit Riders (videocast)

  • Oct. 21 – Education Congress Act 45 Follow-Up Session (PASA office)    

  • Oct. 21-24 – PASA/PSBA School Leadership Conference (Hershey)

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