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Education Update for July 28, 2014

The Update will be on hiatus next week. The next Update will be published on August 11.

In Budget News…

Bond Rating – Last week Moody’s downgraded Pennsylvania’s rating for general obligation bonds from Aa2 to Aa3, the second downgrade in two years. The change places Pennsylvania’s Moody’s rating among the six worst states of the 47 states with general obligation bonds. In the announcement, Moody’s noted that the downgrade “reflects the commonwealth’s growing structural imbalance, exacerbated by the fiscal 2015 enacted budget that depends on non-recurring resources; a weak GAAP [generally accepted accounting principles] balance position that will further deteriorate based on the budget’s one-time measures; and the expectation that large and growing pension liabilities coupled with modest economic growth will limit Pennsylvania’s ability to regain structural balance in the near term.” In a press release responding to the news, Gov. Corbett focused solely on pension system debt, blaming the growing pension crisis for the strain on Pennsylvania’s finances and calling on the public to demand immediate action to enact pension reform.

Op-Eds and Editorials on School Funding –

Op-Ed on the Funding Study: An op-ed published last week and written by PASA, along with four other education organizations, called for a reliable and predictable school funding system moving forward. “The Legislature passed, and the Gov. Tom Corbett recently signed, a 2014-14 state budget that invests about $10.5 billion in state funding for prekindergarten to 12th grade education,” they wrote. “The budget includes $100 million in additional state funding in the newly established Ready-to-Learn Block Grant program. The additional investment in targeted initiatives such as STEM programs (science, technology, math and engineering) will prepare our students for in-demand jobs and to be the innovators our economy needs. Lawmakers also invested an additional $20 million to support for students with special needs, increased school construction funding by $10 million and lifted the moratorium on reimbursements during this legislative session. However, the state's primary support for education is still distributed according to the whim of the Legislature, leaving each school district wondering annually if it will receive more, less or the same amount of state support as the previous year.” Read the rest of the op-ed: “PA. Needs to Fix the Way It Pays for Its Public Schools: As I See It” (as published in The Patriot-News, 7/21/14).

Editorial on School Funding: The editors of The Philadelphia Daily News write, ”We can’t talk about the struggles of the Philadelphia School District without taking aim at the inequities in the state's approach to funding the schools throughout the state. For one thing, the per-pupil allocations for Philadelphia are lower than many other districts. Cuts made in basic education funding have often led to larger per-pupil cuts to poorer districts like ours and smaller cuts to wealthier districts. And a rational funding formula that would better account for the economic realities of each district rather than a flat generic formula had only a brief and shining moment before the Corbett administration abandoned it…. The sad reality, which bears repeating, is that if you're a child, your educational future depends on your ZIP code.” Read the rest of the editorial: “Are We Having Fund Yet?” (7/25/14).

Budget Fallout – The Allentown School District may have to halt its plans to hire additional full-day kindergarten teachers after getting less state funding than originally anticipated. Despite cutting 98 positions as part of their budget last month, the district had planned to hire 11 new teachers as part of its initiative to expand its offering of full-day kindergarten classes. But the district received roughly $750,000 less than expected from the Pennsylvania Budget, and Superintendent Russell Mayo said it is now unclear whether those teachers can be hired. Read the rest of the story: “Allentown Schools May Be Unable to Hire Kindergarten Teachers Due to Lost Funds” (from lehighvalleylive.com, 7/24/14).

In Legislative News…

House Calendar – House leaders last week announced the chamber will be in session three days next week: August 4-6. The House has to consider changes the Senate made to HB 1177, which includes language allowing Philadelphia to impose an additional $2 per pack tax on cigarettes to fund Philadelphia schools.

Funding Commission – The Basic Education Funding Commission met for the first time last week to select chairmen and organize their meeting schedule and agenda. 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.

Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), who also co-chaired the Special Education Funding Commission, was named co-chair, along with Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery). Additional legislators who have been appointed to the commission are:

Senate: Michael Folmer (R- Dauphin/Lebanon/York), chair of the Education Committee; Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester), minority chair of the Education Committee; Matthew Smith (D-Allegheny); Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster); and Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin)

House: James Roebuck (D-Philadelphia), minority chair of the Education Committee; Mark Longietti (D-Mercer), Donna Oberlander (R-Armstrong/Clarion); and Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster).

Also appointed to the commission is Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks), who is serving on behalf of Paul Clymer (R-Bucks), chair of the Education Committee. Rep. Clymer is not seeking reelection and will retire from the legislature at the close of the 2013-14 session in December. Rep. O’Neill served as co-chair of the Special Education Funding Commission.

The next planned meeting of the commission is Aug. 20. Focus of the meeting will be the current basic education funding system. Representatives from the PDE, along with the Senate and House appropriations committees, will offer presentations.

Pension Plan Analysis – The Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC) this week is scheduled to provide an actuarial analysis for a pension reform plan sponsored by Rep. Glen Grell (R-Cumberland). The Grell plan would put new public employees into a cash-balance pension plan, require the state to borrow about $9 billion to pay for accrued debt in the systems, and change how employees access benefits upon retirement. The PERC also is analyzing about 100 amendments filed to the Tobash hybrid benefit plan. By House rules, any bill that would impact public employee pension plans requires an actuarial note from the PERC or a letter from PERC stating that such an analysis is unnecessary.

From the PDE…

Reminder: Webinar on Keystone Exams – The PDE is offering a webinar on August 8 from 10-11 a.m. to provide an overview of the procedures for administration of project-based assessment for students with disabilities and specific details regarding the development of the IEP in the areas of student participation in assessment, accommodations and specially-designed instruction. The training will include an updated Chapter 4 Guidance/FAQ document. See the PaTTAN website for register for the webinar.

In State News…

Charter School Court Decision – The Lehigh Valley Dual Language Charter School says a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruling last week paves the way for the opening of a second Bethlehem-area location. The kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school, based at 551 Thomas St. on Bethlehem’s South Side, last October appealed its rejection by the state to open a building just for middle school grades. A three-judge panel in a 2-1 decision last week reversed that ruling by the state Charter School Appeal Board. Read the rest of the story: “Lehigh Valley Dual Language Charter School Wins Commonwealth Court Reversal” (from lehighvalleylive.com, 7/22/14).

Reminder: Financial Recovery Regulations – The State Board of Education’s proposed Chapter 18 (Financial Recovery) regulations were published in the Saturday, July 19, 2014 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Publication triggers a 30-day public comment period. 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 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. Following the public comment period, the State Board can make revisions to the proposed regulation before final adoption. Click here for a copy of the proposed rulemaking and information about how to submit public comment.

In National News…

Report on Education Innovation – U.S. schools and classrooms rank near the bottom among the countries studied in a first-ever report on education innovation by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD. Only the Czech Republic and Austria ranked lower, with New Zealand tying the United States in the OECD's point system, which used data spanning 2000 to 2011. Denmark, Indonesia, Korea, and the Netherlands were found to have the most innovative educational systems. Read the rest of the story: “U.S. Gets Low Scores for Innovation in Education” (from Education Week, 7/20/14).

Kids Count Data – American children are in many ways healthier and better educated today—even after the Great Recession—than they were a quarter-century ago, according to the latest Kids Count data book, an index of child well-being released Tuesday morning. But children's and parents' gains are precarious as families continue to sink into poverty, and wide racial gaps remain. In its 25th annual report, the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation finds U.S. children improving on 10 out of 16 indicators, particularly in education and health, even after taking the economic downturn into account. Pennsylvania ranked 17th in economic well-being (same as last year), 7th in education (up on position), 23rd in the family and community domain (down from 25th last year), and 25th in health (down from 22nd last year). Read the rest of the story: “In 25 Years, U.S. Children Make Fragile Progress, Kids Count Analysis Finds” (from Education Week, 7/22/14).

Teacher Salaries – A new report by the Center for American Progress finds that teachers in many states not only have bad starting pay, but also are unlikely to see major salary gains even after several years in the profession. For the study, the Center collected information from nearly every state to examine the state-by-state average teacher's salary after 10 years, the highest possible salary in each state, and the number of teachers who held down second jobs. Read the report: “Mid- and Late-Career Teachers Struggle With Paltry Incomes.”

Value of Extra Math Instruction – Eric Taylor, a PhD student who studies the economics of education at Stanford's Center for Education Policy Analysis, found that increasing the amount of time struggling students spend in math class improved math test scores, but the gains did not last in the long run. Spending more of the school day in math class also may have had unforeseen costs. Read the rest of the summary: “Extra Time in Math Class Does Not a Mathematician Make, Says Stanford Researcher.”

On the Calendar…

  • August 14 – Education Congress Act 45 Follow-Up Session    

  • Sept. 1 – PASA office closed    

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

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

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