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Education Update for March 30, 2015

In State Budget and Funding News…

County Meetings on Public School Funding – School officials and community members in Cumberland County are invited to join a community meeting about public school funding on Wednesday, April 1, at 7:00 p.m. (Camp Hill). Local school district leaders will discuss how state funding issues are impacting children's educational opportunities, local taxes, and communities. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and learn how to support fair and adequate state funding for their respective county's schools. All state lawmakers who represent these counties have been invited to attend to learn about challenges facing area schools. The events are hosted by Education Voters of PA and supported by the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, a state coalition working to ensure that all students have access to a quality education, no matter where they live. PASA, along with PASBO, PARSS, PSBA and PAIU, assisted in organizing these forums. Click here for more information.

Senate Take on Budget Talks – Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers are maintaining a hardline stance against Gov. Tom Wolf’s Marcellus Shale severance tax proposal, saying they won’t discuss a tax until bills dealing with pensions and liquor privatization are settled. And with Mr. Wolf’s proposal to use a severance tax to reinvest in education being a campaign cornerstone, the stage is set for legislative horse trading this spring. “Voters elected him, and Pennsylvania understands this issue,” said John Hanger, Mr. Wolf’s director of planning and policy. “We are interested in good faith negotiation and conversation about the details. But we need a drilling tax.” Drew Crompton, chief of staff for state Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, the Senate president pro tempore said pensions must be dealt with first. “We’re going to pick up the pension bill in April,” Mr. Crompton said. “Then we would be willing to talk about the need for new revenue.” Read the rest of the story: “Pennsylvania Lawmakers Dig In on Natural Gas Severance Tax” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/24/15).

Pension Reform –

  • Use of Money Managers: Leaders of Pennsylvania's two major public employee pension funds defended their heavy use of outside investment managers in budget hearings Monday at the Capitol. The issue comes up in the context of demands by Gov. Tom Wolf, as part of his 2015-16 budget proposal, to cut the outside management fees at the funds by $1.3 billion over the next five years. That's a proposed cut of about 40 percent based on current year levels, accomplished largely by shifting more assets into low-cost index funds, also called passive funds. Nothing was finalized about this issue in Monday's hearings, which also featured heavy doses of political lobbying by lawmakers in favor of or opposition to their preferred plan designs. But responses from fund leaders to the outside manager strategy go to show the complexity of Pennsylvania's pension issue. Read the rest of the story: “Pa.’s State Pension Fund Leaders Defend Use of Outside Money Managers” (from The Patriot-News, 3/23/15).   

  • Pension Reform First, Budget Second: Senate Republican leader Jake Corman said Monday that there will be no new state budget until Pennsylvania recasts its two statewide pension systems in ways Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf opposes. “Pensions is the budget,” Mr. Corman, R-Centre, told a luncheon of the Pennsylvania Press Club. “We’re not doing a budget without it. We can’t. It’s been like a tsunami. It’s been nice — it’s sort of a pretty wave when it’s hundreds of miles out there, but when it hits land, it causes a lot of damage. Well, this one’s hit land, and it’s time to deal with it.” Mr. Corman supports enrolling future state and public school workers in 401(k)-style, defined-contribution retirement plans. He said he also believes the state could make changes to the future benefits of some current workers. Read the rest of the story: “Senate Leader Links Pension Overhaul, Vote on New Budget” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/24/15).

Property Tax: RIP – In their latest online Politically Uncorrected™ column, G. Terry Madonna and Michael L. Young of Franklin & Marshall College write, “Governors propose and legislatures dispose. That particular political adage could be one that Tom Wolf, the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, might ponder as he begins the likely lengthy process of steering his budget and tax proposals through the state’s Republican dominated legislature. Wolf’s budget proposes major tax restructuring designed to reduce Pennsylvania’s property tax burden by 50 percent on the average taxpayer. But if 50 percent, why not 100 percent - why settle for half a loaf? Why not get rid of the property tax for school funding altogether?” Read the rest of the story: “RIP: School Property Tax.”

In Legislative News…

Legislative Schedule – The Senate finishes its budget hearings this week and will return to session on April 13. The House has concluded its budget hearings and returns to Harrisburg for three days of session this week.

This Week’s House Floor Calendar – The House this week may consider HB 400. The bill establishes the “Work Experience for High School Students with Disabilities” Act.

This Week’s Committee Schedule –

Monday, March 30: Senate Appropriations – hearing on the proposed education budget.

Tuesday, March 31:

  • House Urban Affairs: to consider HB 11 (requires all financially struggling political subdivisions, including school districts, to engage in training regarding the use of lean government practices)    

  • House State Government: to consider HB 342 (amends the Pennsylvania Election Code to clarify that all candidates for the office of school director will be required to submit 25 signatures for nomination)   

Wednesday, April 1:

  • House Education: to consider HB 423 (provides immunity to school bus drivers who administer epinephrine to students suffering allergic reactions in compliance with school district policy and training)  

  • House Agricultural & Rural Affairs: to consider HB 806 (amends the Pennsylvania Farmland and Forest Land Assessment Act – Clean and Green – to prohibit the application of use values that result in assessments higher than fair market values)   

  • House Local Government: to consider HB 823 (makes some revisions to Act 164 of 2014, which provides for training and additional qualifications for tax collectors and the appointment of a deputy tax collector)

Upcoming Committee Meetings –

  • Joint Legislative Budget & Finance Committee, April 15: to release a report on the feasibility of alternative methods of authorizing charter schools   

  • Basic Education Funding Committee, April 27: to hold a final hearing (University of Pittsburgh)

Special Election – Republican Martina White defeated Democrat Sarah Del Ricci last Tuesday in a special election to fill an open seat from the 170th District (Philadelphia) in the Pennsylvania House. The seat was formerly held by Brendan Boyle, who is now serving in Congress.

In State News…

School Accountability and Test Scores – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf intends to steer the state away from school accountability measures that he says place too great an emphasis on standardized test scores. Details of the new plan have not yet been released. Wolf says the state's existing accountability tool — the School Performance Profile — doesn't provide parents with a comprehensive view of school performance. "Education is a full and holistic process. We've reduced it to a bunch of high-stakes tests that don't seem to me to be tied to the specific, comprehensive skills that we want students to have," said Wolf at a recent interview in the governor's Philadelphia office. Read the rest of the story: “Pa. Gov. Wolf Says School Ratings Should Be Less Tied to Tests” (from Keystone Crossroads, 3/24/15).

Across the State…

Fasting for Public Education – While Gov. Tom Wolf negotiates with the state Legislature in the coming months to get an increase in state funding for schools, religious leaders and others across the state will be fasting for the same purpose. Local clergy who are members of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network held a news conference and prayer service Monday morning outside of Wilkinsburg High School to call for fasts between now and June 30, the date by which the Legislature is supposed to have an approved 2015-16 budget. They said they chose Wilkinsburg because it is one of the most underfunded districts in the state and its students suffer from a lack of resources. Read the rest of the story: “Pittsburgh-area Religious Leaders Urge Fasting for Public Education” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/23/15).

York City Receivership – Attorneys for the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the York City School District have reached an agreement to end the state's months-long push for control of the district. The proposal, which was filed late Tuesday and awaits court approval, calls for the state Department of Education to withdraw its petition to appoint a receiver - a person who would have most of school board's powers. Read the rest of the story: “Lawyers File Application to End Receivership Case Against the York City School District” (from, 3/25/15).

In National News…

Legislation on Student Data –

Plan to Protect Student Data: Is the digital revolution in the classroom giving the education technology industry carte blanche to exploit student data? That was the question some teacher and parents groups have posed in their public responses to the news last week that Pearson, the education publisher, had been covertly monitoring social media sites to identify students who might have disclosed questions from its assessment tests. In an effort to ease parent and teacher concerns, two congressmen are planning to introduce a bill on Monday that would place limits on how education technology companies can use information about kindergarten through 12th-grade students. Read the rest of the story: “Bill Would Limit Use of Student Data” (from The New York Times, 3/22/15).   Push-Back on the Student-Data Protection Plan: Introduction of a bill intended to establish a new level of federal involvement in the protection of K-12 students' privacy has been delayed following criticism that lawmakers fell well short of creating the strong national law for which advocates hoped. On Monday, U.S. Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Luke Messer, R-Ind., were poised to introduce the "Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act," developed in close consultation with the White House. But after critical press reports and concern from privacy advocates about the scope and rigor of a near-final draft of the bill, the lawmakers decided to hold off. A revised version of the proposed legislation is now expected to be made public later this week. Read the rest of the story: “Federal Student-Data-Privacy Bill Delayed Following Criticism” (from Education Week, 3/23/15).

The Gap Between School and Work – Finding new ways to engage students is critical in an economy that continues to be a challenge for some job seekers. Nearly all of the 2.6 million new, livable wage jobs expected to be added by 2017 will require some form of post-secondary education, but not necessarily a bachelor's degree according to a USA TODAY analysis of jobs data in the 125 largest metros. About 1.8 million of those jobs are STEM or high-paying blue collar positions, the data from Economic Modeling Specialists International and CareerBuilder show. Meeting these challenges of the new economy is critical, and the typical college prep system isn't working, proponents say. Read the rest of the story: “Closing the Gap Between School and Work” (from USA Today, 3/23/15).

The Art of Teaching –

  • Value of Teacher Experience: The notion that teachers improve over their first three or so years in the classroom and plateau thereafter is deeply ingrained in K-12 policy discussions, coming up in debate after debate about pay, professional development, and teacher seniority, among other topics. But findings from a handful of recently released studies are raising questions about that proposition. In fact, they suggest the average teacher's ability to boost student achievement increases for at least the first decade of his or her career—and likely longer. Read the rest of the story: “New Studies Find That, For Teachers, Experience Really Does Matter” (from Education Week, 3/24/15).    

  • The Teaching Profession: An influential language arts teacher who recently won a $1 million international teaching prize has some surprising advice for young people considering joining the profession: Don't. "Public school teachers are so constrained right now by the common core standards and the tests that are developed to monitor what teachers are doing with them," said Nancie Atwell, who has been teaching reading and writing for 42 years and has written several prominent books on language arts instruction. "If you're a creative, smart young person, I don't think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you." Read the rest of the story: “Don’t Become a Teacher, Advises Award-Winner Nancie Atwell” (from Education Week, 3/23/15).

Digitizing Instruction – The K-12 market has shifted significantly from print to digital over the past several years, with digital content and devices now occupying 37 percent of all sales to school districts, according to a recent analysis by Education Market Research. The company’s research is based on a survey of publishers and ed-tech companies nationwide, meant to explore digital education trends. (from a story published in Education Week, 3/26/15)

Across the Nation…

Kansas: Funding – The fight over how much to spend on Kansas' public schools—and how that money gets spent—appears ready to enter the next stage of a long-running battle, now that the state legislature has approved a plan to ditch the state's K-12 funding formula and replace it with block grants for districts. The switch to a block grant system, created by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, could face a swift challenge from the legal system, however. A few days before the plan gained final approval last week, a panel of state district court judges said it might bar the plan from being implemented because of previous rulings in a school finance lawsuit that dates back to 2010. Read the rest of the story: “Fight Looms in Kansas on Funding K-12 Education Via Block Grants” (from Education Week, 3/24/15).

On the Calendar…

  • March 31 – Twitter Chat on School Funding-use hashtag #FairFundingPa (8 p.m.)

  • April 1 – Cumberland County Community Meeting on School Funding (Camp Hill)     

  • April 3 – PASA office closed      

  • April 9 – Board of Governors’ meeting (PASA office)   

  • April 17 – Resolutions Committee meeting (PASA office)


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