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Education Update for July 21, 2014

In Budget News…

Unemployment Rate – According to the PA Department of Labor and Industry (7/18/14), Pennsylvania produced a net 1,800 additional jobs in June, resulting in a record high for private sector jobs in the commonwealth. However, additional losses in public sector jobs kept overall job growth from June 2013 to June 2014 at about 1 percent. In addition, data indicated that, for the second straight month, the civilian resident labor force continued to decline, falling about 22,000. The state’s overall unemployment rate in June stayed at the May level of 5.6 percent.

Gaming Revenues – According to the PA Gaming Control Board, total gaming revenue for fiscal year 2013-14 totaled $3.05 billion, about $90 million below 2012-13 revenues. (from a press release, 7/16/14)

Budget Effects – The Philipsburg-Osceola school board had plans for summer vacation. There were maintenance projects that were scheduled to be done in that period when school was out and facilities weren’t in daily use by hundreds of students. At least one of those will wait until next year. The district had opened bids for a parking lot project at the high school. Light poles would be moved from the center of the parking lot to the perimeter. The bulbs would be upgraded for energy efficiency and greater brightness for increased safety. And then the whole parking lot would be repaved. But with projections on what funds the district will receive from the state courtesy of the newly signed budget, the board has rolled back those plans until next spring. Read the rest of the story: “Philipsburg-Osceola School Board Backs Off Project Due to State Budget” (from The Centre Daily Times, 7/15/14).

School Funding Calculator – The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) last week published on line a “school funding calculator” to show district-by-district how much support for local schools has dropped since 2011. “Class sizes have increased, and students are missing out on academic opportunities,” said PSEA President Michael Crossey. “Our calculator shows just how much each district has lost and how much work remains to get our schools back on track.” In releasing the calculator, PSEA noted that funding was increased modestly in the 2014-15 budget,” but criticized the lack of initiatives to generate more revenue for funding the commonwealth’s needs, particularly education. “As a result, students and taxpayers will continue to pay a steep price,” Crossey said. “The governor is trying to use rising property taxes to promote his flawed pension plan, but the truth is school districts have found it harder and harder to pay their bills because of the governor’s unprecedented cuts to education.” Click here to access the calculator.

Pension Reform –

Debate on the Road: Gov. Corbett last week traveled around to central, western and northwestern Pennsylvania last week, meeting with local media and organizations to call for passage of pension reform, specifically HB 1353 (with the Tobash hybrid pension system language included), which, he said, would stem the tide of rising property taxes. In his press conference on July 10 concerning the state budget, the governor had criticized lawmakers for not passing pension reform before recessing for the summer and urged the public to “demand that the members of the legislature stand up to the public sector unions,” noting that pension costs are unsustainable and that it is “time to stop talking around the edges.”  In response to the governor’s remarks across the state, state Democrats, including State Treasurer Rob McCord, and the Keystone Research Center criticized the governor for making that connection. “There’s no immediate savings [from the proposal]. There is no sort of property tax relief waiting in the wings if there were just a vote on the Tobash bill,” McCord said. “If he succeeds in making this false connection in people’s minds … it’s a horribly misleading connection.” The group called for increasing state support of public education to provide school districts with adequate funds to make pension payments.

Special Session Possibility: Governor Corbett isn't giving up the ghost of a public pension overhaul -- saying he may still call a special session of the state Legislature to address the issue. His preferred proposal still does not have enough support in the House and Senate, Corbett said at a roundtable discussion in Hummelstown Friday - one of many such events his office scheduled across the commonwealth last week. The governor made daily statements about the plan to reduce retirement benefits of future public workers. Supporters say the changes would reign in long-term costs of public pensions. Opponents, most of them Democrats, say a better solution is to find new funding for pensions by raising taxes. Read the rest of the story: “Corbett Carries the Pension Torch” (from WITF, 7/20/14).

Legislative Schedule...

House Calendar – House leaders last week announced the chamber will be in session three days next month: 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.

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.

Dyslexia Screening Program – The Department of Education has announced it is accepting inquiries from school districts interested in participating in a Dyslexia Intervention Pilot Program for three full school years beginning in July 2015. The pilot program, created with passage of Act 59 of 2014, is intended to provide evidence-based early screening and multi-tier support systems using evidence-based intervention services for students with potential risk factors for early reading deficiencies and dyslexia, such as low phonemic awareness, low letter and symbol naming, and an inability to remember sequences. The PDE will establish guidelines and procedures for the pilot program, which will address screening, intervention, core program, diagnostic assessments and evaluation procedures no later than Sept. 30, 2014. At least three school districts will be selected to participate in the pilot program. Eligible districts must enroll 3,000 to 15,000 students and provide full-day kindergarten. Submitted proposals should identify how the district will meet the following guidelines: evidence-based core reading program, evidence-based method of screening all kindergarten students, evidence-based intervention programs, and a methodology for evaluating the effects of the program on the students’ identified risk factors. For additional information, contact Lynn Dell, assistant director with the Bureau of Special Education.

In State News...

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.

Charter School Oversight – The School District of Philadelphia has made progress in its oversight of charter schools but room for improvement remains, according to a new report released by the city controller’s office. The report, released late last week, stated the charter school office at the district headquarters has improved its recordkeeping of necessary files. However, the charter school office “is still providing minimal oversight of charter school operations except during the charter renewal process,” according to the report, which noted the charter school office was operating without a director and only full-time employees at the time of the review. Read the rest of the story: “Charters Need Closer Watching” (from The Philadelphia Tribune, 7/15/14).

Tuition Costs – West Mifflin school officials say they are tired of subsidizing the cost of educating the 248 Duquesne students who attend West Mifflin middle and high schools on a tuition basis and plan to sue the state Department of Education for increased funding. The board unanimously approved a motion last week to direct its solicitor to file suit to demand a per student tuition rate that covers the full cost of educating a student in West Mifflin, about $15,000. For the 2014-15 school year, the state is paying West Mifflin $10,655 in tuition for each Duquesne student. Read the rest of the story: “West Mifflin To Sue Over Duquesne Students’ Costs” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 7/21/14).

In National News…

Report on Extended Learning Time – A new U.S. Department of Education review of extended learning time research aims to help districts and schools figure out which approaches are most likely to prove beneficial. Overall, the report finds mixed academic results from the 30 studies it examined. But it highlights some promising design features, including the use of certified teachers for the extra time and targeting the initiatives to specific student needs, such as reading instruction. The review was conducted by the Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia for the Department of Education's National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Read the rest of the story: “New Federal Report Reviews Extended Learning Time Research” (from Education Week, 7/15/14).

Across the Nation…

Arming Teachers – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill this week that would have allowed Missouri school districts to designate teachers or administrators as "school protection officers," who would be authorized to carry concealed firearms in school buildings and classrooms. "I have consistently opposed the arming of teachers as a means to keep schools safe. It is simply the wrong approach, and one that I do not support," Nixon wrote in a veto statement. (from Education Week, 7/15/14)

On the Calendar…

  • July 23-24 – New Superintendents’ Academy Part 1 (PASA office)    

  • 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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