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Education Update for December 15, 2014

In Budget and Funding News...

Pension System Update – The Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) Board of Trustees last week certified an annual employer contribution rate of 25.84 percent for fiscal year (FY) 2015-16, which begins on July 1, 2015. The rate includes 0.84 percent for health insurance premium assistance and a pension rate of 25.00 percent. In making the announcement, PSERS noted that “the rate collars established under Act 120 of 2010 remain in effect for a fifth year and continue to suppress the pension rate and underfund the system.”  

“Difficult budget issues remain for both the Commonwealth and school employers,” said PSERS Executive Director Jeffrey B. Clay. “The employer contribution rate continues to increase to the actuarially-required level necessary to begin to make payments on the principal and pay down existing debt. The majority of the employer contribution rate for FY 2015-16 represents the cost of interest on the unfunded liability.”

Clay also pointed out that a number of funding projections improved over the past fiscal year:

  • Total employer contribution dollars through 2047 are projected to decrease by $13.7 billion due to PSERS strong FY 2014 investment performance and lower employer payroll.    

  • The pension debt or the unfunded accrued liability (UAL) is $500 million less than projected for this year due to PSERS strong FY 2014 investment performance and lower employer payroll. It was projected at $35.6 billion but decreased to $35.1 billion.      

  • The peak UAL dollar amount projected for FY 2018 is $2 billion less than what was projected last fiscal year. The peak amount decreased from $45.1 billion to $42.9 billion.       

  • The annual employer cost for benefits for current service (the employer normal cost) continues to decrease. It decreased from 8.66 percent in FY 2012-13 to 8.38 percent in FY 2015-16 as more new members join the system under the reduced benefit structure of Act 120 of 2010. It is projected to be less than 3 percent once all members are under the Act 120 benefit structure.

(from a PSERS press release, 12/10/14)

Read more about the report and continuing pension challenges: “Pennsylvania Pension System Sees Relief through High Investment Returns, Slower Payroll Growth” (from The Patriot-News, 12/11/14).

In Related Pension News -

  • Budget Challenges: Pennsylvania Governor-elect Tom Wolf earned a historic victory in ousting the state’s incumbent chief executive last month. Now budget woes and mountain retirement expenses threaten to undermine his campaign pledges. The 66-year-old Democrat will assume control of a government that has trailed all U.S. states in job growth since 2011. He has to balance promises, including more money for schools, with a $2 billion revenue shortfall for the year that begins July 1. Only New Jersey and Virginia are struggling more than Pennsylvania to fully fund retirement costs, according to Moody’s Investors Service. Read the rest of the story: “No Escape from Pension Math in Pennsylvania” (from, 12/9/14). 

  • Pension Costs: Lawmakers and Governor-elect Tom Wolf will head into next year’s budget process with lots of new obligations to fulfill and little excess revenue with which to do it. State-level contributions to Pennsylvania’s two pension plans will have to climb by an estimated $466 million in the next budget, after an increase of about $520 million this year. Next year could be considered the mid-point of a decade-long “pension spike” that sees retirement costs consuming larger and larger shares of the state’s spending each year. Read the rest of the story: “Pennsylvania Pension Costs to Climb by $466 Million Next Year” (from, 12/5/14).

Scranton Budget Deficit – Even if the Scranton School Board raises city property taxes to the maximum allowed, directors will have to find ways to eliminate a projected $6.5 million budget deficit for 2015. Without a tax increase, the deficit stands at $8.7 million. With only two weeks before directors are scheduled to vote on the spending plan, how the deficit will be eliminated is not yet known. During a special meeting Monday, directors took what could be one of the first steps in reducing the deficit — restructuring up to $25 million in debt. Read the rest of the story: “With Tax Increase, Scranton Schools Deficit Would Remain at $6.5 Million” (from The Times-Tribune, 12/9/14).

Basic Education Funding Commission – The commission held its last meeting of 2014 in Lancaster last week Wednesday as members continue to gather information and testimony on school funding issues and work toward developing a new basic education funding formula by June 2015. No 2015 meeting dates have been announced. To view video of last week’s hearing and previous hearings, see the commission website.

Legislative News…

Update on New Background Check Law – If parents want to help out at their child’s holiday party at school, do they need to undergo a criminal background check first? This question and others about the line between volunteer and visitor might become more difficult to answer starting Dec. 31, when a new state child protective services law takes effect. The law, among other things, expands background checks for school volunteers and requires school employees, independent school contractors and volunteers in direct contact with children to update clearances every 36 months. The state now has online information about compliance with the new law. Read the rest of the story: “New Pennsylvania Law Expands School Clearance Requirements” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/15/14).

In State News…

Gubernatorial Transition: Education – Governor-elect Tom Wolf has announced the individuals tasked with reviewing state agencies, commissions, and various issue areas in preparation for the new administration. These individuals and transition review teams will work with the outgoing administration to better understand the issues and challenges that face the executive branch. "It is important that I understand the issues and challenges my administration will face," said Governor-elect Tom Wolf. "I am pleased to announce this outstanding group of individuals who will review state agencies and provide insight into issues that will allow me to have the knowledge necessary to hit the ground running on January 20."

For the education review team, Wolf appointed the following:

  • Pedro Rivera (co-chair), Superintendent of the School District of Lancaster and a member of the PASA Board of Governors     

  • Dr. John "Ski" Sygielski (co-chair), President of the Harrisburg Area Community College      

  • Joe Bard, Executive Director, Pa. Assoc. of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS)  

  • Jamira Burley, former Executive Director, Philadelphia Mayor's Commission on Youth        

  • Darlene Callands, President/CEO, African American for Educational Opportunities     

  • Mike Crossey, President of Pa. State Education Association (PSEA)    

  • Larry Davis, Dean, School of Social Work University of Pittsburgh    

  • Jim Hardy, Teacher, Kensington High School (Philadelphia SD), founder and Executive Board Member, Kensington Soccer Club    

  • Jerry Jordan, President, Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers (PFT)    

  • Janine Macklin, COO & External Engagement & Grants Manager, Urban Pathway Charter School     

  • Kathy Manderino, former state legislator & Executive Director of the Campaign for Fair Education Funding   

  • Kevin Johnson, former pastor, Bright Hope Baptist Church (Philadelphia)   

  • Rich Milner, Chair of Urban Education, Professor of Education, Professor of Social Work (by courtesy), and Professor of Africana Studies (by courtesy); Director of the Center for Urban Education, University of Pittsburgh        

  • Lisa Nutter, CEO, Philadelphia Academies     

  • Adam Schott, Director of Policy Research, Research for Action      

  • Greg Taranto, Principal, Canonsburg Middle School (Canon-McMillan SD)     

  • Sonia Vasquez, Principal, Donegan Elementary School (Bethlehem Area SD)    

  • George White, Director, Lehigh Center for Developing Urban Educational Leaders

Click here to see the complete list of teams selected to review state operations.

PA Teacher of the Year – During last week’s SAS Institute in Hershey, officials with the Department of Education announced that Mairi Cooper, a music teacher in the Fox Chapel Area SD (Allegheny County) is Pennsylvania’s 2015 Teacher of the Year. Cooper teaches a variety of music classes in the high school, directs the orchestra and is chair of the high school music department. Other finalists for the honor were: Crystal Brooks (Ridley SD – Delaware), James Ciccarelli (Rose Tree Media – Delaware), Dani Jo Close (Bradford Area – McKean), Emily Dickey (Waynesboro Are – Franklin), Kristen Gerhard (Governor Mifflin 0 Berks), John Grande (Upper Moreland Township – Montgomery), Sara Jones (Titusville Area – Venango), CeCe Kapron (Mt. Lebanon – Allegheny), James Lucot (Seneca Valley – Butler), James Nagorski (Carlynton – Allegheny), Holly Plummer (Northern Lebanon – Lebanon), and Mary Beth Yahner (Brockway Area – Jefferson).

Across the State…

Update on York SD Receivership Case – A York County judge will hear arguments this week on whether he should appoint a receiver for the York City School District, after he denied the district's motion to postpone the case. And the judge said Thursday he'll allow unions representing district employees to participate in the case, but he said several other groups, including some district parents, cannot. The state education department last week asked the court to name David Meckley, now the school district's recovery officer, as receiver, which would give him the school board's powers except for taxing. He could then take action to turn district schools into charters, without the school board's consent. Read the rest of the story: “Judge Denies Stay in York City Schools Receivership Case” (from The York Daily Record, 12/11/14).

In National News…

E-Rate Increase – The Federal Communications Commission last week approved a major increase in funding for the E-rate program, a decision that supporters predict will greatly expand schools' and libraries' access to high-speed Web connectivity after years of neglect. The commission approved the change in a 3-2 vote that broke down along partisan lines and was at times sown with discord. The plan, overseen by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, will lift the overall spending cap for the E-rate program from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion a year, after years of stagnant funding. Read the rest of the story: “FCC Approves Major E-Rate Funding Increase on Party-Line Vote” (from Education Week, 12/11/14).

Pre-K Grants – Pennsylvania was not among the 18 states identified by the U.S. Department of Education last week as recipients of a total of $250 million in competitive preschool development grants intended to increase access to high-quality preschool programs. Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia were selected from the 36 states that applied. If selected, Pennsylvania could have received up to $20 million in grants.

Teacher Quality Report – According to a report released by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), no state received a “green light” for its state policies to deliver teachers into the classroom well prepared to help their students achieve at the high level demanded by college- and career-readiness standards. “While NCTQ identified five states – Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Texas – ahead of the pack on the road to high-quality teacher preparation and licensure, many more states are going nowhere when it comes to paving the way for new K-12 teachers in their states to help students meet more ambitious college- and career-readiness standards,” the report states. While noting progress over the past five years, the report remains critical of state efforts in teacher training and retention. “Looking at NCTQ’s traditional Yearbook metrics, the average state grade for teacher preparation in 2014 is a solid C,” the report states. “Compared to a dismal D in 2011, the improvement reflects real progress, but as states are poised to administer new college- and career-readiness assessments to students, these mediocre grades simply aren’t good enough.” The report gives Pennsylvania overall a C-. Click here to read the report. (The NCTQ is funded by a variety of foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.)

Across the Nation…

New York: Teacher Candidates and SAT Scores – New York state parents and students rejoice: A new study says the academic ability of new teachers in the state has risen substantially in recent years. The study, recently published in the journal Educational Researcher, looks at the average SAT scores of newly certified and hired teachers in New York state over the past 25 years. In analyzing the data, researchers found that average SAT scores for teachers began rising around 1999 relative to the rest of the population. Read the rest of the story: “More People with Higher SAT Scores Are Going into Teaching, Says Study” (from The Huffington Post, 12/8/14).

North Carolina: Privately Funded Curriculum – North Carolina may soon adopt a social studies curriculum developed by the Bill of Rights Institute, which receives funding from the billionaire Koch brothers. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction proposed on Wednesday to “highly recommend” social studies material from the Institute, which describes itself as a “not for profit charity focused on providing educational resources on America’s Founding documents and principles.” A prominent progressive news site says that the curriculum promotes the “message that individual owners of property are the source of social good, their property sacred, and government the source of danger.” Read the rest of the story: “North Carolina Students May Start Learning Social Studies As Told By the Koch Brothers” (from The Huffington Post, 12/5/14).

Upcoming Events…

Wellness and Safety Conference – School administrators are invited to register for the 2015 International Conference on Proven Collaborative Strategies for Improved Community Wellness and Safety, scheduled for March 16-17 in King of Prussia. The conference will featured speakers and sessions focused on evidence-based “best practices” and provide networking opportunities between community, safety and medical organizations. For more information, see the website at

On the Calendar…

  • Dec. 24-25, 31 – PASA office closed   

  • Jan. 1 – PASA office closed    

  • Jan. 6 – Women’s Caucus Board meeting (PASA office)    

  • Jan. 14-15 – New Superintendents’ Academy Part 3 (PASA office)

  • Jan. 21-22 – Aspiring to Leadership Workshop (PASA office)

  • Jan. 29 - Joint Boards Dinner (Harrisburg)

  • Jan. 30 - Board of Governors' meeting (PASA office)

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