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Education Update for December 9, 2013
In Budget News…
Questioning School Fund Balances – In The Philadelphia Daily News, columnist John Baer writes, “Are most Pennsylvania school districts fooling Pennsylvania taxpayers? Are they hoarding money while annually seeking more while poorer districts, including Philly's, operate in crisis? Well, there's an interesting line in Gov. Corbett's recent response to a school-funding survey. The survey was by the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, an independent, nonprofit news service supportive of city schools. The line? ‘The 500 school districts throughout the Commonwealth have more than $3.5 billion in unreserved fund balances, representing overtaxation of their residents.’ You read that right. The state Department of Education confirms the number ($3.58 billion) from its most recent data - 2011-12 school-district fund balances. For context, the state budget for Basic Education Funding, K-12, is $5.4 billion. So it seems a lot of tax dollars are being held by schools.” Read the rest of the story: “Pa. Schools and $$ Behind the Curtain” (from philly.com, 12/9/13).
November Revenues – Pennsylvania collected $1.7 billion in General Fund revenue in November, which was $800,000 more than anticipated. Fiscal year-to-date General Fund collections total $9.9 billion, which is $42.6 million, or 0.4 percent, above estimate. While sales tax and PIT receipts came in below estimate, corporation tax and realty transfer tax revenue came in above estimate.
Pension Contribution Rate Increase – PSERS recently announced that the employer contribution rate for fiscal year 2014-2015 will be 21.40%. The rate applies to salary and wages earned from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. This rate, determined by PSERS’ actuary and reflecting the rate caps established by Act 120 of 2010, is subject to certification by PSERS Board of Trustees at its meeting on December 10, 2013. In addition, the employer contribution rate may change if pension legislation is enacted prior to June 30, 2014. The employer contribution rate for fiscal year 2014-2015 consists of 20.50% for pension costs and 0.90% for premium assistance payments. The projection for the employer contribution rate for fiscal year 2014-2015, prior to the rate caps being established with Act 120 of 2010 was 33.83%. (from the PSERS website)
The Pennsylvania Independent reports that, even though the increase could change a bit before it becomes official at an end-of-year meeting of the PSERS board, it gives a pretty good indication of what school districts are facing. Read the rest of the story: “Snooze Button No Longer Works for PA Schools Facing Pension Crisis” (from The Pennsylvania Independent, 12/3/13).
In Legislative News…
Legislative Schedule – Both the House and Senate are in session this week. Only the House will remain in Harrisburg next week for two voting days (possibly three). After that, both chambers will return for a nonvoting session day on January 7 and then for voting session beginning January 13. Gov. Corbett will present his proposed budget and likely another pension proposal on February 4.
This week’s “hot” issue appears to be legislative action to approve the privatization of the lottery. If that legislation is to pass, it needs to be done this week.
Hearing on Economic Furloughs – Dr. Eric Eshbach, superintendent of the Northern York County SD, PASA past-president and currently chair of the PASA Legislative Committee, testified before the House Education Committee on Dec. 3 on behalf of the association concerning three bills focused on criteria for staff furloughs, specifically economic furloughs – HB 779, HB 1722 and HB 1735.
In his testimony, Eshbach noted that furloughing staff “is one of the most difficult actions that any school administrator must take” and that superintendents understand that doing so is “disruptive to the provision of educational programming that administrators and board believe are important to students enrolled in our district.” He also pointed to the budget cuts school districts have already made due to decreasing revenues, both in services and staffing, and reminded the committee that, according to PDE data, since 2009 the professional staff complement in Pennsylvania’s public schools has been reduced by 21,466.
“Given the fiscal realities that the Commonwealth, school districts and local taxpayers face, school districts must have additional tools to manage their costs and staff,” he said.
Specifically, Eshbach stated PASA’s positions as follows:
Supports amending Section 1124 of the School Code to permit districts to suspend (furlough) professional employees for economic reasons
Supports requiring school boards to adopt a resolution that outlines the rationale and potential impact of a furlough for economic reasons
Supports provisions that permit districts to base furlough decisions upon staff qualifications and performance in combination with seniority
Recommends suspending for three years the use of the new teacher evaluation system as a portion or the entire basis for making decisions about which staff to furlough until all necessary data is in place and evaluators have a solid base of experience in conducting the evaluations
Recommends that reinstatement of furloughed employees be based upon a combination of qualifications to teach a subject and grade level, teacher quality and seniority
Opposes extending from three to five years of satisfactory performance required for a novice teacher to earn tenure
Eshbach concluded his remarks by stating, “PASA would much prefer that, instead of expanding tools for districts to cut programs and services, the Commonwealth provided for an adequate and equitable funding system so that each school district has the resources needed to provide all students the full range of educational opportunities and supports necessary for them to succeed.”
Click here (pdf) to read Dr. Eshbach’s testimony.
In Last Week’s Legislative Action – The Senate last week failed to take up three bills that had been scheduled for floor consideration: SB 1085 (charter school reform – PASA opposes this bill), SB 1113 (amends the Public School Code to require the PA Department of Education to provide to the House and Senate education committees a comprehensive, detailed financial break down of estimated cost for implementing the proposed Chapter 4 regulations and implementation or any expansion of the Keystone Exams) and HB 1424 (amends the School Code providing for instruction concerning the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations).
This Week’s Floor Schedule – The following bills are on the House and Senate calendars on either second or third consideration for possible action this week:
In the House:
HB 796 (raises the threshold for public projects subject to prevailing wage requirements from $25,000 to $100,000)
HB 803 (amends the School Code to provide for school access to emergency epinephrine)
HB 810 (amends the School Code providing for testing for controlled substances for prospective employees)
HB 980 (amends the School Code to set limits on unassigned fund balances that may be accumulated by charter schools, requires charter schools to refund excess unassigned fund balances to school districts, places a three-year moratorium on the processes through which cyber charter school applications and appeals are received, reviewed and acted upon by the PDE and the Charter School Appeal Board; approved by the House Education Committee in June)
HB 1411 (provides for the establishment of a “School Watch,” searchable budget database-driven Internet site detailing extensive information concerning expenditures and investments. In September, several education groups, including PASA, sent a letter to the members of the committee, urging them to delay consideration of the bill until a public hearing can be held that will provide school officials an opportunity to outline how HB 1411’s requirements will impact school districts. PASA continues to oppose this bill.)
HB 1685 (amends the Taxpayer Relief Act by allowing a district to increase the EIT for property tax relief without the voter referendum requirement)
HB 1718 (requires the PDE to establish and maintain an online clearinghouse that features a database of online courses to be made accessible to public schools, nonpublic schools and home education programs, and requires school entities to offer students at least one online course. In May PASA provided testimony (pdf) before the committee on a similar bill, HB 983.)
HB 1734 (limits athletic reporting requirements and sunsets the law requiring those reports within three years)
HB 1741 (amends the School Code to require school boards to provide for notice prior to approval of collective bargaining agreement)
House Resolution 111 (urges urging the Commonwealth to upgrade its broadband communications network for use by the private and public sectors in the northern tier of this Commonwealth)
SB 21 (clarifying who is a mandatory reporter in Pennsylvania, or persons required to make a report of suspected child abuse)
SB 34 (amends the Professional Educator Discipline Act making extensive changes for mandatory reporting, confidential “separation agreements” and bases for discipline). The bill is on today’s agenda for the House Appropriations Committee and then will be on the House floor agenda on Tuesday.
SB 193 (requires all school nurses to be certified in CPR)
SB 437 (creates a PA military science teaching certificate)
In the Senate:
HB 431 (mandatory education training in child abuse identification and reporting)
HB 436 (penalties for failing to report suspicions of child abuse)
SB 1085 (amends current charter school law). In mid-November the Senate Appropriations Committee amended and approved the bill, which amends the School Code revising charter school provisions. SB 1085 provides for charter school funding, applications and appeals, the pension double-dip, higher education institutions applying to operate charter schools, charter terms, limits on unassigned fund balances, and increased transparency. It also extends a renewed charter from five to ten years and eliminates the current enrollment caps on charter schools. The amendment places some limitations on the ability of colleges and universities to charter schools, changes the composition of the funding commission, and reduces tuition payments to cyber charters by approximately five percent. PASA continues to oppose this bill. Although the bill remains on the calendar, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi told The Delaware County Daily Times on Dec. 8 that consideration of an amended version of the bill likely will not happen until January – at the earliest. Click here to read the article.
This Week’s Committee Schedule –
Monday, Dec. 9:
House Human Services Committee – informational meeting on autism services
Senate Appropriations Committee – to consider HB 1424 (amends the School Code providing for instruction concerning the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations)
Tuesday, Dec. 10:
Senate Republican Policy Committee and Senate Democratic Policy Committee – joint policy roundtable discussion on the issue of property tax relief, to examine ways of reforming the current system for homeowners, business owners and senior citizens facing property tax increases.
House Education Committee – public hearing on HB 1506. The bill would extend the time period for the development of the remaining five Keystone Exams by prohibiting their development and implementation prior to the 2022-2023 school year, would eliminate the requirement that the PDE develop these remaining five exams and instead allow PDE to develop them subject to annual appropriation, and would require the State Board of Education to amend its regulations concerning academic assessments accordingly.
House Labor & Industry Committee – to consider HB 1725 (establishes the CareerBound program)
Joint Legislative Budget and Finance Committee – to release a report on the “Status of Special Education for Gifted Students in the Commonwealth”
Wednesday, Dec. 11:
House Education Committee – to consider HB 1738 (establishes a commission to review and make recommendations regarding distribution of new funding for basic education), HB 1816 (allows educators an opportunity to receive credit toward their continuing professional development requirements by attending a school board-approved site visits to manufacturing locations for orientation and industry demonstrations) and HB 1861 (repeals outdated School Code provisions). The committee also will hold an informational briefing on HB 1701 (creates a rural regional community college pilot program for underserved counties in the Commonwealth).
Senate Education Committee – to consider SB 1000 (amends the School Code providing for a rural regional community college pilot for underserved counties) HB 1559 (amends the School Code providing for youth suicide3 awareness and prevention training SB 873 (amends the School Code providing for a dyslexia screening pilot program)
Special Education Funding Formula Commission – public hearing to consider final recommendations for developing a formula for distributing new funds for special education and release a final report
More Legislators Not Seeking Reelection – Two members of the General Assembly have announced they will not seek reelection. Rep. Phyllis Mundy (D-Luzerne), currently Democratic chair of the House Finance Committee, is serving her 12th term in office. Rep. Dick Stevenson (R-Mercer), a member of the state House of Representatives since 2001, has been a member of the House GOP leadership team since being elected in 2010 as the Republican Caucus Administrator.
In National News…
PISA Results – Recently released results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) indicate that U.S. students earned scores slightly above the international average in reading and slightly below average in science and mathematics, and that Shanghai-China, along with Singapore, Korea, Japan and Finland scored well above the international average.
In responding to the report, Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, pointed to the actual success of U.S. students and public schools. “With respect to these results, it’s important to realize that children in the United States are not falling behind,” he said. “Today the dropout rate, which has been declining steadily since 1972, is the lowest it has ever been. High school completion rates have been trending up as we have the highest high school graduation rate in decades.”
Domenech went on to point to the challenges for public schools in the current financial environment. “The problem we find in American education isn’t that schools are ‘falling behind,’ it is that schools are ‘pulling apart,’” he said. “Poverty in America is the real issue behind today’s education gap, and it means students can experience different education trajectories because of where they live. Poverty is a reality and cannot be used as an excuse. It is something we must address if we are serious about bolstering student learning and closing achievement gaps, whether on NAEP, PISA or any other educational metric.” (from an AASA press release, 12/13/13)
[For another view of the PISA report, read Rick Hess’s blog in Education Week: “7 Reasons I Don’t Care About the PISA Results.” – May Require Login]
Public Funds and For-Profit Managers – The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) last month launched “America’s Highest Paid Government Workers,” a new initiative “intended to expose the taxpayer-funded salaries of CEOs whose corporations make billions by taking control of public services.”
“Time and again we’re told that librarians, nurses and teachers are to blame for state and local budget problems,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. “In reality, taxpayers are being duped by corporate CEOs and Wall Street banks that are siphoning money out of our communities for huge salaries and bonus packages.” For example, from 2009-2013, Ron Packard, CEO of K-12 Inc., made over $19 million in compensation, and compensation to his top executives skyrocketed 96 percent in 2013. Read the rest of the story: “CMD Exposes America’s “Highest Paid Government Workers” (from prwatch.org, 11/19/13).
Data Privacy – An influential legislative–advocacy group’s promotion of a model bill meant to protect the privacy of student data sends a strong signal that the hot-button issue will be debated in statehouses around the country in lawmakers’ 2014 sessions. The template being provided to state lawmakers by the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, would require state school boards to appoint a “chief privacy officer,” create a data-security plan, publish an inventory of all student-level data being collected by the state, make sure that contracts with some vendors include privacy and security provisions, and ensure compliance with federal privacy laws. Read the rest of the story: “Legislative Advocacy Group’s Model Bill Tackles Privacy of Student Data” (from Education Week, 12/3/13). Requires login for access.
For Your Information…
Free E-Book on Sports and Concussions – Take advantage of a limited-time offer from Education Week to download and read Playing It Safe: Reducing Concussions and Head Injuries. Hurry! The free download is only available through Tuesday. This e-book features Education Week coverage on concussion and head injury research in youth-sports, with chapters on: the dangers of premature return from concussions, the effectiveness of safety equipment in preventing injuries, changing regulations in sports, like football, soccer, and hockey, and comparing youth-concussion laws by state. The e-book is available on Amazon's Kindle marketplace for free download until Tuesday, Dec. 10th.
On the Calendar…
pdf for printing