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Education Update for October 20, 2014

In Budget and Funding News…

State Unemployment Rate The PA Department of Labor & Industry last week announced that the Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate declined by one-tenth of a percentage point, to 5.7 percent in September, and two-tenths of a percentage point below the U.S. rate of 5.9 percent. Meanwhile, in a separate survey of employers, the department found that payrolls shrank by 9,600, remaining under 5.8 million.

Basic Education Funding Commission Hearing – Seven Montgomery County school superintendents testified on Thursday, Oct. 16 before Pennsylvania's Basic Education Funding Commission in Collegeville, describing years of declining funds and increasing costs, program and staff cuts, and unpredictable allocations from the state. "Our financial future is bleak. We cannot continue to increase . . . this burden on the local taxpayer and our local business representatives," Hatboro-Horsham Superintendent Curtis Griffin said, calling the state funding system inequitable and unsustainable. Read the rest of the story: “School Superintendents Describe Bleak Funding” (from, 10/17/14).

Other scheduled meetings of the commission are as follows:

  • Tuesday, October 21, at 11 a.m.: Community College of Allegheny County, West Campus, Pittsburgh (1000 McKee Road, Oakdale)    

  • Thursday, November 6, at 10 a.m.: Lancaster      

  • Tuesday, November 18-19: Philadelphia     

  • Thursday, December 4 at 10 a.m.: East Stroudsburg        

  • Wednesday, December 10, at 10 a.m.: Lancaster

In Legislative News…

Legislative Calendar The Senate last week added an additional day – Thursday – to their voting calendar to finish consideration of several bills. They are now in recess and unlikely return to voting session following the General Election except for one session day to elect leaders for the 2015-16 session. Meanwhile, the House added an additional day – today – to finish consideration of several bills (some noted below). Following their voting session today, they are likewise to recess until a one-day voting session day to elect new leaders. While it remains possible that lawmakers could return to the Capitol for additional voting days after the election to consider unfinished legislation, it appears unlikely that will happen. As a result, many of the big issues—such as charter school reform, pension reform and property tax reform, to name a few—remain unresolved and discussions will need to begin anew next session. All bills not enacted into law this session have to be reintroduced in the 2015-16 session and go through the entire process again.

Last Week’s Legislative Action

‘Pass the Trash’: The House last week agreed to Senate amendments on HB 1816. The bill initially amended the Public School Code to allow visits to manufacturing workplaces to be included in a professional development plan. In a surprise move, the Senate amended the bill on the floor to insert language from HB 2063, “Pass the Trash” legislation, which extensively expands current background check requirements for prospective school employees by requiring public and private schools in Pennsylvania and their independent contractors to conduct a thorough employment history review prior to offering employment to any applicant for a position involving direct contact with children, beyond current state and federal background checks. Generally, the legislation requires PDE to develop standard forms to be completed by applicants for school employment requiring them to disclose the name and contact information of former school employers or employers in which the individual had direct contact with children and to state whether he or she has been the subject of an investigation, has been disciplined, has resigned or has ever had a license or certification revoked all due to allegations or findings of abuse or sexual misconduct. School entities must contact an applicant’s former employers to confirm the applicant’s statements, must check the employment eligibility or certification of the applicant and must inquire with PDE as to whether there are pending criminal charges against the applicant. These new requirements would apply 60 days from the effective date of the legislation. Presented to the Governor for his signature.

Volunteer Background Checks: The House concurred with Senate amendments to HB 435. The bill amends Child Protective Services Law to make several changes including requiring that unpaid adult volunteers responsible for the welfare of a child or having direct contact with children must provide a report of criminal history record information from the PA State Police, a certification regarding child abuse from PDE and a report of federal criminal history record information. If the volunteer is unpaid, has been a PA resident for the previous 10 years and affirms in writing that he or she has not been convicted of an offense in section 6344 (c) of the Child Protective Services law, then the federal criminal history record information is not required. These requirements will go into effect beginning July 1, 2015. Presented to the Governor for his signature.

Homeschool Diplomas: The Senate amended and passed and sent back to the House HB 1013. The bill amends the Public School Code to clarify that the same rights and privileges that attach to a high school diploma awarded by an LEA attach to a high school diploma awarded by the supervisor of a home education program. The bill also removes superintendents from the home school evaluation process and requires the reliance on the certification of the evaluator that the home education program is in compliance with the School Code requirements. PASA opposes the bill. Scheduled for concurrence in the House today.      

EITC Program: The Senate amended and passed and sent back to the House HB 91. The bill adds career and vocational technical schools to the list of entities to which a business firm may provide donations under the EITC program, streamlines and extends the application process for businesses applying to participate in the tax credit program, and makes other changes. Scheduled for concurrence in the House today.

Epi-Pens: The Senate amended and passed and sent back to the House HB 803. The bill amends the Public School Code to allow school entities to allow trained employees to use an epi-pen on a student having an allergic reaction and allows school entities to store epi-pens prescribed by a physician to the school entity. Scheduled for concurrence in the House today.  

Update on Other Bills –

  • HB 2348 (reverse assessments): No action was taken on the bill, which would restrict taxing authorities’ ability to engage in reverse assessments, allowing such assessments only following countywide reassessments and in limited circumstances following an improvement to a property.     

  • SB 491 (tax options): No action was taken on the bill, which clarifies that a tax collection district may not prohibit the filing of any form posted by the Department of Revenue’s website and includes the language of HB 1189, which permits school districts to levy a local EIT, business privilege or mercantile tax for the purpose of reducing school property taxes)     

  • SB 1207 (school district investments): approved by the House Local Government Committee; not expected to be considered. The bill expands the list of investment options available to school districts and other local governments to include commercial paper, bankers’ acceptances, negotiable certificates of deposit with a maturity date of three years or less, and debt obligations with a remaining maturity of three years. PASA supports this bill.   

  • HR 1032 (truancy): adopted by the House. The resolution requires the Joint State Government Commission to examine the issues of truancy and high school dropout in Pennsylvania. 

  • HR 1061 (school audit): adopted by the House. The resolution requests a forensic audit of the finances of the School District of Philadelphia.    

  • HR 1064 (study on brain injury): adopted by the House. The resolution requires the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study Pennsylvania’s program of providing intervention to young athletes who suffer a brain injury.

Awaiting Final Approval by the Governor - HB 1590 (tax collector training). The bill requires a locally elected tax collector to take the basic training offered by the Department and to pass a basic qualification exam before taking the oath of office. The bill will now go to the governor

In State News…

SPP Release – Overdue school performance scores will remain in limbo through the end of the month pending verification from the state Department of Education, spokesman Tim Eller said. “We're hopeful that the (profiles) will be released in the next few weeks,” Eller said this week, “but we want to make sure every school has an opportunity to check their information and make corrections if necessary.” It's the latest in a series of delays this year for release of annual scores that became a fiasco a year ago. Read the rest of the story: Pennsylvania School Performance Scores Stuck in Limbo” (from The Tribune Review, 10/17/14).

Across the State…

Rejection of Mixed Charter School Proposal – After hearing about three hours of discussion and comments, the York City School Board voted 7-2 against the idea of turning three schools over to a charter operator next year — a proposal made as an alternative to turning all schools into charters. "We're not out of the woods by a long shot," Margie Orr, school board president, told the crowd. "We're going to fight this. You all have to show us you deserve to be fought for."  Read the rest of the story: “York City School Board Rejects Mixed Charter School Proposal” (from The York Daily Record, 10/15/14).

Across the Nation…

Ohio: Call for Charter School Accountability – A liberal research group called on Gov. John Kasich to investigate a charter-school operator yesterday after a story about lease deals that have diverted millions in tax dollars to Imagine Schools, one of the nation’s largest charter-school operators. “Our ‘fiscally conservative’ governor needs to explain why he’s allowed all this money to be wasted and all these kids to be hurt. And his charter school watchdog needs to go,” said Brian Rothenberg, executive director of ProgressOhio. Read the rest of the story: Group Urges Kasich to Hold Charter Schools More Accountable” (from The Columbus Dispatch, 10/14/14).

Texas: Paying for Education with Gas Drilling – A fund that collects rents and royalties from oil and natural gas development to Texas public schools recently became the largest education endowment in the country – about $37.7 billion.  Read the rest of the story: “Fracking in Texas Helps the State’s Public School Fund Top Harvard’s Endowment” (from, 10/16/14).

Prize for Classroom Practices – TNTP has begun accepting nominations and applications for the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, the only national award exclusively for exceptional teachers in high-poverty public schools. Four winners per year from across the country receiving $25,000 each, gain national recognition, and spend a summer reflecting on teaching, meeting with education leaders, and writing a short collection of essay on their best teaching practices. School district leaders are encouraged to nominate teachers for this prize. The first application deadline is Tuesday, Nov. 4. See the TNTP website for more information. (Formerly known as The New Teacher Project, TNTP is an organization with a mission of ensuring that poor and minority students get equal access to effective teachers.)

On the Calendar…

  • Oct. 21 – Education Congress Act 45 Follow-Up Session, Prof. Dev. Committee meeting (PASA office)    

  • Oct. 21-24 – PASA/PSBA School Leadership Conference (Hershey)   

  • Oct. 22 – Women’s Caucus lunch/meeting, PLUS Caucus luncheon (Hershey)   

  • Oct. 23 – PASA Recognition Luncheon (Hershey)    

  • Oct. 30 – Women’s Caucus Southeast Region Dinner/Meeting (King of Prussia)

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