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Education Update for January 26, 2015

In Transition News...

Unemployment Rate According to the PA Department of Labor & Industry, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate declined by three-tenths of a percentage point in December to 4.8 percent, the commonwealth’s lowest rate since March 2008. The commonwealth’s civilian labor force contracted slightly in December, down 1,000.

Wolf Inaugural – Tom Wolf of York County was sworn in last Tuesday as the 47th governor of Pennsylvania. In his inaugural address, Wolf stressed his policy priorities. “I want you to know that for the next four years, my administration will be dedicated to three simple goals: Jobs that pay. Schools that teach. And government that works — one that is worthy of our trust.”

Concerning education, Wolf said, “Getting Pennsylvania back on track also means we need schools that teach and provide all of our young people with the skills they need to find good jobs and compete in the global economy. In this limited government, free market system, our collective future depends on the next generation. Our state will never be as strong as it needs to be if some schools have all the resources they need and other schools are cutting band and football just to keep the lights on. That is why nothing is more essential than working together to make sure that every child in Pennsylvania has access to a great education, and that all teachers have the resources they need to deliver a great education. From early childhood to college and apprenticeships and training, we must strive to provide our kids an education that is both affordable and second to none. Our schools must be our highest priority.”

Controversy over Right-to-Know Leadership – Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday announced that he had fired the newly appointed head of the state Office of Open Records, saying his appointment during the final days of the Corbett administration was “anything but open and transparent.” Removing Eric Arneson, who is a veteran aide to Senate Republicans and helped rewrite the state’s Open Records Law, may be inviting near-term personnel showdowns with the GOP, particularly over Cabinet positions that require confirmation votes. Arneson is challenging his removal. Read the rest of the story: “Wolf Revokes Corbett's Last-minute Appointment of Pa. Open Records Chief” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/22/15).

In Legislative News…

Legislative Calendar Both the House and Senate are scheduled to be in session Monday through Wednesday this week.

Legislative Education Committees – Members of the House and Senate Education Committees were announced last week. They are:

Senate

Lloyd Smucker (Lancaster), Majority Chair; Andrew Dinniman (Chester), Minority Chair

R: Mike Folmer (Lebanon), Pat Browne (Lehigh), John Eichelberger (Blair), Dominic Pileggi (Delaware), Robert Tomlinson (Bucks)

D: Daylin Leach (Montgomery), Rob Teplitz (Dauphin), Anthony Williams (Philadelphia)

House

Stan Saylor (York), Majority Chair; Jim Roebuck (Philadelphia), Minority Chair

R: Jim Christiana (Beaver), Rosemary Brown (Monroe), Hal English (Allegheny), Mark Gillen (Berks), Seth Grove (York), Kristin Hill (York), Harry Lewis (Chester), Bernie O’Neill (Bucks),  Thomas Quigley (Montgomery), Kathy Rapp (Forest), Mike Reese (Westmoreland), Craig Staats (Bucks), Will Tallman (Cumberland), Mike Tobash (Schuylkill), Dan Truit (Chester)

D: Scott Conklin (Centre), Mike Carroll (Luzerne), Pat Harkins (Erie), Patty Kim (Dauphin), Mark Longietti (Mercer), Dan Miller (Allegheny), Gerald Mullery (Luzerne), Mike O’Brien (Philadelphia), Steve Santarsiero (Bucks), Kevin Schreiber (York)

Last Week’s Legislative Action – With a 7-4 party-line vote, with Republicans voting for and Democrats against, the Senate Finance Committee last week approved SB 4. The bill proposes to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to give the General Assembly the authority to define what constitutes an “institution of purely public charity” for the purpose of determining tax exempt status. The bill passed the General Assembly last session, but, since it is a Constitutional amendment, it must pass the General Assembly again this session and then be put on the ballot.

This Week’s Legislative Schedule –

Monday, Jan. 26: The Senate is scheduled to consider SB 4 this week. (See above.)

Wednesday, Jan. 28 [CHANGED]: The House Education Committee will hold a voting meeting on the following bills:

  • HB 127 amends the School Code to require a school entity to make available upon request to armed forces recruiters a list of 11th and 12th grade students and to notify all 10th and 11th graders and any 12th graders not yet 18   

  • HB 139 amends the Private Academic Schools Act to allow online schools to become licensed by the State Board of Private Academic Schools 

  • HB 141 amends the School Code to clarify that penalties for violation of the compulsory attendance requirements only apply if the violation was intentional and, for a violation, require that parents and guardians attend a parenting education program or perform community service or, as a last resort, be incarcerated for failure to pay court-imposed fines. The bill, introduced last year as HB 2356, was developed in response to a case in which a parent arrested for failure to pay fines died in jail. In testimony last year before the committee on HB 2356, PASA called for a comprehensive approach to the problem of truancy. “It is clear that truancy is a serious, widespread problem that can only be effectively addressed through collaboration among schools, the judiciary, law enforcement, county children and family services agencies, social and human service agencies and families,” PASA testifiers said. “The issue begs a comprehensive legislative and policy review that extends beyond the scope of authority of the education committee.” The House last session passed a resolution (HR 1032) directing the Joint State Government Commission to conduct such a review and report its findings by October 2015. 

  • HB 158 amends the School Code to provide the Secretary of Education with the authority to issue weather, safety and health-related emergency declarations on a school district, county or statewide basis under which a school entity may satisfy the 180 instructional days requirement by one or more of the following: approving, by a majority of the school board, a school year meeting the minimum hour requirements in lieu of 180 days; or approving, by a majority vote of the school board, scheduling additional instructional days on not more than one Saturday per month to complete 180 instructional days or to meet the minimum hour requirement

Thursday, Jan. 29: The Basic Education Funding Commission will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. in the Greenville Junior/Senior High School in the Greenville Area SD. The commission continues to gather information and testimony on school funding issues as they work toward developing a new basic education funding formula by June 2015. Click here to view past meetings on the commission website.

In State News…

New Education Secretary – Gov. Tom Wolf is counting on Pedro Rivera to usher in a fresh start for Pennsylvania’s Department of Education. Pending Senate approval, Pedro Rivera will have his hands full as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education. Rivera was nominated to be the commonwealth’s next secretary of education earlier this week and pending Senate approval, he will immediately face a pile of pressing problems plaguing Pennsylvania schools. Wolf placed supreme importance in bolstering education spending throughout his campaign and reaffirmed that position again as he took office this week in Harrisburg. “Nothing is more essential than working together to make sure that every child in Pennsylvania has access to a great education, and that all teachers have the resources they need to deliver a great education,” Wolf said in his inauguration address Tuesday. “Our schools must be our highest priority.” In Rivera, Wolf’s tapped a man with plenty of experience shaping up schools. Read the rest of the story: “Challenges Piled High for New PA Secretary of Education” (from watchdog.org, as published on paindependent.com, 1/22/15).

Across the State…

Philadelphia Teacher Contract Ruling – The Commonwealth Court ruled last week that the School Reform Commission does not have the authority to cancel the expired contract of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and impose terms, dealing a costly blow to the cash-strapped Philadelphia School District. The SRC swiftly voted Oct. 6 to unilaterally cancel the contract and impose changes to health-care benefits on teachers after 21 months of negotiations. The changes would have required PFT members to contribute between 5 and 13 percent toward their benefits while eliminating the district's contribution to the PFT Health and Welfare Fund, saving the district about $44 million annually for the next four years. In its ruling, the court rejected the SRC's argument that provisions in the School Code gave it the power to impose terms. According to the court, the sides would have to declare an impasse, which has not happened. Read the rest of the story: “Court: SRC Cannot Impose Terms on Teachers” (from The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/23/15).

Not-So-Undercover Boss – It can be a little nerve-wracking. One day your boss calls you up and says he wants to follow you around for the day. It'll be fun, he says. That's exactly what Eric Eshbach, superintendent for Northern York County School District, has spent the past few months doing. Once a month, he calls on an unsuspecting faculty member and breaks the news: They've been selected as the next candidate in his "Not so Undercover Boss" program. "I try to tell teachers it isn't an observation," he said. "They can even put me to work — whatever they want me to do. I just want the chance to learn about their work." Read the rest of the story: “Northern's Superintendent a 'Not So Undercover Boss'” (from The York Daily Record, 1/21/15).

In National News…

Head Start White Paper – The U.S. Senate education panel might be ready to rumble on a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the House is expected to follow suit. But it's clear that K-12 isn't the only thing on lawmakers' minds: The House education committee kicked off the new Congress with some background proposals for revising the Head Start Act. The white paper was put forth by the committee Wednesday, the day after President Barack Obama made a pitch for helping parents cover the cost of child care in his State of the Union address. It outlines the panel's principles for revising the Head Start Act, which last got a face-lift in 2007. They include: reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens, encouraging local innovation, boosting coordination between Head Start and state and local programs, improving the quality of eligible providers, and enhancing parental engagement to support children's best interests.  Read the rest of the story: “House Education Committee Outlines Head Start Overhaul Recommendations” (from educationweek.org, 1/21/15).

Federal Outlook for Annual Testing – In the same week that the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held its first hearing on the issue of rewriting No Child Left Behind, two separate groups of lawmakers introduced bills that would also work to dial down aspects of the law’s divisive legacy. In recent weeks, lawmakers have renewed calls to rewrite the controversial school accountability law, which emphasizes standardized testing and doles out penalties for poor scores. While No Child Left Behind, or NCLB, expired in 2007, efforts to overhaul it have failed on several occasions and the law is still in effect today. The Obama administration has offered waivers allowing states to evade some of the law’s more stringent aspects, although states are still required to annually test students in reading and math in grades three through eight, as well as one time while students are in high school. But as legislators continue to hammer out what a rewrite of NCLB might look like, two groups of politicians introduced bills this week that would change the role that law previously established for school standardized testing. Read the rest of the story: “Politicians Introduce Bills That Would Work To Reduce The Role Of School Standardized Testing” (from The Huffington Post, 1/21/15).

Medicaid and Schools – A recent federal policy reversal, long-sought by states and health care advocates, could enable schools to take a lead role in managing chronic childhood diseases and result in the hiring of many more school nurses. The change, announced quietly and unexpectedly last month by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), will allow public schools to receive Medicaid money for health services they provide to eligible students for the first time since 1997. Once several financing and bureaucratic hurdles are cleared, advocates believe the new policy will improve the coordination of care provided to children with conditions such as asthma, diabetes and mental illness. It will be especially important, they say, for low-income kids who are less likely to have comprehensive medical coverage. But a number of states adopted their own policies to work with the free care policy, and those rules will have to be overturned. Read the rest of the story: “With Federal Policy Change, More Money for School-Based Health Services” (from pewtrusts.org, 1/22/15).

Poverty in the Nation’s Schools - For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation. The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers. Read the rest of the story: “Majority of U.S. Public School Students Are in Poverty” (from The Washington Post, 1/16/15).

Racism and Public Schools – Writing in The Nation, George Joseph points out the racial divide in support for public schools. “Like most majority black school districts in America, the school districts of Baltimore, Detroit and Philadelphia regularly suffer school closures, high teacher attrition, understaffed schools and increasingly crowded classrooms,” he writes. “But while these deprivations are often written off as the inevitable result of urban white flight and depreciating tax bases, the reality is not so simple. In the neoliberal era, urban school districts' financial woes have been aggravated by state takeovers, gratuitous budget cuts and wasteful privatization efforts. As black student activists nationwide have made clear in these recent demonstrations, public school austerity, like police brutality, is another form of racist state violence. Public school austerity, driven in part by the much-celebrated school reform movement, assaults these students' central community institutions, crams them into over-policed schools, and reduces their education to preparation for the low wage workforce rather than democratic self-determination.” Read the rest of the story: “Black Lives Matter – At School, Too” (from The Nation, 1/19/15).

Across the Nation…

New Jersey: Overtesting? – The commission ordered by Gov. Chris Christie to study student testing says schools could be giving students too many tests, but the annual state tests given in the spring aren't necessarily the problem. In a preliminary report released Friday, the Study Commission on the Use of Student Assessments in New Jersey recommended that every district review the universe of tests and quizzes being given in classrooms. "We believe that if schools aren't vigilant they could very well be putting together an assessment structure that is redundant and is not efficient," Education Commissioner David Hespe said. Read the rest of the story: “N.J. Schools Could Be Over-testing, Christie Study Commission Says” (from The Star Ledger, 1/23/15).

Virginia: Eliminating School Building Grades – Nearly two years ago, former Florida governor Jeb Bush visited Virginia to tout the benefits of an A-F state accountability system for public schools. Later in 2013, with the support of then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, the state did pass such a bill. But at the start of 2015, Bush has stepped away from the K-12 advocacy group he founded, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, in order to explore a White House bid; McDonnell is headed to prison next month; and Virginia is moving closer to repealing the 2013 law approving A-F accountability, which the state never actually put into place. Read the rest of the story: Bill to End A-F Accountability Before It Begins Advances in Virginia” (from educationweek.org, 1/21/15).

On the Calendar…

  • Jan. 27 – Twitter Chat on School Funding  

  • Jan. 28 – PLUS Caucus of PASA meeting (PASA office)    

  • Jan. 29 – Joint Boards’ Dinner (Harrisburg)     

  • Jan. 30 – Board of Governors’ meeting (PASA office)

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