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Education Update for October 27, 2014

In Budget and Funding News…

Basic Education Funding Commission Update – The commission on Oct. 21 held its fifth public hearing on basic education funding issues, the latest in Pittsburgh. Testifying before the commission, Dr. Linda Hippert, executive director of Allegheny I.U. 3, spoke about the opportunity gap that exists between districts based on economic makeup. “There is a great divide that exists,” she said. “Numbers alone cannot identify the individual financial needs of school districts… The student population must be considered as the basic education funding formula is developed.” Read the rest of the story: “Commission Advances to Develop a Funding Formula for Pennsylvania Public Schools” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/21/14).

Meanwhile, last week the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a nonprofit focused on “defending taxpayers and businesses against the burdensome taxation, inefficiency and intrusiveness of an ever expanding government,” issued a policy brief, “The Education Funding Commission’s Search for a Problem to Solve,” alleging that “it is time we once and for all dispense with the argument that Pennsylvania’s school funding formula is unfair and inequitable…. Here’s a better idea for the Commission: figure out how to educate the kids with the money already being spent and quit wasting so much of it.”

To date, other scheduled meetings of the commission include the following:

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

  • Tuesday, November 18-19: Philadelphia     

  • Monday, Nov. 24, at 10 a.m.: Lancaster     

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

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

In Legislative News…

Legislative Calendar – The General Assembly is now officially in recess and not expected to return to Harrisburg until after the Nov. 4 general election, and then only to elect legislative leaders for the 2014-15 legislative session. Although there are rumors at the Capitol that lawmakers may return to a sine die voting session in November to address the line-item vetoes the governor imposed on the Fiscal Code bill passed with the budget (which included a cut in the legislative budget), the possibility seems unlikely.

Last Week’s Action…

The House held a one-day voting session on Oct. 20 and took final action on several bills. In addition, Gov. Corbett signed three bills into law.

* ‘Pass the Trash’: HB 1816 signed into law as Act 168 of 2014. The law amends the Public School Code to allow visits to manufacturing workplaces to be included in a professional development plan and also includes co-called “Pass the Trash” requirements, extensively expanding 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. The act 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 will need to 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. Job applicants, the PDE and school districts will need to comply with the new requirements before January 1.

* Volunteer Background Checks: HB 435 signed into law as Act 153 of 2014. The act 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, clearances regarding child abuse from the Department of Public Welfare, 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.

* Tax Collector Training: HB 1590 signed into law as Act 164 of 2014. The act 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.

* Homeschool Diplomas: The House concurred in Senate amendments to 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. Presented to the Governor. ]

PASA opposed the bill. An editorial published last week urged the governor not to sign the bill. “The numbers of home-schooled students statewide — 21,897 in 2012 — and in Cumberland County — 606 — are proportionally small compared to those attending Pennsylvania’s public schools, but the monitoring and ensuring the efficacy of the home-schoolers’ education remains an essential public interest,” the editors write. “The General Assembly in its last session weakened that public supervision when it passed and sent to the governor legislation that would no longer require school district oversight of a home-schooled student’s work.” Click here to read the editorial.

* EITC Program: The House concurred in Senate amendments to 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. Presented to the Governor.

* Epi-Pens: The House concurred in Senate amendments to 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. Presented to the Governor.  

In State News…

Eligible Content Review Site – The PDE is now making available a website intended to solicit feedback from educators, parents and the general public on the “eligible content” in English language arts and math in grades 3-8 and Algebra I and literature on the secondary level.

Development of the website is a response to Gov. Corbett’s call in September for a State Board of Education review of the Pennsylvania Academic Standards and elimination of Common Core Standards.  During the Board’s September meeting, Acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq outlined the governor’s plan for the review, to include a website providing the public with an opportunity to review the Eligible Content grade-by-grade and provide input online.

The new site, which remains under construction as more grade levels are added, describes the Eligible content and shows corresponding test items to clarify them. Comments provided online will be utilized in discussion at public meetings of the State Board. Updates are expected by mid-November; the website will be open until January 15.

“We are concerned that the public does not have an agreed-upon comfort level with the Pennsylvania standards,” Dr. Dumaresq said in September. “We continue to hear concerns from parents and educators about the undue influence of the federal government in the academic standards, and allegations that they are not always developmentally appropriate. Generally, we haven’t done a good enough job of explaining the standards for everyone; rather, they are written for educators. This process will offer an opportunity for feedback and review of the ‘Eligible Content,’ tasks that reflect knowledge required by the standards.”

Click here to access the website.

Across the State…

Report on Philly Charter Schools – Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz released a report last week calling for sweeping changes in state law to lessen the financial impact that the city’s growing number of charter schools has on the school district and taxpayers. “Charters are having a substantial financial impact,” he said. “It’s time to revisit that and make sure that it doesn’t become institutionalized as an ‘us vs. them’ war.” Among the report’s findings was that the city’s charter schools in 2013 had a $117 million fund balance at the same time the district faced a $68 million deficit. Read the rest of the story: “Butkovitz: Laws Must Change to Ease Charters’ Pressure” (from The Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/22/14).

In National News…

Anti- Bullying Guidance – When a 10-year-old student with ADHD and a speech disability talks in a high-pitched voice, gym class can become a nightmare. Other students call him "gay" or a "weirdo." He becomes yet another student with disabilities who gets bullied at a higher rate than his peers -- a problem the federal government has been tracking for years. Since 2009, the feds have received 2,000 complaints of such incidents. But until now, due to the nature of his disability, the gym student might not have received the same federal anti-bullying protections as many of his peers -- even though he is legally entitled to it. The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights is seeking to change that. This week, Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon sent a letter with new legal guidance to the nation's public schools in an effort to clarify that federal anti-bullying protections extend to about 750,000 more students than schools think. Read the rest of the story: “Obama Administration Clarifies Anti-Bullying Protections For Students With Disabilities” (from The Huffington Post, 10/22/14). Click here to read the letter.

Private Fundraising for Public Schools – According to a new study, nonprofits organized by parents and community leaders more than tripled in number and more than quadrupled the dollars they generated between 1995 and 2010. Communities with higher median incomes were more likely to have these fundraising groups in the first place and, perhaps not surprisingly, more likely to raise more money per student than those in less affluent neighborhoods. In total, nonprofits linked to schools and school districts raised about $880 million in 2010, up from $197 million in 1995. Read the rest of the story: “Nation’s Wealthy Places Pour Private Money Into Public Schools, Study Finds” (from The New York Times, 10/21/14).

Use of Social Media – Want to know what social media parents and community members are likely to use?  A 2013 Pew Research Center study may offer insights. According to the study, some 73% of online adults now use a social networking site of some kind. Facebook is the dominant social networking platform in the number of users, but a striking number of users are now diversifying onto other platforms. Some 42% of online adults now use multiple social networking sites. In addition, Instagram users are nearly as likely as Facebook users to check in to the site on a daily basis. Read the rest of the story: “Social Media Update 2013” (as published on pewinternet.org)

LBGT Students – Schools are getting better at fostering a friendly environment for LGBT students, but they still have a long way to go. A survey released last week by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which advocates school safety for students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression, showed notable improvement for LGBT students during the 2012-13 school year from 2010-11. But huge numbers of LGBT students reported problems at school. Read the rest of the story: “Things Are Improving for LGBT Students, But They’re Still Really Bad” (from The Huffington Post, 10/22/14).

On the Calendar…

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

  • Nov. 20-21 – Board of Governors’ meeting (PASA office)       

  • Nov. 27-28 – PASA office closed     

  • Dec. 9 – Education Congress Follow-Up Session, Prof. Dev. Subcommittee meeting (PASA office)

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