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Education Update for April 14, 2014

In Budget News…

Budget Update – To date, there has been very little action on the state budget.  Budget bills have yet to be drafted and the General Assembly has not presented its budget proposal.  As the General Assembly is awaiting April and May revenue numbers, significant budget discussions will not likely begin until after the primary election.

In Legislative News…

Legislative Schedule – Harrisburg is quiet today as the General Assembly stands in recess for the Easter/Passover holidays.  Lawmakers are scheduled to return to session the week of April 28.

Pension Reform – Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill) is seeking co-sponsors for a bill that will reflect the pension reform ideas broadly outlined by Gov. Corbett in his budget address and in subsequent information provided by the Office of the Budget.  “The elements of the plan are designed to keep the percentage of pension cost compared to payroll at a level that is affordable, focus Commonwealth resources on the Unfunded Accrued Actuarial Liability, and maintain a liquidity ratio that allows investment diversity,” Tobash wrote in his memo to House members.

The plan would not change the benefits of current public employees or retirees but would create a new benefit plan for all state and public school employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2015 (for SERS) or July 1, 2015 (for PSERS).  (Employees who do not receive Social Security benefits – the Pennsylvania State Police – would receive an additional defined contribution plan component.)  New employees would be required to enroll in a defined benefit/defined contribution hybrid retirement plan, and all new earned service for those rehired on or after those dates would be in the new benefit plan. 

The Defined Benefit Plan details include:

  • a 2 percent accrual rate    

  • employee contribution of 6 percent   

  • lifetime final average salary, not to exceed $50,000 (indexed 1 percent annually)    

  • plan is fully earned after 25 years of service   

  • participants are vested after 10 years of service    

  • payments cannot be collected prior to age 65 without penalty   

  • payments cannot be collected prior to age 60 without penalty for those not covered by Social Security (Pennsylvania State Police)     

  • no different classes of service

When income for the employee exceeds $50,000, those earnings would be placed into a 401-K type plan (Defined Contribution Plan), which includes:

  • employee contribution of 1 percent and employer contribution of 0.5 percent on all compensation up to $50,000 (pension plan for those not eligible for Social Security benefits)   

  • employee contribution of 7 percent and employer contribution of 4 percent on all compensation more than $50,001    

  • employee contributions vest immediately and three-year vesting of employer contributions       

  • no loans or in-service distributions from the DC plan      

  • additional contributions, portability, withdrawal penalties, etc., per IRS rules     

According to Tobash, “the plan “is anticipated to save the Commonwealth’s General Fund contributions $7.4 billion, and all employers, including school districts, $15.1 billion over the 30-year projection period.”  The bill currently is being drafted.

Property Tax Reform – Opponents of a state bill that would replace school property taxes with a sales tax have voiced their concerns for small businesses and the poor should the bill be passed.  According to an analysis by the PA Independent Fiscal Office, this bill would cause $2.6 billion in cuts to funding for school districts in the next five years.  According to PA Education Law Center Executive Director Rhonda Brownstein, the possible effects of this bill would be devastating to school districts across the state.  Read the rest of the story: “State Legislation Could Cause $2.6 Billion in Cuts To Education Funding Over the Next 5 Years” (from WESA-FM, 4/10/14). 

PASA, along with a broad coalition of business, community, legal, financial and non-profit organizations, last week sent to members of the Senate Finance Committee a letter expressing opposition to SB 76 Text of the letter follows:

“We, the undersigned organizations, are opposed to Senate Bill 76.  The roots of our objections are as diverse and varied as the organizations represented on this letter, reflecting a broad range of concerns and perspectives.  We are united, however, in our opposition to passage of this legislation.

“Senate Bill 76 calls for a fundamental re-organization of Pennsylvania’s taxation and educational systems.  The potential negative consequences that could result from the implementation of Senate Bill 76 are vast, and many significant questions remain unanswered.  In light of these uncertainties and significant risks, the organizations listed below respectfully urge you to oppose Senate Bill 76.

“We recognize that school property taxes are a genuine concern for many across the Commonwealth, and we would like to offer our expertise and assistance to develop a responsible approach to address the financial concerns where it is most needed, using sustainable and proven strategies.”

Capitolwire reports today (4/14/14) that House leadership has labeled the bill as “dead on arrival” in the House, even if it gets out of the Senate. 

Proposed Special Education Funding Changes – As bills implementing many of the recommendations of the Special Education Funding Commission move through the legislature, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools said last week that the new formula proposals “punish charter schools with reduced funding.”  According to the coalition, in some districts, such as Philadelphia, charter schools with special education students could receive less than half of the money the school district would receive for instructing those same students.  The formula would allocate new funds to schools based on categories of student disabilities.  (from a story on Capitolwire, 4/9/14)

In Last Week’s Legislative Action –

  • HB 974: passed by the House as amended in the Senate; sent to the Governor.  The bill requires the PDE to purchase AEDs and supplies, on a biennial basis, for distribution to schools at a discounted rate.  The bill also requires school entities to report to the department annually, beginning June 30, 2014, the number of school buildings in the Commonwealth that do not have AEDs.   

  • HB 1559: passed by the House.  The bill amends the Public School Code to create a suicide awareness and prevention training program for professional educators of students in grades 6-12.           

  • HB 1738: approved by the Senate Education Committee.  The bill amends the Public School Code to create a Basic Education Funding Commission to examine current basic education funding and make recommendations on a new formula for the distribution of basic education funding.  The Commission’s recommendations must be provided within one year of the effective date of the bill.     

  • HB 1801: approved by the House Education Committee.  The bill amends the Public School Code to require the Office for Safe Schools to develop hotlines and a website notification system for parents, students, and school employees to report potential or actual acts of violence or possession of weapons on school property.      

  • HB 2005: passed by the House.  The bill amends the Public School Code to include municipal authorities in the list of entities to which a school district can convey unused and unnecessary lands and buildings.         

  • HB 2013: passed by the House.  The bill amends the Public School Code to state that a temporary vacancy on a school board shall be declared and filled as appropriate when an elected school board member is called to active duty in the military or naval forces.        

  • HB 2106: passed by the House. The bill amends the Public School Code to require a school entity to make a list of eleventh and twelfth grade students (not just graduating seniors) available upon request to armed forces recruiters. The bill also modifies the notification requirement, requiring school entities to notify all the parents or guardians of tenth and eleventh grade students and any twelfth grade student that is not 18. The bill exempts nonpublic schools that have a religious objection to service in the armed forces.         

  • HB 2138: approved by the House Education Committee.  The bill amends the Amends the Public School Code to implement the recommendations of the Special Education Funding Commission. The bill provides a formula for the distribution of new special education dollars, makes changes to the special education charter school tuition calculation, modifies the Special Education Contingency Fund and allows approved private schools to recoup money appropriated but not used in the prior year. This bill is identical to SB 1316.       

  • HR 637: passed by the House.  The resolution requests the U.S. House of Representatives to adopt House Resolution 436, which deals with dyslexia awareness.    

  • SB 267: passed by the Senate with House amendments, 49-0; sent to the Governor.  The bill amends the Public School Code to allow a school district to excuse a student from attendance to participate in a non school-sponsored educational tour or trip.              

  • SB 1205: approved by the House Education Committee.  The bill amends the Public School Code to allow private non-profit institutions of higher education that offer bachelor’s or graduate degrees to change their designation from “college” to “university.”      

  • SB 1316: approved by the Senate Education Committee.  The bill amends the Public School Code to implement the recommendations of the Special Education Funding Commission. The bill provides a formula for the distribution of new special education dollars, makes changes to the special education charter school tuition calculation, modifies the Special Education Contingency Fund and allows approved private schools to recoup money appropriated but not used in the prior year. This bill is identical to HB 2138.       

In State News…

Charter School Ruling – Hope is dwindling for a York City charter school that's nearly reached the end of an appeals process that could keep it open beyond June 10.  Commonwealth Court issued a ruling Tuesday that affirms earlier decisions from the York City School District and a state-level appeals board not to renew New Hope Academy's charter.  The charter school can appeal the court's decision to the state Supreme Court, state Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said.  Read the rest of the story: “Court Rules Against New Hope: One Step Left in Appeal” (from The York Dispatch, 4/8/14).

Keystone Exam Status – In a recent letter to Senators Mike Folmer and Andrew Dinniman, Republican and Democratic chairmen of the Senate Education Committee, respectively, Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq wrote that, although Pennsylvania law allows for an additional seven Keystone Exams, no additional exams will be developed for 2014-15 due to budgetary limitations.  She also stated that she did not anticipate any actions being taken to develop the final Keystone Exams during the remainder of her tenure.  “In addition, I believe the Commonwealth’s current focus should instead be on assuring success on the existing three Keystone Exams and the other assessments we already have in place for our federal NCLB waiver and our state accountability tools like the new teacher evaluation system and the school performance profile,” she said.  Sen. Dinniman recently introduced legislation (SB 1244) that would limit the Keystone Graduation Exams to the three existing assessments in compliance with the NCLB waiver requirement.

Across the State…

Knife attack in PA School – A Westmoreland County teenager accused of going on a recent stabbing spree in Franklin Regional High School met last Thursday with his parents for the first time since the attack, which still had investigators baffled.  Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said he met with Alex Hribal, 16, and his parents, Harold and Tina Hribal, at the Westmoreland County Juvenile Detention Center in Greensburg for about two hours Thursday afternoon.  "It took me this long to get the parents in to see him," Mr. Thomassey said. "It was very emotional. They hadn't seen their child since yesterday morning when they sent him off to school for a normal day, and now they see him at 3 o'clock this afternoon in the jail."  Mr. Thomassey said the visit yielded few updates that he could share with the public.  Both he and Murrysville police Chief Thomas Seefeld agreed that, contrary to some reports, bullying did not appear to be a motive for the attack.  Read the rest of the story: “Motive Behind Attacks Remains a Mystery” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/11/14). 

Across the Nation…

Louisiana: Voucher Impact Report – The Department of Justice has prevailed — at least in part — in a long-running and politically charged battle with Louisiana over the state’s private school voucher program.  Starting this fall, Louisiana must provide the agency with timely information about the racial background of participating students each year so the Justice Department can monitor the program’s effect on school segregation, a federal judge ruled Tuesday night.  The department could use that information to try to challenge some voucher awards.  “We welcome the court’s order, as it rejects the state’s bid to resist providing even the most basic information about how Louisiana’s voucher program will affect school desegregation efforts,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “This ruling ought to resolve, once and for all, the unnecessary dispute initiated by the state’s refusal to provide data.”  Read the rest of the story: “Court: Louisiana Must Report Voucher Data” (from politico.com, 4/8/14).

Kansas: Funding System – Kansas lawmakers late Sunday narrowly passed a school finance bill that ties reforms championed by conservatives to fixing a spending gap between rich and poor schools.  The House and Senate passed a bill that spends $126 million to bridge wealth-based disparities in the school funding formula, strips teachers of due process rights and promotes school choice. The bill now goes to the governor to sign.  The education bill was a response to a state Supreme Court ruling that funding disparities between rich and poor schools violated the state constitution. The court ordered the state to fix the gap by July or risk having judges fashion a solution.  “The school finance bill passed by the Legislature today fully complies with and, indeed, exceeds the requirements of the recent Supreme Court ruling for funding schools,” Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said in a statement after the vote.  Read the rest of the story: “Kansas Lawmakers Pass School Finance Bill Merging Funding Equity with Education Reforms” (from The Kansas City Star, 4/6/14).

On the Calendar…

  • April 18 – PASA office closed    

  • April 22 - School Leadership Twitter Chat on PlanCon Reform (8-9 p.m.)  

  • April 29 – Professional Development Committee meeting (PASA office)           

  • May 4-6 – Women’s Caucus Conference (Hershey)   

  • May 26 – PASA office closed

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