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Education Update for November 17, 2014

In Budget and Funding News...

Filling This Year’s Budget – Last week the Corbett administration used another $750 million of a $1.5 billion line of credit to maintain cash flow in the General Fund. In September the state had borrowed $700 million against the credit limit. In announcing the action, State Treasurer Rob McCord said, “We see a deteriorating financial scenario that casts serious doubt on Pennsylvania’s ability to balance its budget this year. The state’s fiscal health remains precarious.” In response, the Corbett administration indicated that the borrowing is the “normal course of business gap financing when expenditures go out continually and revenue comes in periodically.”

State Budget Hole and Projections – According to the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO), Pennsylvania is facing a $1.85 billion budget hole, with much of the gap due to the use of $1.5 billion in one-time revenue, non-recurring “savings” and funding shifts used to balance the 2014-15 state budget. In addition, the IFO calculates that, while Pennsylvania revenues are expected to grow 2.7 percent annually over the next five years, expenditures during that time are expected to grow at an average annual rate of 4.1 percent, with much of that growth due to public pension payments. Estimates are, that by the 2019-20 fiscal year, pension contributions will total $1.7 billion or more above what they are this year. “The structural imbalance grows each year as tax base expansion is insufficient to maintain the level of real services provided in the current fiscal year and simultaneously provide for required pension contributions,” the IFO analysis states.

The IFO also projects that by 2020, the number of residents age 19 and under will decrease by 2.6 percent, while the number of residents 65 and over will increase dramatically, by 29.4 percent, noting that the “expanding service populations (e.g., older residents) and inflation will motivate much of the remaining expenditure growth” beyond pension costs. “Economic growth may be constrained by the lack of expansion of working-age residents,” the report states.

Basic Education Funding Commission Update – The commission will hold its next meetings this week in Philadelphia (Nov. 18 and 19) as members continue to gather information and testimony on school funding issues as they work toward developing a new basic education funding formula.

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

  • Tuesday, November 18 (1 p.m.), 19 (10 a.m.): Philadelphia     

  • Monday, Nov. 24, at 10 a.m.: I.U. 13, Lancaster     

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

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

To view video of previous hearings, see the commission website.

In Legislative News…

Legislative Leadership Elections – Last Wednesday, Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate elected their respective leaders for the 2015-16 legislative session. While leadership positions in the Democratic caucuses of both chambers remained relatively the same, Republicans made some major changes, particularly in the Senate.

Senate Republicans. With a larger – and more conservative – majority following this month’s election, Senate Republicans re-elected Joe Scarnati (Jefferson) to President Pro Tempore, a position that will be confirmed by the full Senate on January 6, while ousting current Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (Chester) in favor of Jake Corman (Centre). Other leadership shifted as well, with positions going to:

  • Appropriations Chairman: Patrick Browne (Lehigh)        

  • Majority Whip: John Gordner (Columbia) 

  • Caucus Chairman: Bob Mensch (Montgomery)    

  • Caucus Secretary: Richard Alloway (Franklin)    

  • Caucus Administrator: Chuck McIlhinney (Bucks)   

  • Policy Chairman: David Argall (Schuykill)

Senate Democrats. Democratic leaders stayed primarily the same:

  • Minority Leader: Jay Costa (Allegheny)  

  • Appropriations Chairman: Vincent Hughes (Philadelphia)    

  • Minority Whip: Anthony Williams (Philadelphia)    

  • Caucus Chair: Wayne Fontana (Allegheny)    

  • Caucus Secretary: Larry Farnese (Philadelphia)     

  • Caucus Administrator: John Yuichak (Luzerne)    

  • Policy Chairman: Lisa Boscola (Northampton)

House Republicans. With Speaker of the House Sam Smith retiring, Republican Majority Leader Mike Turzai (Allegheny) was selected as the new Speaker (to be put to a full House vote on January 6). The selection initiated a number of leadership changes in the caucus, as follows:

  • Majority Leader: David Reed (Indiana)    

  • Appropriations Chairman: William Adolph (Delaware) – re-elected     

  • Majority Whip: Bryan Cutler (Lancaster)    

  • Caucus Chair: Sandra Major (Susquehanna)   

  • Caucus Secretary: Donna Oberlander (Clarion)    

  • Caucus Administrator: Brian Ellis (Butler)    

  • Policy Chairman: Kerry Benninghoff (Centre)

House Democrats. All but one leadership position among House Democrats will remain the same.

  • Minority Leader: Frank Dermody (Allegheny)    

  • Appropriations Chairman: Joseph Markosek (Allegheny)    

  • Minority Whip: Mike Hanna (Clinton)      

  • Caucus Chair: Dan Frankel (Allegheny)    

  • Caucus Secretary: Rosita Youngblood (Philadelphia)   

  • Caucus Administrator: Neal Goodman (Schuylkill)     

  • Policy Chairman: Mike Sturla (Lancaster)

Legislative Calendar – The 2015-16 General Assembly will convene in Harrisburg on Jan. 6 to be sworn in and formally elect Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore within the respective chambers. Tom Wolf will be sworn in as governor on Jan. 20. Committee chairmanships also will be finalized in January.

According to an Associated Press story (11/15/14), there are rumors circulating in Harrisburg that, given the widening conservative majority in office on January 6, some prominent backers of the Republican Party are urging the General Assembly’s Republican leaders to take some legislative action on issues such as pension and liquor system reform before Tom Wolf officially takes office on January 20. While the possibility is there, such action would be very problematic, requiring introduction of legislation, assigning a bill to a committee for approval, and then a vote in each chamber after spending three days on the session calendar.

Bills Signed into Law – Gov. Corbett recently signed the following bills into law:

  • Homeschool Diplomas: HB 1013, now Act 196 of 2014. The act 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. Act 196 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 opposed the bill.     
  • EITC Program: HB 91, now Act 194 of 2014. The act 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.      
  • Epi-Pens: HB 803, now Act 195 of 2014. The act 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.  

In Post-Election News…

Wolf Transition Team – Governor-elect Tom Wolf last week announced his transition team leaders as he and his newly appointed chief of staff Katie McGinty, former PA Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, begin the work of identifying administrative and department staff. Included in the transition team are: John Fry (chair), Drexel University president; Kim Bracey (co-vice chair), York City mayor; Jim Brown (co-vice chair), former chief of staff to the late Gov. Bob Casey and currently chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, Jr.; Cynthia Shepira, community activist from Pittsburgh; Mary Soderburg, former budget secretary for Gov. Ed Rendell; Josh Shapiro, former House lawmaker and currently a Montgomery County Commissioner; and Denise Smyler, former Philadelphia assistant district attorney.

Gas Industry Campaign Contributions – Conservation Voters of PA and Common Cause PA report that, in 2014, the natural gas industry contributed more than $565,000 to Republican PACs and more than $429,000 to Gov. Corbett’s re-election campaign. The industry contributed about $53,000 to Tom Wolf’s election campaign. Wolf has called for a severance tax on gas extraction to increase state revenues, while Gov. Corbett and most Republican lawmakers have opposed it. According to the report, the industry has spent $41 million on lobbying and $8 million on contributions to political candidates and PACs since 2007. (from a story on Capitolwire, 11/13/14)

In State News…

SPP Summary – During the State Board of Education meeting last week, the PDE offered an overview of 2013-14 School Performance Profiles scores compared to 2012-13 scores, noting that, while the percentage of schools receiving “passing” scores (70.0 or higher) stayed relatively stable, from 72.6% to 72.4%, 1,542 schools experienced a decline in SPP scores, 1,348 showed improvement and 17 stayed the same. Schools receiving scores of 90.0 or above declined from 428 in 2012-13 to 357, while those scoring between 70.0-79.0 increased from 815 to 850. No cyber charter schools scored 70.0 or above. According to Acting Secretary Dr. Carolyn Dumaresq, some declines in scores may be attributed to the transition to more rigorous standards and tests.

Cyber Charter School Application Hearings – The PDE this month held hearings on three applications for new cyber charter schools. As of today, a decision on the applications has not yet been released.

Eligible Content Review Site – The PDE has updated a special 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, which was launched in October, was 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. The website is now updated to include all eligible content in English language arts and mathematics for grades 3-8 and Algebra I and Literature at the secondary level. The site 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. The website will be open until January 15. Click here to access the website.

Winter Keystone Exam Training – The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and its statewide assessment vendor, Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), will conduct training sessions on the administration of the 2014-15 Winter Keystone Exams this month. The training sessions will be presented live at the PaTTAN sites listed below at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., and broadcasted via video-conference to the other two PaTTAN locations, along with additional intermediate unit sites that choose to participate.

  • Nov. 18: live at PaTTAN Pittsburgh     
  • Nov. 20: live at PaTTAN Harrisburg   
  • Nov. 21: live at PaTTAN King of Prussia

The information being presented is critical to the administration of the winter Keystone Exams; therefore, it is required that every LEA participating in the 2014-15 Winter Keystone Exams send at least one representative to a training session. These are train-the-trainer sessions and are designed so that the representative who attends in-person can deliver the same information to his or her coordinators and administrators.

To register for the live session and view a list of available locations that will be broadcasting the event, visit PaTTAN's website.

From the PDE: iTunes U Update – Pennsylvania is continuing its development of a series of online courses in iTunes U. Courses, aligned to the Pennsylvania standards, are designed as course resource collections and are available at no cost. The department is inviting Pennsylvania educators to join a Pennsylvania Learns iTunes U digital content team to assist in this work. The winter 2015 teams will convene to address the following subjects and grade levels:

  • English Language Arts - Grades K-5     

  • Mathematics - Grades K-2; Algebra II and Geometry    

  • Science - Grades 5-8

This round of course development will occur on January 21, 22 and 23, 2015, at PaTTAN Harrisburg, with two additional days scheduled for February 11 and 12, 2015. PDE will pay mileage and expenses, as appropriate, and reimburse districts up to $100/day for substitute coverage. Go to to access the application to participate in this event.  Deadline to apply is December 16, 2014.

In National News…

Dropping Dropout Rates – This year, high school dropout rates are at their lowest point ever. And that means graduation rates are at an all-time high, too. Last year, 86 percent of students took home high school diplomas, while only 7 percent dropped out—down from 13 percent two decades ago, according to Census Bureau data. "When you say more kids are seeing value in their education—they're staying until the end, they're getting that diploma—that's huge," says Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association (NEA), a labor union that represents 3 million education professionals and works to advance public education. The national average reflects improvements across all demographics but is boosted by significant gains among black and especially Latino high-schoolers. Part of that success could be attributed to the growing number of native-born Latino students. Read the rest of the story: “High School Graduation Rates Hit All-Time High” (from The Atlantic, 11/7/14).

Why Some Still Dropout – An Education Trust report follows the true story of a student, based entirely on interviews with him and notes from his school file, from the day he started kindergarten to the day he dropped out of school. Click here to read the story “Butterflies in the Hallway” on the Education Trust website.

Funding Adequacy and Technology – A recently released report from CoSN (Consortium for School Networking’s) reveals troubling gaps in U.S. school districts broadband and technology infrastructure. The 2nd Annual E-Rate and Infrastructure, released last month, identifies affordability and adequate funding as the most significant barriers to delivering sufficient Internet connectivity and transforming the learning environment in schools. This chief hurdle mirrors the major barrier identified in the 2013 survey. Other challenges identified include lack of capacity to ensure the network reliability needed for online assessments and instruction and grossly inadequate networks in the nation’s rural school districts.  Conducted in partnership with AASA (The School Superintendents Association) and MDR, the groups collected data from K-12 school leaders and technology directors nationwide. The report is intended to inform the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its forthcoming decisions regarding the E-rate program’s long-term funding needs and focus. “This survey boldly underscores that our nation has a funding and bandwidth crisis,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “The FCC’s short- and long-term goals for connectivity will not be reached until there is a substantial increase in funding to meet the unmet needs of school districts across the nation, particularly in rural districts.” Click here to read more.  

Across the Nation…

Florida: Protesting Testing – Florida embraced the school accountability movement early and enthusiastically, but that was hard to remember at a parent meeting in a high school auditorium in Royal Palm Beach not long ago. Parents railed at a system that they said was overrun by new tests coming from all levels — district, state and federal. Some wept as they described teenagers who take Xanax to cope with test stress, children who refuse to go to school and teachers who retire rather than promote a culture that seems to value testing over learning. Where once these frustrations were voiced in murmurs, this year not only parents but also educators across Florida are rebelling. They have joined a national protest in which states have repealed their graduation test requirements, postponed the consequences of testing for the Common Core — national standards in more than 40 states — and rolled back the number of required exams. Read the rest of the story: “States Listen as Parents Give Rampant Testing an F” (from The New York Times, 11/9/14).

Ohio: Mandatory Staffing – A divided committee of the Ohio Board of Education recommended last week doing away with staffing requirements for elementary schools that critics argue could lead to the elimination of art, music and physical education classes, along with school nurses, librarians and counselors. Members of the panel, saying they have been bombarded by complaints in recent days, voted 4-3 to recommend passage of new operating standards that allow schools to make their own staffing decisions. Some board members said a change could take desired curriculum and services away from young students, particularly those in poorer districts. Read the rest of the story: “Will State School Board Eliminate Requirement for Art, Music and Gym Teachers?” (from The Columbus Dispatch, 11/11/14).

On the Calendar…

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

  • Nov. 25 – monthly school funding Twitter chat (hashtag #FairFundingPA)   

  • Nov. 27-28 – PASA office closed     

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

  • Dec. 24-25, 31 – PASA office closed

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