Below is the current Education Update. Click here for a list of other recent updates.
November 20, 2017
In State Budget News…
Budget Shortfall for Next Year – Updated revenue and expenditure estimates suggest Pennsylvania’s policymakers could face a potential budget imbalance of up to $0.99 billion in the upcoming fiscal year, according to a report released this week by the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO). The potential imbalance expands to $1.87 billion in FY 2019-20 and reaches $2.19 billion by FY 2022-23 based on current policies. The imbalance is described as “potential” because policymakers have various tools to control expenditures on a temporary or permanent basis. “While long-term fiscal pressures remain, the most recent forecast constitutes an improvement compared to previous projections,” said IFO Director Matthew Knittel. “Actual and assumed savings, which are built into the baseline, reduce the potential imbalance by approximately $1 billion annually by the end of the forecast.” Click here for more information on the IFO website.
Shale Tax – On the heels of the IFO report, the House this week is expected to consider legislation imposing a shale tax.
After months and months of discussion about implementation of a shale tax, it ended up not being a part of the 2017-18 revenue package. The fact that that Pennsylvania has “balanced” that budget hasn’t deterred folks from continuing to push for a vote on this issue.
While there is still a tremendous amount of controversy surrounding this issue and a very uncertain vote count, there have been promises made to bring the issue to the floor for a vote. It’s not clear exactly what the outcome of this effort will be (especially given that there are more than 370 amendments filed to the bill – HB 1401), but it is likely to be an exciting — and probably somewhat bumpy — ride.
In Legislative News…
Session Schedule – Only the Senate was in town last week, and things were relatively quiet on the education front. While the Senate will not return to session until December 11, the House is back in Harrisburg this week.
This Week’s House Floor Schedule – In addition to considering a shale tax bill, the House this week is
expected to consider HB 1460, which requires PSERS and SERS to include the fees paid to investment managers in their annual financial statements.
Last Week’s Senate Action -
* Student Absence: SB 540; passed by the Senate. The bill would allow students who are performing at events and funerals honoring our veterans to be excused from school, and allow that time to be counted toward volunteering or community service requirements.
* Mandatory Civics Instruction/Testing: SB 723; amended on the Senate floor; referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill as amended requires school districts to offer content related to the civics portion naturalization test at least once during grades 7 through 12 beginning in 2020-21, and to administer the civics portion of the naturalization test to students. After that, school districts would be required to respond to a PDE-generated survey every other year concerning how many students took the test and how many passed, and that data would be published on the PDE website. Initially, the bill would have required students to pass a version of the U.S. Citizenship Test on Civics as a graduation requirement and was introduced last year as HB 1858. PASA opposes this bill. PASA testified on that bill in September 2016 before a joint public hearing of the House Education and Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committees. In that testimony, Lee Ann Wentzel, superintendent of the Ridley School District and a member of the PASA Board of Governors, noted that PASA strongly supports proven and effective policies, programs and initiatives that will strengthen and build upon Pennsylvania’s long-standing tradition of preparing students for their responsibilities and obligations of citizenship through high-quality civic learning opportunities. However, as she noted, rather than mandatory curriculum or testing (or utilizing that test for assessment purposes), “PASA suggests that the state provide support and resources to help districts and schools develop and use more authentic assessment instruments that measure students’ civic skills and dispositional growth.”
In State News…
Abolishing the SRC – The Philadelphia School Reform Commission is on its way to extinction. The state-devised panel, the ruler of the School District for 16 years, voted to dissolve itself on Nov. 16, declaring that the era of distress for the city’s schools was over. Immediately after the 3-1 vote, shouts, cheers, and chants of “the people united will never be defeated” arose from a raucous crowd that had gathered to witness the moment. SRC Chair Joyce Wilkerson said the panel had made tough decisions that put the school system on sounder financial and academic footing. “Returning the district to Philadelphia will allow us to build on this progress and stability,” Wilkerson said. “The district is ready for its next phase, and Philadelphia is ready to take ownership of its schools.” Read the rest of the story: “In Historic Vote, a Divided SRC Moves To Abolish Itself” (from philly.com, 11/16/17).
In National News…
Tax Reform – In a close vote last week Thursday, the House passed a controversial tax reform measure that would change some tax rates, cost over a trillion dollars, and eliminate numerous tax deductions, including those for healthcare expenses, college loans and state and local taxes. PASA and AASA opposed this bill. Senate Republicans continue working on their tax reform version, which has likewise been the target of extensive criticism. (See below for AASA’s statement on House passage.)
Student Homelessness – At least 700,000 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 (or 1 in 30 of the total age group) experience homelessness in a given year, according to a new study by researchers at Chapin Hall, an independent research and policy center at the University of Chicago. For young adults ages 18 to 25, that number is even higher: 1 in 10 don't have a place to live. The study was conducted as part of Voices of Youth Count, a research initiative led by Chapin Hall, which more broadly conducts research to improve policies around the well-being of children and families. Researchers collected data and the stories of young people ages 13 to 25 who experience homelessness or unstable housing to provide a clearer national picture of the problem. The report is the first in a series of briefs the initiative plans to release to address homelessness among young people and shed light on solutions to guide policy and practice. Read the rest of the story: “Are More Young People Homeless Than We Thought? Study Shares Startling Data” (from Education Week, 11/15/17).
Recent Research –
Questionable Benefits of Vouchers: There's been surging national interest in private-school-voucher programs with the Trump administration's embrace of the idea. But newer research on large-scale voucher programs has complicated the debate over private-school choice—policies which allow families to use public money or aid to attend private schools, including religious ones. What does the research say? In a nutshell: The most recent findings are mixed, but they lean more toward negative. Read the rest of the story: “'Precious Little Evidence' That Vouchers Improve Achievement, Recent Research Finds” (from Education Week, 11/17/17).
Classroom Demographics and Reading: Having more girl classmates may help boys and girls alike boost their reading skills, according to a new study in the Journal of School Effectiveness and School Improvement. Using data from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, a benchmarking test of 15-year-olds in 33 countries, the researchers looked at how school resources and social characteristics affected boys' and girls' reading performance. In each school, the researchers analyzed the concentration of poverty, the percentage of teachers with a college degree, and the proportion of girls to boys. On average across countries, students had higher reading scores in low-poverty schools and schools where a majority of teachers had a college degree. But researchers also found girls scored nearly 30 points higher than boys on a 600-point scale, and all students scored better when girls made up at least 60 percent of students in the school. Read the rest of the story: “Boys Read Better When There Are More Girls in Class, Study Finds” (from Education Week, 11/12/17).
Statement on House Passage of Tax Reform Bill – AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech released the following statement last week in response to House passage of HR 1, The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act by a vote of 227-205:
"AASA is deeply disappointed in the largely partisan vote in the House today. We know the intricacies involved in any legislative vote, and the pressures unique to a tax conversation. Like any budget or funding conversation, tax conversations are filled with tough decisions. The combination of these tough decisions, however, is a clear indication of the deciding body’s priorities, and today’s vote demonstrates that for 227 members of the House, they have little to no understanding of, or concern for, its impact on public schools. Congress must both know and do better, and ensure that any tax reform plan is supportive of public education. We remain optimistic that this is just the first step in a long process and that subsequent steps will be more deliberate, more transparent, and premised on passing common sense tax policy that works for our country, its people, and its public schools."
Rural School Challenges - Limited access to advanced coursework, medical care, food and employment opportunities continue to daunt students in many rural communities, according to a report released last week by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and The Rural School and Community Trust. The report, Leveling the Playing Field for Rural Students, highlights how Congress can provide leadership and support to ensure students living in rural America receive a quality education and succeed in life beyond high school. Click here for more information.
On the Calendar…
Nov. 21 – Technology Committee meeting (virtual)
Nov. 23-24 – PASA office closed
Nov. 29 – School Leader Advocacy Training (CSIU)
Dec. 5 – Leadership for Learning (PASA office)
(pdf for printing)