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Education Update

Below is the current Education Update.  Click here for a list of other recent updates.

June 21, 2021

Budget, Finance & Funding News...

State Budget Update – The House and Senate have moved general appropriations bills into position to finalize the 2021-22 state budget. Much discussion went on last week behind-the-scenes and continues to happen. We are hearing there will be an increase for both the BEF and the EITC program, but final numbers are still being negotiated. We may have a state budget completed by the weekend, as lawmakers are working to finalize policy issues to approve with the budget, including the School Code bill.
 
School District Budget Report – Last week PASBO, PASA and PARSS released results of the spring 2021 school district budget survey, which reveals how school districts are using—or expect to use—their federal COVID funds. The report used data collected in the spring of 2021 from two separate surveys – one for school district superintendents and one for school district business managers – and also was informed by 2019-20 Annual Financial Report data posted by the PA Department of Education.
 
Survey responses indicate a commonality in the use of federal COVID funds to address learning loss through various strategies, provide for technology expansion and access, engage in facility upgrades and improvements to enhance air quality and safety, and investigate strategies to improve sustainability of programs in preparation for expiration of the funds. In addition, the survey reveals that school districts also are focused on addressing the unique needs of their individual student subgroups by combatting food insecurity, enhancing mental health services and supports, and providing staff training.
 
While the survey shows that school leader optimism and expectations for the outcomes associated with the expenditure of these federal funds are high, the optimism comes with apprehension regarding sustainability of programs, supports, and improvements made with federal funds. “The wide pre-COVID variation in local tax bases and state funding support make this a much greater challenge for many districts,” the associations state. “As state mandates continue to grow significantly while local and state revenue growth slows or pauses, the pandemic has served to widen the existing gaps across districts.”
 
In addition, despite a short time period to implement the federal investment, school districts see this as an opportunity to reshape k-12 education in Pennsylvania and move public education ahead post-COVID, but the report notes that their success in this effort will not be sustainable without the support and partnership of state policymakers. “As school districts navigate these challenging times, mandated costs continue to rise and policymakers continue to discuss efforts to further de-fund public education,” the associations conclude. “Without additional future state support for education, along with changes in existing policies, students, school districts and taxpayers are worse off, and the promise of the improvements and advancements made as a result of the federal funding will be fleeting at best.”
 
Click here to read the report.
 
In Legislative News…
 
Session Update – Both the House and Senate are scheduled to be in session all week, and the Senate has even scheduled a Saturday session, as work ramps up on the state budget. This is the time of year when things can change rapidly. Stay tuned and stay alert…
 
Update on Charter/EITC, Voucher Bills 

* SB 1: Charter School “Reform,” EITC Expansion; amended and approved by the Senate Education Committee, 7-4. The “The Excellence in Education for All Act” amends the Charter School Law with some language regarding ethics and audits but does not address the tuition formula or financial relief for school districts. SB 1 also increases the EITC/OSTC programs (tuition tax-credits) from $185 million to $300 million, with increases of 25% annually thereafter if certain thresholds are met.
 
Although SB 1 went through the Senate Education Committee the week of June 7, it did not come up for a floor vote and was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the “holding” committee for many bills. Then on Tuesday, SB 1 was sent back to the Senate Education Committee, where it was further amended in an attempt to garner sufficient votes not just in committee but among Senate Republicans to bring the bill to the floor for a final vote. The bill was amended in committee to provide a very limited charter school tuition reimbursement to school districts, an amount that would rise slightly for three years and then stay level. On a positive note, the amendment removed language establishing a Public Charter School Commission that would have had the authority to approve charters.
 
PASA continues to oppose the bill. While the bill reinstates the mandate waiver program, eliminates the commission, and provides some ethics and transparency requirements for charter schools, it does not provide comprehensive charter school reform, particularly with funding, and it significantly reduces tax revenue for the state’s General Fund for public schools with a program that has no transparency or accountability for educational results. Specific objections to this bill are:
* The tuition reimbursement savings in the amendment to Senate Bill 1 only equates to about a 2% savings annually over three years and will not keep up with the increased escalation of charter school tuition.  Districts will continue to pay more each year for charter school tuition even with the proposed reimbursements.
* Charter school tuition is projected to grow at $400 annually per regular education student.  At the end of three years, districts will pay an increase of $1,200 in regular education charter tuition and only receive $750 in reimbursement from the state.
* Charter school tuition is expected to grow by $1,200 annually for special education students.  At the end of three years, districts will pay an increase of $3,600 in special education charter tuition and only receive $1,500 in reimbursement from the state.
* The expansion of Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits (OSTC) reduces state revenue that could be used to support many more students in Pennsylvania by using these funds for school subsidy increases.
* An annual increase of 25% for EITC/OSTC will raise the cost of the program to over $1 billion in just five years, creating an unrealistic burden for the state and the loss of revenue that could be used to support the 1.6 million students attending traditional public schools. There is no public accountability for the use of tax credit money once it goes to non-public schools.

* SB 733: Vouchers; following approval by the Senate Education Committee (7-4), the bill was re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee rather than put up for a vote on the Senate floor.  The “Keystone Scholarship Program for Exceptional Students” would provide “scholarships” (a euphemism for vouchers) to students in kindergarten through 12th grade to allow the parents of eligible children (special needs and gifted) to purchase what they would consider to be the best educational option available to educate their child. A parent of an eligible student participating in the program could utilize funds deposited in their student’s account for qualified expenses including, but not limited to, tuition and fees, textbooks, tutoring, curriculum, corresponding materials and exams, and training programs. The PDE would be responsible for administering the program, including approving applications submitted by parents, notifying parents of eligible students of the responsibilities of PDE and the parent, and providing a list of participating schools. If the PDE approves an eligible student's application for participation in the program, the Commonwealth would deposit into the “account” of the eligible student participating in the program a base grant amount equal to 90% of all state payments made to the resident school district of the eligible student for the immediately preceding school year divided by the resident school district's average daily membership for the immediately preceding school year. The base grant amount would be increased according to the student's disability. The additional grant amount for the disability would be based on the category of disability by which the resident school district is required to categorize the eligible student. An eligible student would be counted in the ADM of the student's resident school district for the purposes of calculating state aid to the resident school district, but the amount deposited by the Commonwealth into an eligible student's account would be subtracted from the state aid payable to the eligible student's resident school district. The district still would be responsible for transporting the student under the School Code.
 
PASA strongly opposes this bill. As part of Pennsylvanians Opposed to Vouchers, PASA has signed on to and sent to all senators a letter in opposition to this voucher plan. Click here to read the letter. Click here for an estimate of the financial impact on school districts by Senate district. As of last week, it appeared there were insufficient Republican votes to get SB 733 through the Senate so the bill was sent back to Senate Appropriations . However, this week will be hectic, with possible deals made back-and-forth concerning what will be in the budget and in the School Code bill. Stay tuned….

Other Bill Action Last Week –
 
* HB 409: Mental Health Clearinghouse; passed the House unanimously. The bill would establish a mental health care services clearinghouse to serve as a publicly accessible registry of mental health care resources available across the Commonwealth and to assist school personnel in connecting families to community mental health resources. It also would allow school personnel to learn about and take advantage of existing programs and resources for their schools.
 
* HB 1170: No-Bid Contracts; approved by the House Local Government Committee unanimously. The bill allows a political subdivision to initiate negotiations for a contract for services with a provider when no bids are received after two advertisements.
 
* HB 1539: Tuition Savings Accounts; passed by the House, 201-1.  The bill amends the Tuition Account Programs and College Savings Bond Act to extend the program to include not just tuition credits for uses at postsecondary institutions but also for uses in elementary and secondary schools, including private schools.
 
* SB 324: Foster Children & Graduation; approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and sent to the Senate floor. The bill aims to keep students on track to graduate high school who are either experiencing homelessness or are in foster care by requiring a receiving school entity to designate a point person for the student.  This point person, utilizing guidance to be developed with the aid of the Department of Education, will review past transcripts and provide the essential support needed to aid student graduation in a timely manner. The receiving school entity would be required to make some accommodations for those students, including but not limited to providing alternative or modified courses for those students if the school entity chooses not to waive a course required for graduation. Should the student not be able to meet criteria for graduating from that school entity despite exhaustive and multiple alternatives but the student has been determined to meet basic graduation requirements as provided in the School Code, the PDE may issue to the student a statewide secondary school diploma, known as the Keystone Diploma.)
 
* SB 478: No-Bid Contracts; passed by the Senate unanimously. The bill authorizes political subdivisions and authorities to enter into contracts for services when two consecutive advertisements fail to induce bids.
 
* SB 381: Substitute Teacher Program; approved by the House Education Committee, 24-1. The bill would make permanent the provisions of Act 86 of 2016, created an opportunity for prospective educators to serve as substitute teachers for a limited time by allowing schools, intermediate units and area career and technical schools with the option to utilize individuals training to be teachers to serve as a substitute teacher, provided the individual has valid clearances and at least 60 credit hours. The temporary program is set to expire on June 30. PASA supports the bill.
 
This Week’s Committee Calendar – Both the House and Senate appropriations committees are scheduled to meet daily this week, as bills slated for final consideration before the summer recess or bills intended to gain sufficient support to be amended into an omnibus School Code bill or other bills passed with the budget are moved through committee and possibly to the floor for a vote. There will be much legislative activity this week – so stay alert! To date, beyond the appropriation committee meetings (with those daily agendas still unknown), these are the bills up for consideration by other committees this week. That could change!
 
Tuesday, June 22
 
Senate Education Committee
To consider the nomination of Noe Ortega for Secretary of Education and the following bill:
* HB 1013: CTE Certifications. The bill amends the School Code to require that school entities include on a student’s transcript attained industry-recognized credential(s). (The bill was introduced as HB 1315 in the previous legislative session.)
 
House Education Committee
To consider the following:
* HB 1446: Extra Year of Education. The bill amends the School Code to allow students who are aging out of special education the ability to opt-in to an additional year of educational support and services. The bill also would allow school districts to utilize state and federal dollars to cover the cost of the additional year rather than local funds. HB 1446 is similar to SB 664, which was amended and approved by the House Education Committee on May 26 but has not yet come up for a vote on the House floor. The difference is that HB 1446 is limited to students aging out rather than all students with IEPs. (Note: During testimony in the House last year before the House and Senate Education Committees last year, then Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera stated that there are regulatory and legal prohibitions to providing education services to special need students beyond age 21.)
* HB 1533: Mandating & Restricting the Use of Federal Aid.  The bill amends the School Code to require public school entities to develop a systemic, multi-year strategy to deliver accelerated learning opportunities that support students’ academic, social, and emotional needs, at no cost to families. The bill further requires that accelerated learning programs are provided via in-person instruction (except for cyber charter schools). PASA opposes the bill. In essence, HB 1533 would dictate how public schools must spend their ESSER 20% set aside for learning loss and control who district’s hire for these services, which PASA believes is a violation of federal law, usurps local control, and is another overreach by the legislature.
* HB 1660: Temporary School Emergencies. The bill amends the School Code to allow a beginning with the 2021-2022 school year and each school year thereafter will allow a school board of directors to put into operation temporary emergency provisions for 60 days when an emergency results in five consecutive days of being unable to provide in-person instruction. The school board would have 60 days after the initial vote to implement their temporary emergency powers and would need to provide a written plan to the public with an explanation of why the temporary emergency provisions are necessary and how long they will be in effect. If an extension is necessary, after 60 days, it would require another two-thirds vote by the school board director’s and a public hearing.

In National News…
 
Cutting Funds to Schools Over Curriculum Choices – Congressional Republicans once again want to cut federal funding for schools that use lessons based on the 1619 Project—but they don’t want big programs serving special education students and others to be affected. The legislation was introduced this week by nine GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate minority leader, and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. It would decrease federal funds for schools and districts using curriculum inspired by the 2019 New York Times Magazine series that puts slavery and racism at the center of America’s experience and public-policy record. The bill would require the U.S. secretary of education and other cabinet-level leaders to identify the cost of teaching 1619 Project lessons, then cut the corresponding amount of federal aid to schools or school districts. Read the rest of the story: “Republicans Want Federal Funding Cuts to Schools Using ‘1619 Project'—But There’s a Twist” (from Education Week, 6/15/21).
 
USDE Memo: Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity – Schools violate the prohibitions against sex discrimination in Title IX when they discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, the U.S. Department of Education said in a legal memo last Wednesday. That position could set the stage for explosive legal battles as states around the country debate and enact new laws that restrict transgender students’ ability to play on sports teams that align with their gender identity and restrictions on classroom discussions about “divisive” issues, including sexuality. In a “notice of interpretation,” the agency cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., which held that a prohibition of sex discrimination in Title VII, the federal employment law, prohibits unequal treatment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. That interpretation extends to Title IX’s protections, the Education Department argued in its latest notice, citing a similar memo issued by the Justice Department March 26. Read the rest of the story: “LGBTQ Students Are Protected by Federal Anti-Discrimination Law, Education Dept. Says” (from Education Week, 6/16/21).
 
On the PASA Calendar…
 
June 23-24…National Superintendent Certification Program sessions
June 28……..Legislative Committee meeting (virtual)
July 5……….PASA office closed
July 13-15….AASA Advocacy Conference (Washington D.C.)

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