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Education Update

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

January 24, 2022

In Health, Safety & Equity News…
 
Impact of the Pandemic on Student Mental Health – From the very first waves of school closures and lockdowns in 2020, the pandemic significantly damaged children’s mental health in ways teachers are still coping with and researchers are still struggling to understand. A new analysis of research across 11 countries including the United States in the journal JAMA Pediatrics finds widespread anxiety and depression among those 19 and younger in the earliest days of the pandemic, exacerbated by greater screen time and less physical activity, and coupled with fewer adult supports to ensure children stayed out of dangerous situations. “These immediate, visible consequences of school closures are harbingers of long-term outcomes, including decreased life expectancy for U.S. schoolchildren,” the doctors wrote. “Children are resilient, but this resiliency requires individual support, systemic scaffolding, societal investment, and scientific research into the short-, medium-, and long-term impacts of the pandemic on children.” Read the rest of the story: “New Research Shows How Bad the Pandemic Has Been for Student Mental Health”v (from Education Week, 1/18/22).
 
Continuing Problems with Access to Technology – As more families pivot back to remote learning amid quarantines and school closures, reliable, consistent access to devices and home internet remains elusive for many students who need them to keep up with their schoolwork. Home internet access for students has improved since the onset of the pandemic with help from philanthropy, federal relief funding, and other efforts — but obstacles linger, including a lack of devices, slow speeds, and financial hurdles. Even before the pandemic sent most schools to some form of remote learning, classrooms have increasingly embraced the role of technology in teaching, creating a “homework gap” between those who do and do not have access to internet and devices at home. Roughly 2.9 million school children lived in households without internet access, according to pre-pandemic Census data, and about 2.1 million lived in households without a laptop or desktop computer. Read the rest of the story: A Digital Divide Haunts Schools Adapting to Virus Hurdles” (from Education Week, 1/18/22).
 
Safe Schools Grants – Governor Tom Wolf announced last week that $8 million in competitive Safe Schools Targeted grants has been awarded to 303 local education agencies (LEA) to increase school safety by purchasing equipment, enacting new programs, and hiring security personnel and school resource officers. Under the program, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) Office for Safe Schools offers four types of targeted safety grants: equipment grants of up to $25,000; program grants of up to $20,000; School Police Officer (SPO) grants of up to $40,000; and School Resource Officer (SRO) grants of up to $60,000. Seventy-eight LEAs received equipment grants totaling $1.74 million; 39 received program grants totaling more than $583,000; 24 received funding to hire school program officers totaling approximately $949,000; and 29 LEAs received grants to hire school resources officers totaling nearly $1.6 million. Additionally, 132 intermediate units received funding for equipment totaling nearly $2.6 million, and $670,000 was awarded to 53 intermediate units in program funding. (from a press release)
 
In Budget, Revenue & Finance News…
 
Report: EITC Program Accountability & Real Costs – The Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) last week released a fiscal review of the EITC program. Act 48 of 2017 requires the IFO to review various state tax credits over a five-year period. For the fourth year, the IFO reviewed four tax credits: the Educational, Coal Refuse Energy and Reclamation, Brewers’ and Mixed-Use Development Tax Credits. The act requires the IFO to submit tax credit reviews to the Performance-Based Budget Board and the Chairs of the House and Senate Finance Committees and to make reports available to the public on the IFO website.
 
This report contains the tax credit review for the Educational Tax Credits (ETC). The IFO identified similar
programs in other states, reviewed available research, held discussions with numerous stakeholders and
with met with agency staff who administer the tax credit. Although the IFO requested five years of EITC data, in some cases the Department of Community and Economic Development was only able to supply two years.
 
The general findings of this report are as follows:
- For fiscal year (FY) 2019-20, 68,430 students received $145 million in ETC scholarships, an average
of $2,120 per student. Final data for FY 2020-21 are not yet available.
- Almost all firms make a two-year commitment and receive a tax credit equal to 90% of their
contribution.
- Article XX-B of the Public School Code expressly limits the data that DCED may collect related to
the ETC program to those that are specifically enumerated in the authorizing legislation. Key data
necessary to thoroughly evaluate the program are not available.
- Qualifying income limitations for scholarship recipients are roughly 500% of federal poverty level
(FPL) for a family of four. This level is higher than all other states that have an income limitation.
Because some portion of families could likely afford private school without a scholarship, it is unclear how much behavior is incentivized by the credit.
- Modest state savings are realized from students switching from public to private school ($350 per
student on average) due to strong hold harmless provisions.
- Compared to other states, Pennsylvania has the highest allowance for administrative and other
costs. This reduces the number of scholarships available to students.
- The top ten Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) organizations received 26% of contributions in FY 2015-16 and 47% in FY 2019-20. As the cap on the EITC increases, a small number of
organizations benefit most.
 
The recommendations of this report are as follows. A more complete discussion of these points can be
found in the final section of this report.
- There should be more accountability for contributions not used to fund scholarships or educational
improvement programs.
- The statute should be amended to allow for the collection of student performance and demographic
data so that program effectiveness can be evaluated. Across states, Pennsylvania has one of the
largest tax credits but collects and publishes the least amount of outcome data.
- The caps on Educational Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit scholarships should be eliminated.
- Consideration should be given to eliminating the early application period for firms that renew a
two-year contribution commitment.
 
Governor’s Proposed Budget – Gov. Wolf will unveil his final proposed state budget on Tuesday, February 8. Although details of the plan are not available, the governor has stated publicly that his priority will be education funding.
 
In Legislative News…

Session Update Both the House and Senate are scheduled to be in voting session three days this week.
 
Last Week’s Senate Action –
 
* SB 527: Automatic EITC Increases; amended and approved by the Senate Education Committee, with all Democrats voting in opposition. The bill amends the School Code to automatically increase the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) caps by 25% each fiscal year when at least 90% of the respective available tax credits are claimed in the previous Fiscal Year. The amendment makes the bill effective in the 2022-23 school year. PASA opposes the bill and all legislation that increases tax credit schemes, as there is no accountability for the use of those funds, plus the taxes sent to these funds could be used for public school subsidies.
 
The Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) last week released a review of the EITC program, that concluded accountability and fiscal responsibility in the program was lacking. (See details below in State News.)
 
On the House Voting Calendar for Possible Consideration This Week:
 
* HB 1254: Vouchers. The bill would amend the School Code to include a new Section 1507, to be entitled “In-Person Instruction or Tuition Grant Program Required.” Under proposed Section 1507, within 30 days of the bill’s effective date, a school district that does not provide full-time, in-person instruction, or that denies a student residing in the school district full-time, in-person instruction in the school district, must establish a tuition grant program (vouchers) under existing Section 2012-B of the School Code. 

There is no definition of what constitutes “not providing full-time, in-person instruction,” which means a brief quarantine or a remote learning day due to a weather closure could activate the mandatory tuition grant program.
In addition, HB 1254 would require that any student living in the school district must be eligible for a tuition grant, and that such a student receiving a tuition grant under the proposal will continue to be eligible if the student remains a school district resident, even if the school district reestablishes in-person instruction.  Once a student receives a tuition grant under the bill, the student would remain eligible for future tuition grants, even if the school district later provides full-time, in-person instruction.

The school district would have to use funds received from the Commonwealth for educational purposes to establish these tuition grants. The bill was approved by the House Education Committee in September with a 14-11 vote on mostly partisan lines. (Rep. Meghan Schroeder, R-Bucks, was the only Republican voting in opposition.)

PASA strongly opposes this bill for many reasons:

* This is a voucher bill that will drain much needed resources from our public school districts when we are working diligently to recover from the pandemic.
* There is no mention of accountability or transparency for the use of the money by parents or the nonpublic school entities.
* This bill would put undue pressure on school districts to keep schools open despite having a significant breakout of COVID-19 in their schools, possibly increasing the spread of the virus.
* The majority of taxpayers are opposed to public tax dollars being used for nonpublic school vouchers.
 
On the Senate Voting Calendar for Possible Consideration This Week:
 
* SB 1: ‘Excellence in Education Act.’ This is a voucher/school choice bill.  Key components of the legislation would include Education Opportunity Accounts for PA’s students, expansion of the existing EITC/OSTC tax credit scholarship programs, favorable changes for the charter school industry, and protections for coronavirus learning pods.  PASA opposes this bill.
 
* SB 745: Right-to-Know Exemptions. The bill exempts public employee birthdates from access by a requester under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.
 
* SB 846: Opting Out of a Mask Mandate. The bill would mandate that all school districts develop (and abide by) a form that would allow parents or legal guardians to sign off on “opting-out” their child from a mask mandate. The form would need to clearly state that the child is not to be isolated, separated from classmates, or otherwise left out of participation in school activities. An amendment added to the bill would allow a parent or guardian to opt their child out from wearing a face covering or mask which the child’s school imposes it as a result of a recommendation or mandate from the school board. The bill was approved by the Senate Education Committee in September, with all Democrats voting in opposition.  PASA opposes the bill, as it would be logistically challenging for districts to track who doesn’t have to wear a mask and it removes from an elected school board the authority to determine and approve mandatory health and safety preventative measures needed in their schools.
 
* HB 1660: School Board Authority. The bill amends the School Code to curtail the authority of the school board concerning temporary emergency provisions. Beginning with the 2021-2022 school year and each school year thereafter, the bill would 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. If an extension is necessary, after 60 days, the bill would require another two-thirds vote by the school board directors and a public hearing.

The school board of directors have 60 days after the initial vote to implement their temporary emergency powers and must 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. The term "emergency" means an event that prevents a school building from opening due to any of the following: (i) a communicable health issue or incident; (ii) a hazardous weather condition; (iii) a law enforcement emergency; (iv) the inoperability of school buses or other equipment necessary to the public school entity's operation; (v) damage to a school building; or (vi) another temporary circumstance rendering any portion of a school building unfit or unsafe for use. The bill does not impact a school entity’s ability to utilize Flexible Instruction Days. The bill was reported out of the House Appropriations Committee in November, sent to the House floor, and passed the House by a vote of 118-82 all on the same day.

PASA opposes the bill:
* It reduces a school district’s authority to establish alternative methods of delivery of instruction due to an emergency for up to four (4) years as currently allowed in the School Code. There is no need to restrict the local control of a school district beyond what has been in the School Code for years.
* There is nothing in this bill that gives permission to school district to provide full-time online learning programs to students similar to those offered by cyber charter schools.  This issue was raised several times by PASA during the height of the pandemic, but no action has been taken by the legislature.  If action is not taken to correct this situation, districts will have to continually claim an emergency in the future to operate their own cyber learning programs.  This is unacceptable and needs immediate corrective action.

Committee Schedule –
 
Monday, January 24
 
House Education Committee
10:30 a.m., Room 523, Irvis Office Building        
To consider the following:
* HB 1330: Supplemental Online Course Initiative. The bill establishes a two-phase implementation schedule for an online course clearinghouse, which would first offer free courses related to content tested by the Keystone Exams. In the second phase, the clearinghouse would also offer other approved online courses aligned with PA education standards from providers, subject to purchase through contract. HB 1330 also requires the PDE to construct the clearinghouse, provide information to users about each course, and offer the opportunity for school entities to provide feedback and a rating for such courses. In addition, the bill would provide public schools with the flexibility to utilize courses made available through a school entity, the clearinghouse, or any other source. When a school entity decides to offer students the opportunity to participate in online courses, the bill would require the school entity to establish its own policies and procedures governing eligibility and participation and make parents and students aware of the opportunity. Finally, the bill provides for an application development and approval process, parameters for purchasing courses, penalties, and the issuance of a report regarding the program.    
* HR 163: Training Mandates. The resolution directs the Joint State Government Commission to establish an advisory committee to study all of the training mandates for public school educators in federal and state law or regulations; prepare an assessment of all training mandates in state law or regulations and identify any duplicate federal and state training mandates; evaluate any potential negative impacts of eliminating certain training mandates in state law or regulations; and include any recommendations relating to eliminating any training mandates in state law or regulations. The Commission would be required to issue a report of the advisory committee’s findings and recommendations to the House of Representatives no later than 18 months from the adoption of the resolution. PASA has been invited to participate on this advisory committee.
 
House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness
10:00 a.m., Room B31, Main Capitol
To consider the following:
* HB 1867: Purple Star School Program. The bill establishes a Purple Star School Program in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that will recognize schools that provide strong services for educational transition issues of military families. Under the program, schools will be designated as Purple Star campuses if they demonstrate military-friendly practices and meet certain requirements such as: having a military liaison staff member; a webpage on the school’s website that includes resources for military students and families; and, professional development training opportunities for staff members on issues relating to military students.  
 
Performance-Based Budget Board
10:00 a.m., Room 140, Main Capitol      
public hearing to review the Independent Fiscal Office's Tax Credits (Educational Tax Credits, Coal Refuse and Reclamation, Mixed Use Development and Brewers'), Department of Labor and Industry and Historical and Museum Commission
 
Tuesday, January 25
 
House Labor & Industry
10:00 a.m., Room G50, Irvis Office Building
To consider:
* HB 844: Public Employee Privacy. The bill would amend Section 705 of the Public Employee Relations Act (Act 195 of 1970), to prohibit social security numbers and home addresses of public sector employees from being proper subjects of collective bargaining.
* HB 845: Collective Bargaining Transparency. The bill would require any proposed public employee collective bargaining agreement to be made available on the public employers’ publicly accessible Internet website within 48 hours. The proposed agreement must be posted online two weeks prior and thirty days following the signing of the collective bargaining agreement. The posting must include a statement of the terms of the proposed collective bargaining agreement and an estimate of the costs to the public employer associated with the agreement. In addition, the bill would establish that proposed collective bargaining agreements and any documents presented by the public employer or received from the employee organization in the course of collective bargaining are to be public records subject to the Right-to-Know Law.
* HB 2042: Employee Rights Notification. The bill would require notification of employee rights as follows: 1) Public employees who are not union members would be notified annually that they are not required to pay any money to the union unless they agree to do so, and 2) New employees for public jobs would be notified of their right to choose whether or not to join the union – and of their 1st Amendment right to not pay any funds to an organization they did not consent to support. In addition, the bill would repeal two state laws that require public employees to pay fair share fees if they do not join the union.
* HB 2048: Political Contributions. The bill would prohibit payroll deductions from public sector employees for political action committee (PAC) contributions.
 
Wednesday, January 26
 
Performance-Based Budget Board
10:00 a.m., Room 140, Main Capitol
hearing to review the Independent Fiscal Office's Dept. of Education and Dept. of Agriculture Performance-Based Budget reports.
 
Tuesday, February 1
 
Senate Democratic Policy Committee
10:00 a.m.       
public hearing with Senator Lindsey Williams to highlight and draw solutions for the staffing crisis in K-12 public education
(To attend, click here to register.) 
 
State Budget Hearings – Gov. Wolf will release his proposed state budget early next month. Following that, both the House and Senate appropriations committees will hold hearings on the budget plan, including the following:
Department of Revenue: House – Feb. 15, Senate – Feb. 22
Independent Fiscal Office: House – Feb. 15, Senate – Feb. 22
Department of Education: House – March 7, Senate – March 10
Department of Health: House – March 3, Senate – March 9
 
FYI: Free Event on School Safety…
 
The Quakertown Community SD is offering a free School Safety Discussion – “Looking at the West Nickel Mines School Shooting” – on Tuesday, February 8 at 3:00 p.m. in the district’s High School Performing Center Auditorium (600 Park Ave., Quakertown, PA 18951). Douglas Burig, a retired State Trooper and the first to arrive at West Nickel Mines School, will provide a detailed look into the October 2, 2006 shooting of 10 female elementary school students at a one-room Amish schoolhouse in south central Pennsylvania. This incident garnered international attention and was the lead story on most major nation news networks for nearly a week. Topics discussed in this presentation include: PA State Police Overview, Who Are the Amish, actor timeline (leading up to the incident), incident management, criminal investigation, media, community concerns, crisis counseling, funerals, ongoing incident management and lessons learned. To reserve a seat, please contact Carrie Perone at cperone@qcsd.org or by phone at 215-529-2062.
 
In the PASA Calendar…
 
Jan. 28………Board of Governors’ meeting
Feb. 2………..Superintendent Forum/Book Study Session 1
Feb. 4………..Aspiring to Leadership Workshop
Feb. 7………..Legislative Committee Zoom meeting

(pdf for printing)