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Thursday, June 21, 2012

TAKE ACTION Against EISC and a Statewide Authorizer

On Monday, the House Education Committee will meet to review HB 2468, proposed legislation that would create a new Education Improvement Scholarship Credit (EISC). EISC would re-direct dollars away from revenue collections, therefore reducing the amount of revenue the Commonwealth has to use for programs and services. In addition, the proposal calls for an increase in the current EITC program from $75 million to $100 million next fiscal year and $200 million for subsequent years. That’s $450 million in tax credits over the next three years that would be taken out of our coffers, and directed to private schools, even as we cut current funding for our public schools, which serve the vast majority of our children. (Learn more about EISC HERE.)

Contact your legislator NOW! How can they divert more taxpayer dollars to private education when school districts are cutting out kindergarten? It is their constitutional obligation to provide every child in public school with a “thorough and efficient education”!

Also being negotiated with the budget is a bill focusing on “charter reform” (without the reform). It’s imperative that any charter reform bill includes actual reform to how charters are funded, increases accountability and DOES NOT include a statewide authorizer that will take away local authority and input.

TAKE ACTION NOW: Call and/or email your legislator and urge them to OPPOSE a statewide authorizer. We need REAL charter reform that can save money for our struggling school districts and also provide accountability for our tax dollars.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

6-20-12 Legislative Update

We have less than two weeks until the budget deadline of June 30th. There is a lot happening on the topic of public education and important bills are coming into play. Below is a quick update on what has happened in the last 2 ½ weeks.

Pennsylvania Budget
On June 5th, the House amended the budget bill, SB 1466 to increase funding for Accountability Block Grants, also known as “ABG” to $100 million, from the Senate’s proposal of $50 million, by shifting funds from several Department of Community and Economic Development line items and moving $24 million of the $50 million designated for distressed school districts. GOP leaders are currently in negotiations with the Governor, where he continues to push more than $300 million in additional cuts. Corbett wants to pass a severe budget and not utilize approximately $500 million of revenue surplus (i.e. money that came in that wasn’t initially projected). Currently, both the House and Senate proposals would reduce budget cuts by using some of that surplus revenue for important programs.

In addition to the Governor’s severe budget cuts, he is trying to push several items as part of the Harrisburg deal making that goes with budget negotiations. These bills include:
  • A $66 million/year tax credit for 25 years to lure a Shell ethane cracker to Beaver County for a total of $ 1.65 billion.
  • Several education “reforms” that could include trying to jam through some form of vouchers and/or a charter proposal that would create a statewide authorizer (Bad idea! This means communities could be responsible for paying but have no say over whether or not a school is established or accountable!).
  • A bill to establish teacher evaluation standards that include using standardized test scores as performance measures.

The legislature has two more weeks to come to an agreement. Now is the time to contact your legislators and urge them to invest in public education. Budgets are about priorities and it’s about time we make the future (our students) a priority in Pennsylvania. CLICK HERE to send an email to your legislators.

Charters/Vouchers
A bill dealing with charter reform and/or vouchers is one of the Governor’s budget negotiating points. Currently there are various bills that have been introduced that deal with different aspects of charter “reform”. Rep. Christiana introduced a bill (HB 2468) that would increase the current EITC program and also create a new program, the Education Improvement Scholarship Credit (EISC), which is essentially a voucher package under another name. Rep. Fleck introduced an alternative bill (HB 2364) that would fund charters based on actual costs incurred and would provide more accountability. Last week, Rep. Gerber, along with Rep. Evans, Rep. Santarsiero and Rep. Wheatley, announced he will introduce a bill that would increase EITC funding and also create a new program, the Keystone Scholarship Tax Credit (KSTC), which would be aimed at students within the boundary of low-achieving schools and come from a low-income household. Though no action has been taken on either of these bills, there is always a possibility they will be moved along with the budget. We continue to oppose vouchers because 1) they don’t work (i.e. they don’t improve achievement) 2) they are very costly and take money away from students that are already suffering from under-resourced schools and 3) they are un-Constitutional, and we think that should matter.

**EISC is scheduled for a vote MONDAY, 6/25/12. TAKE ACTION NOW!***

Special Education
This Tuesday, the House Education Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 1115. The bill establishes a legislative commission to create a funding formula that would distribute special education funding to schools in a more equitable manner. This bill has been around for a few years now and has been a bipartisan effort. The bill is scheduled to be reviewed and may be voted on by the House this week.

Fiscally Distressed School Districts
This Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved HB 1307, sending it on for consideration. This bill sets forth procedures for the Dept. of Education to develop and implement parameters for declaring school districts financially distressed. There are many problems with this bill, but one good thing is that it was amended to allow for public input about criteria for whether a district is financially distressed. Yesterday, the Senate passed the bill and sent it back to the House for concurrence. For more information on this bill, CLICK HERE.

Next Two Weeks – Stay Alert
As we get closer to June 30th, there is a strong possibility a voucher/charter bill will be introduced and forced through both chambers. Be ready to contact your legislators! It’s imperative that any charter reform bill includes actual reform to how charters are funded, increases accountability and DOES NOT include a statewide authorizer. We will keep you posted as the issues progress in the next two weeks

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sense and Sensibility

Yesterday, the House Education Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 1115. The bill establishes a legislative commission to create a funding formula that would distribute special education funding to schools in a more equitable manner. This bill has been around for a few years now and has been a bipartisan effort.

During the meeting, Rep. O’Neil mentioned that this bill stems from the costing out study that was commissioned in 2007 to determine the “cost” to educate a student. The study concluded that Pennsylvania was under-funding K-12 education by more than $4 billion and that the system then in place relied too heavily on local property taxes.

The study also found that due to heavy reliance on local property taxes, districts with the lowest wealth were forced to levy higher tax rates than wealthier districts but still could not raise enough revenue to finance an adequate education for all their students. (Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign)

Rep. Tallman mentioned that funding special education using a formula made sense. Hmm….in 2008, the General Assembly passed a funding formula for basic education (it did not include special education funding) aimed at providing adequate funding. But since Governor Corbett took office, he and the General Assembly stopped using the funding formula and proceeded to reduced state funding for education by almost $1 billion, and they have made it even harder for local school districts to raise property taxes. If funding education by using a formula that is based on current data and the needs of children makes sense for special education, why wouldn’t it make sense for basic education? It’s not like they would have to create a new law…we already have one on the books…we just need to use it.

To learn more about what should belong in a funding formula, CLICK HERE.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Obligation

Last week, Rep. Christiana (R-Beaver) proposed legislation that would create a new Education Improvement Scholarship Credit (EISC). EISC would authorize a total of $450 million in tax credits over the next three years.

This program would re-direct dollars away from revenue collections, therefore reducing the amount of revenue the Commonwealth has to use for programs and services. In addition, the proposal calls for an increase in the current EITC program from $75 million to $100 million next fiscal year and $200 million for subsequent years. So money would be taken out of our coffers, and directed at private schools, even as we cut current funding for our public schools, which serve the vast majority of our children.

These recent cuts of over $900 million to public education have seriously affected the educational opportunities available to Pennsylvania students (as documented in a recent report). School districts are being forced to eliminate programs (such as kindergarten), close school buildings, increase class size and let go of teachers and aides. Education is starting to go backwards in Pennsylvania and students are the ones who are being negatively affected.

The Governor is trying to get the Senate and House to reduce the total amount of money to spend in their proposed budgets, both of which restore a portion of the Governor’s proposed education cuts in his FY 2012-2013 budget. The Governor has said that we have limited resources (despite having left over a year-end balance of $267 million if the House/Senate “budget amount” is enacted). If this is the case, why would we enact legislation that would further reduce our limited resources by reducing the commonwealth’s revenue by $725 million total in the next three years (Christiana’s proposal for EITC and EISC)?

The General Assembly has a constitutional OBLIGATION to EVERY child who attends public schools to provide them with a “thorough and efficient” education! If the state legislature and our Governor are unwilling to make sure that every child will be able to attend kindergarten next school year, how can they justify diverting more taxpayer dollars to private education? It’s time they start fulfilling their obligation.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Budget Priorities

Budgets are about priorities. When families across the state determine their budgets, they determine what items are more important than others. The Governor has shown us with this year’s budget and his proposal for next year’s budget that public education is not a priority for him. As a final budget is hashed out this month, Governor Corbett is trying to negotiate a tax bill that will give Shell a $67 million annual tax credit for 25 years, starting in 2017, which is close to $1.7 billion in tax credits. I wonder what Governor Corbett’s priorities are?

This month, the General Assembly will determine what their priorities are and we must make sure they know what ours are. This week, House members will begin to consider the Senate’s budget proposal and start forming their own proposal to introduce. The Senate’s proposal was a good step in the right direction, but we must urge the House to do more.

Recently, there have been new projections from the Independent Fiscal Office indicating that the state’s revenue situation is improving at a significantly higher rate than expected. We urge the State House build on the Senate’s proposal and restore additional funding to education.

We suggest the following actions:

  • Add at least $50 million for charter school reimbursement support to school districts to begin to restore the cut of $223 million made last summer.
  • Re-structure the charter school formula to reimburse the charter schools for appropriate cost per pupil (approx. $100 million dollars would be available)
  • Provide at least a cost-of-living increase to the Basic Subsidy and Special Education line items, which will help to mitigate the seriously negative effects of last summer’s huge cut in state funding for school districts.
  • Support Rep. Murt’s amendment (A10902) to restore funding to Keystone STARs and keep the door open for early learning.

CLICK HERE to urge your representative to invest in our future by investing in public education.

SPECIAL EDUCATION FUNDING

Up for a vote today is SB 115, a bill that will provide equality and accountability to how the state funds special education. Currently, the funding system for special education is broken, and students with the most needs are being impacted. The bill passed the Senate Appropriates Committee last week and goes to the Senate for a vote TODAY. CLICK HERE to urge your Senator to vote this important bill.

Our legislators need to hear from you now. Please take a few minutes today to contact them.