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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

2 comments:

  1. Is there any information on the Keystone exams? The change will impact high schools yet there is no information other than an outdated PDE web site.

    ReplyDelete