As we’re at about the midpoint of the summer, we wanted to provide you with an update on current public policy news.
A state budget, spending plan and school code are all law in Pennsylvania. The state budget adds $200 million to the Basic Education Subsidy going to school districts. That’s in addition to the $150 in new money that went into the 15-16 budget. So $350 million in funding will go through the new basic education funding formula for the 16-17 school year. (PDE provides a breakdown of how much money each school district will receive.) That’s still a relatively small portion of the entire basic education subsidy. While it is very encouraging to see this $200 million increase to the basic education subsidy, we have two major concerns. 1) Close to $600 million of the $1.3 billion added to the overall budget is not recurring income. That means, next year’s budget will start with that much of a deficit and 2) An increase of $200 million to the basic education subsidy is a good start but a recent study from the Public Interest Law Center shows that Pennsylvania is $3.2 billion short of providing an adequate education to all students.
Charter School Reform – HB530
We’re happy to see the legislature looking at Pennsylvania’s charter school law. HB530 takes up a wide variety of issues related to charter school reform. Under the bill, a panel would be created to explore the costs of cyber charter schools as well as brick and mortar charter schools. We agree there is a wide variety of reform needed in the ways charter schools are funded and operated. While there are some provision in HB530 we are encouraged by, including the possibility of an estimated $26 million in savings to local school districts, there are a wide variety of concerns. Among the concerns we have are:
1) Teacher evaluations in charters would not be the same as required of public school teachers. Evaluations are required but different from a public school and there are no requirements for evaluation of principals.
2) Charters can expand enrollment, add grade levels, and permit out of district students to enroll without local school district approval. This could be an economic disaster for schools districts across the state, many of which are already struggling to make ends meet. There is a risk of accountability. This part of the legislation could make it difficult to compare local charters to local school districts.
3) The issue of where charter school growth is regulated is explored in HB530. It could be a state agency, local school districts or charters themselves. If local school districts are not regulating the growth of charter schools, charter schools could grow and local school districts could be forced to raise taxes.
There are many other issues in the charter school legislation and we will continue to follow it. Initially, there was a possibility of HB530 being discussed in budget talks. However, it has been delayed until at least the fall.
School Code – HB1606
Some highlights of the school code signed into law include the creation of SchoolWATCH. PDE will be required to post some financial information related to public school entities. Total expenditures by category, per student expenditures, charter school tuition rates, average daily membership, average teacher salary, total revenue, general fund balance and other financial information will be posted along with the School Performance Profile.
In response to the substitute teacher shortage, the school code also will allow college students who have completed 60 credit hours and who are enrolled in a teacher preparation program at a four-year college in Pennsylvania to substitute for 20 days per school year. For every year after the first year of substituting, college students would be required to obtain additional credits to remain a substitute. The program sunsets in 5 years. PMEA is concerned about this substitute teacher provision. We will monitor implementation of this portion of the law.
Representative Karen Boback has introduced legislation to reinstate the Governor’s Schools of Excellence including the possibility of the Governor’s Schools for the Arts. Under Boback’s proposal, PDE would have to find a host site for each school and each host site would have to cover at least 50% cost of the school with the state covering the other 50%. The proposal also would require no tuition for attending students. We’re encouraged to see continued momentum for the reinstatement of the Governor’s Schools.