from our friends at the Education Policy and Leadership Center:
The Senate Education Committee held a hearing on February 16 on Senate Bill 1 sponsored by Sen. Jeff Piccola (R-15) and co-sponsored by Sen. Anthony Williams (D-8). The bill would amend the Public School Code by providing for opportunity scholarships to low income students and expand the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credits program.
Following Sen. Piccola’s opening remarks in which he framed the debate and the reasons why SB 1 was being introduced, the Committee heard testimony from the following:
· Acting PA Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis testified that Gov. Corbett’s agenda includes education reform and noted that “although many education opportunities exist for children in Pennsylvania’s public schools, parents should be able to make a choice outside the public sector.” Secretary-Designate Tomalis spoke in support of school choice but stopped short of endorsing SB 1.
· Otto Banks, Executive Director of REACH, spoke in support of SB 1 emphasizing promotion of school choice and support for the creation of opportunity scholarships and the expansion of the EITC program.
· Philip Murren, an attorney with Ball, Murren & Connell, presented a brief to the committee which outlined the three provisions of the Constitution of the Commonwealth that might be cited as obstacles to the implementation of SB 1. His brief concluded that no court has ever held similar legislation invalid under these provisions, and argued there is no likelihood that a court would strike down school choice legislation under any available precedent.
· Baruch Kintisch, Director of Policy Advocacy at the Education Law Center (ELC), spoke in opposition to SB 1 and provided an analysis that contended that the bill was not drafted to protect the education rights of the neediest children in Pennsylvania, it would not strengthen public education and it would not give all children a fair opportunity to learn. The Education Law Center feels that SB 1 is written to allow private and religious schools to take state funding while picking and choosing only the students they prefer, excluding most students with disabilities and other significant educational challenges, and avoiding real state oversight and accountability for demonstrating performance or achieving results.
· Joe Watkins, Chairman of Students First, spoke in support of SB 1. As a Pastor from Philadelphia, he said he has seen firsthand that access and options make a difference in the lives of children. He feels that students and their families cannot wait another year for the current system to improve.
· Michael Crossey, Vice President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), spoke in opposition of SB 1 and the use of taxpayer funds to provide vouchers to nonpublic schools without any fiscal or academic accountability. Crossey testified that at a time when Pennsylvania faces a $4 billion dollar deficit and public schools could face cuts by as much as $1 billion dollars, it is illogical to impose a costly, unproven program with little or no accountability.
· Jean Allen, President of the Center for Education Reform (CER), spoke in support of SB 1 and provided testimony concerning the school voucher movement in other states based on data compiled over the past 17 years from the 12 states and the District of Columbia where school vouchers and/or scholarship tax credit programs are operating.
· Darlene Callands, President and CEO of the Philadelphia Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), spoke in support of SB 1. She testified that BAEO, which provides scholarships funded through the Pennsylvania Education Improvement Tax Credit, has seen the benefits when children are given a choice in the school they attend.
· Ted Kirsch, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – Pennsylvania, spoke in opposition to SB 1. Kirsch’s testimony focused on four areas of concern: voucher track record, voucher accountability, voucher costs, and a lack of support for the use of proven strategies that improve education for all students in under-performing schools.
· Matthew Brouillette, President of the Commonwealth Foundation, spoke in support of school vouchers and providing school choice for parents. Brouillette testified that the supply of school choice options is not meeting the demand of parents and students for options.
· Richard Fry, Legislative Committee Chair of Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA), stated that PASA is not currently taking a position on the bill because its members’ views range from unequivocal opposition to some members who support it with certain caveats.
· Thomas Gentzel, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), testified that PSBA is opposed to SB 1. PSBA believes that SB 1 would implement a system that is unaccountable, unaffordable, unpopular, unproven and unconstitutional.
SB 1 is scheduled to be voted on by the Senate Education Committee on March 1.
To watch a video of the proceedings and to read the full text of participants’ testimony, click here.
The following education-related bills were introduced the week of February 14:
· House Bill 684 (Rep. James Roebuck, D-188) would allow the Secretary of Education to grant a provisional vocational education certificate to individuals who meet certain requirements of the State Board of Education. The certificate would allow the person to teach for “eight annual school terms”.
· House Bill 685 (Rep. James Roebuck D-188) would enact recommendations made by the State Board of Education to make the Master Plan for Higher Education more relevant in providing guidance to state policymakers on issues pertaining to postsecondary education.
· House Bill 686 (Rep. James Roebuck D-188) would repeal the previously enacted higher education articulation language from the Fiscal Code and transfer it to the Public School Code. Last week, the Senate Education Committee reported out to the full Senate companion bill SB 203 (Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-19).
US DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
Ø On February 17, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the appointment of 28 commissioners representing various education and political perspectives to the Equity and Excellence Commission. Members include leaders of both major teachers’ unions, business leaders, school district officials, civil rights advocates and former Republican Illinois governor Jim Edgar. The commission is tasked with “examining the disparities in meaningful educational opportunities that give rise to the achievement gap, with a focus on systems of finance, and recommend ways in which federal policies could address such disparities.” The first meeting of the commission is scheduled for February 22 in Washington, DC. For additional information, click here.
Ø The U.S. Department of Education will hold four community college regional summits titled “Challenges, Solutions, and Commitments” over the next two months to identify promising practices for increasing completion rates at community colleges. The summits will bring together 150 participants representing community colleges, business and industry, philanthropy, labor, state and local government, and students to identify strategies that will help students succeed. Each summit will have a different focus and will be held in different locations throughout the US, including one at the Community College of Philadelphia on February 28. For further details, click here.
RESEARCH & REPORTS
Ø The Center for American Progress has released a study that measures educational productivity of more than 9,000 school districts across the US. The report examines what districts are getting in terms of student achievement in math and reading for their dollar investment. According to the Center, almost every K-12 school district in the country with more than 250 students was included in the study. The report is part of a series examining government accountability and efficiency. Information has been compiled in a website that allows a comparison of districts within states.
Ø A report entitled “Governance in the Accountability Era” published by the National School Boards Association, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Iowa School Boards Foundation has been released. The report is a result of a survey of 900 board members and 120 superintendents from 418 different districts. The purpose is to provide parents, voters, policymakers, advocates and educators with a formative look at the individuals and governance structure that make up local boards of school directors. The report focuses on the following six areas of interest: who serves on school boards; what board members think; how boards go about their work; how boards are configured; elections and the relationship between school boards and their superintendents.