Senate Passes Bill to Remove Educational Roadblocks for Students

HARRISBURG – The Senate unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Sens. Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35) and Pat Browne (R-16) that would create a smoother transition to high school graduation for students who are experiencing homelessness or are in foster care.

Students experiencing homelessness or living in foster care may face additional graduation challenges because they changed schools before earning full credit or are unable to take a required course at their new school. Their new school also may not honor the credits they earned.

Impacted children may even attend multiple schools in a year, let alone during their academic careers. Senate Bill 324 would remove roadblocks they unfairly face by designating a point person to review past transcripts and provide the essential support needed to aid student graduation.

“Research shows that roughly half of students in foster or juvenile systems don’t graduate on time – if at all. Young men and women with these difficulties would be better poised to succeed in school and beyond with the passage of our bill,” Langerholc said.

“I am pleased that the Senate has passed the Fostering Graduation Success for Vulnerable Students legislation, which will help to keep our most vulnerable students on track to graduate high school,” Browne said. “This legislation provides remedies to the roadblocks that many of our students experience and puts them on a pathway towards a brighter future. I am proud to partner with Sen. Langerholc to provide this essential support to ensure all students have an opportunity to succeed in school.”

The bill would also provide students with other methods to demonstrate that their coursework has been satisfactorily completed so necessary credit can be awarded. If a student is ineligible to graduate from his or her new school, the new school may request a diploma be issued from the previous school, assuming the student met the previous school’s graduation requirements.

Senate Bill 324 now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

 

CONTACTGwenn Dando (Langerholc’s office), 717-787-5400
                        Matt Szuchyt (Browne’s Office), 610-360-8426

 

Senate Committee Approves Plan to Give Parents Stronger Say in the Education of their Children

HARRISBURG – Parents would have a stronger role to play in deciding the best educational options for their children under legislation approved by the Senate Education Committee today, according to Chairman Scott Martin (R-13), President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R-34) and Senator John DiSanto (R-15).

Senate Bill 1 would boost student achievement, ensure young people have access to high-quality schools and give every child an opportunity to succeed – without the billions in new spending and taxes advocated by Governor Tom Wolf.

Senate Bill 1 will expand funding for Pennsylvania’s highly successful Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit programs. According to data from the Department of Community and Economic Development, more than 60,000 students received scholarships through these programs in the most recent year for which figures are available; however, nearly 43,000 applicants were denied due to lack of funding.

“One lesson we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is there is no one-size-fits-all model that applies to every child. Some thrive in online learning, while others struggle. Some excel learning in groups, while others benefit from more individualized instruction,” Martin said. “Different students learn in different ways. We need an education system that acknowledges that and allows parents to put their children in the kind of environment that suits their needs and helps boost student achievement. The focus needs to be on the child, not on any one educational model.”

Similar approaches in other states have yielded positive results for students in both public and private schools, as well as taxpayers.

“Parents know what is best for their kids, so decisions about a child’s education should primarily be driven by parents, not by government. Expanding educational options is the best way to ensure our kids have the best chance for an education that meets their unique educational needs,” Corman said. “Many students have suffered during the pandemic. Putting education decisions back in the hands of parents will ensure students can begin to make up for the learning loss during COVID-19.”

In addition, the bill would make critical reforms to charter schools to provide additional accountability and transparency, as well as more flexibility in the application and renewal process, which was a key concern for charter schools. The Department of Education would also be required to act on cyber charter renewals within 120 days of receipt.

Charter schools would be required to submit their budgets to the authorizer or the Department of Education and make that information available on its website. The bill also provides for annual audits and the creation of an independent audit committee for each charter school entity.

The bill would also allow charter school students to benefit from dual enrollment programs, which allow students to participate in college courses while still enrolled in high school.

The plan is a sharp contrast to the approach in Governor Wolf’s budget address, which calls for $2 billion in new spending for schools, to be funded by a $3 billion Personal Income Tax increase that will negatively impact many middle-class households and more than one million small businesses located in communities throughout the Commonwealth that are already suffering due to the pandemic.

“There is a clear need to support education no matter where it takes place,” DiSanto said. “As we look to the future and life after the pandemic, we need to explore every option to best serve the education needs of all students. We can accomplish those goals without resorting to Governor Wolf’s massive new spending and tax increases – which would be the largest in Pennsylvania’s history – that will take more money out of the paychecks of middle-class families and make it impossible for many small businesses to continue operating.”

The governor requested the huge new spending increases despite the fact that Pennsylvania schools received record funding in the most recent state budget, while schools are sitting on reserves totaling more than $4 billion. Pennsylvania currently ranks 7th in the nation in terms of per-pupil spending on education.

The Senate Republican plan would boost student achievement at a fraction of the cost of the governor’s plan, while ensuring students throughout the Commonwealth have access to good schools and additional resources, leading to better educational outcomes. 

The bill was sent to the full Senate for consideration.

AUDIO: Martin discusses Senate Bill 1 – The Excellence in Education for All Act
VIDEO: Martin discusses Senate Bill 1 – The Excellence in Education for All Act

AUDIO: Corman discusses Senate Bill 1 – The Excellence in Education for All Act
VIDEO: Corman discusses Senate Bill 1 – The Excellence in Education for All Act

CONTACT: 

Terry Trego (717) 787-6535 (Martin)

Jason Thompson (717) 783-4958 (Corman)

Jonathan Humma (717) 787-6801 (DiSanto)

Senate Passes Bill to Expand Job Training Opportunities and Protect Students

HARRISBURG – The Senate sent the Governor a bill today to expand the availability of job training programs, make it easier for students to receive financial aid, protect against improper school closures and help create a better student record system across the Commonwealth, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46).

Senate Bill 456 would allow Private Licensed Schools, such as career and technical colleges and trade schools, to open a branch campus in a neighboring county or any other location within 60 miles of the main campus.

Under current law, schools can only establish a branch campus in the same county as the primary campus. Schools that want to open a second campus in a different county must go through the costly and time-consuming process of securing another independent license for an out-of-county location.

Bartolotta first learned of the issue when a school in Allegheny County expressed interest in opening a branch campus in Greene County.

“The limitation on the placement of branch campuses only serves to narrow the economic opportunities available to students and job-seekers,” Bartolotta said. “Our economy is constantly evolving, and trade schools and career and technical colleges play a critical role in helping the workforce to keep pace with these changes. We should encourage our best schools to open more campuses and serve more students, not bury them in mountains of red tape.”

Bartolotta’s bill would also protect students against improper closures of schools. The bill would require any potential school closures to be completed with proper notice to students, accreditors and the state, while also providing for a full teach-out, transfer and education succession plan for all enrolled students.

In addition, the legislation will help create a better system to house, maintain, and locate student records from these institutions. A centralized repository of records would be created within the state Department of Education to ensure student records are maintained in the case of a school closure or transfer. Under previous law, schools that close were required to transmit records to another school with little oversight from the state.

“Existing law has created a disorganized patchwork in which thousands of student records are either lost or extremely difficult to retrieve,” Bartolotta said. “My bill will provide a much cleaner and more accessible student record system and ensure all students are protected in the case of a school closure.”

Senate Bill 456 also gives schools the ability to provide direct institutional grants to students. In current regulatory practice, many privately licensed career and technical schools lack the authority to provide many innovative institutional grants that could help students. As a result, they have to rely on third-party non-profit organizations to provide grants, resulting in higher administrative fees, more red tape and less financial aid available for students.

“Financial aid is a big barrier for many students who want to build job skills and climb the economic ladder,” Bartolotta said. “Allowing schools to provide grants directly to students will open more doors for students in need and maximize the amount of financial aid available to students.”

The bill has been approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and was sent to the Governor to be signed into law. 

CONTACT:   Colleen Greer (717) 787-1463

Senate Education Committee Approves Martin Bill to Protect Student Sexual Assault Victims

Listen

HARRISBURG – A proposal that would provide new protections for young victims of sexual assault earned the endorsement of a key panel in the Senate today, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Scott Martin (R-13).

Senate Bill 530, which was approved by the Senate Education Committee today, would mandate the removal of any student who is convicted or adjudicated delinquent of sexual assault against a student who attends the same school.

The legislation was created in response to a situation in one of the school districts Martin represents, in which a young woman was raped by her classmate. The assailant was charged and adjudicated delinquent for the crime, but when he returned from his sentence, the victim had to attend school with her attacker on a daily basis.

“No victim should have to go to school every day with the looming possibility of being forced to see and interact with the person who hurt them,” Martin said. “Young sexual assault survivors deserve nothing less than our unconditional support, love and understanding in the aftermath of their assault, and I am thankful we are one step closer to giving them the additional protection they deserve.”

The bill was sent to the full Senate for consideration.

CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535

Senate Education Panel to Exam Issues Involving Food in Pennsylvania Schools

The Senate Education Committee will hold a public hearing on Food in Education at 11 a.m. on Monday, September 23, in Hearing Room 1 of the North Office Building in Harrisburg, according to Senator Wayne Langerholc Jr., chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

Langerholc said the hearing will focus on food in education and how it impacts students’ learning.  In addition, testifiers will highlight summer food programs, backpack programs, food waste and the financial aspects of food in education.

Among those scheduled to testify are school district officials, representatives of the state Departments of Agriculture and Education, and food assistance groups.

 

CONTACT:

Gwenn Dando at gdando@pasen.gov or 717-599-1164

HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING COMMISSION ORGANIZES AND BEGINS WORK

The Higher Education Funding Commission held its inaugural and organizational meeting yesterday (August 27) and will begin its work reviewing and making recommendations related to higher education funding, affordability and effectiveness and administration and operations, according to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) and Education Secretary Pedro Rivera.

During the commission’s first meeting, Senator Browne, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor (R-York) and Secretary Rivera were elected to co-chair the commission.

“Pennsylvania has one of the most diverse and comprehensive higher education systems in the country,” Senator Browne said. “The commission will take a more thorough review of how higher education institutions are funded by the Commonwealth, hear testimony from a wide-range of experts on higher education and determine which factors should be considered when deciding how to allocate state funds in the future. I look forward to working with the commission members to develop a plan to distribute higher education funding in a way that provides for greater overall success of our higher education institutions and the students they serves.”

The 19-member Higher Education Funding Commission, established in Act 70 of 2019, which was sponsored by Senators Ryan Aument and Browne, is tasked with developing a higher education funding formula and identifying factors that may be used to determine the distribution of funding among the public institutions of higher education in Pennsylvania.

“While Pennsylvania works toward meeting its postsecondary attainment goal – approved by the State Board of Education in 2018 – examining and addressing college affordability could provide students with more options for pursuing programs at the Commonwealth’s public institutions of higher education,” said Noe Ortega, PDE Deputy Secretary for Postsecondary and Higher Education.

The Higher Education Funding Commission must issue a report of the commission’s findings and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly. The new funding formula developed by the commission, however, shall not go into effect unless the formula is approved by an act of the General Assembly and enacted into law.

Other members of the Senate serving on the commission include Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati; Senator Vincent Hughes, Minority Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Senator Wayne Langerholc, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee; Senator Andrew Dinniman, Minority Chairman of the Senate Education Committee; as well as Senators Aument, Timothy Kearney and Lindsey Williams. 

Additional state Representatives serving on the commission include Representative Matthew Bradford, Minority Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; Representative Curtis Sonney, Chairman of the House Education Committee; Representative James Roebuck, Minority Chairman of the House Education Committee; as well as Representatives Aaron Kaufer, Jennifer O’Mara, Brad Roae and Wendy Ullman.

Representing the Wolf Administration on the commission in addition to Secretary Rivera and Deputy Secretary Ortega is Natalie Krug, Assistant Director, Bureau of Budget Analysis.

Public institutions of higher education defined in Act 70 include:

  • A Community College
  • A Rural Regional College
  • A State-Related Institution
  • A State-Owned Institution
  • Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology
  • Penn College of Technology

The commission expects to hold its first meeting to hear testimony in September. The commission was adjourned yesterday (August 27) until the call of the chair.

Senator Browne also chaired the Special Education Funding Commission, the Basic Education Funding Commission and the Public School Building Construction and Reconstruction (PlanCON) Advisory Committee, each of which resulted in comprehensive changes to the formulas used by Pennsylvania to distribute state dollars for basic education and school facility needs.

Contact:              

Matt Moyer (Senator Browne) mmoyer@pasen.gov – 717-787-1349

Nicole Reigelman (Secretary Rivera) nreigelman@pa.org – 717-705-8642

SPECIAL EDUCATION FUNDING COMMISSION RECONSTITUTED

The Special Education Funding Commission, which was originally established in Act 3 of 2012 to review and make recommendations regarding special education funding, is being reconstituted to review the current formula that determines special education payments to school districts in Pennsylvania, according to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), House Education Committee Chairman Curtis Sonney (R-Erie) and Education Secretary Pedro Rivera.

The reconstituted Special Education Funding Commission, established under Act 16 or 2019, held its organizational meeting today (August 27) during which it elected Senator Browne, Representative Sonney and Secretary Rivera to co-chair the commission.

 “We expect to take a comprehensive look at the current formula used to distribute state funding to school districts for special education and determine if the formula and the factors used are meeting their intended goals,” Senator Browne said. “I look forward to hearing testimony on special education and the current formula from school districts and experts in the community and the commission members to ensure Pennsylvania is using the correct formula factors in distributing state special education dollars to students in need of financial support.”  

The current special education funding formula, one of the original commission’s recommendations in 2013, was enacted and took effect for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The formula directs dollars to school districts that have the greatest need for additional resources based upon the cost of each special education student.

“Educating our students to be successful both personally and professionally is by far one of the most important tasks we face as a Commonwealth,” Representative Sonney said. “As lawmakers we have a responsibility to ensure we are fairly funding educational options for all of our students so that we are meeting their specific needs and preparing them to be future parents, workers and community leaders. The improvements we made to the special education funding formula in 2013 most certainly have made a difference for those students and our schools. However, it is vital that we continue to review what’s working, and what isn’t working, to ensure we fulfill our obligations to all students.”

“The special education funding formula is a critical component in helping school districts address the specific needs of this student population,” said Matt Stem, Department of Education Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. “It’s important to review the current formula to ensure that funding is being allocated to schools in such a way that they may provide their students with the resources and education they deserve.”

 Other Senators serving on the commission include Chairman of the Senate Education Committee Wayne Langerholc, Minority Chairman of the Senate Education Committee Andrew Dinniman, as well as Senators Maria Collett, Pam Iovino and Scott Martin.  

Other state Representatives serving on the commission include the Minority Chairman of the House Education Committee James Roebuck, as well as Representatives George Dunbar, Mark Longietti, Mike Sturla and Jesse Topper.

Representing the Wolf Administration on the commission in addition to Secretary Rivera is Matt Stem, Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, and Greg Thall, Esq., Special Assistant to the Budget Secretary.

The original Special Education Funding Commission, which was co-chaired by Senator Browne and retired Rep. Bernie O’Neill, held seven meetings throughout the state over seven months and heard testimony from more than 50 witnesses before making a recommendation in December of 2013 to the General Assembly for the creation of a new special education funding formula. Senator Browne also chaired the Basic Education Funding Commission and the Public School Building Construction and Reconstruction (PlanCON) Advisory Committee, both of which resulted in comprehensive changes to the formulas used by Pennsylvania to distribute state dollars for basic education and school facility needs.

The commission expects to meet throughout the fall to hear testimony and develop a report. The commission is required to issue its report to the General Assembly no later than November 30, 2019.

Contact:              

Matt Moyer (Senator Browne) mmoyer@pasen.gov – 717-787-1349

Patricia Hippler (Rep. Sonney) phippler@pahousegop.com – 717-772-9846

Nicole Reigelman (Secretary Rivera) nreigelman@pa.org – 717-705-8642

Langerholc Chairs Senate Hearing on Charter School Funding

At a public hearing today in Everett, the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Senator Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35), heard testimony from area educators, statewide officials and charter school representatives on how to establish a fairer approach to funding charter schools.

Noting that the issue has drawn growing statewide attention, including the call for a special legislative session on charter school reform, Langerholc said his committee will be looking at several measures that will reform the current charter law.

During the hearing, testifiers raised concerns that the cost of operating charter schools is driving up property taxes and forcing many school districts to cut programs and services.  Others stressed that Pennsylvania needs to provide additional school choices, but also provide funding to ensure that both “brick and mortar schools” and charter schools are fairly and equitably funded. 

Charter schools have existed in Pennsylvania for more than two decades, and according to statistics provided at the hearing, they currently educate approximately 140,000 students.

The following testified:

Dr. Daniel Webb, Superintendent, Everett Area School District
Dr. John Zesiger, Superintendent, Moshannon Valley School District
Dr. Mark Kudlawiec, Superintendent, Chestnut Ridge School District
Arnold Nadonley, Superintendent, Richland Area School District

Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, Former Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, 2006 – 2010
Mr. David Lapp, Director of Policy Research, Research for Action
Ms. Hannah Barrick, Assistant Executive Director, PASBO
Dr. Allen Sell and Tom Bullington, Bedford Area School District, PSBA

Dr. Maurice Flurie, CEO, Commonwealth Charter Academy Cyber School
Mr. Lawrence F. Jones, Jr., CEO, Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School
Mr. Michael Whisman, CPA, Shareholder, Charter Choices

“It is clear from what we have heard today that we need to establish fair, commonsense approaches that will provide education funding in a way that supports all public students no matter where they attend school without imposing a huge financial burden on taxpayers,” Langerholc said. “Our goal is to look at reforms that will improve the quality and accountability of charter schools, control costs and improve financial transparency, and bring greater equality to funding all levels of public education.”

Langerholc said the current charter school funding mechanism was established 22 years ago and since then has been criticized for creating funding inequities and conflict between traditional and public schools.  He believes those issues need to be fully reviewed, discussed and addressed to provide more predictability and fairness.

CONTACT: Gwenn Dando (717) 566-1164 gdando@pasen.gov

SENATOR BROWNE CALLS FOR SPECIAL SESSION ON CHARTER SCHOOL FUNDING

“The Governor’s actions today are an indication of the seriousness of the concerns for the current funding of public charter and cyber charter schools and its effect on overall public school finance in Pennsylvania. It has reached a crisis point creating the potential of significant detrimental effects on all of our students’ progress in school. The charter school funding formula was established 22 years ago and was the best available platform at that time. However, now it has created an irreconcilable financial conflict between charter and traditional schools which mandates both in-depth review and responsible legislative and executive action to address.  

“Unfortunately, notwithstanding significant activity over the past 10 years, the legislature has been unable to address the issue of charter school funding as there has been an inability to find a solution that works for both the traditional public schools and the public charter and cyber charter schools. So, I understand why the Governor is making this announcement today. However, I believe we need to take this opportunity and use it to call for a special session on charter school funding to allow for a complete and comprehensive dialogue regarding the challenges with how we currently fund charter schools and to develop solutions that, in the end, are in the best interest of our students and the quality education they deserve.”

 – Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne

Note: Senator Browne served as Chairman of the Basic Education Funding Commission, Special Education Funding Commission and the PA Public School Building Construction and Reconstruction Advisory Committee (PLANCON). He also serves as Co-Chair of the bi-partisan, bi-cameral Early Childhood Education Caucus.

CONTACT:   Matt Moyer     (610) 821-8468

Senators Hughes, Browne tout early returns on Safe2Say Something program following release of annual report

Aug. 5, 2019 – Harrisburg – State Senators Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) and Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) praised the results of the Safe2Say Something (S2SS) anonymous threat reporting program following the first annual report by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) released Thursday.

The OAG reported that 23,494 tips have been received since S2SS began, Jan. 14, 2019, through the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2019. Nearly 20,000 of the tips received came from the S2SS mobile app, which can be downloaded at no cost for use.

“I am pleased that the Safe2Say Something Annual Report shows the program is having a tremendous impact in its early stages,” Sen. Hughes said. “I am hopeful that our communities continue to embrace Safe2Say Something and use it as a means to protect our schools and get those who may be struggling the help they need.”

Students, educators and administrators have been trained how to recognize the signals and signs of people who may be a risk to hurt themselves or others, as well as how to use S2SS to submit anonymous tips through the reporting system. More than 850,000 Pennsylvania students have been trained to use the S2SS program to date.

“This report makes clear that Safe2Say Something has proven to be an extremely effective tool to report and prevent a variety of potentially harmful situations from affecting our students and schools,” Senator Browne said. “There is no question that this program is contributing to a safer school environment. The success of Safe2Say lies in a caller’s trust that they will remain anonymous and that their tip will be taken seriously and acted upon swiftly.”

The OAG’s office reported the cost of the S2SS for the first fiscal year as $743,428, but the office’s findings prove the tremendous value and effectiveness of the program in helping keep schools safe. One significant finding in the OAG’s report was the fact that the majority of the tips have been focused on students struggling with mental health issues.

“Last year, the General Assembly mandated my Office establish Safe2Say Something, an anonymous reporting system to give students a way to report signs of classmates who may be at risk of hurting themselves or others,” Attorney Josh General Shapiro said. “I am incredibly proud of our team’s work to train more than 800,000 Pennsylvania students and take in more than 23,000 tips since the program’s start in January 2019. The majority of tips received through Safe2Say have been focused on students struggling with mental health issues—that’s why I’m calling on our Legislature to read this report, study the data and act to address the need for increased mental health resources for our kids.”

The breakdown for tips reported from Jan. 14 – June 30 of the initial introduction of S2SS is as follows:

Event types Total
Bullying/Cyber Bullying 3558
Cutting/Self-Harm 2529
Suicide/Suicide Ideation 2184
Depression/Anxiety 2121
Drug Use/Distribution/Possession 1921
Smoking (Tobacco, E-Cig, Vape) in School 1448
Inappropriate Language/Behavior/Gesture 949
Threat Against School 607
General Harassment 574
Threat Against person 523

Sens. Hughes and Browne sponsored the S2SS legislation in Senate Bill 1142, which was signed into law as Act 44 of 2018. It required every Pennsylvania school to participate in the program run by the OAG. The OAG worked in partnership with the Sandy Hook Promise to build the S2SS app, website and 24/7 crisis center for Pennsylvanians.

You can read the complete annual report here.

Media Contact for Senator Hughes:
Wesley Robinson
wrobinson@pasenate.com
717-787-3497

Media Contact for Senator Browne:
Matt Moyer
mmoyer@pasen.gov
610-821-8468

 Media Contact for Attorney General Shapiro:
press@attorneygeneral.gov
717-787-5211