The First Half of 2013 in Harrisburg
July 05, 2013
During the first half of 2013, 215 pieces of legislation with potential impact on public schools were introduced in the House and 112 in the Senate, education was a major point of discussion in budget negotiations, and a change in leadership at the Department of Education was announced. The following is a brief summary of the current status on the most important among those actions for charter schools as the legislature recesses for the summer. The House and Senate will reconvene on September 23.
The 2013-2014 Budget was passed and signed by the Governor with a $267,796,000 increase in Education funding, with $122,500,000 of that designated for Basic Education. Despite intense pressure to adjust charter school funding in some manner, no changes were made. This includes the much discussed removal of either the state reimbursement or the district pass-through pension funding for both cyber and brick and mortar charter schools. This is a big win for all Pennsylvania charter schools.
On June 14, Governor Corbett signed Act 3 which addresses special education funding. Act 3 evolved from HB 2, sponsored in the House by Representative Bernie O’Neill, and an identical SB 470, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Pat Browne. The Act:
– Defines three levels for special education funding for all traditional district schools, and brick and mortar and cyber charter schools,
– Establishes how any increase in the current special education appropriations is distributed using weighting factors based on category of disability,
– Establishes a Special Education Funding Formula Commission, comprised of 15 legislators, to develop the components of the special education funding formula including the weighting factors and the parameters of each category of disability.
The Commission will be meeting six times between July 10 and September 19. Their report is due back to the General Assembly on November 30, 2013.
Three bills introduced early in the legislative session in the House Education Committee (HB 617, HB 618 and HB 759) were modified and consolidated into an amended HB 618. The amended HB 618 included many positive changes to the charter school law, with one devastating exception – a provision which would permit school districts to withhold 100% of the pension costs for the cybers school tuition costs, as well as a new deduction for food service. It was an estimated cut of nearly $100 million over two years. The amended HB 618 passed the House Education Committee by a vote of 13-12 and 74 amendments were posted to the bill, but, despite multiple and aggressive efforts by some House leaders, it was never considered by the full House. We fully expect to see this bill moved to a vote of the full House as soon as they reconvene at the end of September.
Senate Charter School Legislation
In the fall, we expect to see comprehensive charter school legislation introduced in the Senate that will include many of the provisions that we have seen in previous bills, including allowing Pennsylvania universities to become authorizers. Rather than propose a funding commission, we anticipate the bill will include a new cyber funding model as a starting point to bring all stakeholders to the table to agree on a funding formula that is fair to taxpayers, cyber charters, and districts. Discussions on refining the content of the bill will begin as early as late July.
The School Code was amended to include a charter and cyber charter extraordinary enrollment supplemental payment to school districts that have more than 20 percent of their students enrolled in charter schools and meet defined market/income aid ratios.
The School District of Philadelphia was requesting additional funding to help get out from under a devastating financial crisis. Here is what was requested, and what they received from the legislature.
– Approve continuation of the city’s additional 1 percent sales tax – Approved, which will result in an estimated $120 million annually for the district.
– $75 million in cash – Received $15.7 million from an increase in the basic education portion of the state budget and $45 million as a onetime additional infusion from the state.
– Passage of HB 388 which would provide tools for the collection of delinquent taxes – Approved, estimated to raise $28-30 million per year.
– Passage of a Philadelphia cigarette tax estimated to raise an additional $46 million next year – Not approved.
Pennsylvania Department of Education
Dr. William Harner was nominated by Governor Corbett to serves as the new Secretary of Education. His confirmation is expected. PCPCS recently met with Dr. Harner and it’s our understanding he intends to appoint a person to lead the cyber authorization process and serve as a liaison to all charter schools within the next two weeks.