On the Hill - December 22, 2011
Thanks to the hard work of PSEA members like you, 2011 ended on a more positive note than when it began. Although we currently face difficult realities in our public schools due to the devastating funding cuts in Gov. Corbett's budget, together we successfully defeated the enactment of vouchers, unaccountable charter expansion, and teacher evaluations based on one standardized test score. We will undoubtedly face the same issues again next year - so rest up over the holidays - 2012 is sure to be a busy year!
The last two weeks of legislative session for 2011 were crammed with activity. Here's a quick rundown of issues important to PSEA members.
Thanks in large part to PSEA member advocacy, the state House abandoned efforts to pass a school voucher bill last week and rejected a bill authorizing unaccountable charter expansion by a vote of 105-90. Gov. Corbett will continue to push pieces of his misguided "reform" agenda in 2012 - most likely in the form of teacher evaluation based on standardized test scores and unaccountable charter expansion - so stay tuned.
However, the action of the state House last week indicates that consensus on enacting a new taxpayer-funded school voucher system in Pennsylvania cannot be reached between the Governor's Office, the state Senate, and the state House, making vouchers difficult to pass in 2012. PSEA will continue to monitor the issue closely and act swiftly as needed throughout the remainder of this legislative session, which ends on November 30, 2012.
Senate Bill 1249, the Republican bill to redraw congressional lines in Pennsylvania as required every 10 years, is on its way to the governor’s desk after passing the Senate and House during the last two weeks. Although legislative leaders met many times behind closed doors, the map was not released to the public until December 13, and the bill swiftly passed without any public hearings. The governor is expected to sign the bill, which will establish new boundaries of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts for the next decade.
Newspapers across the state have criticized the process and the newly-drawn districts as a disregard of new calls for transparency and “reform,” given supposed changes in the usual way of doing business in Harrisburg following the legislative pay raise controversy in 2006.
The Harrisburg Patriot News said "The swiftness of action on a matter personally important to most elected officials stands in stark contrast to most other legislative matters that address the everyday lives of Pennsylvania's residents... And without any substantial public outcry in the voting booth, Pennsylvania voters can expect more back-room, self-aggrandizing, bait-and-switch legislation to fly by without public inspection."
The Easton Express-Times was even more direct: "The gerrymandering of Pennsylvania's congressional districts, approved last week by the state Senate and Tuesday by the House, will do more to infuse corruption into our political system than any envelope of cash slipped from pocket to pocket in a statehouse or congressional office... As of Tuesday, the Republification of Pennsylvania is complete. That's how egregious this redrawing of congressional districts is - and to a similar extent, the refitting of state legislative districts last month. It ensures that Republican office-holders will face as few non-Republican voters as possible for the next decade, in federal and state legislative elections."
More cuts on the horizon... but no tax on Shale
The state House and state Senate both passed their versions of Marcellus Shale legislation - House Bill 1950 and Senate Bill 1100 respectively. The Senate amended House Bill 1950 to include its version of Shale language and sent back to the House for concurrence. Earlier this week, the House voted to non-concur in the language, sending House Bill 1950 and the issue of Marcellus Shale to a conference committee.
The Coalition for Labor and Accountable Resources (CLEAR) opposes both bills. Both levy weak fees on Marcellus Shale drilling, allowing multinational drilling companies making billions of dollars to continue to profit from a Pennsylvania natural resource without returning their fair share back to all of Pennsylvania’s communities. More than 70 percent of PA voters want the drillers to pay a robust tax, one that would make sure all Pennsylvanians benefit. It is unclear whether legislators will recognize this in 2012 and construct a more responsible Marcellus Shale bill that truly addresses the issues at hand.
In the meantime, PA Budget Secretary Charles Zogby announced earlier this week that he anticipates at least a $500 million shortfall this year, and that PA will head into the 2012-13 budget process with a negative balance. The governor is asking for budgetary freezes in the current year and most likely to make additional cuts in the next fiscal year. Forecasting looks like more cuts for Pennsylvania families, but no requirements for multibillion dollar companies to pay their fair share.
In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and a grand jury report released earlier this year regarding the sexual abuse scandals in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the state House and state Senate took action to establish a bicameral, bipartisan Task Force on Child Protection. The group will review current laws and procedures relating to reporting child abuse and protecting the health and safety of children throughout the Commonwealth, and will make recommendations for system improvements. PSEA will monitor this issue for any changes that relate to school employees and will comment on and engage with Task Force activities as appropriate.
The House passed two bills supported by PSEA - House Bill 469 and House Bill 470 introduced by Rep. Jim Cox. The bills are virtually the same but amend two different laws - the Practical Nurse Law and the Professional Nursing Law respectively - to protect the use of the title "nurse" from those who are not licensed under the laws. The bills also establish a definition of "nurse assistive personnel." Both have been referred to the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee for further action.