On the Hill - February 24, 2012
Currently, the state House and state Senate are in recess while their respective Appropriations Committees hold budget hearings with each of the state agencies and several independent offices. The budget hearings provide an opportunity to more thoroughly review Gov. Corbett's budget proposal unveiled on February 7.
The Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing for the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is Monday, Feb. 27 at 9:30 a.m. The House Appropriations Committee hearing for PDE is scheduled for Monday, Mar. 5 at 10:00 a.m. PSEA anticipates that there will be a number of questions for Secretary Tomalis from both sides of the aisle and both chambers related to the elimination of the Accountability Block Grant program, reductions in funding line-items supporting early childhood education, charter school "reform." We also anticipate questions regarding the governor's proposal to collapse the currently separate line-items for social security and transportation into the basic education subsidy line-item - something which PSEA and other education stakeholders adamantly oppose.
Visit www.psea.org/schoolcuts to find PSEA's budget calculator and more information about the governor's proposal.
Financially Distressed School Districts
PSEA President Mike Crossey testified before the Senate Education Committee on the issue of financially distressed school districts on January 24. On February 1, PSEA joined Rep. Eugene DePasquale for a press conference regarding legislation he plans to introduce that would create the Priority Assistance Grant for Education (PAGE) program. The bill would direct a total of $30 million to 18 school districts identified to be in academic or fiscal distress to provide proven, effective programs such as those found in PSEA's Solutions that Work.
The 18 targeted school districts include: Harrisburg City, Steelton-Highspire, York City, Lancaster, Lebanon, Clairton City, McKeesport Area, Sto-Rox, Woodland Hills, Aliquippa, Reading, Greater Johnstown, Chester-Upland, Erie City, Albert Gallatin Area, Allentown City, Farrell Area and Norristown Area school districts. Senator Judy Schwank, (D-11) will introduce identical legislation in the Senate. You can find more information about the PAGE program at www.solutionsthatworkpa.org.
Protecting children from abuse
In response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the House and Senate have adopted resolutions (House Resolution 522 and Senate Resolution 250) to create the Task Force on Child Protection. In January the governor and House and Senate leaders appointed 11 individuals to serve on the taskforce. The group will examine and analyze current laws and policies and hold public hearings to gather input on mechanisms for improving the reporting of child abuse and any necessary changes in state laws and practices, policies and procedures relating to child abuse. The Task Force's final report is due by November 30, 2012.
On a related note, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on February 8 regarding SB 1381 introduced by Sen. Anthony Williams (D). The legislation intends to ensure that school employees engaging in sexual misconduct or abuse with students cannot be hired in other school districts.
Rick Burridge, Legal Field Manager for PSEA, testified before the Committee highlighting PSEA's specific areas of concern with the bill that may unduly harm collective bargaining rights for all PSEA members. Following, the hearing, the Committee requested specific input on the bill from PSEA and we have provided amendatory language that we believe protects collective bargaining rights while maintaining the integrity of the intention of the bill.
Look for additional updates in upcoming editions of On the Hill.