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On the Hill - April 5, 2012
This week, the House State Government Committee held an informational hearing to receive an update on the financial situation of the State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) and the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS). Both SERS and PSERS praised the changes set forth in Act 120 of 2010 and noted that they have made a real impact toward lowering the actuarial costs of the systems. During the course of the hearing it was noted that, when combined, the systems have $39 billion in unfunded liabilities. PSEA expects that as the Employer Contribution Rate continues to increase according to the schedule set forth in Act 120, the pressure for additional changes will increase as well.
As we reported in the March 16 issue of On the Hill, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and the State Board of Education continue to seek changes to the Keystone Exams. The change of most concern to PSEA is the Administration's efforts to shift Keystone Exams from end-of-course exams to high-stakes exit exams. PSEA Vice President Jerry Oleksiak recently testified before the State Board of Education opposing such a change.
Last week, the Senate Education Committee advanced legislation sponsored by Sen. Piccola, Chairman of the Committee, to prevent PDE or the State Board of Education from being able to make changes to the implementation of the exams prior to 2020. The Committee also approved a measure sponsored by Democratic Chairman Sen. Andrew Dinniman to reimburse school districts for costs incurred related to developing or implementing Keystone Exams, should PDE or the State Board of Education revise the program. We expect that there will likely be additional revisions to the State Board’s regulations on the issue. PSEA will keep you updated in future issues of On the Hill.
Common Core Standards
PDE has completed a draft document merging the English Language Arts and Mathematics national common core standards with the Pennsylvania academic standards, aligned to the PA assessment anchors and eligible content. The transition will take place in stages over the next three years. Drafts of the standards, assessment anchors, and eligible content are available online: www.pdesas.org/standard/CommonCore.
At the same time Gov. Corbett announced significant cuts in state support for PA’s higher education institutions, he also unveiled his Advisory Commission for Postsecondary Education to focus on the challenges facing postsecondary education. The Commission held its first meeting in Harrisburg on March 12 and its next meeting is Monday, April 16. According to the Commission’s Chair, former state Sen. Rob Wonderling, currently serving as President and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, there will be several meetings held throughout the state to gather public input before the Commission issues a report in November. PSEA is hopeful that the report will not have to reflect yet another round of cuts to higher education in this year’s state budget.
Earlier this week, Rep. Mario Scavello and several of his Republican colleagues from the House held a press event announcing their plan to file a lawsuit this summer in Commonwealth Court to have the state’s 1991 "hold harmless" provision ruled unconstitutional. For many years, Rep. Scavello and others have raised concerns with the fact that the way Pennsylvania funds it schools does not recognize growing school districts based on population changes - something which has impacted areas like Monroe County. Rep. Scavello and his colleagues believe their school districts have been losing millions of dollars while school districts in other parts of the state with declining enrollment have had level or increased funding.
If the Commonwealth Court rules that the provision is unconstitutional, the General Assembly would be forced to develop a new school funding formula. PSEA believes that the only answer to the ongoing inequities in Pennsylvania’s system of funding our schools is to enact a sound, rational funding formula that invests adequate state funding and distributes those dollars based on actual costs.
Earlier this week, the House Finance Committee considered legislation (House Bill 2150) introduced by a member of the House Republican leadership, Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), that seeks to close a portion of the Delaware loophole and providing tax cuts to businesses based in Pennsylvania. There was extensive debate about the bill during the Committee meeting given that the Democratic Chairwoman, Rep. Phyllis Mundy (D-Luzerne) has introduced a bill intended to close the entire loophole and provide minimal tax cuts to businesses in PA. In the end, HB 2150 was reported out of Committee with amendments to strengthen the language. The CLEAR Coalition continues to analyze the legislation prior to finalizing a position. It is encouraging to see movement on the issue of closing corporate tax loopholes in Pennsylvania, but it is important that in an effort to do that additional strain is not placed on the Commonwealth's resources due to other tax breaks provided.
Look for additional updates in future issues of On the Hill and in the April issue of Voice.
NOTE: The state Legislature will be in "recess" through April 30. On the Hill will resume the first week of May.