On the Hill – May 15, 2012
The Legislature returned to session on Monday, April 30, beginning the more intense period of spring legislative session which ultimately culminates in adoption of the state budget for FY 2012-2013. The General Assembly won't be in voting session this week but will return next week for what will likely be a busy week of moving bills out of committee and into place for final movement in the month of June. The following is a highlight of what happened at the Capitol these past two weeks.
A good first step…
On May 9, the Pennsylvania Senate voted 39-8 to adopt their version of the state budget, Senate Bill 1466. This kick-starts the process of more intense negotiations between the Senate, House, and governor's office on the final proposal.
While SB 1466 leaves intact most of the cuts to public schools enacted in the FY11-12 budget that have led to the loss of thousands of school employees and harmful cuts to critical programs for our students, the Senate's budget proposal is a genuine improvement over Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget in February. The Senate rejected the governor's proposal to "block grant" public school funding, and they restored $50 million of the $100 million cut the governor proposed in the Accountability Block Grant program. In addition, the Senate incorporated $50 million into basic education funding targeted at helping school districts in financial distress.
But as PSEA President Mike Crossey stated following the Senate passage, "The Senate's budget proposal is a first step. Now, we need to work together to do more." Please contact your state Representative today and urge him or her to build on what the Senate adopted earlier this week.
Highlights from SB 1466:
And the loopholes continue…
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved legislation on May 2 that would enact nearly $1 billion in corporate tax cuts by the end of the decade – revenue that is sorely needed for critical investments in education, health care, and infrastructure.
When introduced, House Bill 2150 was touted as closing the Delaware tax loophole while providing additional tax cuts for Pennsylvania businesses. Unfortunately, the bill does not actually close the Delaware loophole but does provide tax breaks that will mean a significant loss to the General Fund over the years. This will most likely translate into continued cuts to public education and critical government services down the road.
Twenty-three Democrats joined most Republicans in support of House Bill 2150, while two Republicans joined 56 Democrats to vote against the bill. The overall vote was 129-58. The future of the bill is uncertain at this time given the fact that even the Corbett Administration has voiced concerns with the possible negative impact on revenues. Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser said, "…in a period when revenues are sensitive and budget challenges are great, the timing is not right to enter into a new program in tax reform that can create uncertainty, the governor is very interested in a perhaps larger more comprehensive tax reform bill, possibly next year if the timing is right. Hopefully it is and we will have a stronger economy and revenues are more stable."
The CLEAR Coalition, of which PSEA is a founding member, continues to voice its opposition to House Bill 2150 and urges lawmakers to enact legislation that actually closes corporate loopholes.
As we noted in our March 16 edition of On the Hill, the governor's office and the State Board of Education have proposed changes to the implementation and purpose of the Keystone Exams. Initially, there were to be 10 total exams, and for students to graduate they would need to score "proficient" or better in six of them. For a variety of reasons, however, the governor has suggested scaling back the program and reducing the tests from 10 subject areas to three and delaying the implementation further in the future. This proposal raised concern from Sen. Piccola (R-Chair, Senate Education Committee) and others who felt the changes violated the "deal" that had been made when Keystone Exams were first enacted.
This past Thursday morning, the state Board of Education unanimously approved recommendations revising their previous proposal. Now students would need to be proficient in five (not six) of the exams. Of the 10 originally planned exams, five of them - geometry, U.S. history, Algebra 2, chemistry and world history - would now only be developed and employed voluntarily if funding is available. These recommendations still need to work their way through the regulatory process, and PSEA will keep you updated on the issue.
Additional bills of interest…
On May 1, the Senate Education Committee unanimously reported several bills out of committee. Of most interest to PSEA members are the following:
- Senate Bill 1381 (Sen. Williams, D-8) would amend the Public School Code by adding a new section relating to employment history review. PSEA testified on this legislation during a Senate Education Committee hearing in April and was extensively involved in negotiations regarding the omnibus amendment adopted by the Committee on May 1. The bill requires applicants for employment at school entities to provide prior employment history and requires the applicant to disclose whether or not he or she was the subject of any investigation related to sexual abuse by an employer or child protective services. SB 1381 has the worthy intent of keeping individuals who have committed sexual abuse out of the school environment, but PSEA worked closely with the prime sponsor and Democratic Chair of the Committee to ensure individuals who have been falsely accused of wrongdoing would be able to be employed in a school setting.
- Senate Bill 1459 (Sen. Smucker, R-13) would amend the "Professional Educator Discipline Act," by expanding the jurisdiction of the Professional Standards and Practices Commission (PSPC) beyond educators holding certificates in the public schools to include educators holding Private Academic School certification and educators working for independent contractors providing direct educational services to a school entity. In addition, the bill also expands the bases for discipline to include founded and indicated reports of child abuse and founded and indicated reports for a school employee and sexual misconduct, which is broadly defined to include "grooming" behaviors. SB 1459 would prohibit school entities from entering into confidential settlement agreements that would interfere with a school district's mandatory reporting obligation. PSEA testified on this legislation and will be monitoring the bill closely as it works its way through the process. Both SB 1459 and SB 1381 impact employment for educators, and during the May 1 Senate Education Committee meeting the Professional Standards and Practices Commission shared an overview of the changes in both bills.
- Senate Bill 1492 (Sen. Smucker, R-13) would amend the Public School Code by creating "Open Campus Initiatives," which would permit school districts to establish an open campus initiative through a cooperative agreement among participating school districts. Although PSEA's local association in the Senator's district has had a good experience with the Initiative locally, PSEA is still reviewing all implications of the legislation and does not yet have a position on the bill.