On the Hill - July 10, 2012
Your voices were heard and you made a difference
You recently received PSEA Connected with the state budget scorecard, demonstrating just how vital your advocacy efforts were to defeating the serious threats facing public education this spring legislative session. This edition of On the Hill (OTH) will provide some additional information about what happened and what did not happen during the final weeks of the state budget debate.
Let's start with the big ticket item, literally...
The House and Senate sent Gov. Tom Corbett the state budget (Senate Bill 1466) on Thursday, June 28, but the governor indicated that he would not sign the bill until other connected pieces of legislation - the Tax Code, Public School Code, Welfare Code, Fiscal Code, etc. - were sent to his desk. As a result, the governor signed the $27.656 billion state budget into law minutes before midnight on June 30, just in the nick of time to be an "on time" budget.
Since proposing his budget in February, Gov. Corbett was adamant that the FY12-13 state budget had to be low spending and include no new taxes. Thankfully, improving state revenues between February and June made it easier for the state House and Senate to reject the governor's proposed cuts to education and reduce by half the proposed cuts to counties for health care and services for people with disabilities.
While PSEA appreciates the efforts of legislators to secure an additional $150 million for public schools and reject Gov. Corbett's call for additional cuts, we recognize that this year's budget does not address the current funding crisis facing public education and, in effect, locks in the 2011-2012 budget cuts, totaling nearly $1 billion.
We must continue to work to address the school funding crisis. Part of that effort involves fighting Gov. Corbett's misplaced priorities of cutting taxes for Pennsylvania's wealthiest corporations while slicing funding for education and other critical services. That is why we will continue to fight as part of the CLEAR Coalition for a more balanced approach to budgeting. We can do better for Pennsylvanians than continuing to pass budgets that are balanced on the backs of the middle class and the most vulnerable among us, while corporations get tax breaks like some of the ones included in this year’s budget package. If you want to learn more about CLEAR Coalition and how you can help with their efforts, PSEA encourages you to sign up for updates at www.clearforpa.org.
So what else was part of the budget "package?"
As mentioned above, there are typically several other pieces of legislation connected to the General Appropriations bill (state budget bill). This year was no exception. An omnibus school code, tax code, fiscal code, and welfare code sent to the governor’s desk late Saturday night to be signed along with the state budget.
The tax code language contained two primary controversial elements:
1) A $1.65 billion tax credit over 25 years for Shell Oil owned by Royal Dutch Shell, the second largest company in the world, to develop an ethylene cracker plant in Beaver County.
2) Expanding the current Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program by $25 million and establishing the Educational Improvement Scholarship Credit (EISC) program with a $50 million tax credit program restricted to students who live in the 15 percent of the “worst performing school districts.”
The expansion of EITC and EISC was introduced late in the session and did not receive a lot of public scrutiny. PSEA did, however, offer written comments noting concerns when the House Education Committee debated the issue in late June.
The omnibus school code bill incorporated a number of bills that had passed either the House or Senate previously, but the early agreement between leaders was to not include the more controversial provisions such as charter schools or the creation of the EISC. Act 82 of 2012 contained a number of items including the following:
- Teacher Evaluation (contained in an amended version of HB 1980 but was rolled into omnibus – more information below)
- Criminal background checks
- Model MOU for school safety
- Increased threshold for construction bid limits
- Superintendent contracts
- PlanCon/construction language
- Funding distribution for basic education, financially distressed, and special education
- Library funding
- Community college funding
- Open campus initiative
- Pittsburgh Commonwealth Partnership status
Of all the provisions contained within the omnibus school code bill, the issue of educator evaluations is probably of most interest to PSEA members. PSEA has called for improvements to the current teacher evaluation system since 2010 as part of our Vision document and subsequently as part of our Solutions that Work proposal. We have always said evaluations must be based on multiple measures and that standardized tests should not be the only measurement utilized to judge the performance of a teacher or a student.
While PSEA strongly opposed Gov. Corbett's proposal on teacher evaluation, through your advocacy efforts, we were able to significantly change the final language that appears in Act 82 of 2012.
Not part of the budget package, but important nonetheless...
Another critical policy that PSEA members had a direct and positive impact upon was House Bill 1307, legislation impacting financially distressed school districts. The governor has until July 12 to sign the legislation into law, and we have every expectation is that he will sign it. When this legislation first began moving through the Legislature, it would have eliminated collective bargaining rights for members in an unlimited number of school districts. Because of your advocacy, the bill now protects collective bargaining rights and is limited in scope to affecting only nine districts at any one time. Look for more updates in OTH as to the impact of this legislation once implementation gets up and running.
And while you would think these battles on the collective bargaining front were enough, there was also a last-minute effort on the House floor by Rep. Kate Harper to pass two amendments to allow economic furloughs without seniority. Thankfully PSEA member advocacy laid so much groundwork this past year opposing the removal of seniority protection, the amendments did not make it over the finish line with the underlying bill being held over by the Speaker of the House until further notice (OTH editors do not expect additional consideration of the bill).
In addition to the usual House and Senate legislative activity these past few weeks, there was a hearing on June 14 by the Task Force on Child Protection, a group created in response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal, to thoroughly review state laws and procedures governing child protection and reporting of child abuse in Pennsylvania. PSEA Treasurer Dolores McCracken testified before the Task Force on behalf of school employees that comprise one of the largest segments of mandated reporters in the Commonwealth. Treasurer McCracken relayed PSEA's support for increased training as would be required by Senate Bill 449, legislation sponsored by Sen. Pat Vance and signed into law (Act 126) last Thursday by Gov. Corbett. School employees considered mandated reporters will now be required to take three hours of CE training every five years on identifying abuse and improved practices for reporting. PSEA’s testimony also recognized that some work may need to be done on the current definitions of child abuse and student abuse, but we oppose Senate Bill 549 and similar proposals to eliminate the separate reporting structure for student abuse provided for in the current Child Protective Services Law. The Task Force is expected to have a report by Nov. 30, 2012 and PSEA expects that many of their recommendations will be introduced as legislative proposals in the 2013-2014 legislative session so stay tuned for further updates on this important topic.
So what other issues came close, but didn't make it the governor's desk?
Charter "reform" and changes to the current special education funding formula and accountability system came close to the governor's desk but did not cross the finish line. Charter reform was another of Gov. Corbett's budget must-haves, and in particular he wanted to create a statewide authorizing agent that would have circumvented local school boards when it came to granting charters.
PSEA engaged in intensive negotiations with House Republican leaders on this issue and were able to thwart efforts for a statewide authorizer and provisions that would have eased the ability of school boards to convert all or part of an existing school building into a charter school. However, the Senate balked at the House proposal and began demanding additional provisions for conversions of community public schools into charter schools. Talks mediated by the Corbett administration ultimately proved unsuccessful, and the House and Senate each passed their own version of charter reform and ignoring the other’s proposal.
This lack of finality means that the issue likely will return in the future.
In addition to the bills noted above with broad-based impact, the following education related bills have been signed into law since the beginning of the 2012 winter/spring legislative session on January 1:
To recap, this is what we faced going into the spring legislative session:
- More cuts to basic and higher education funding
- Block granting of education funds that result in further cuts down the road
- Elimination of collective bargaining rights
- Unaccountable charter expansion
- Taxpayer-funded vouchers
- Teacher evaluation heavily based on standardized test scores
You spoke out. You called. You emailed. You lobbied your legislators. The outcome?
- Restoration of the additional cuts proposed by Gov. Corbett
- No block granting of funds
- Collective bargaining rights protected
- No unaccountable expansion of charter schools
- No vouchers
- Teacher evaluation system based on multiple measures
But make no mistake - Gov. Corbett and his allies are not going away. What’s next on the horizon? Pension "reform" and most likely continued attacks on collective bargaining rights, to name a few.
But we know we will be prepared for the fight. You’ve proven that time and time again.
So get some rest and stay tuned…because there’s more on the way.