PSBA Special Report: Education Laws Passed in 2017PSBA provides this look back with a summary of the education-related laws that were enacted in 2017:
Act 2: Administration of Epi-Pens by school bus drivers and crossing guards - Act 2 of 2017 provides civil immunity to school bus drivers and crossing guards who administer an epinephrine auto-injector, or epi-pen, to a student who experiences an allergic reaction. A bus driver or crossing guard must first complete a training program and comply with school district policy to be qualified to use the epi-pen. It does not mandate that school districts or school bus companies enact an epi-pen policy, only that such a policy would allow for civil immunity if the guidelines are met.
Act 5: Pension reform -- Act 5 of 2017 requires future employees hired on or after July 1, 2019 to select one of three new plan design options, either one of two side-by-side hybrid defined benefit (DB)/defined contribution (DC) plans or a stand-alone DC plan. No changes are made to retirement benefits for current employees, but they would have the option to choose one of the new plan designs.
Act 6: Graduation Requirements for CTE Students - Act 6 of 2017 establishes alternative pathways to graduation for career and technical education concentrators by allowing CTE students to demonstrate proficiency by completing locally established grade-based requirements for academic content areas associated with the Keystone Exams on which the CTE student did not achieve proficiency. Students also must attain an industry based competency certification related to the student program of study or demonstrate a high likelihood of success on an approved industry based competency assessment such as the National Occupation Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) or the NIMS (National Institute of Metalworkers Skills).
Act 1-A: State budget spending plan -- Act 1-A of 2017 contains the General Appropriations bill for the 2017-18 state budget. For education, the budget bill provides a $100 million increase for the Basic Education Subsidy for a total of $5.99 billion. Special education received an increase of $25 million to $1.12 billion for special education. Level funding is provided for pupil transportation ($549 million), the Ready to Learn Block Grant program ($250 million), career and technical education ($62 million), career and technical education equipment grants ($3 million) and the Safe Schools Initiative ($8.5 million). The budget includes a $25 million increase for the Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and a $5 million increase for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program. Funding for state and federal testing programs, including the Keystone Exams and PSSAs, is decreased by $7.8 million, from $58 million to $50.42 million. The budget for teacher professional development is decreased from $6.45 million to $5.95 million.The Mobile Math and Science Education Program received an $1.7 million increase to $3.96 million.
Act 38: Tax collection fraud prevention -- Act 38 of 2017 amends the Local Tax Collection Law to prohibit tax payments to be placed in an account in an individual's name and require the creation of a separate account to be used solely for tax purposes. This new account shall also be used for taxes collected by the tax collector under the Local Tax Enabling Act.
Act 44: Fiscal Code amendments -- Act 44 of 2017 provides $500 million in fund transfers and makes numerous changes to various state accounts. Act 44 includes these provisions:
Audit response: Requires school districts and others that receive state aid to respond to recommendations made by the Auditor General as part of an audit. Districts must submit a response within 120 business days of the publication of the audit. Failure to respond to audit recommendations may be considered when determining future state appropriations to the agency. Responses will be posted to the Auditor General's website.
First Chance Trust Fund: Establishes a fund to provide money for scholarships that benefit children in areas with higher drop-out rates, incarceration rates and crime rates.
PlanCon: Extends the deadline to July 1, 2021 for school districts with construction projects in the pipeline to vote to proceed with construction and award bids to remain eligible for state reimbursement. It also extends the deadline for the report of the state PlanCon Advisory Committee that was due in May, 2017 to Jan. 31, 2018.
Definition of Market Value for school subsidy: Includes a new definition for "market value" relating to the calculation of the aid ratio and market value/income aid ratio which mitigates the impact of the City of Philadelphia's recent reassessment on various future school district subsidies and allow future subsidy payments to remain consistent with current estimates.
Educational Access Program funding: Provides for an annual, recurring $14 million increase in Educational Access Program funding for the Erie School District.
SERS and PSERS defined contribution plan costs: Establishes restricted accounts for the State Employees' and the Public School Employees' Retirement Systems to receive non-system funding to create and implement defined contribution plans.
Allocations to Department of Education for various programs: Allocates funds for an after-school learning program for low-income students, for approved private schools, various community education councils and regional community college services.
Work experience for high school students with disabilities: Includes funding for services under the Work Experience for High School Students with Disabilities Act.
Act 48: Performance-based budget/state tax credit program review -- Act 48 of 2017, requires all state agencies under the governor's jurisdiction, including the Department of Education, to be subject to a performance-based budget review by the Independent Fiscal Office (IFO). The review will examine each agency's appropriations and programs, including information on populations served, grants awarded and subsidies provided, descriptive information and data related to existing performance measures, and other information. In addition, Act 48 requires a review of all state tax credit programs. The review must include the purpose for which the tax credit was established, whether it is accomplishing the legislative intent, and whether it could be more efficiently implemented through alternative methods. The review will also include the costs of providing the tax credit, including administrative costs to the state and lost revenues to the state and local government entities.
Act 55: Omnibus School Code amendments -- Act 55 of 2017 contains omnibus amendments to the Public School Code and includes these provisions:
Delay in graduation requirements: Extends the delay in the implementation of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement for one additional year until the 2019-20 school year.
ESSA state plan review: Requires the Department of Education to submit to the General Assembly any future State plan submissions/revisions to the U.S. Department of Education for compliance with the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and must include in its submissions any comments from the House and Senate Education Committees. PDE must report on a quarterly basis the progress toward approval and implementation of the plan.
School director training programs: Beginning in the 2018-19 school year, all newly-elected or appointed school directors are required to complete during the first year of their first term a training program made available by PDE. The program must include at least four hours of content on: instruction and academic programs, personnel, fiscal management, operations, governance, and ethics/open meetings. In addition, all re-elected school directors would be required to complete a two-hour advanced training program on relevant changes in state and federal law and regulations, fiscal management and other information.
Financial watch district/educational access funding: A school district identified for financial watch status that receives at least $4 million in educational access program funding will be placed under the supervision of a financial administrator who may remove the district from such status provided that the district can maintain a structurally balanced budget.
PlanCon moratorium: Extends the moratorium on PDE's acceptance of new school construction projects through the 2017-18 school year.
Reports from superintendents: Removes current language that requires superintendents to provide reports to PDE on or before the first Monday of August each year that include suggested improvements or changes to the public school system.
Superintendent contract renewal: Changes the deadline for a school board to make contract renewal decisions for a superintendent or assistant superintendent from 150 days to 90 days prior to the expiration of the contract. Act 55 also limits the automatic renewal of these contracts to one year, one time only, if the renewal notice deadline is missed.
Economic furlough: The law contains two significant changes to why and how professional employees may be "suspended' (furloughed). First, it adds to the existing reasons for suspensions new provisions allowing suspensions for purely budgetary reasons, provided that certain conditions and procedures are met. Second, for all suspensions regardless of reason, the Act alters the existing seniority-based procedure for determining which professional employees will be suspended first (order of suspension) and which will be recalled when positions open up (order of reinstatement). Now, ratings on performance evaluations are the primary consideration, and seniority within the entity is a secondary factor. Language requiring realignment of staff to allow more senior employees to bump into other positions has been deleted.
Appeals to Secretary of Education: Requires that a professional employee aggrieved by a school board action file an appeal with the Secretary of Educationwithin 15 days, a change from 30 days.
Provisional teaching certificates for military: Requires PDE to process applications for provisional certifications submitted by members of the military, veterans, or their spouses within 14 days of the date the department receives the application.
Teacher preparation/Praxis Exam scores: Prohibits teacher preparation programs from requiring students to obtain a passing score on Praxis exams as a condition of program completion or graduation. Scores from the exams may not be used as a component of a student's grade. Requires a teacher preparation program to recommend applicants for certification who meet certain grade point averages.
School lunch shaming: Schools must provide a meal to a student who requests one, regardless of whether the student has money to pay for the meal or owes money for school meals. When a student owes money for five or more school meals, the school board must make at least two attempts to reach the parents to have them apply for participation in the free/reduced lunch program and may offer assistance in helping them apply. Schools may not publicly identify or stigmatize a student who cannot pay or who owes money for school meals.
Recovery High School pilot program: Makes technical changes to recognize the delay in implementation of the four-year recovery high school pilot program under Act 86 of 2016.
School security drills: Allows school entities to conduct an annual school security drill in place of a monthly fire drill in each school building within 90 days of the start of each school year. The law also outlines the procedures necessary to set up the drill and notify parents. Such drills are intended to practice procedures to respond to an emergency situation.
Instruction/in-service training in opioid abuse: Requires schools to provide instruction to students in grades 6-12 related to the prevention of opioid abuse, beginning in the 2018-19 school year. The Department of Health and the Department of Education must develop and make available to schools a model curriculum as well as in-service training programs for instructors who will be teaching courses where the mandated opioid instruction is integrated.
Agricultural education: Amends requirements of PDE and the Department of Agriculture to provide educational resources and programming regarding agricultural education to kindergarten through secondary schools. Act 55 also creates the Commission of Agricultural Education Excellence to assist in the development and implementation of agricultural education programs based on high priority occupations.
Multiple Charter School Organizations: Allows two or more high-performing charter schools to seek permission from PDE to consolidate into a Multiple Charter School Organization that will be managed by a single board of trustees and a single administrator. Each school district that granted the initial charter of any school in the proposed consolidation must adopt a resolution approving or rejecting the consolidation, and will continue to determine the renewal of such charter school. Nonrenewals may be appealed; decisions of state Charter Appeal Board are subject to appellate review by the Commonwealth Court.
EITC/OSTC boost: Increases the amount of tax credits available under the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program from $125 million to $135 million. The additional $10 million is to be used for contributions to scholarship organizations.
Market Value Change: Clarifies that for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2017, a school district's market value cannot exceed $47 billion, and in each subsequent year, the maximum market value will increase by the percentage increase in market value for all school districts.
Basic Education Funding: Requires that the data used in the basic education funding formula be fixed as of the first day of June preceding the school year in which the allocation occurs ad makes other changes to definitions for "current expenditures" and "local tax-related revenue".
IU funding: Intermediate units will be level funded at an amount equal to 5.5% of the special education funding appropriation.
Use of undistributed funds: Allows PDE to use up to $5 million in unencumbered funds to pay for technical assistance to Financial Watch and Financial Recovery School Districts.
Ready-to-Learn Block Grants: Provides for the distribution of Ready-to-Learn Block Grant money.
State Board of Education Master Plans: Changes the time frames for the adoption of state master plans for higher education and basic education from every five years to every ten years.