After Being Defeated Last Night, HB 1615 Passes Today; Compulsory School Age is Redefined (June 28, 2019)

On Friday, June 28, 2019, House Bill 1615 with amendments for an omnibus School Code bill passed easily after having been voted down the night before. Changes to the School Code as per HB 1615 are as follows:

>Redefines compulsory school age from ages eight (8) to 18 to be established as ages six (6) to 18.

>Reconstitutes the Special Education Funding Commission to review the funding formula for special education payments. The commission’s work will be limited to reviewing payments to school districts. The group will convene by Aug.15, 2019 and issue a report by Nov. 30, 2019.

>Provides that the test scores for students that are habitually truant 20% of the days during the school year shall not be included in the school accountability performance calculation. The full academic year requirement for PA System of School Accountability for ESSA purposes means that the student is enrolled on or before Oct. 1 through the last day of the testing window.

>Provides for all references in statute or regulations to “area vocational technical school” to be replaced with “area career and technical school.”

>Provides level funding for intermediate units to be funded at an amount equal to 5.5% of the special education funding appropriation.

>Provides that if a student is not eligible for participation in the school food program and owes more than $50 in a school year for meals, a school may provide alternative meals to the student until the student’s unpaid balance for school meals is paid or a payment plan has been established. Such actions by schools who choose to provide an alternative meal shall not be considered as public identification or stigmatization of a student through “lunch shaming.”

>Provides for the secondary career and technical education subsidy to be fully funded and not prorated by PDE. Full funding will provide an estimated $66.5 million for career and technical education programs offered at school district and area career and technical centers, an increase of about $7 million over the amount provided in fiscal year 2018-19.
>Allows school districts to submit an electronic copy of their budget to the PDE, and for PDE to post school district budgets on its website within thirty (30) days of receipt of such information.  

>Extends the PlanCon moratorium prohibiting PDE from approving new school building construction or reconstruction applications for fiscal year 2019-20.

>Provides that a person that has served as a chief recovery officer or financial administrator is eligible for election or appointment as a superintendent or assistant superintendent.

>Provides for the designation of two (2) innovation schools to study and evaluate innovative approaches to serving the needs of economically disadvantaged students in the areas of workforce development, mentoring services, before-school and after-school programs, prevention measures and social wrap around services. Requires the designated schools to be in the bottom 5% of schools in the Commonwealth based on income, have a special education population greater than 20%, have either partnered with behavioral health specialists or provided integrated health services and be located in a federally designated Promise Zone.

>Increases the amount of tax credits available for scholarship organizations under the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program by $25 million, from $160 million to $185 million. Increases the maximum annual household income allowed for scholarship eligibility from $85,000 to $90,000. Adds a Qualified Subchapter S Trust to the definition of a “pass-through entity” and provides preference for tax credits submitted on July 1 for a two-year commitment by a business firm that was denied credits in the prior fiscal year.

>Provides for a new $5 million tax credit to increase the award amount for opportunity scholarships received through the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program (OSTC) by students attending economically disadvantaged schools by up to $1,000. It also increases the maximum scholarship amount for a student attending an economically disadvantaged school from $8,500 to $9,500 and a student with disabilities attending an economically disadvantaged school from $15,000 to $16,000.

>Includes provisions to distribute Basic Education Funding (BEF) to school districts, which includes $5.55 billion in base payments and about $700 million to be distributed through the formula. The amount to be distributed provides for an increase of $160 million over 2018-19. Provides the disbursement of funds to make payments for the state’s share of school employees’ Social Security and Medicare contributions from the BEF appropriation. Provisions are included to identify shortfalls in payments prior to the end of fiscal year and to distribute any excess funds through the basic education funding formula. The amount budgeted for Social Security and Medicare contributions in the 2019-20 state budget is $487 million.

>Allows PDE to use up to $7 million in undistributed funds to assist school districts in financial distress or identified for financial watch status.

>Provides for the distribution of Ready-to-Learn Block Grants to each school entity in an amount not less than the amount received from the 2018-19 appropriation for Ready-to-Learn Block Grants ($268 million).

>Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, PDE will provide assistance with fees for advanced placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams for to students in financial need. A school entity offering the exam shall not accept any rebates from the College Board or IB program for students with financial need, and the rebate shall be credited toward the exam fee.

>Establishes a tuition and fee waiver program for youth who are or were in foster care who are Pennsylvania residents and eligible for the federal Chafee Education and Training Grant Program under the Federal Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, beginning with the fall 2020 semester. 

Source of Information: PSBA.