PDE Memo Informs LEAs of Surveys (June 11, 2021)

On June 11, 2021, BSE Director Carole L. Clancy sent a PennLink titled Survey of Parents of Students with Disabilities. That memo states that Pennsylvania’s State Performance Plan requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 include collecting and reporting data on the involvement of families in special education programs. Specifically, states must report annually to the U.S. Department of Education’s (USDE) Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the public on State Performance Plan Indicator 8 which is the “percent of parents with a child receiving special education services who report that schools facilitated parent involvement as a means of improving services and results for children with disabilities.”

Like many other states, Pennsylvania is collecting this data through a large-scale survey. Pennsylvania reports results of the survey to OSEP in its State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report. This report is posted on the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) websites. Reporting on local educational agency (LEA) performance is done through the Special Education Data Reports on the PennData website.

To ensure that parents from every LEA in the commonwealth are included in the survey, PDE developed a sampling plan that was approved by OSEP. Under this sampling, each year PDE collects data from a representative sample of parents in approximately one-fifth of the LEAs. The LEAs in this year’s sample are listed below. Parents receiving the survey were selected from PennData using a stratified random sample of school age students in each LEA. Surveys will be mailed directly to the parents from Leader Services in the next few weeks.

The survey being used was developed by the National Center for Special Education Accountability Monitoring under a grant awarded to that center by OSEP. The survey can be viewed at Leader Services-Parent Survey. Additional information about the survey can be found on the PaTTAN website at PA Indicator 8 Information.

A letter that accompanies the survey assures parents that their responses will be confidential. Parents may direct questions about the survey to the Special Education Consult Line at 800-879-2301. Should parents contact LEA personnel about the survey, we ask that your staff encourage them to participate in the survey process.

Questions regarding this Penn*Link may be addressed to Barbara Mozina, Special Education Adviser, at bmozina@pa.gov.

Governor Wolf Calls for Fair Funding for PA Public Schools (June 9, 2021)

According to a June 9, 2021 PA Newsroom press release, continuing their commitment to students and working families, Governor Tom Wolf and House and Senate Democratic Leaders held a Capitol press conference to highlight the injustice in the state’s school funding system and call for fair funding of every district.

The state’s outdated process for funding schools is based on student enrollment in 1992, without considering changes in student counts or current school district costs today. That forces growing school districts across urban, suburban and rural communities to make up for underfunding from the state by raising property taxes, increasing the burden on homeowners and businesses.

The fair funding formula signed by Gov. Wolf in 2016 was a major bipartisan achievement, but only applies to new funding. Last year, only 11 percent, or $700 million, of state funding ran through it. The remaining 89 percent, or $5.5 billion, is disbursed using the unfair system still stuck 30 years in the past. Many districts do not receive the state funding to meet the needs of their students.

The governor joined House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, House Democratic Appropriations Chairman Matthew Bradford, Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vince Hughes and House and Senate Democratic members, as well as education experts and stakeholders to deliver a united message of support for Pennsylvania’s children.

The governor’s education agenda also includes bipartisan charter school accountability reform that improves the quality of education and modernizes how Pennsylvania funds charter schools to match costs rather than forcing school districts to overpay. The estimated $395 million a year in savings includes $185 million by funding special education in charter schools the same way the state does for all other public schools and $210 million a year by establishing a statewide cyber charter school tuition rate. The plan also protects students by creating charter school performance standards that hold low-performing charter schools accountable and protects the public trust by improving transparency so for-profit charter school companies are accountable to parents and taxpayers.

To view the press release in its entirety, click here.

PAPSA Signs on to Letter to PA Senate Opposing SB 733 (June 8, 2021)

On June 8, 2021, PAPSA joined 24 other organizations in sending a letter to members of the Pennsylvania Senate in opposition to Senate Bill 733 – Education Opportunity Account Scholarships (EOASs) respectfully urging all members of the Senate to vote no on the bill, which would create a tuition voucher program for students with special needs costing taxpayers an estimated $600 million. SB 733 changes the name of tuition vouchers to “education savings accounts” or “education opportunity account scholarships”  and it is feared that SB 733 would lessen educational opportunities for students, while leading to funding cuts and higher local property taxes.

From a special education perspective, the bill expressly prohibits the commonwealth or its agencies from regulating an educational program in a nonpublic school. This effectively means the state would be prohibited from requiring a nonpublic school receiving state education resources to comply with IDEA or state regulations governing special education, even though those resources would be allocated under the proposed voucher program to provide educational supports and services to students with disabilities. Ultimately, families and students would be more vulnerable without these protections.

In essence , the letter contends that SB 733 diminishes support for K-12 public education and would undermine Pennsylvania’s responsibility to ensure every student in every community has equal access to public education. School districts in Pennsylvania are already underfunded, and this legislation requires that state money for EOAS vouchers be deducted from a school district’s subsidy.

To view the letter in its entirety, click here.

To view SB 773, click here.

Wolf Administration, Medical Professionals Emphasize Vaccination Privacy, Safety for Latinx Communities (June 6, 2021)

The Pennsylvania Latino Affairs Commission hosted a discussion about the importance of ensuring Latinx communities in Pennsylvania receive reliable and trustworthy information about COVID-19 vaccines. The panel discussion, led by Second Lady Gisele Fetterman and Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson, took place during a Facebook Live event entitled Vax Facts: Privacy and Safety for the Latinx Communities. This event is the third in a series that seeks to provide relevant and accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines and address the questions of concerned citizens.

Second Lady Fetterman and Acting Physician General Dr. Johnson were joined by panelists Will Gonzalez, Executive Director of Ceiba, and Dr. Sarah Ramirez to answer vaccine-related safety and privacy questions, encourage members of the Latinx community to get vaccinated and promote a healthier, safer Latinx community in Pennsylvania.

“My family experienced the devastation of COVID firsthand with the tragic loss of my uncle and two aunts,” said Second Lady Fetterman. “It makes sense to be hesitant about anything that’s new, but research has shown that getting vaccinated against COVID carries infinitely fewer risks than getting sick with COVID. I was so excited to get the vaccine because I want to do everything I can to keep my family safe from further harm, and I want to help protect the loved ones in your family, too.”

“COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at developing immunity against the virus that causes COVID-19 and preventing severe illness or hospitalization due to the virus,” Acting Physician General Dr. Johnson said. “Some people may experience side effects after getting vaccinated, but these are normal signs that the body is building immunity. Currently, everyone age 12 and older can get a COVID-19 vaccine, no matter their immigration status. It’s important to remember that the vaccines are also free, so individuals should never be asked for a credit card number or payment to make an appointment. Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available, which is why it is essential that everyone who is eligible strongly considers getting the COVID-19 vaccine.”

“We are not going to make progress unless we all get vaccinated,” said Gonzalez. “One of the most important things in life is good health. Let’s not be selfish, let’s help others get vaccinated. We cannot let lies and other obstacles get in the way of our community’s good health.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been among the longest and hardest trials our nation has endured,” said Dr. Ramirez. “It has damaged physical health, mental health and our economy.  One year ago, science was sprinting to learn all we could about this disease and today we have vaccines.

“I cannot overemphasize the importance of reaching low-income communities, especially with COVID-19 vaccination. Evidence shows that non-white populations have died from COVID-19 at disproportionately higher rates than white populations in nearly every state.  We cannot expect people to find resources; these resources must come to the people and they must come in a way that is easily accessed and understood. Any barrier, any limitation, any misconception can mean life or death for someone and most often this occurs in our underserved communities.  It is our responsibility to place boots on the ground and do the work that needs to be done to reach the most vulnerable.”

The Vax Facts panel discussed topics including where to find accurate and reliable information about vaccines and the importance of privacy and accessibility for all Latinx communities, no matter your immigration status.

The COVID-19 vaccine is free to everyone who wants it, regardless of immigration status, including people who do not have health insurance. A Social Security Number or government ID are also not required. Any personal information collected by a vaccine provider is confidential and can only be used for public health purposes.

COVID-19 vaccines are free, safe, reliable and accessible. Visit vaccines.gov (vacunas.gov en español) to find a vaccine provider near you.

Every Thursday, Vax Facts panel discussions will continue to dive into topics around the COVID-19 vaccine, specifically highlighting vaccine hesitancy and the communities that it effects most. The next conversation will be held on Thursday, June 10, 2021 at 12 PM and will focus on vaccine concerns related to the LGBTQ community.

More details from this event, including the full video and information about the panelists, can be found on Facebook. Video of the event will also be available on PAcast.

Nutritious Foods from Local Farms Available to Pennsylvania Students and Schools (June 6, 2021)

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is encouraging schools, child care centers, and summer meal sites to participate in the Pennsylvania Harvest of the Month Program and other programs that connect farms with schools to get more fresh, locally grown food on students’ plates.

Pennsylvania Harvest of the Month is coordinated by Project PA, a collaboration between PDE and Penn State University’s Department of Nutritional Sciences. Launched in August 2020 via a U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm to School grant, the program provides tools and resources for promoting local products to help expand students’ palates and understanding of food grown across the commonwealth. A Pennsylvania Harvest of the Month calendar identifies a Pennsylvania-grown agricultural product each month. To facilitate connections between schools and farms, links to resources to find PA farms and growers are provided along with recipes that incorporate the designated item of the month.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has also supported the program with the inclusion of Pennsylvania Harvest of the Month Promotional Kits. “Ensuring students have access to healthy food is critical to help them develop and grow,” said Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam. “Consuming the proper amount of fruits and vegetables can help students focus better in school.”

Although not required, a growing number of schools, childcare centers, and summer meal sites from across the commonwealth participate in the program. Read about how schools have implemented the PA Harvest of the Month program.

In addition to PA Harvest of the Month, other programs are coordinated that support school community access to nutritious, healthy, and locally grown foods. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture offers the Pennsylvania Farm to School Grant Program, which provides schools with opportunities to apply for funding to improve access to healthy, local foods and increases agriculture education opportunities for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.