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The state’s outdated process for funding schools is based on student enrollment in 1992, without considering changes in student counts or current school district costs today.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.

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.

PDE, Erie County Schools, and Legislators Call for Charter School Accountability Reform (June 4, 2021)

With more than 80 percent of school districts demanding charter school law reform, Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) Acting Secretary Noe Ortega joined Erie Public Schools Superintendent Brian Polito and Millcreek Township School District Superintendent Dr. Ian Roberts for a virtual press conference today to discuss bipartisan legislation that hold charter schools accountable to students and taxpayers and saves nearly $400 million.

“Students across the commonwealth deserve a quality education, no matter their zip code,” said Acting Secretary Noe Ortega. “In an effort to ensure the continued mission of high-quality learning in PA, our public schools must be held accountable for their educational outcomes and subject to fair, predictable funding structures and standards.”

Governor Wolf and bipartisan legislators are proposing a “common sense and fair plan” to fix Pennsylvania’s “broken” charter school law. The plan holds low-performing charter schools accountable to improve the quality of education, protects taxpayers by aligning funding with costs, and increases the transparency of for-profit companies that run many charter schools.

Rather than forcing school districts to overpay charter schools for services, the legislation saves $395 million a year, including $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 fair statewide cyber charter school tuition rate.

To read the PDE press release, click here.

PA DHS Announces Expansion of Peer-Support Program for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum (June 3, 2021)

The PA Department of Human Services (DHS) today highlighted the expansion of the Community Autism Peer Specialist (CAPS) Program, a first-of-its-kind program in Philadelphia that connects an individual with autism to support from certified peer specialists. These peer specialists help foster individual connections and mentoring relationships for individuals on the autism spectrum to self-advocate and encourage greater wellness and independence in their community.   

“We all know that life can be made a little easier when we can turn to a peer who has gone through what we’re going through and can speak to our experiences. But as we worked with self-advocates and caregivers, we realized that there was a gap in their system of supports that did not include peer connections. With CAPS, we are the first state in the country to work on closing that gap,” said Acting DHS Secretary Meg Snead. “I am incredibly excited that the CAPS Program provides this to people with autism and look forward to learning how we can continue to build out these supports.”

The CAPS Program was started by DHS five years ago as a collaboration between DHS’ offices of Developmental Programs (ODP) and Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) and Community Behavioral Health (CBH) and Mental Health Partnerships (MHP) in Philadelphia. The collaboration has since grown to include the Philadelphia Autism Project, the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, the Autism Services Education Resources and Training (ASERT) Collaborative, and the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion.

The program was adapted from certified peer specialist programs that exist in the behavioral health field to support people on the autism spectrum. The CAPS program’s peer specialists provide individualized support to enhance participants’ quality of life, improve their self-advocacy skills, and further their community participation. These supports can include job training and help with interpersonal relationships to everyday skills, like teaching someone how to use public transportation.

To earn the peer specialist distinction, peer specialists take a 75-hour training course adapted for individuals with lived experience on the autism spectrum that addresses how to support youth, young adults, and adults on the spectrum.

“With this level of collaboration at the state and local level, Pennsylvania can be a world leader in supporting people on the autism spectrum,” said Acting Secretary Snead. “I hope that this program will be able to support even more people in the future and can become a model that we can replicate statewide and beyond.” 

Only Philadelphia County residents are currently eligible to receive CAPS services; opportunities for expansion beyond Philadelphia are being explored. Individuals must be at least 14 years of age, have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, and be eligible for Medicaid – the program has been approved by DHS as a Medicaid reimbursable service – or CBH insurance. Referrals for the CAPS Program are currently being accepted and interested participants can enroll here.

More information about the CAPS Program and becoming a certified peer specialist can be found here.