PA Office of Commonwealth Libraries Announces Project to Provide Broadband Internet Access to Underserved Communities (April 10, 2021)

On April 8, 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL) and the Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research (KINBER) today announced the Libraries Connect Communities and Broadband Resources project, an initiative to improve access to broadband services in and beyond libraries across the commonwealth’s underserved and unserved communities.

“Libraries are community anchor institutions that play a critical role in providing free access to technology to those who may not have access otherwise,” said Glenn R. Miller, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. “Throughout the pandemic, we have heard countless stories of individuals and families who have used library devices or Wi-Fi from parking lots to complete homework, attend classes or job interviews, connect with loved ones, and more. Libraries are community hubs that provide critical resources and tools that support families, schools, municipalities, businesses, and organizations. This project will help libraries and their communities build technology capacity for Pennsylvanians in need.”

The Wolf Administration provided a $1.4 million grant with Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds to the project. Public libraries will serve as community liaisons to provide important broadband information, resources, and project identification to their communities in need. Under the guidance of OCL, KINBER will help to build capacity through library staff for broadband internet solutions and connected resources.

“KINBER is very pleased to collaborate with the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Office of Commonwealth Libraries,” said Nathan Flood, president, and CEO of KINBER. “KINBER understands the needs and services that are essential to support the targeted communities across the state who have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic due to lack of available connectivity and broadband resources.”

The Libraries Connect Communities and Broadband project will:

Provide participating libraries with the resources and infrastructure to strengthen their abilities to serve the community through broadband internet access;

Host training and education opportunities for participating librarians and staff through workshops, virtual events, and webinars so libraries can help stakeholders to organize county wide broadband recommendations;

Identify critical broadband needs and projects within the community.

As a statewide research, education, and community network, KINBER is a non-profit that provides broadband connectivity, fosters collaboration, and promotes the innovative use of digital technologies throughout Pennsylvania.

Expanding Broadband Access with Back to Work PA

Expanding broadband access to support Pennsylvania’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and bolster economic growth is a priority of Governor Tom Wolf’s “Back to Work PA” plan. The proposal prioritizes making high-speed internet access available to all Pennsylvanians by building out this infrastructure in unserved areas of the commonwealth. Back to Work PA is founded on the recommendations of the private sector in partnership with the Wolf Administration through the Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center. Back to Work PA would be funded by a commonsense extraction tax on the natural gas industry, which would allow for an injection of $3 billion to enhance existing initiatives and create new, innovative programs to address barriers that are holding back our workforce. For more information on the Pennsylvania Department of Education, please visit PDE’s website.

DHS Secretary Discusses Impact of Federally-Funded Food Assistance During Disaster Emergency (April 9, 2021)

On April 8, 2021, Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller discussed the life-sustaining benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and food assistance for Pennsylvanians under the Governor’s Disaster Emergency Declaration.

Since March 2020, Pennsylvanians have received about $100 million each month and more than $1 billion total in federally-funded SNAP funds to help low-income individuals and families beyond normal SNAP distributions. Without an active disaster declaration, Pennsylvania would be unable to request these emergency SNAP allotments for the more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians the use SNAP to afford groceries and feed their families.

“These emergency allotments, or supplemental payments, have been a critical piece of our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic challenges it created,” said Secretary Miller. “This additional funding is federal and at no additional cost to the state. These funds directly support small businesses, food retailers, and grocers that participate in SNAP. They help keep plates and pantries full and contribute directly to our local economies during a period of great challenge.”

SNAP is our country’s most important and most impactful anti-hunger program and primarily serves families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities. For every meal provided by a Feeding Pennsylvania food bank, SNAP provides nine. SNAP funds can only be spent on certain food products like fresh produce and meat, dairy products, and other groceries. While SNAP is intended to be a supplemental program, during a pandemic and historic unemployment, resources are strained, particularly for the lowest income Pennsylvanians.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) permitted states to extend emergency SNAP allotments to current SNAP recipients due to the ongoing COVID-19 and economic crises. Since March 2020, DHS has been able to issue approximately $100 million in additional SNAP benefits each month to nearly 600,000 Pennsylvania households each month. In total, this has brought in more than $1 billion in direct aid for Pennsylvania individuals and families as well as the small businesses, food retailers, and local food producers that feed our communities and have likely experienced the challenges of operating in a difficult economic climate.

These monthly emergency allotments are slated to increase effective April 2021. Federal guidance was recently issued clarifying that states will now be able to request an additional supplement of $95 for households that receive the maximum benefit. This will allow Pennsylvania to issue an additional $712 million in emergency allotments to households that previously did not receive this assistance in the coming weeks. 

According to Feeding Pennsylvania, nearly 1 in 20 Pennsylvanians were newly food insecure in 2020. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities also found in a survey conducted in February 2021 that 22 million adults nationwide said their household did not have enough to eat in the previous week – more than double the number that indicated the same in 2019.

Inadequate food and chronic nutrient deficiencies can have profound effects on a person’s life and health, including increased risks for chronic diseases, higher chances of hospitalization, poorer overall health, and increased health care costs. As the nation continues to face the COVID-19 pandemic, access to essential needs like food is more important than ever to help keep vulnerable populations healthy and mitigate co-occurring health risks.

Additionally, SNAP is a critical supporter of Pennsylvania’s economy, with more than 10,000 authorized retailers participating in SNAP across Pennsylvania. In May 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a study on the influence of SNAP redemptions on the economy and county-level employment in the time leading up to, during, and after the Great Recession. This study found that SNAP redemptions could have a greater economic stimulus impact than other forms of government spending per dollar spent, especially during a recession, because they are paid directly to low-income individuals. For instance, the grocery subsidies deliver food directly to tables along with a financial return into rural supermarkets and small businesses in those communities.

“During a pandemic and historic unemployment, resources are strained, particularly for the lowest-income Pennsylvanians.  SNAP is also an efficient way to support our local economies while ensuring households can keep food on the table,’ said Secretary Miller. “There will be a time when a disaster declaration will no longer be needed. None of us expects to be in this situation indefinitely. But, because of the disaster declaration, we do not have to forfeit this critical federal funding which would have serious implications for Pennsylvania and our most vulnerable individuals and families.”

For more information about food assistance resources for people around Pennsylvania impacted by COVID-19 and the accompanying economic insecurity, visit

To access the DHS Press release, click here.

PDE Sends PennLink Titled Act 136 of 2020 Extension of Type 01 Emergency Permit (April 9, 2021)

On April 9, 2021, Dr. Kerry W. Helm, Chief of the Division of Certification Services, Bureau of School Leadership and Teacher Quality, released a PennLink communiqué titled Act 136 of 2020 Extension of Type 01 Emergency Permits. That message stated that Act 136 of 2020 amended Section 1207.4(a)(5) of the School Code to permit the Secretary of Education to extend an emergency permit issued during the 2020-21 school year at the request of an employing school entity when the employee is unable to complete the requirements associated with the permit because the program credits or assessment could not be completed or scheduled.

So, what does it mean? It means that the extension provides qualified permit holders one additional year on the Type 01 permit to comply with the credit or assessment requirements of the Type 01 permit. Educators who have been issued a Type 01 emergency permit during the 2020-21 school year must be working to become permanently certified and be unable to meet the specific criteria associated with the Type 01 permit to obtain an extension.

 And, how does it work? Educators apply for a Type 01 emergency permit at the request of the employing school entity indicating they are eligible for the extension because they were unable to complete the credit requirements or assessment(s). Applicants must complete the verification form attesting to their inability to complete the credits or assessment requirements. The form can be found on the Department’s website at Fees and Forms. Resources for additional guidance can be found at: PDE Certification Information. Interested parties can also email or call 717 PA TEACH for additional information.

Departments of Health, Education Update Instructional Model Recommendations for Schools (April 6, 2021)

The Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education today announced modifications to their instructional model recommendations for Pre-K to 12 schools in response to updated guidance recently issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We remain committed to doing everything we can to create the conditions for a return to in-person instruction as soon as safely possible,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “Our updated instructional model recommendations create additional flexibilities for school leaders to make decisions at the local level consistent with best practices and with public health and safety at the forefront.”

In alignment with updates from the CDC, the departments recommend K-12 public schools in counties with a moderate level of community transmission of COVID-19 now consider returning students to full in-person instruction in addition to blended/hybrid learning model. Counties with a substantial level of community transmission should consider blended/hybrid learning in addition to remote learning for K-12 students.

The instructional models are available on PDE’s website.

“A safe return to in-person instruction will look different across every school, district, and county depending on a variety of factors, one of which is the spread of COVID-19 within these communities,” Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam said. “As we look to protect the safety and well-being of school staff and students, it is critical for everyone to continue proven public health practices of washing hands, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing regardless of instructional model offered.”

For the week ending April 2, there were five counties in the low level of transmission, 17 counties in the moderate level of transmission, and 45 counties were in the substantial level of community transmission:

Low – Cameron, Forest, Fulton, Potter, Sullivan

Moderate – Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Fayette, Indiana, Jefferson, McKean, Mercer, Snyder, Somerset, Tioga, Union, Venango, Warren

Substantial – Adams, Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Berks, Bradford, Bucks, Butler, Carbon, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Elk, Franklin, Greene, Huntingdon, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lawrence, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Northampton, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Washington, Wayne, Westmoreland, Wyoming, York

This update is a recommendation and not a mandate. The transition of instructional models is dependent on local factors, including the size of the school building, the classroom size, resources, proportion of staff and students with special needs and underlying health conditions, and the ability to accommodate learning with equal access for all students.

The Wolf Administration continues to maintain that local school leaders are best positioned to make instructional decisions for their communities that account for the county level transmission metrics and other local factors.

The departments will continue to monitor evolving research and data and adjust recommendations and resources accordingly.

For more information on the Pennsylvania Department of Education, please visit the website.

BSE Extends Application Process for Special Education Plan Requirements – Identification of Students with Specific Learning Disabilities Using RTI (April 4, 2021)

On April 2, 2021, Bureau of Special Education (BSE) Director Carole L. Clancy, Director sent a PennLink to LEAs titled Special Education Plan Requirements – Identification of Students with Specific Learning Disabilities using Response to Intervention Extension. The communiqué stated that, in response to the continued burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, BSE has extended the deadline and revised the application process for utilizing Response to Intervention (RTI) to identify students with a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). The deadline for school district and charter schools to apply for the 2021-2022 school year is July 1, 2021.

The revised process requires school districts and charter schools to submit the RTI for SLD Determination Fidelity Tool as the application. Applications are submitted to the regional Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) consultant. The RTI for SLD Determination Fidelity Tool will be used district-wide or for building levels (i.e., elementary, middle and/or high school). Additional information and the RTI for SLD Determination Fidelity Tool are available on the PaTTAN website.  

Each LEA must partner with their local Intermediate Unit (IU) and/or respective PaTTAN Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Lead Consultant to conduct a comprehensive review using the fidelity tool, and for assistance with the process.

Completed applications must be submitted to PaTTAN MTSS regional lead consultants no later than July 1, 2021:

Upon review of all documentation, BSE will issue a letter indicating whether the application will be approved or disapproved, or if additional evidence is necessary. 

Questions related to this message may be directed to Shannon Eye, Special Education Adviser, at 814-684-2038 or