DeVos Proposes 2019 USDE Budget and Clarifies USDE Stance on Transgender Bathroom Use (2/13/18)

President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have released their proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year, which channels more than $1 billion to be spent on private school vouchers and other school choice plans. The budget proposal also calls for cutting $3.6 billion from the USDE by eliminating a total of 29 discretionary programs, including federal funding for some after-school programming for needy children; eliminating funding for the $2 billion Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants Program (Title II, Part A) of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as well as the $1.2 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers program (21st CCLC, Title IV, Part B) of the ESSA; professional development for teachers; Special Olympics; and a grant program for college students with exceptional financial need. The budget proposes the deepest funding cuts to the USDE since the Reagan administration was in office.

Last year, USDE rolled back steps taken by the Obama administration that protected transgender students when it came to the right of transgender students to use the restroom at school that corresponds with their gender identity. Now the USDE, under the leadership of DeVos, has stated that it will not hear complaints about or take action on the right of transgender boys or girls to use the school restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Recently, USDE had dismissed several discrimination cases regarding transgender student bathroom use.

The reasoning now used by the USDE is that Title IX does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Similarly, access to accommodations such as restrooms, or presumably locker rooms, based on the sex of the student and not gender identity is also not considered a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX. Opponents to this position claim that this new policy statement is contrary to court rulings on these issues which have stated that denying transgender students appropriate bathroom access in accordance with their gender identity is a violation of Title IX.

Congress Extends CHIP Funding for Six More Years (1/24/18)

The three-day government shutdown ended with Congress voting to approve a short-term bill that will fund federal operations through February 8, 2018. It will also fully fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through fiscal year 2023. President Trump quickly signed the continuing resolution (CR) into law on the evening of Monday, January 22, 2018.

The CHIP program, which provides coverage to children in families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance, had seen its funding technically expire back on October 1, 2017, although a temporary spending bill in December kept the program going through March 2018 maintaining coverage for an estimated nine million children. Nonetheless, more than 20 states were looking at CHIP funding shortfalls by the end of January 2018.

Although CHIP is saved for six more years, the CR neglected to extend funding for Community Health Centers, which are also seeing their funding running out.

USDE Approves PAs ESSA Plan (1/17/18)

On Tuesday, January 16, 2018 the US Department of Education approved Pennsylvania’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. PA’s approved plan includes: implementing a Career Ready Indicator that will highlight school success in career exploration activities, including at the elementary level; reducing chronic absenteeism; and long-term goals that include reducing the statewide percentage of non-proficient and non-graduating students by 50% by 2030, increasing the number of students who achieve proficiency on PSSA and Keystone Exams, and supporting English Language Learners in growth toward achieving English proficiency.

Approval of the plan was required in order to receive federal funding.

Many have been pleased with a part of the plan that is expected to result in third- through eighth-graders spending an average of 20% less time on state-mandated standardized testing.

New Federal Law Allows Use of PA 529 Monies for K-12 Ed Expenses (1/12/18)

When HR 1 became federal law on December 22, 2017, it contained a provision that allows families to use 529 plans to pay for expenses for tuition in connection with enrollment or attendance at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school up to $10,000 per year, per beneficiary.

Pennsylvania has two 529 plans. The PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan allows families to save at today’s lower credit rates, with growth being based on tuition inflation. Thus, if a family saves enough for one semester at a state university today, they will have enough for a semester at that school in the future. The other plan, the PA 529 Investment Plan, provides returns on contributions that are based on investment performance of a family’s choice that range from aggressive to conservative.

As expected, the new provision has generated passionate responses that both criticize and praise the change.

Last-minute Measure in Congress Extends CHIP Funding (12/22/17)

Congress gave final approval to a sweeping spending bill Thursday (12/21/17) evening that sidesteps a government shutdown less than 36 hours before the year-end deadline and includes a short-term extension for CHIP health care for low-income kids, which had expired Sept. 30. The stopgap extends funding through Jan. 19, 2018 and passed in the House 231-188 and in the Senate 66-32.

Supreme Court Declines to Hear School Prayer Case (11/27/17)

On Monday, November 27, 2017 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a case that centered on prayers before school board meetings. The Court’s denial, without comment, has thus left continuing uncertainty over the constitutionality of such practice.

The case, American Humanist Association v. Birdville Independent School District, saw a former student from the Birdville, TX school district and the Washington-based humanist group seeking review of a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which upheld the school district’s policy of permitting students to lead prayers before school board meetings.

Back in 2014, in Greece v. Galloway, the US Supreme Court upheld the practice of a town in New York state that opened its municipal meetings with prayers. The Court held that the town does not violate the First Amendment’s prohibition of government establishment of religion by having a prayer “that comports with our tradition and does not coerce participation by non-adherents.”

What is still up for debate is whether school boards are considered to be akin to general municipal governing bodies like town councils and county boards, or whether school boards are similar to schools, which would trigger church-state considerations. In its ruling, the 5th Circuit categorized the Birdville school district as being akin to the town of Greece, NY.

K-12 Cuts and School Choice Proposals Nixed by Legislators (9/8/17)

On September 7, legislators in both the House and Senate have shot down Trump administration plans to use federal funds for vouchers or public school choice. Legislation passed by both the House and Senate also bars the administration from making serious cuts to spending at the US Department of Education. In fact, legislation that received bi-partisan support for the full Senate Appropriations committee requires the secretary of ed. to receive congressional approval in order to create a school choice initiative using federal funds. Current plans provide approximately $1 billion for 21st Century Community Learning Centers and $68.3 billion for the USDE, which includes an increase of $29 million and is contrary to administration wishes.

The administration was looking to increase Title I by $1 billion to fund a new program that would use federal funding for school choice. It also wanted to provide an additional $250 million to the Education Innovation and Research program aimed at facilitating private school choice. Current spending proposals provide level funding for special education state grants and eliminate a proposed $165 million Trump administration cut to career and technical education funding.


Gov. Wolf’s Budget Proposes Increased Ed Funding (2/6/18)

On Tuesday, February 6, 2018,  Governor Wolf delivered his state budget address to the PA General Assembly. His proposal contained a 3.1% increase over last year. The $32.9 billion proposed budget is supportive of education, highlighted by an increase in basic subsidy and special education line items; an increased investment in both career and technical education and workforce development initiatives; and an increase in funding for early childhood programs. The proposal has no major cuts in education. In fact, most other education programs would receive either an increase in funding or would be level-funded.

The budget proposal is devoid of any broad-based new taxes. However, seeking to bolster revenue, the governor called for the passage of a severance tax, in addition to maintaining the existing impact fee.

Finally, despite the $989.8 million increase in education, public schools will still be facing significant cost increases in employee pensions and special education.

PA Board of Ed. Releases Annual Report for 2017 (1/16/18)

At its January 11, 2018 meeting, the PA State Board of Education passed a resolution endorsing K-12 computer science standards developed by the Computer Science Teachers Association and encouraged local education agencies across the Commonwealth to voluntarily adopt these standards to guide their practice in the delivery of Computer Science instruction.

Also, Pursuant to Section 2603-B of the Public School Code of 1949, 24 P.S.§26-2603-B, the State Board of Education provided a report on its activities for the year 2017 including:

  • Immunizations – The Board adopted final amendments to 22 Code, Chapter 11. The amendments align the provisions of Chapter 11 pertaining to non-immunized students with revisions to immunization requirements for student attendance made by the PA Department of Health (DOH). Among the key changes made by DOH was a reduction in the provisional admission time frame for students who are not fully immunized from eight months to five school days and a requirement for school administrators to review a student’s medical certificate for becoming up-to-date with immunizations on a more frequent 30-day schedule.
  • Act 70 – The Board offered seven recommendations for improving instruction with regard to the Holocaust, genocide, and human rights violations.
  • Act 86 – The Board produced a report per Act 86 of 2016, which directed the Board to conduct a review of existing public school entity data collection requirements in the areas of finance, human resources, food services, transportation, child accounting, athletics, health, and special education.
  • Master Plan for Basic Education – The Board initiated a necessary update to its Master Plan for Basic Education. The Board anticipates that a draft update to the Master Plan will be completed in Spring 2018, after which time the Council of Basic Education will conduct a stakeholder engagement effort to gather additional input on the draft plan before it is presented to the Board for adoption.
  • Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA) – The Board approved changes to the cut scores for PASA, the state assessment administered to students with the most severe cognitive disabilities. The Board also approved updates to certain Alternate Eligible Content to which the PASA is aligned. In May, the Board approved new Alternate Eligible Content for Writing and updated Alternate Eligible Content for Science. In July, the Board approved revised Performance Level Descriptors and cut scores for the PASA.The cut score revisions were necessary to reflect changes to the Alternate Eligible Content in English Language Arts and Mathematics that were previously approved by the Board in 2015.
  • English Language Development Standards (ELDS) – The Board updated ELDS that replace PA’s prior English Language Proficiency Standards. ELDS standards are required by federal law. PA’s updated standards include model performance indicators – examples of how students use language at the various proficiency levels – that are broken down by grade levels, content areas, English proficiency levels, and language domains. The content-related examples in the new ELDS also were updated to reflect the rigor of the new PA Core Standards.

Change in Senate Ed Committee May Sway Vote on  School Choice Bill (12/15/17)

The state Senate Education Committee is going to make a mid-session personnel change. Erie County Republican Senator Dan Laughlin is officially moving from the Education Committee to the Community, Economic, and Recreational Development Committee. It has been announced that his replacement will be Rich Alloway, a Republican Senator from Franklin County. The result of such a move is likely to have significant consequences for SB 2, a bill that would allow students in the lowest-performing public schools to use the money the state would have spent on their education for other school options, including private schools. Sen. Laughlin has been a key opponent of SB 2 and a big reason the bill failed by a single vote to get to the Senate floor in October. Alloway is one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

Senate Ed Committee Approves Alternative Grad Requirements (12/14/17)

The Senate Education Committee has approved Senate Resolution 248, which opposes the use of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement and urges PDE to come up with alternative methods of assessment to show graduation readiness and that align with IDEA and ESSA. That means that those methods of assessment must provide accommodations to students permitted to have such, that the assessments are developed in keeping with principles of universal design, and that the assessments meet the PA Career Ed and Work Standards or are valid and reliable measures of the PA Core Standards for Algebra I, English Lit, and biology in ways comparable with the Keystones.

PA Senate Reauthorizes CHIP  (12/12/17)

On Monday, December 11, 2017, in a 43-6 vote,  the PA Senate passed a bill to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through 2019. The CHIP program provides health insurance to children in financially strapped families whose income is too high to qualify for standard Medicaid programs. The bill now goes to Governor Wolf for his signature.

Re-authorization became controversial and political rankling has occurred since Governor Wolf moved to expand the program to include transgender services, which was left unchanged in the final bill.

Federal funding covers approximately 90 percent of the $450 million cost of Pennsylvania’s CHIP program and that funding is at risk without Congress approving reauthorization on the national level.

HB 1386 Looks to Reset  Teacher Cert. Levels (12/8/17)

House Bill 1386, which was passed by the House in October, revises the scope of teacher certification levels to revert to the following levels:

  • Early childhood: pre-k, kindergarten, grades 1-4 (ages 3-9)
  • Elementary: kindergarten, grades 1-6 (ages 4 -11)
  • Middle: grades 6 -9 (ages 11-15)
  • Secondary: grades 7 – 12 (ages 11 -21)
  • Specialized areas: pre-k – grade 12 (up to age 21)
  • Special education: pre-k -grade 12 (up to age 21) Certification in an additional content area is not required.

The bill reverts certification levels to those prior to 2013. The bill is now in the Senate Education Committee for further consideration.

Harrisburg Releases updated Immunization Info (9/8/17)

As you are likely aware, on August 1, 2017, new requirements for school immunizations went into effect for the 2017-18 school year. These new regulations shorten the provisional enrollment period for students who are not fully immunized from eight months to five days, and update some vaccination requirements for school-age children. The regulations apply for all students in Pennsylvania’s K-12 schools, including public and private schools. Additional information regarding these new regulations is available on the PA Department of Health’s webpage:

The Department has recently updated its basic education circular (BEC) regarding School Immunizations to reflect requirements under Pennsylvania’s new health regulations.  This revised BEC aims to address many of the questions that PDE has received from local educational agencies (LEAs) regarding implementation of these new requirements. The attached BEC is also available on PDE’s website:

Additional questions regarding the guidance and recommendations contained within the BEC should be directed to Jeanette Medina, School Services Office, at 717-214-9755 or  Questions related to the new school immunization requirements and available resources should be directed to the PA Department of Health’s Division of Immunizations at 717-787-5681.

2017-18 PA Budget Issues Remain Unresolved (9/1/17)

As of the date this newsletter was published, Pennsylvania’s $2.2 billion budget gap had not yet been filled and Governor Tom Wolf was indicating the commonwealth could be heading for major spending freezes. By September 15, the governor said he either has to put spending for certain state programs on hold, or borrow more money from the Treasury. He also stated that he does not want to borrow without a balanced budget. The House is not scheduled to return until September 11, and it was unclear if they would have a compromise in place by then. The Treasury projected that the general fund would hit zero by the end of August. A spokesman said September 15 is the day a significant Medicaid provider payment is due, which would put the fund $1.6 billion underwater. However, payments cannot be made unless some additional revenue is found. House Republican leaders say their caucus still disagrees regarding the tax increases in the Senate proposal.

Additional information can be found in the links above.

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