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.

PA Voters Give Thumbs Up to Constitutional Amendment Ballot Question (11-8-17)

The constitutional amendment to Article VIII of the PA Constitution that Pennsylvania voters passed November 7, 2017 gives the General Assembly the authority to pass a law authorizing local governments to exclude up to the full value of residents’ homes that they own from taxation. However, the law in and of itself does not give taxpayers any such relief and only provides the possibility of legislative action that could eventually lead to reductions in the use of property taxes to fund education. It is also important to note that, should property taxes could be reduced through legislative action, the amendment does not provide a means for making up for any such cuts.

Presently, local governments, under the homestead exclusion, have  the ability to exclude up to half the median value of homes in their area from taxation. Billions of dollars are collected each year to help fund public schools in the Commonwealth.

In essence, legislators can now, if they so desire, enact legislation that would provide additional options for property tax relief for residential property owners. However, the result of such would probably entail shifts in other tax and revenue sources to help fund the exclusions and replace the funding needed to support education.

School Code Bill Becomes Law: 2017-18 Budget is Now Complete  (11-6-17)

Effective November 6, 2017, and without the governor’s signature, the omnibus School Code provisions under House Bill 178 became law. This last bit of business is now out of the way and the 2017-18 budget is now complete.

Key elements in the law include:

  • School districts are allowed to suspend (furlough) professional employees for economic reasons, with such suspensions being based on annual performance evaluations and not seniority. In addition, a school board must suspend at least an equal percentage proportion of administrative staff. Also, the secretary of education may grant a waiver if it is determined that the school district’s operations are already sufficiently streamlined, or if the suspension would adversely affect school stability and student programs. Other stipulations are also included in the law.
  • A delay in the implementation of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement as set forth in Act 1 of 2016 for one more year, holding off implementation until the 2019-20 school year.
  • Level funding for intermediate units (IUs) at an amount equal to 5.5% of the special education funding appropriation.
  • The barring of school lunch “shaming,” requiring schools to provide a meal to a student who requests one, regardless of whether the student has money to pay for the meal and/or owes money for school meals. However, a student’s parents/guardians have the discretion to direct to the school to withhold a meal. Further, once a student owes money for five or more school meals, schools must be required to make at least two attempts to reach the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s) to have them apply for participation in the free/reduced lunch program and may offer assistance in helping them apply. Schools must also direct all communications regarding money owed by a student to the student’s parent/guardian and not to the student, and such communication can be by letter addressed to the parent(s)/guardian(s) but delivered by the student. Schools are also prohibited from: (1) Publicly identifying or stigmatizing a student who cannot pay or who owes money for school meals; (2) Requiring a student who cannot pay to perform chores; and/or (3) Requiring a student to discard a school meal after it was served due to the student’s inability to pay or if there is money owed for earlier meals.
  • The requirement that schools provide instruction to students in grades six through12 in the prevention of opioid abuse, beginning in the 2018-19 school year. The PA Department of Health (PDH) and the PA Department of Education (PDE) must develop and make available to schools a model curriculum as well as in-service training programs for instructors who will be teaching courses where the mandated opioid instruction is integrated.
  • Requirements for PDE and the PA Department of Agriculture to provide educational resources and programming regarding agricultural education to grades kindergarten through 12. The law also creates the Commission of Agricultural Education Excellence to assist in the development and implementation of agricultural education programming and to develop a model for statewide curriculum for agricultural education programs based on high priority occupations.
  • School entities are allowed to conduct an annual school security drill in place of a monthly fire drill in each school building within 90 days of the start of each school year. The bill also outlines the steps and procedures for a school district to use when setting up the drill with law enforcement and to alert parents/guardians of the date, time, and address of the drill.

School Code Revisions Bill Sent to Governor (10-28-17)

The Senate concurred in amendments made by the House of Representatives to omnibus School Code provisions under House Bill 178. The bill has been sent to the governor for his consideration. The bill includes provisions for the distribution of state subsidies as provided for under the budget. In addition, House Bill 178 includes language regarding:
*Postponing the use of Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement for one additional year until 2019-20.
*Continued review of Pennsylvania’s ESSA Consilidated State Plan Mandated school director training programs
*PlanCon moratorium extension
*Superintendent contract renewals
*Economic furloughs/reinstatement of employees
*Prohibition of school lunch shaming
*Teacher preparation test scores/application for certification
*School security drills
*Classroom instruction for the prevention of opioid abuse
*Multiple charter organizations
*$10 million boost for EITC/OSTC

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.

State Board Approves Chapter 11 Revisions

At its January meeting, the State Board of Education approved revisions to Chapter 11 of its regulations, pertaining to immunization. These changes will bring the regulations into compliance with those adopted earlier by the Department of Health. The major change is the reduction in the amount of time students have to complete immunizations before being terminated from school. (Updated 1/14/17)

General Assembly Education Leaders

Appointments to the General Assembly’s Education Committees for the new term are as follows: Senate Republican Chair – John Eichelberger; Senate Democratic Chair – Andrew Dinniman; House Republican Chair – Dave Hickernell; House Democratic Chair James Roebuck. These are the individuals who will be providing leadership in the field of education for the next two years and to whom your concernes need to be addressed. (Updated 1/6/17)

School Performance Profiles Recalled

Once again PDE has had to recall the School Performance Profiles due to errors in calculating school scores. These errors resulted from incomplete data such as Keystone test scores, academic grades, and PSAT participation rates. Such recalls have become a regular feature of the SPP’s despite PDE’s best efforts to correct the problems. The latest issues underscore the fact that district’s cannot rely upon the SPP’s for planning purposes. (Updated 10/21/16)

Dr. Wil Del Pilar Heads Higher Education Office at PDE

Dr. Del Pilar has an extensive background in education, having served in various positions at PDE, Penn State, the University of Florida and other locations. With a degree in school counseling, he might be considered more familiar with the issues in the Pupil Services field than most previous Deputy Secretary’s. Dr. Del Pilar is concerned with the dramatic decrease in teacher certification candidates, which amounts to 55% in the past five years. The decrease for African-American and Hispanic candidates is even greater, both exceeding 60%. (Updated 7/19/16)

State Board Considers MOU Changes

The State Board of Education is conducting its biennial review of the provisions for Memoranda of Understanding between schools and law enforcement agencies, as set forth in Chapter 10 of Regulations (Safe Schools). At this point it appears unlikely that any changes will be recommended to the model MOU. (Updated 7/19/16)

New Certifications for Educational Specialists

PDE has developed two new certificates in the educational specialist area. The first is School Speech and Language Pathologist PK-12. It will permit licensed clinical pathologists to practice in the schools [Reference CSPG #86]. The second is for an Orientation and Mobility Specialist, who must hold either an Orientation and Mobility Specialist certificate issued by the Academy for Certification of Vision or National Orientation and Mobility Certification issued by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. [Reference CSPG #202] A new certificate for a Behavior Analyst is also under development. (Updated 1/14/16)

Revised Immunization Regulations

The PA Department of Health is preparing to issue updated immunization regulations for school children. One of the major changes will be elimination of the 8-month provisional admission provision. This would now be reduced to 5 days for vaccines requiring multiple doses and 0 days for those requiring a single dose. The PDE is reviewing these changes since they will require revisions to Chapter 11 of State Board Regulations as well. Full details are included in the upcoming March PAPSA Manual Update.  (Updated 1/14/16)

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