“There are non-monetary steps that the state can take to help school districts with costs, including reviewing state special ed class size requirements and assisting with alternative dispute resolution options that lower legal costs. The shrinking of mental health services due to human service funding cuts is also hurting our school districts, and something that needs to be considered as we enter the process of passing a state budget.”

Sen. Ted Erickson (R-Delaware), Chairman of the Senate Majority Policy Committee, which held a public hearing Wednesday on the challenges school districts face in meeting state and federal special education mandates.


Preview

Senate Session, Unemployment Compensation Call Centers

The Senate will convene Monday at 1 p.m. for session.

The Senate Labor and Industry Committee, chaired by Sen. John Gordner (R-Columbia), and the House Labor and Industry Committee will hold a joint public hearing Tuesday on issues related to Unemployment Compensation Call Centers. (10 a.m. North Office Building, Room 1
Senate Committee Schedule

Gov. Corbett’s 2013-14 budget address is scheduled for February 5. The Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), has scheduled three weeks of public hearings on the budget proposal, beginning Tuesday, February 19.

Review

School Emergency Plans, Security to be Subjects of Special Senate Hearing

School emergency plans and security measures designed to ensure student safety and increase school-to-parent communication during an emergency will receive an in-depth review by two key Senate committees, Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) announced Thursday.

The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, chaired by Senator Baker, and the Education Committee, chaired by Senator Folmer, will hold the hearing from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13 in the Capitol’s North Office Building, Hearing Room 1.

Among the strategies to be discussed is a proposal by Senator Scarnati to dramatically increase the amount of funding available for grants which schools could utilize for school safety and violence prevention initiatives, including training and hiring armed guards to protect their students, teachers and administrators.
Listen

Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on Prison Closings

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), held a public hearing on Tuesday to receive testimony on the planned closing of the State Correctional Institution at Cresson and the State Correctional Institution at Greensburg.

Testifiers at the hearing included Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, municipal officials from Cresson Township, Cresson Borough and Hempfield Township and union representatives. The planned closings are the result of the first drop in state prison population in years and the implementation of judicial reforms. The closings will save $23 million per year, but result in the loss of hundreds of jobs in the affected communities.
Hearing agenda and video

Policy Committee Explores Special Education Challenges

The Senate Majority Policy Committee, chaired by Sen. Ted Erickson (R-Delaware), held a public hearing Wednesday on the challenges school districts face in meeting state and federal special education mandates.

Testifiers, including superintendents and education advocates, discussed issues driving up special education costs – such as class size mandates and litigation — and the inequities in the state funding formula. Among the school districts testifying were the Upper Darby School District (Delaware County), the Lewisburg Area School District (Union County), and the North Allegheny School District (Allegheny County).

Senator Erickson: “Special education costs are borne by the local school districts and taxpayers, even though the mandates come from the federal and state governments. The current funding formula does not provide that state funding is distributed on an equitable basis to school districts across the state.  And the federal funding is inadequate for the requirements it has placed on our schools.”

For more on the hearing, please see In the Spotlight, below.
Hearing video and written testimony

Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Approves Stormwater Management Bill

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, chaired by Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), approved a measure Wednesday to help fund community stormwater management projects.

Senate Bill 196, sponsored by Sen. Don White (R-Indiana), will enable the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority to expand its capability to use federal monies provided by the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to fund storm water management and water pollution remediation projects. To expand the use of these federal funds, the legislature must amend state law.

The bill will also expand the list of eligible funding applicants to include non-governmental entities such as nonprofit organizations and watershed groups.

Intergovernmental Operations Committee Moves STEB Bill

The Intergovernmental Operations Committee, chaired by Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango), on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 66, sponsored by Sen. John Gordner (R-Columbia).

The measure will complete the process of formally moving the State Tax Equalization Board (STEB) into the Department of Community and Economic Development.

The move, included as part of the 2012-13 state budget, is intended to save taxpayer money while streamlining and enhancing STEB operations. STEB provides a vital service, especially for school districts that operate in multiple counties.

In the Spotlight

Testifiers during the Senate Majority Policy Committee hearing on special education noted that federal law requires that school districts take steps to identify every student in need of special education services or face penalties, and that the stronger emphasis on early childhood education increases the likelihood that children are identified early.  Although the number of students who are identified as in need of special education services has increased over the past five years, state and federal special education subsidies have remained flat.

In addition to the increase in the number of students who must be provided special education services, testifiers outlined some of the other major cost drivers, including legal fees incurred before a dispute even gets to a hearing; uncapped tuition fees for required out-of-district placement of special ed students; and labor costs.  For example, the Upper Darby School District employs 246 full-time and 98 hourly employees to provide special education services in its schools.

Senator Erickson said he is looking forward to hearing concrete suggestions from testifiers about how the legislature, as well as the federal government, can change or modify regulations and requirements so that school districts have more flexibility to meet the needs of their students.

Fast Facts

 

Senate Appropriations Committee Budget Hearing Schedule

Tuesday, February 19

Governor’s Budget Office/Executive Offices/Office of the Governor
Public Utility Commission
Independent Fiscal Office — Economic Outlook and Revenue Overview

Wednesday, February 20

Treasury Department
Office of the Auditor General
Office of Attorney General

Thursday, February 21

State Police/Homeland Security
Department of General Services
Department of Insurance
Gaming Control Board

Monday, February 25

Liquor Control Board
Department of State
Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
Department of Conservation & Natural Resources

Tuesday, February 26

Department of Revenue
Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs
Department of Health

Wednesday, February 27

SERS/PSERS
Department of Aging
Department of Environmental Protection

Thursday, February 28

Penn State University
Temple University
University of Pittsburgh
Lincoln University

Monday, March 4

Department of Education
Department of Corrections/Office of Probation and Parole
Department of Community & Economic Development

Tuesday, March 5

Department of Public Welfare
State System of Higher Education
Department of Agriculture

Wednesday, March 6

Department of Transportation
Department of Labor and Industry
Department of Banking and Securities