House Continues Focus on Education
HARRISBURG – In a series of education-focused bills passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives this session, including this week, the chamber continued its commitment to excellence in education that has been a hallmark for House Republicans since gaining the majority nearly four years ago.

“Our legislative actions continue to demonstrate our ceaseless commitment to Pennsylvania’s children to ensure they learn today to earn tomorrow,” said House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny). “With record-setting investments in Pennsylvania education and several key reforms to help children, parents and teachers focus on academics, this session has truly seen House Republicans lead the way on this critical issue.”

Highlights of the comprehensive education package include:
•    Expanding access to the successful Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs.
•    Reforming school construction reimbursement procedures.
•    Establishing education transparency with creation of the SchoolWATCH website.
•    Ensuring high school students receive college course credit for Advanced Placement (AP) courses and other skills developed outside of the classroom.
•    Creating critical charter school reform by allowing for a charter appeal process in Philadelphia.
•    Passing enabling legislation to assist Philadelphia School District continue fiscal reforms while keeping schools open.

House Bill 91 (passed by a vote of 193-4 and sent to the governor’s desk for signature) expands parental choice and access to what has become a national model and has given tens of thousands of Pennsylvania children the opportunity to participate in innovative educational programs. The legislation creates an “open door” between the EITC and OSTC programs and would allow tax credits that were not used for one of the two programs to be applied to the other. EITC provides tax credits to businesses in exchange for contributions to scholarship organizations and educational improvement organizations. Funding for the EITC program is currently set at $100 million, and the OSTC program is funded at $50 million.

“Offering children and parents in struggling school districts a lifeline to learning in a safe environment that better suits their needs has brought thousands of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable families a real opportunity for academic success,” said Turzai.

Senate Bill 1281
(passed by a vote of 196-2) makes much-needed reforms to the process by which schools districts are reimbursed for construction costs. The Planning and Construction Workbook process, also known as PlanCon, would be transformed into the Accountability and Reducing Costs in Construction (ARC Con) process. ARC Con streamlines the process from 11 steps to five steps, which allows school districts to save time and money in the application process. ARC Con saves costs by focusing on the rehabilitation of old buildings rather than new construction.

Also included in the bill is creation of the SchoolWATCH website, which will allow residents to easily find budgets and expenditures of school districts. The website would include the annual financial statements of school districts, charter schools, regional charter schools, cyber charter schools and area vocational-technical schools, along with the final adopted budgets of public school entities. In addition, the website would allow residents to search for and review the receipts, expenditures, and performance of these school entities.  The Senate did not take action.

House Bill 1013 (passed by a vote of 129-63 and sent to the governor’s desk for signature) is a major reform of Pennsylvania’s home education law, strengthening this parental option while maintaining quality.  The bill provides legitimacy to high school diplomas for students in home education programs by granting Commonwealth recognition of diplomas issued by supervisors and approved diploma-granting organizations.  The bill further eliminates duplicative evaluation requirements while still providing for the engagement of school district superintendents in the home education process. Finally, the bill gives much-needed protection to home education programs for the duration of any appeals process relating to a home education program.

House Bill 2076 (passed by a vote of 193-3) ensures high school students receive college course credit for their Advanced Placement (AP) courses and other skills they have developed outside of the classroom. Bringing academic achievements into the 21st century, this bill would allow students obtaining these college credits while still in high school to reduce some of their financial burden by eliminating the need to pay for duplicate courses once they reach college. The Senate did not take action.

House Bill 1177 (passed by a vote of 114-84, now Act 131) allows for a charter appeal process in Philadelphia. Prior to this new law, charter school applicants who were denied by the School Reform Commission (SRC) had no opportunity to appeal. This lack of due process was unique to Philadelphia. Currently, there is a waiting list of 34,000 students in Philadelphia for charter schools, and the district recently announced it will accept new charter applications for the first time in years.

The bill also allows Philadelphia City Council to impose a cigarette tax within the city to help fund its schools.

This comprehensive package of education improvement and reform bills comes on the heels of an all-time record-setting investment in Pennsylvania education of more than $10 billion in the 2014-15 state budget.

Representative Mike Turzai
Majority Leader
28th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Stephen Miskin
Share |