HB 178 and HB 202 letter of support to House Education Committee

February 2, 2017

Education Committee
Pennsylvania House

Re: House Bill 178 and House Bill 202

Dear Representative,

On behalf of the 4,500 elected officials who govern the commonwealth’s public school districts, we are writing to request your support of House Bill 178 and House Bill 202, both bills to be considered by the House Education Committee at your meeting on Monday February 6, 2017 at 11:00am. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) supports the goals of both House Bill 178 and House Bill 202.

House Bill 178, sponsored by Representative Gary Day, requires all school entities 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 set up the drill with law enforcement and alert parents of the date, time and address of the drill.

PSBA appreciates the work and recommendations of the bipartisan Select Committee that was put in place to review and investigate the state’s current laws, regulations, and policies concerning safety and security in our schools. This bill also limits the burden of public schools by allowing the safety drill to happen in place of one monthly fire drill instead of adding an additional drill. PSBA supports the ultimate goal of having schools prepared for specific safety concerns with the goal to make learning environments as safe as possible.

We respectfully ask that further consideration be given to providing clarity with regard to the definition of “school buildings” covered under this law, specifically if district administrative offices where no instruction occurs will fall under this bill. Further discussions should also be held with larger school districts regarding the 90-day period for completion of these drills and their ability to coordinate with local law enforcement in enough time to cover all buildings. PSBA also recommends that we ensure that language in School Code section 15-1518(b) which also mandates fire drills will not be in conflict with section 1517 which is addressed in House Bill 178.

House Bill 202, sponsored by Speaker Mike Turzai, would provide students enrolled in vocational education programs with flexibility in fulfilling their graduation requirements. This legislation along with A10561 would allow students who participate in a vocational education program to demonstrate proficiency by completing locally established grade based requirements for academic content areas associated with the keystone exams on which the CTE student did not achieve proficiency; and have the student attain an industry based competency certification related to the student program of study or demonstrate a high likelihood of success on an approved industry based competency assessment such as the National Occupation Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) or the NIMS (National Institute of Metalworkers Skills).

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) supports this legislation as it adds an alternative measurement for students’ aptitude and achievement. When the Keystone Exam delay legislation was proposed PSBA supported that bill and also stated –

“Keystone Exams can have a negative impact on CTE students. Early testing indicates that the Keystone Exam graduation requirements will result in significant decreases in student participation in career and technical education. The remedial requirements for students that fail a Keystone Exam impose additional staff and time requirements on school districts and students, and will certainly eliminate the opportunity for students to participate in CTE; in some cases students will elect to drop out of school.”

The legislation also limits the list of exams to those that have already been develop and financed by the State and will thus end the waste of state resources creating other assessments when appropriations are made available.   We know the creation of new tests costs millions of dollars. Numerous educators believe that the tests we have developed thus far are sufficient and that the additional tests result in no further educational value to school districts.  For this reason we ask that you oppose amendments that would try to include these test in the future.

Assessment systems that allow for local curriculum development with the guidance and careful eye of the Department of Education will ultimately meet the goal of a thorough and efficient public school system.  This legislation will swing the pendulum of assessment back towards a realistic approach when it comes to graduating students from our CTC programs. Allowing students to take assessments and trusting the integrity and professionalism of the administration and staff in our CTC programs is a common sense solution that moves Pennsylvania toward the direction that the new ESSA law has given States the flexibility to choose.

PSBA would like to thank Chairman Hickernell for bringing up these important pieces of legislation that provide both district flexibility as well as put students educational and safety needs first. We would also like to thank Representative Day and Speaker Turzai for their work and dedication on these bills.