School Code Amendments

House Bill 178 contains the omnibus amendments to the School Code, and includes these provisions:

Delay in graduation requirements: Extends the delay set by Act 1 of 2016 in the implementation of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement for one additional year until the 2019-20 school year.

ESSA state plan review: Requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE)

to submit to the General Assembly any State plan submission PDE is required to develop and submit to the US Department of Education for compliance with the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act. PDE must develop the State plan submission with timely and meaningful consultation with the chair and minority chair of the Education Committee of the Senate and the chair and minority chair of the Education Committee of the House of Representatives, with opportunity for input into the plan's formation, and with regard to initiatives that are newly created or that retain or modify existing law, regulation or PDE policy or directives concerning areas outlined in the bill. It prohibits PDE from submitting any State plan submission to the United States Secretary of Education until the Education Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives have been provided at least 15 days to review and comment on the plan, which may include a hearing before the committees if requested. The State plan submission and any future submissions by PDE must include the comments submitted by the Education Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, and PDE must report on a quarterly basis to the Education Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives regarding the progress toward implementation of the State plan submission and its components.

School director training programs: Beginning in the 2018-19 school year, all newly-elected or appointed school directors are required to complete during the first year of their first term a training program made available by PDE. The department must consult with PSBA and the PA Association of School Business Officials pertaining to the content of the programs. The program must include at least four hours of content on: instruction and academic programs, personnel, fiscal management, operations, governance, and ethics/open meetings. In addition, all re-elected school directors would be required to complete a two-hour advanced training program on relevant changes in state and federal law and regulations, fiscal management and other information as determined by PDE.

The programs must be made available at no cost to school districts or school directors. PDE shall approve alternate training programs provided by other providers (including school districts, intermediate units, postsecondary institutions or statewide organizations) that fulfill these requirements.

The provisions also apply to members of the School Reform Commission. In addition, charter school trustees must complete similar training program requirements. The program will be developed by PDE in consultation with statewide organizations representing charter schools.

PDE and any other entity providing training programs must examine options for making the programs available through online, distance learning media or regional-based training.

Financial watch district/educational access funding: A school district identified for financial watch status that receives at least $4 million in educational access program funding will be placed under the supervision of a financial administrator. The financial administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, may remove the school district from financial watch status, making these new provisions no longer applicable to the school district, provided that the district has demonstrated the ability to maintain a structurally balanced budget.

PlanCon moratorium:  Extends the moratorium on PDE’s acceptance of new school construction projects through the 2017-18 school year.

Reports from superintendents: Removes current language that requires superintendents to provide reports to PDE on or before the first Monday of August each year that include suggested improvements or changes to the public school system. The bill retains provisions for reports to be provided at the request of PDE.

Superintendent contract renewal: Changes the deadline for a school board to make contract renewal decisions for a superintendent or assistant superintendent from 150 days to 90 days prior to the expiration of the contract. Additionally, this legislation limits the automatic renewal of these contracts to one year, one time only, if the renewal notice deadline is missed.

Economic furlough: Allows a school district to suspend professional employees for an economic reason rather than being based on seniority, based on annual performance evaluations. The school board must suspend at least an equal percentage proportion of administrative staff and the secretary of education may grant a waiver if it is determined that the district’s operations are already sufficiently streamlined or the suspension would harm school stability and student programs. Any five administrative staff members, one of whom must be responsible for business operations, selected by the school district may be exempted from the proportionate reduction requirement.  The school board must approve the furloughs at a public meeting, and must adopt a resolution of intent to suspend the employees no later than 60 days prior to the adoption of a final budget. If teachers are reinstated, it must be in the reverse order in which they were suspended. The provisions would not be subject to bargaining.

Appeals to Secretary of Education: Requires that a professional employee aggrieved by a school board action file an appeal with the Secretary of Education within 15 days, not 30 days as in current law.

Provisional teaching certificates for military: Requires PDE to process applications for provisional college certifications submitted by members of the United State Armed Forces, veterans, or their spouses within 14 days of the date the department receives the completed application.

Teacher preparation/Praxis Exam scores: Prohibits teacher preparation programs approved by the PA Department of Education from requiring students to obtain a passing score on Praxis exams as a condition of program completion or graduation. Scores from the exams may not be used as a component of a student's grade. Requires a teacher preparation program to recommend applicants for certification who meet certain grade point averages.

School lunch shaming: Schools must provide a meal to a student who requests one, regardless of whether the student has money to pay for the meal or owes money for school meals (unless a student’s parents have provided directive to the school to withhold a meal). When a student owes money for five or more school meals, a school board shall require schools under its jurisdiction to make at least two attempts to reach the student’s parent to have them apply for participation in the free/reduced lunch program and may offer assistance in helping them apply.

School boards must require schools to direct all communications regarding money owed by a student to the student’s parent/guardian and not to the student. Additionally, school boards must allow schools to contact the student’s parent via a letter addressed to the parent but delivered by the student.

School boards also must prohibit schools under their jurisdiction from publicly identifying or stigmatizing a student who cannot pay or who owes money for school meals, requiring a student who cannot pay to perform chores or 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.

Recovery High School pilot program: Makes technical changes to recognize the delay in implementation of the four-year recovery high school pilot program under Act 86 of 2016. The program will begin in the 2017-18 school year and sunset in 2020-21 unless permanently established.

School security drills: Allows 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. Such drills are intended to practice procedures to respond to an emergency situation.

Instruction/in-service training in opioid abuse: Requires schools to provide instruction to students in grades 6-12 related to the prevention of opioid abuse, beginning in the 2018-19 school year. The Department of Health and the Department of Education 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.

Agricultural education: Amends requirements of PDE and the Department of Agriculture to provide educational resources and programming regarding agricultural education to kindergarten through secondary schools. The amendments add forestry to the list of topics in agricultural education, and make other technical changes.

Commission of Agricultural Education Excellence: Creates the Commission of Agricultural Education Excellence to assist in the development and implementation of agricultural education programming. The Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture have joint oversight of the new commission that will develop a model for statewide curriculum for agricultural education programs based on high priority occupations.

Multiple Charter School Organizations – Allows two or more high-performing charter schools to seek permission from PDE to consolidate into a Multiple Charter School Organization that will be managed by a single board of trustees and a single administrator. Each school district that granted the initial charter of any school in the proposed consolidation must adopt a resolution approving or rejecting the consolidation, and will continue to determine the renewal of such charter school. Nonrenewals may be appealed; decisions of state Charter Appeal Board are subject to appellate review by the Commonwealth Court.

EITC/OSTC boost: Increases the amount of tax credits available under the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program from $125 million to $135 million. The additional $10 million is to be used for contributions to scholarship organizations.

Market Value Change: Clarifies that for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2017, a school district's market value cannot exceed $47 billion, and in each subsequent year, the maximum market value will increase by the percentage increase in market value for all school districts.

Basic Education Funding: Requires that the data used in the basic education funding formula be fixed as of the first day of June preceding the school year in which the allocation occurs. Data fixed on the first day of June must be revised by the PDE during the allocation year if it is subsequently found to be incorrect. A definition for “current expenditures” is also added which clarifies that, beginning with the 2016-17 school year, it will not include tuition from patrons. In addition, changes are made to the definition of “Local tax-related revenue” to clarify that, beginning with the 2016-17 school year, it includes revenues received by a school district from the sales and use tax and cigarette tax.

IU funding: Provides for intermediate units to be level funded at an amount equal to 5.5% of the special education funding appropriation.

Use of undistributed funds: Increases from $4.5 million to $5 million the amount of unencumbered funds PDE may utilize to pay for technical assistance to Financial Watch and Financial Recovery School Districts.

Ready-to-Learn Block Grants: Provides for the distribution of Ready-to-Learn Block Grants for school entities for 2017-18 in the same amount as was allocated for 2016-17 ($250 million).

State Board of Education Master Plans: Changes the time frames for the adoption of state master plans for higher education and basic education from every five years to every ten years.