Education news nuggets

The following are tidbits from The Education Policy and Leadership Center.

Parents school options may expand under proposed legislation

Democratic Caucus leaders in the Senate have announced committee chairs for the new legislative session. The Democratic chair of the Senate Education Committee remains the same as last session — Senator Andrew Dinniman (D). Senator Jeffrey Piccola (R) was previously announced as the Republican chair of the Senate Education Committee. Senator Piccola also served as chair during the 2009-2010 Session.

State Senators Anthony H. Williams (D) and Piccola announced the details of an "opportunity scholarship" plan on Jan. 11, targeting Pennsylvania’s worst schools and poorest families. The plan would allow the parents of a needy child to take the state subsidy that would have been directed to their home school district and apply it to the public, private or parochial school of their choice. For the Harrisburg School District, for example, that amount would equal approximately $9,000. The amount would vary from district to district and be significantly less in wealthier school districts that receive less state funding.

The Williams-Piccola plan would give scholarships to families meeting certain income limits for either public or private schools. The bill - Senate Bill 1 to reflect its priority status - also includes an increase of $25 million in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, bringing the total tax credits available under EITC to $100 million next year.

The plan calls for a three-year phase-in. In the first year, only low-income students currently attending persistently failing schools would be eligible for a grant. In the second year, low-income students residing within the attendance boundary of those schools, but currently attending private schools, would be eligible; and in the third year, all low-income students regardless of school district would be eligible.

The introduction of school voucher legislation, likely to be supported in some form by the new Corbett Administration, will trigger a major debate about school choice in Pennsylvania, including vouchers.


DOE grant seeks more equity for students with disabilities

The Department of Education is inviting public comment on its proposed grant application under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA-B). As part of its annual grant process, the Commonwealth must provide assurances that its policies and procedures in effect are consistent with federal requirements to ensure that a free appropriate public education is made available to all children with a disability (from ages three to 21), including children who have been suspended or expelled from school.

Written comments will be received until April 21. In addition, opportunities to present verbal testimony will be held at PATTAN locations throughout the state on Feb. 28 in Pittsburgh, March 2 in Harrisburg and March 14 inKing of Prussia.


Pa's got a new guvna

Today, Jan. 18, Pennsylvania's new governor was inaugurated in Harrisburg.

Governor-elect Tom Corbett and his team take the reins from Gov. Ed Rendell. Corbett announced on Jan. 13 that he will nominate Ronald J. Tomalis, 48, as Secretary of Education. From 1995 to 2001, Tomalis served as Executive Deputy Secretary of Education under Gov. Tom Ridge, where he took on the role of Chief Operating Officer for the department. From 2001 to 2004, Tomalis worked for the United States Department of Education, where he managed the implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as well as the $25 billion Title I/II programs. He also served as counselor to the United States Secretary of Education and as Acting Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education.