01 Jun Pennsylvania in New Bid for School Funding (PA)

June 1, 2010

By: Eleanor Chute
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For weeks, Pennsylvania has been trying to beef up its application to try to win up to $400 million in federal Race to the Top money for its schools.

With today’s deadline for the next chance, it looks as if Pennsylvania may earn some additional points above the first round but not as many as state officials had hoped.

As many as nine points were lost last week, when the state House and Senate couldn’t agree on a bill that would have provided a means of alternative certification for teachers and principals.

The alternative certification wasn’t the issue. At issue were other amendments made by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, to the measure voted on by the Senate.

The House removed the amendments Wednesday, and there was no time for another Senate vote before both bodies recessed.

The Senate isn’t scheduled to reconvene until Monday.

How significant the lost points are remains to be seen.

In the first round of competition, Pennsylvania placed seventh. Only two states — Kentucky and Tennessee — were awarded money. The rest were to ld to try again in Phase 2, which has today’s deadline. Winners are to be announced in late August or September.

In the first round, Pennsylvania garnered 420 points, compared to 454.6 for Delaware and 442.2 points for Tennessee. If Pennsylvania had had nine more points, it would have finished in fifth place, two places higher.

This time, other states also have been trying to improve their applications, and some states have decided to withdraw from the competition.

The alternative certification bill was the only legislative change sought, said Leah Harris, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

"Most of the other changes are restructuring of the application," said Ms. Harris. "There are things we lost points on [the first time] not because of missing it but because it wasn’t written clearly enough or there wasn’t an attachment in the appendix."

The Center for Education Reform, a charter school advocacy group, recently noted a number of errors in the first-phase judging, including Pennsylvania where one reviewer wrote that there aren’t any virtual schools in Pennsylvania when actually there are 11 cyber charter schools in the state.

As for the bill that didn’t pass, the portion that both the House and Senate agreed on would have provided additional postbaccalaureate programs for teachers and principals to become certified.

For example, candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree in a subject area with a shortage of teachers and at least five years of work experience in the subject area or related field would have been able to enter a "residency program," take a subject area content test and teach following cert ain guidelines.

It also would have set up an intern program with "flexible and accelerated pedagogical training for teachers who have demonstrated subject matter competency" combined with once-a-month classroom observations.

In both of the cases, the candidate could teach for three years, and, if successful, the certificate would be converted to a standard starting certificate.

It also would have been possible for principals to become certified with three years of relevant experience, instead of the current requirement of five years.

One of the amendments sought by Mr. Piccola — and passed in the Senate but not the House — applied to governance of the troubled Harrisburg School District, which he represents.

In a letter to the governor, Mr. Piccola said the Harrisburg district is "arguably now, by any measure or statistic, the worst performing school district within the commonwealth."

"The compromise school district governance plan for Harrisburg complements Pennsylvania’s RTTT application and its focus on turning around troubled schools," Mr. Piccola wrote.

Mr. Piccola also wrote about turmoil in the Harrisburg district and that the measure is needed "before the district falls further into crisis."

The other amendments focused on school report cards in the lowest-performing schools and the continuation of the existing Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System, which looks at student growth on tests.

However, Gary Tuma, spokesman for the governor, said the amendments were a departure from the bill already agre ed upon by both Democratic and Republican caucuses and the governor.

"Senate Republicans chose to go outside that deal, and as a result the bill is stalled, and we lose that advantage in our Race to the Top application," said Mr. Tuma.

Nor does Mr. Tuma think the amendments would have enhanced the state’s application.

"Pennsylvania already scored very well in those areas," he said. "Where we really needed to improve was the area of alternative certification."

"My boss feels it was the House and the governor that should have acted on the bill and concurred, and we would have gotten the additional points for the Race to the Top application," said Diane McNaughton, deputy director of the Senate Education Committee. "Because they did not, we lost all of that."

Nevertheless, Mr. Tuma said, "We’re still hopeful, but everything helps."

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