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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Senator Fontana hands out awards at the 31st Annual Brookline Breeze on Saturday, August 11th.

Senator Fontana hands out awards at the 31st Annual Brookline Breeze on Saturday, August 11th. Over 800 people participated in the Brookline Breeze this year, an increase of over 160 from last year with 550 runners competing in the 5K race.

Options for Students

studentsThe time has come again for students to go back to school. Education is a huge aspect of the budget each year and this week I’m going to focus on highlighting what has occurred over the past few months. During these difficult economic times, many schools are struggling to adequately educate students while still maintaining enough funding to buy supplies as well as meet payroll for the various staff.

Recently, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) created a list of the “lowest performing schools” in our state by combining the 2011 PSSA’s math and reading scores for all public schools. The list is broken up between elementary and secondary schools and does not include charter, cyber charter or area vocational-technical schools. Overall, 414 public schools in 74 districts represent the lowest-achieving 15 percent of schools across the state with more than 242,000 kids attending these schools. Allegheny County alone has 53 elementary and secondary schools on this list. To see PDE's complete listing, please go to: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/school_services_office/9153/p/1202312

In June, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a law that increases the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program and creates the Educational Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (EOSTC). What these programs do is give both low-income and students attending the schools on PDE's list some options.

How these programs work are students, whose families earn less than a certain annual income, will be eligible to apply for scholarships to a public or private school that participates in the program. In return, tax credits are offered as incentives to businesses that donate to these scholarship programs.

Notification letters have been sent out to the parents of students who attend Pennsylvania’s lowest performing schools about the EOSTC program in early August.

Specifically:

EITC

  • This year, the existing EITC program was increased by $25 million making the total amount of EITC tax credits available to businesses that fund children who get scholarships to other schools totaling $100 million in FY 2012-13.

  • In the 2012-13 school year, students are eligible to receive a scholarship if their household’s annual income is no greater than $60,000, plus $12,000 for each dependent member of the household. (example: For a family with four eligible children, their income limit would be $108,000 or less to qualify for the program)

  • After June 30, 2013, the maximum household income increases to $75,000 and the income allowance for each additional dependent rises to $15,000. The income allowance will be adjusted after July 1, 2014 based on Consumer Price Index increases.

  • An average scholarship will be $1,000 per student.

  • Businesses that pledge money to public and private school scholarships for one year are able to donate up to $300,000 and receive a tax break from the state for up to 75 percent of the donated amount.

  • The amount a business firm may contribute increases to $400,000 in fiscal year 2013-14, and to $750,000 beginning in fiscal year 2014-15. Businesses may also be eligible to receive a tax cut of 90 percent of the donated amount for committing to an amount for two years.

EOSTC

  • Beginning in 2012-13, all students residing in the boundaries of a low-achieving school as of the first day of classes of the school year will be eligible for potentially larger scholarships under EOSTC.

  • $50 million in tax credits will be available for the EOSTC program.

  • In the 2012-13 school year, students are eligible to receive a scholarship if their household’s annual income is no greater than $60,000, plus $12,000 for each dependent member of the household. (example: For a family with four eligible children, their income limit would be $108,000 or less to qualify for the program)

  • After June 30, 2013, the maximum household income increases to $75,000 and the income allowance for each additional dependent rises to $15,000. The income allowance will be adjusted after July 1, 2014 based on Consumer Price Index increases.

  • A scholarship cannot exceed $8,500 for regular education students or $15,000 for special education students.

  • Under the scholarship program, the following applicants receive priority:
    • Applicant who received a scholarship for the prior school year
    • Applicant with household income no greater than 185% of Federal Poverty Index (i.e., eligible for free or reduced-price lunch)
    • Applicant with household income no greater than 185% of Federal Poverty Index (i.e., eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) who resides within a first-class school district or a district that would immediately be subject to a declaration of financial recovery status.

Students can only use an EITC or EOSTC scholarship at schools who participate in the program. To see what schools are participating in EITC or EOSTC or if you are a school that would like to participate in the program, please go to the following link: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/school_services_office/9153/p/1202312

If you are a business that would like more information on how to participate in EOSTC or a parent or student who would like to apply for a scholarship, please go to www.newpa.com/ostc. Tax credits applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. Applicants will be approved until the amount of available tax credits is exhausted.

K-12 Education Budget

StudentsThe following are some of the highlights from the 2012-13 state budget:

  • K-12 funding is flat funded in the budget. In addition, $49 million was added to the Basic Education Subsidy appropriation to provide supplemental aid to financially distressed school districts — $39 million in direct funding to 16 school districts and $10 million for a Financial Recovery Transitional Loan Program to provide loans to school districts in financial recovery status that have approved a financial recovery plan.

  • An additional $2.5 million is appropriated to the Duquesne School District. This includes $500 per pupil for the next two years, for transitional services related to students in the 7th, 8th and 9th grades reassigned to neighboring school districts.

  • The Accountability Block Grant appropriation of $100 million is restored after the Governor eliminated funding in his proposed budget in February. The majority of school districts use this funding for class reduction, full-day kindergarten and pre-k programs.

  • Early Childhood Education programs are funded in both PDE and DPW. The budget restores $4.1 million in PDE for the Pre-K Counts program. Pre-K Counts provides funding for early childhood learning, focusing on at-risk students.

  • The budget restores $1.9 million for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance, which expands pre-K services to eligible children.

  • Funding for Early Intervention, which provides services and support for children with developmental delays, is increased $8 million over the prior fiscal year.

  • The budget provides level funding for the Public Library Subsidy appropriation.

  • PlanCon is level funded at $296 million. For FY 2012-13 the budget includes a limitation on PDE’s acceptance or approval of new school building construction/ reconstruction project applications received after October 1, 2012, and requires PDE to conduct a review of its school building project approval process and submit recommendations by May 1, 2013. Existing projects already in the PlanCon process will not be impacted.

Higher Education

The following are some of the highlights from the budget for higher education as well as some changes that will take place for this upcoming fiscal year:

Higher Education Chart

*Funding for Agricultural Research and Extension in 2010-11 is not included since it is now funded through a transfer under the Department of Agriculture.

PHEAA PHEAA Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency - PHEAA

  • For the 2012-13 fiscal year, the total amount of funding that will be available for student grants is $419.88 million, which includes $344.88 million in state funding and $75 million that the PHEAA Board of Directors will direct from its business earnings to supplement the State Grant Program. The enacted funding amount will allow the number of grants awarded to remain unchanged and the maximum grant amount to remain at $4,348.

  • Funding is restored for the Institutional Assistance Grants (IAG) line, which provides assistance to higher education institutions that do not receive other state funds. It will be level funded at $24.39 million. The Governor had recommended a 30 percent reduction.

Did You Know…

Did you know 3,553 students from the 42nd Senatorial District received PHEAA state grants in 2011-12? The total amount of PHEAA state grants made available to these students totaled $8,116,590 with the average award being $2,837.

Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education – PASSHE Modernization

  • Authorize the PASSHE universities and employees to enter into economic development transaction agreements.

  • Allow PASSHE institutions to enter into agreements with private affiliated foundations which may solicit and manage donations from the private sector for the direct benefit of the PASSHE institution.

  • Allow for the establishment of doctoral programs at all PASSHE universities.

  • Allow PASSHE to enter into agreements with any entity/consortia for the cooperative use of supplies and services.

Additional New Education Related Laws

TeacherTeacher Evaluation System

  • The omnibus School Code legislation includes a complete revamp of the Commonwealth’s teacher and administrator evaluation system. The new system will affect K-12 classroom teachers, principals and nonteaching professional employees, but fails to include teachers and administrators at public charter school and public cyber charter schools.

  • Beginning with fiscal year 2013-2014, requires classroom teachers to be evaluated giving consideration to classroom observation and practice models related to student achievement and student performance. Beginning with fiscal year 2014-2015, requires principal evaluations which give consideration to planning and preparation, school environment, delivery of service, professional development and student performance.

  • Student performance is to comprise 50% of the overall rating and be based on multiple measures of achievement as follows:
    • 15% based on building level data
    • 15% based on teacher specific data
    • 20% based on elective data locally developed and selected by the school district from a list approved by the department.

Financially Distressed School Districts – HB 1307

  • The legislation develops an early warning system for financially distressed school districts and creates moderately and severe financial recovery classifications. Districts (currently 4 and never more than 9) will be assigned a chief recovery officer and will implement a financial recovery plan. They will be eligible for an interest free loan program.

  • Revised the per pupil tuition amount for junior high and high school students from Duquesne City School District to attend high school in a neighboring district. Provided for two years of transition funding for Duquesne students in grades 7 through 9 to the neighboring districts as well.

  • Provided additional funding to financially struggling districts through supplemental language included in the basic education subsidy formula.

HEMAP Now Accepting Applications

The Homeowners' Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP) is once again accepting applications from homeowners in danger of foreclosure. As I wrote in the June 26th edition of my News & Views, a multi-year funding stream designated for HEMAP was signed into law on June 22nd re-starting the program after a one-year hiatus due to budget cuts in the 2011-12 state budget. Act 70 authorizes about 90 percent of the funds Pennsylvania received as part of a $2.5 billion settlement with the nation’s five largest lenders to end mortgage servicing and foreclosure abuses to be used to administer HEMAP over a five-year period. I was a Forclosureco-sponsor of this legislation and am proud to have stood with my Senate Democratic colleagues and requested to Attorney General that the Pennsylvania’s share of the settlement be used to re-start this much needed program. I am very happy that our efforts led to this development.

HEMAP was established in 1983 to assist homeowners in avoiding foreclosure. Over the last 29 years, the program has provided foreclosure prevention assistance to more than 46,000 families across the Commonwealth. In the months after the HEMAP funding dried up and the required notification to troubled borrowers on how to avoid losing their homes ended, foreclosure filing in Pennsylvania began rising.

Under Act 70, required notices are again being sent out and homeowners who are at least three months delinquent on their mortgage payments may be eligible for assistance. If this applies to your situation or if you would like more information on how to apply for HEMAP, please call 1-800-342-2397 or visit the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) website.

Small Business Outreach Day

The next Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Outreach Day will be on Thursday, August 16th. This is a free service that allows entrepreneurs to get help starting a small business or improving an existing business. SBDC Client Services Liaison John Dobransky will once again be at my Kennedy Office (Kenmawr Plaza) to provide assistance between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You may schedule an appointment with John by calling 412-624-2290. Appointments are not required but are encouraged. New and returning clients are welcome.

Downtown Preservation Project

Neighbors in the Strip Downtown Preservation Project On August 9th I was pleased to join Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation President Arthur Ziegler as we officially kicked off the Downtown Preservation Project. This unique project will renovate facades to six downtown buildings while preserving their historic attributes in an area along Fifth Avenue and Wood Street that continues to experience new development. The funding for this project was secured through a state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant. Downtown Pittsburgh is experiencing a tremendous amount of economic development activity and the Downtown Preservation Project complements this development by ensuring our historic buildings are preserved in a way that supports continued development.

Bottom Dollar Opening in McKees Rocks

billion dollar foodAfter months of construction, the New Bottom Dollar Food along Chartiers Avenue in McKees Rocks is scheduled to open for business on Thursday, August 16th. The new grocery store is located at 1100 Chartiers Avenue and will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday thru Saturday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. The opening of the Bottom Dollar is great news for residents that for 33 years had a grocery store they could walk to, until last June, and continues the development that is taking place in the borough. Congratulations to the residents of McKees Rocks and to the officials that worked to secure a grocery store for the community!

Brookline Businesses Offering Reward Card

Congratulations to the South Pittsburgh Development Corporation (SPDC), the Brookline Chamber of Commerce and business leaders in Brookline on securing the first Pittsburgh Biz Buzz Small Grant. After submitting an application to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the SPDC was awarded $2,500 to implement a program that encourages neighborhood residents to shop locally while rebranding Brookline Boulevard as an entire business district. The SPDC is starting a program where merchants will offer a $5 reward card for every $50 in receipts from participating merchants along the boulevard. Receipts can be turned in at Cannon Coffee and A Boss Opticians along Brookline Boulevard.

This grant program was created by the URA and is designed to spur neighborhood business district revitalization by bringing newcomers into these business districts and creating a buzz about the business district through media and word-of-mouth. To learn more about this program, please visit www.ura.org.

Seton Center VisitSeton Center Visit

Thanks to Sister Barbara Ann Boss, Judy Gawlas and the entire staff at the Seton Center in Brookline for providing me the opportunity to spend time with guests at the center’s picnic on August 7th. It was great to see so many friendly and familiar faces at the picnic and I enjoyed the many conversations I had throughout the festivities and was happy to provide information and answer questions on the new voter ID law and transportation funding, among other topics. I also want to commend the staff and volunteers at the Seton Center who work tirelessly to provide a warm and cozy place where our neighborhoods’ seniors can enjoy themselves.

Senator Fontana speaks at the August 7th Beechview National Night Out Against Crime Street Party. Beechview Area Concerned Citizens organized the event in conjunction with National Night Out, to create a venue where local law enforcement and public officials could meet with the community to speak about crime prevention efforts and public safety.

Senator Fontana speaks at the August 7th Beechview National Night Out Against Crime Street Party. Beechview Area Concerned Citizens organized the event in conjunction with National Night Out, to create a venue where local law enforcement and public officials could meet with the community to speak about crime prevention efforts and public safety.

FontanaFest Countdown

FontanaFest 2012

FontanaFest! 32 Days Until FontanaFest! – Join us on Saturday, September 15th from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at South Side’s Riverfront Park (bottom of 18th Street at the river) for a FREE day of family fun! Enjoy FREE food and drink, entertainment, door prizes, numerous booth sponsors, games for kids and much more! I’m pleased to announce that Pittsburgh Water Limo will be offering rides on our rivers between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. and the PA Fish & Boat Commission will be providing canoes so families can enjoy a smooth ride on the Monongahela. Please visit www.fontanafest.com for updates on the day’s events, sponsor information and a listing of participating organizations.

Fontana Fact

Pittsburgh Downtown PartnershipAccording to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, over $5 billion in private and public money has been invested in projects within the Golden Triangle, North Shore, South Side, Lower Hill District/Uptown and near the Strip District since January 2006. Of this total, nearly $3 billion represents completed projects with another $2 billion representing either active projects or projects that have been announced.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

 
SBDC Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership