Senator Fontana visits the 1st Annual Taste of Beechview on June 9th. Hundreds gathered in the Beechview Business District to enjoy food and drink from the neighborhood’s merchants while listening to live music. To view the Taste of Beechview photo gallery, click here.
New Formula for Special Education Funding
As the weeks progress closer to Pennsylvania having a 2012-13 state budget, the Legislature has also been looking at ways to make the current funding system for school districts more accountable and fiscally responsible.
One area the General Assembly has been focusing on is special education funding, which hasn’t been tackled since the Administration of late Governor Robert P. Casey. By law, schools are required to provide special education for any student who needs it, regardless of cost. This can be as simple as a classroom aide or something more complex as a specialized school in a different town with 24-hour care.
Last year, there were 270,288 students statewide who qualified for special education services. Furthermore, special education comprises one of the largest components of school districts’ spending. This issue is one that needs further examination, especially as the number of students with special needs is increasing.
The allocation each school district gets every year to assist students with special needs is based on a formula that has been around since 1991. This outdated formula assumes that each district has 16 percent of its total enrollment for special education, regardless of whether the schools have more or less students for that year or any other additional cost factors. Because of this archaic formula, many school districts and their taxpayers are left to make up the differences in funding to provide these services. Furthermore, the formula also does not focus on strategies that have a track record for improving student performance.
As you will see below, every school district’s numbers are unique, therefore, the current funding formula is not as fiscally fitting or appropriate.
School Districts in the 42nd Senatorial District
|Total Number of Special Education Students
||Total Enrollment For School District
||Percent of Special Education Students Compared to Total Enrollment
|Source: Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, 2010-11 school year
On June 4th, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1115 (SB 1115) which would move Pennsylvania away from the flat funding method for special education and instead charge a 12-member commission with determining a new funding formula based on actual student count that receive special education services, local cost and tax factors. Three categories – high, middle and low need – would also be used when determining the formula. This will ensure that school districts would properly be reimbursed due to variations in educational expenses for students with disabilities who need different intensities of services and support since some costs are pricier than others. The state Board of Education would then be required to draft regulations imposing the new funding formula after the commission finished its report.
The commission will have four months to compile information if this would become law and a new formula would apply only to funds that the state invests in special education beyond the $1 billion it has spent for the past four years. The General Assembly would decide in each year’s budget how much to appropriate for special education, and then the new formula would be used to figure out how much each district receives.
SB 1115 also sets up an incentive program in 2013-14 for school districts to improve their special education services, provided state funding is available. The program would grant extra cash to districts that improve “inclusion” rates by getting more special education students into regular classrooms. Schools would also have to meet federal testing benchmarks for students in the special education category to receive this additional funding.
To prevent schools from attempting to secure more funding by over-identifying special education students, SB 1115 authorizes the state to review districts with large increases in special education population to ensure the allocation goes only to those who need it the most.
If SB 1115 becomes law, the commission would meet and hold public hearings every five years to review the operations of the formula. The legislation is now before the House Education Committee.
Due in large part to current budget restraints, this legislation is necessary to begin to explore how we can better the way schools receive funding for services they provide. As you can see in the chart, no two school districts have the same need when it comes to special education services. Although the chart only demonstrates my district, consider what a chart would look like for all 501 school districts across Pennsylvania.
SB 1115 has provisions that ensure accountability standards and strengthen the requirements for districts to implement better special education strategies while also reimbursing districts properly and efficiently. As taxpayers, we need confidence that the education investments we are providing to students with disabilities are being made based on such things as research, proven best practices and careful planning. A flat formula no longer proves to be the most effective approach or fiscally feasible.
Did You Know…
Did you know that 7.9 percent of Pennsylvania students received services for autism during the 2011-12 school year? This figure represents a .9 percent increase from the 2010-11 school year.
PUC Public Hearings
The PA Public Utility Commission (PUC) has scheduled two Public Input Hearings concerning the proposed rate increase request of Peoples Natural Gas Company. The hearings are scheduled for June 18th at the following locations:
Shaler Township Municipal Building
300 Wetzel Road
Glenshaw, PA 15116-2288
| 6 p.m.
CCAC (Boyce Campus)
595 Beatty Road
Monroeville, PA 15146-1348
Peoples Natural Gas customers may attend either of these two hearings to voice any opinions and concerns regarding the proposed rate increase. To encourage participation, the PA Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA) has provided Tips for Speaking at Public Input Hearings. If you have any questions about these hearings, please contact the OCA at 1-800-684-6560 or email@example.com.
SBDC Outreach Day
The next Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Outreach Day will be on Thursday, June 14th. 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.
PA State Parks
The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is reminding everyone that Pennsylvania’s forest and park system offers a wide range of ways for visitors to enjoy spending time outdoors during the summer. There are 120 state parks in Pennsylvania that cover 300,000 acres and there is a state park within 25 miles of nearly every Pennsylvanian. There are many summer recreational opportunities for families at the state parks and within the 2.2 million acres of state forests. Overnight accommodations are available at 67 state parks around the Commonwealth and for the first time this year dogs are allowed to stay with their owners at select state park cabins and camping cottages.
For more information on Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests and the many summer recreational activities available, please visit DCNR's website.
Bass Season Begins
The PA Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) wants to remind Pennsylvanians that bass season begins on June 16th across the Commonwealth. The PFBC website has a host of information to help anglers plan their fishing trips this summer. You may visit www.fishandboat.com and select from the left navigation column “Fish” and “Fishing Fundamentals” to get started. For a guide to fishing regulations, please visit www.fishinpa.com. Through June 4th, anglers had purchased over 680,000 fishing licenses, an increase of over 67,000 from the same time last year. A 2012 resident license costs $22.70 and can be purchased at more than 900 retail locations across Pennsylvania.
Dog License Reminder
The PA Department of Agriculture is reminding all dog owners that they must purchase an annual dog license at their local county treasurer’s office. State law requires that all dogs three months or older be licensed each year. An annual license is $8.45 and a lifetime license is $51.45. If the animal is spayed or neutered, the annual fee is $6.45 and lifetime is $31.34. Discounts are available to older adults and persons with disabilities.
Applications for dog licenses (regular, lifetime, disabled, and online) can be downloaded by visiting the Allegheny County Treasurer's website.
License fees support the Dog Law Enforcement Office in protecting the safety, health, and welfare of dogs. The Department also licenses and inspects dog kennels, enforces activities related to dogs that are classified as dangerous and processes claims for livestock damage caused by dogs. Licensed kennels across Pennsylvania are subject to a minimum of two unannounced inspections every year to ensure compliance with the law.
Brookline Kennywood Day
The Brookline Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring Brookline Kennywood Day on June 25th. All-day ride tickets can be purchased for $25 and seniors can purchase tickets for $14. Tickets can be used on other days. Anyone purchasing a ticket has the opportunity to win a $100 VISA gift card. Tickets can be purchased at the following locations in Brookline: A-Boss Opticians; Community Bank; Cannon Coffee; Kribel’s Bakery; PNC Bank; Party Cake Bakery; Seton Center; Vinnies Pretzels; Sal’s Barber; and the Medicine Shoppe. For more information, please call the Brookline Chamber of Commerce at 412-563-0759.
Every Thursday, beginning June 14th, Citiparks Farmers' Market will be held in the parking lot at Broadway and Beechview Avenues from 3:30 – 7 p.m. The Market contains a wide variety of perennial favorites and seasonal specialties with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheese and baked goods.
On June 16th, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh - Beechview branch will be hosting the Summer Reading Club Kickoff Cookout. Children, teens, and adults are invited to sign-up for the Summer Reading Club and enjoy a free hotdog and beverage. The event runs from 11 a.m. – 2p.m at the library at 1910 Broadway Avenue.
On June 16th, the Beechview United Presbyterian Church will hold a flea market from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Raffle baskets, jewelry, housewares and more will be available. The church is located at 1625 Broadway Avenue. For more information please call 412-561-0882.
Bottom Dollar in McKees Rocks
Driving through the district last week, I was able to get a look at the construction of the Bottom Dollar store that is underway in McKees Rocks. I am pleased to see the progress that has been made. I know residents of McKees Rocks, Stowe, and neighboring communities are eagerly anticipating the grand opening of the store.
I was pleased to participate in a ceremony on June 7th in Brentwood honoring the life of John Vogt, who passed away last year at age 60. The Brentwood Business Owners Association (BBOA) planted and dedicated a tree and accompanying plaque in Brentwood Park as a way to remember John’s contributions to the BBOA and the community. John was the co-owner of Brentwood Station on Brownsville Road. He, along with his wife Janet, dedicated significant time and effort over the years in the beautification of public and private space through his landscaping work and his ability to incorporate model trains into many different settings. John provided a visually enjoyable type of art that customers and event-goers from around the region were able to enjoy. It is only fitting that a tree in his honor was planted in Brentwood Park, the community he called home, so others in the community will have the opportunity to enjoy its beauty much in the same way John’s works over the years were enjoyed by so many.
Flag Day - the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777 - was officially established by the Proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916. While Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years after Wilson's proclamation, it was not until August 3, 1949, that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14th of each year as National Flag Day.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana