Keystone Exam Delay
Senate Bill 880 (SB 880) unanimously passed the General Assembly and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Wolf that would temporarily delay the Keystone Exams. The Keystone Exams are standardized tests high school students must pass in order to graduate but have been plagued by concerns since their inception.
Approved in 2009, the state spent four years developing the course-specific testing imitative that requires students to pass end-of-course exams in three subject areas: Algebra 1, Literature and Biology in order to be eligible to receive diplomas. Students who do not demonstrate that they are learning at grade level are entitled to supplemental instruction and have the option to take a project-based assessment (PBA) under teacher supervision to qualify for graduation. PBAs are done online and can take 30 hours to complete.
Originally, the Class of 2015 was slated to be the first group of students to have to pass these exams. However, in 2011, the launch date got pushed back to begin with the Class of 2017 because school districts felt that they have standards to fulfill without the resources to support them due to the Corbett Administration significantly decreasing funding for education during his tenure. This coupled with schools needing more time to align the curriculum with the material to be tested, the lack of adequate instructions to schools from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) on how to staff the PBAs, and deficiency in qualified people to score the PBAs once submitted. All in all, the Keystone Exams have been viewed as an unmanageable financial burden on school districts.
Passage of SB 880 temporarily delays implementation of the graduation requirements until the 2018-19 school year, meaning it would affect the incoming freshman class. This gives the Legislature additional time to resolve some of the unanticipated consequences of the Keystone Exams including how to effectively administer and fund the PBAs for the students who do not pass the exams. The new law would also require PDE to review the requirement process and recommend changes within the first six months of the two-year moratorium.
Every major education association has come out in favor of rolling back the graduation requirements and I too applauded the passage of this law. I understand the intention behind these exams are to measure progress at the end of a course, however, testing should not be the sole measurement of a student’s learning abilities. I feel that additional time will allow for a more successful implementation.
Voter Registration Deadline
Anyone not registered to vote who wishes to vote in the April 26 Primary Election must register by March 28. Remember, voter registration can now be done online. Simply visit www.votespa.com to get started. In addition to registering to vote, current registered voters can also use the online system to make updates to their voter record, such as a change of name, address, or party affiliation.
Anyone wishing to register with a paper application can obtain an application from any of my district offices, or by downloading one at www.votespa.com. Completed applications can be returned by mail to the Allegheny County Division of Elections and must be postmarked by March 28 in order to be processed prior to the April 26 Primary Election. You can also register by completing an application in person at the Division of Elections office. The location of the Allegheny County Division of Elections office is listed below. For any questions related to registering to vote, please contact 412-350-4510.
Attn: Voter Registration Services
Allegheny County Division of Elections
542 Forbes Avenue, Room 609
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Free Tax Preparation Assistance
The United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Money in Your Pocket Coalition are taking appointments from low- and moderate-income workers in need of assistance with preparing their tax returns. In mid-January, 16 free tax preparation sites opened around Allegheny County where trained, IRS-certified volunteers are available to prepare tax returns for qualifying individuals. Households with a total income of $52,000 or less in 2015 may qualify for free tax preparation assistance.
All 16 locations throughout the County are by appointment only. For more information on the program, what you need to bring to an appointment, and to view all 16 locations, please visit www.swpafreetaxes.org. To schedule an appointment you may dial 2-1-1 to contact the United Way’s free 24-hour health and human services hotline. The Free Tax Preparation Program runs through April 15.
Did You Know…
Did you know that last year 345 trained volunteers prepared more than
10,000 tax returns in Allegheny County?
Completing the FAFSA
I want to again remind high school seniors and their families to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible. The FAFSA is the federal form that all college-bound high school seniors must submit to determine eligibility for most forms of need-based financial assistance, including the Pennsylvania State Grant, the Federal Pell Grant, work-study programs, Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP), various scholarships, some school-based aid, and federal student loans for the 2016-17 academic year. Students who are eligible for awards can reduce their family’s out-of-pocket expenses and make the cost of a higher education more manageable.
The FAFSA became available on January 1 and now is the time to get a jump on the application process by preparing, before sitting down to complete the FAFSA application. Students and families are able to complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov and will need the following information when beginning the application process:
- Social Security Numbers
- Student’s driver’s license
- Alien registration number, if not a U.S. citizen
- W-2 forms
- Records of untaxed income received, including workers’ compensation, child support, payments to tax-deferred pension and savings plans, etc.
- Federal income tax return (1040, 1040A, 1040EZ)
- Current bank statements and records of stocks, bonds and other investments
It is better to complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible as schools’ financial aid deadlines vary. Once again in 2016, PHEAA will host FAFSA Completion Sessions across Pennsylvania where PHEAA, in partnership with PASFAA (Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators), provides free assistance to families needing help in completing the FAFSA. You can click here to view a listing of scheduled FAFSA Completion Sessions. PHEAA will continue to update this list as more sessions are added in the coming weeks.
I also want to encourage students and families to only complete the FAFSA on the FAFSA.gov website and to avoid any dot com sites, which often charge a fee for what can be accomplished for free.
Brookline Public Meeting – TONIGHT!
The Brookline Area Community Council (BACC) and South Pittsburgh Development Corporation (SPDC) are hosting a public meeting this evening to talk about new designs and ideas for the neighborhood gateway sign on Brookline Boulevard. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 933 Brookline Boulevard, and is open to the public.
Community Forum for Military and Veterans
The Heinz Endowments, The Mission Continues, HomeFront Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, City of Pittsburgh, and Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) are joining together to host a series of forums for service members and veterans in our region. A Call to Action, Community Forum for Military and Veterans seeks to provide an opportunity for service members and veterans to speak about what resources and opportunities are needed in our region. Participating attendees have a great opportunity to help shape how the region supports military men and women for years to come.
Below is the schedule of forums and the website where you can register. For more information, please call 412-254-4820.
TreeVitalize Accepting Applications
TreeVitalize Pittsburgh is accepting applications from City of Pittsburgh neighborhoods and Allegheny County municipalities interested in receiving trees to be planted in fall 2016. TreeVitalize Pittsburgh supports street, park and riverfront tree plantings by supplying trees and services for locations throughout Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Every Pittsburgh neighborhood is eligible to participate in the program and many County municipalities are eligible as well.
Any community or municipality interested in learning more about the program and application process should contact Jeffrey Bergman, TreeVitalize director, at 412-586-2396 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The average groundhog normally weighs from 12 to 15 pounds and is roughly 20 inches long. Punxsutawney Phil weighs 20 pounds and is 22 inches long.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
|| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Tuesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Strip District (Mobile Office)
Pittsburgh Public Market
2401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Thursdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm