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Deficit, time limit subdue educational expectations in Pennsylvania

| Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, 11:36 p.m.

Charter school reform and a new special education funding formula top the educational wish list of Pennsylvania's legislative committee leaders, despite a projected budget deficit of up to $1.4 billion.

“Of course, we'd like to think we're going to get more dollars for education,” said Rep. Paul Clymer, a Bucks County Republican and House education committee chair, “but we're less than 30 days from a budget proposal. Whatever happens, we'll have to use what we're given wisely.”

Gov. Tom Corbett presents his budget on Feb. 4, opening a four-month debate some legislators say is unlikely to sway toward education. The 2014-15 session will open on Tuesday.

About one in seven public school students in the state uses special education services, up almost 3 percent since the state capped funding at about $1 billion in 2008-09.

A 75-page report released in December by the Special Education Funding Commission recommended distributing money for special education on a three-tier system based on the severity of a student's needs. The formula reflects community differences, including market value, personal income, equalized millage rate and size. The plan includes all publicly funded charter schools.

The current formula assumes 16 percent of students in the state's 500 districts have at least one of a dozen designated disabilities.

Sen. Lloyd Smucker, a Lancaster Republican, proposed a bill that would require charter and cyber charter schools to comply with open meetings, open records and ethics laws.

The bill would allow four-year universities, in addition to school districts, to authorize new charter schools.

District school boards vote on proposals to open brick-and-mortar charter schools. The state Department of Education authorizes cyber charter schools.

Other legislative priorities include improving education about the Holocaust, funding for online college coursework, increasing support for vocational and technical classes and sweeping pension reform for school employees statewide.

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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