BLOG: Improving Education for Students, Schools, and Communities

By: Pedro A. Rivera, Secretary of Education

January 14, 2016

School success cannot be boiled down to one single measure. Small steps can help Pennsylvania’s schools, students, and communities achieve every day, and make education transformative and valuable for learners of all ages.  In 2015, the Department of Education moved toward restoring or expanding critical programs in our schools, to improve education for everyone in the commonwealth.  Here’s a look.

Watch Secretary Pedro Rivera talk about how the Department of Education improved education for students, schools, and communities in 2015.

Working Toward A Historic Investment

Hard work to restore the reductions to education over the previous four years was the hallmark of Governor Wolf’s first year in office. A champion for public education, the governor has advocated for funding that would ensure the commonwealth’s schools can deliver a quality education to every Pennsylvania student regardless of zip code.

Strategic investments in education, from pre-k to postsecondary, will help students graduate college and career ready, as well as return Pennsylvania to a path to long-term prosperity.

Governor Wolf exercised his line item veto power to continue his fight to expand high quality early childhood education programs, deliver a record-breaking boost in K-12 education to equitably fund our schools and implement proven strategies for success, with additional funding going toward special education. Following years of tuition hikes and layoffs, the governor continues to demand the commonwealth’s state-related, state system, and community colleges  be funding adequately to provide Pennsylvania students with a world class education.

In his first months in office, Governor Wolf helped secure a zero percent tuition increase for more than 50,000 in-state students attending Penn State, spearheaded a push to ensure new education funding is used to support proven programs in the classroom, and ignited the state’s early childhood education providers to create capacity for almost 17,000 more of Pennsylvania’s youngest learners.

Basic Education Funding Formula

In a striking example of Schools That Teach and Government That Works, in June the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission unanimously approved a funding formula to drive new education dollars to Pennsylvania’s classrooms. Currently Pennsylvania is one of three states without a funding formula. When the formula is adopted, it will be among the most comprehensive and progressive in the nation.

Keeping Kids Healthy

This year an expansion of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) allowed for the addition of 300 new sites for children to receive healthy summer meals. Limited access to nutritious food during the summer can impact learning all year long and make students susceptible to illness and other health issues. The SFSP can fill the gap by supplying students with nutritious meals during the summer so they return to school prepared to learn.

Also, in collaboration with the state Department of Health, the Department of Education proposed changes to the state’s school immunization policy that will help students gets fully immunized sooner and keep everyone healthy in the classroom.

Aiding Teacher Development

Just like students, teachers keep learning too. This year, the Department of Education facilitated teacher development at the 2015 SAS Institute where more than 750 educators gathered to exchange best practices and learn innovative approaches to use in the classrooms. The Department also redesigned the SAS portal to make it more user-friendly. The portal is a public website for teachers to find sample lesson plans, curriculum, and resources to strengthen teaching and learning.

Designing a Model for School Turnaround

Each of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts has unique strengths and needs, and the Department of Education aims to support them all. However, there are often opportunities to share best practices.

PDE has worked closely with the School District of the City of York’s chief recovery officer, who was appointed by Governor Wolf in March, and district administrators to implement a comprehensive plan to advance student and district wellbeing. Some elements of the plan can be replicated in other districts, including emphasizing community engagement, building partnerships with local businesses, revamping programs for students, and updating academics through things like curriculum re-writes and lengthening the school day.

Also, the Wolf Administration created a recovery plan for the struggling Chester Upland School District, which eliminates the district’s annual structural deficit by modifying the special education tuition rate and securing a permanent increase to the district’s basic education funding base, eliminates the district’s negative fund balance, and plans and funds capital improvements to district schools.

Moving Pennsylvania Schools Forward

2015 was a busy and productive year at the Department of Education. Governor Wolf and Department leaders met with thousands of educators around the state to hear their visions for education in Pennsylvania, and will use that input in the exciting and innovative projects the Department of Education undertakes in the coming year. As the Department transitions into 2016, its underlying goal remains unchanged — to support educators, students, and families and ensure Pennsylvania students have access to a quality education.



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