Senate Bill 1216, now Act 136 of 2020, makes numerous changes to the School Code, most of which are applicable to the current 2020-2021 school year and deserve attention. These changes can be broadly found to affect testing, Keystone Exams and graduation, employment, transportation, and taxes.
- For the 2019-2020 school year, and any subsequent school year in which the federal government has waived testing requirements under The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), any student who completed a course in an academic content area associated with a Keystone Exam is not required to take the Keystone Exam related to that course. The student will be deemed proficient, for purposes of graduation requirements, based on successful completion of locally established, grade-based requirements for the academic content areas associated with each Keystone Exam. In addition, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education may apply for a waiver of federal testing and accountability requirements under ESSA for the 2020-2021 school year, should the federal government allow states to apply for such waivers. It should be noted, however, that as of this date, the federal government has not waived testing requirements under ESSA for the 2020-2021 school year, nor has the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education applied for one.
- The implementation of statewide graduation/project-based assessment benchmarking requirements under Act 158 of 2018 are delayed until the 2022-2023 school year.
- The Secretary of Education is provided the authority to waive the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) assessment and the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) exam on a school-wide basis or for a specific career and technical education program provided by a District based on the recommendations of directors of career and technical education programs.
- Teacher Certification: For the 2020-2021 school year, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is authorized to take the following actions with respect to teachers whose assessments or program credits were cancelled or could not be scheduled:
- Issue a temporary provisional certificate to individuals who complete all of their teacher preparation requirements except for the final assessment. This temporary provisional certificate will expire after one year of issuance and may be converted to a Level I Pennsylvania certificate upon submission of evidence of satisfactory completion of the required assessments to PDE;
- Issue an exceptional case permit, at the request of the District, to current professional employees who completed the final year of Level I certificate validity in the 2019-2020 school year, and were unable to take the necessary assessments to move from an Instructional I certificate to an Instructional II certificate. This exceptional case permit will expire one year from its issuance;
- Issue a temporary certificate to an individual unable to complete the appropriate subject matter test for areas other than health and physical education, cooperative education, all special education areas, and additional areas as may be determined by PDE. For this waiver, individuals must provide proof to PDE that they attempted access to testing and were denied. The temporary certificate will expire one year from the date of issuance and may be converted to a full instructional certificate by providing proof of satisfactory achievement on the required test to PDE; and
- Extend an emergency permit issued during the 2020-2021 school year, at the request of the District that employs an emergency permit holder, when the emergency permit holder is unable to complete the requirements associated with the permit. The extended emergency permit will expire one year from its extension.
- PDE may also:
Issue appropriate Special Education PK-8 or Special Education 7-12 certificates to students enrolled in a teacher preparation program at an institution of higher education or in an approved alternative program prior to December 31, 2021, who remain continuously enrolled; and
- Employee evaluations: The Secretary of Education is required to waive the requirement to include student performance data otherwise required in a professional employee’s performance rating. As of December 4, 2020, Acting Secretary of State Noe Ortega did so waive the requirement.
- Paraprofessional Staff Development Hours: For paraprofessionals employed by a District as of March 13, 2020, the deadline to satisfy their staff development activity hour requirements is extended to June 30, 2021.
- If nonpublic school transportation was provided during the 2019-2020 school year, Districts are required to provide nonpublic school transportation for the 2020-2021 school year on the dates and periods that the nonpublic school is in session. The dates of transportation shall be in accordance with the school calendar officially adopted by the nonpublic school, regardless of whether the District provides transportation on those dates and periods to students attending District schools; and
- Districts will receive a subsidy payment that is equal to the greater of the amount calculated for reimbursement, or the amount allocated to the District for the prior school year.
- To receive a pupil transportation subsidy payment equal to the amount allocated to the District for the prior school year, the District that contracts for school bus transportation services must pay the school bus contractor for the school year in an amount that the contractor would have received from the District had transportation services not been affected by the COVID-19 disaster emergency minus the amount of any variable costs, provided the contractor certifies those costs to the District. PDE will develop guidelines, within 30-days, on variable costs in consultation with the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, the Pennsylvania School Board Association, and the Pennsylvania School Bus Association. The term “variable costs” means the difference between costs for labor, fuel, tolls, maintenance, and other expenses as determined by PDE during normal operations of school bus transportation and those same costs during the COVID-19 disaster emergency.
Tax Credits: Businesses that were awarded an educational tax credit during the 2020-2021 or 2021-2022 fiscal year, and were unable to use the tax credit in the year awarded, will be able to carry the credit forward to use during the two taxable years following the year in which the tax credit was awarded.