Harrisburg has decided to amend its ways when it comes to education policy, as in tack amendments onto unrelated bills.
It's a tactic about as old as the system of government, but it seems to be a favorite of Gov. Tom Corbett and his Republican allies when it comes to implementing their brand of public education reform (which looks a lot like privatization). The most blatant example may have occurred last December, when a three page bill from the Senate was loaded with 115 pages of amendments.
The original bill, SB560, addressed the appointment of state military college selection committees. The amendments essentially took what had been SB1 - which created a sort of school voucher system and simplified rules for opening charter schools - and made it part of SB560. It was rejected 105-90.
More recently, House Bill 704, which would change the way the state funds special education, died when House leaders tacked on amendments reforming charter and cyber charter schools, according to phillyburbs.com. Staff writer Gary Weckselblatt quotes State Rep Bernie O'Neill, a sponsor of the bill who ended up voting against it:
Once it got buried with all this charter school stuff ... the whole thing died, O'Neill is quoted as saying. Six years of work down the drain.
Special education has become the orphan of state budgeting. For years Harrisburg has flatlined the budget for all districts, ignoring the escalating costs and the reality that such costs can vary dramatically from year to year and school to school. HB 704 and the companion SB 1115 set up a commission to evaluate the funding formula and set up a three tier system that would provide different amounts of money for students in each tier - least intensive, middle and most intensive services required. It wasn't perfect, but it certainly was an improvement.
There's no good argument for linking charter school reform to this legislation. The state has ignored the need for changes in special ed funding for years. Any effort to improve the system deserves a straight vote, no distracting amendments allowed. That way, we can see if the legislators really are interested in doing what's best for our children in need of special attention.