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Superintendents’ forum: Impact of State Mandates on Education

This article was originally published in the Reading Eagle: https://www.readingeagle.com/2023/04/13/superintendents-forum-impact-of-state-mandates-on-education/

By: Mr. Andrew Potteiger, Brandywine Heights Area School District

Thursday, April 13, 2023

In the workplace, rules and regulations provide structure to day-to-day operations and offer guidance for expectations. With that said, mandates that govern schools across the commonwealth can result in unintended consequences.

State mandates in education are the result of well-intentioned ideas being put into law, but their accumulation over recent decades has resulted in financial implications for education systems and placed time constraints on educators.

Over the last several years, there is ever growing concern over mandates that start in legislation and end up in the Pennsylvania School Code that all school districts must follow.

To understand the impact of mandates in their totality, the Berks County Intermediate Unit, in partnership with the 18 school districts and two career and technology centers in Berks County, conducted a comprehensive study of the mandates in the Pennsylvania School Code. The resulting summary document, simply identifying the mandates impacting schools, is 88 pages in length.

There is a corollary document developed as a checklist for schools to utilize to ensure compliance with all state mandates; that checklist document is 16 pages. And 36 new or updated mandates were implemented last July as part of the state budget process.

Here is an example: House Bill 1642 was signed into law as part of the 2022-23 budget on July 8. Act 55 of 2022 is a 137-page piece of legislation that enacts numerous amendments to the school code, including new safety and security provisions.

Under the law, school entities must appoint a safety and security coordinator within 30 days and provide up to seven hours of training covering 11 topics: 1) physical assessments and physical security; 2) emergency preparedness; 3) leadership; 4) coordination and communication with law enforcement and emergency personnel; 5) appropriate staffing; 6) situational awareness; 7) trauma-informed approaches; 8) behavioral health awareness; 9) suicide and bullying awareness; 10) substance use disorder awareness; 11) emergency procedures and training drills.

In addition, every school employee must complete three hours of training annually focused on at least 1 hour of training specifically focused on emergency training drills (in-person delivery only) and threat assessment (online or in-person delivery); and a minimum of two hours of training (online or in person) on one or more of the following topics: situational awareness; trauma-informed approaches; behavioral health awareness; suicide and bullying awareness; and/or substance use awareness.

It is critical that we add a safety point of contact for each school district and require training for all staff to ensure students are safe in schools. However, this one idea of safety training has been added to a host of other well-intentioned ideas. The result is a layering effect of more and more mandates and requirements for educators and school systems. This becomes a time and/or financial burden.

Meeting the Act 55 training requirement for all staff members involves a staggering cost in time and/or money. To implement such a mandate, either staff time must be paid or professional development time, such as a half-day in-service program, must be set aside, resulting in lost instructional time. It costs taxpayers about $7.2 million to implement three hours of training for the 140,248 professional staff in Pennsylvania. If a half-day in-service were utilized by every school district to create the three hours of training time for staff to fulfill this mandate, there would be 5,218,356 hours of instructional time lost for our students.

The General Assembly has recognized this concern and developed a joint advisory committee  tasked with evaluating specific training requirements in mandates. Additionally, the BCIU hosts its Committee on Legislative Action, which is focused on advocacy efforts pertaining to education priorities and issues at the federal, state, and local levels.

COLA members have identified state mandates as one of the top priority areas for advocacy work. Therefore, school officials will continue to partner with our state senators and representatives to continue the conversation in developing a commonsense approach that will address the goals of state mandates, while at the same time allowing our schools to focus on providing the highest quality instruction and support for our students and staff members.

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