Pennsylvania Makes Progress on Testing, Budget Issues


In Pennsylvania, students who graduate in 2017 and 2018 may soon be relieved of the burden of having to pass three Keystone Exams, or an alternative version of the exams approved by the state, to graduate.

Jan Murphy of The Patriot-News writes that the state House voted to delay the controversial graduation requirement until 2019 by a vote of 196-0.

The three Keystone exams were scheduled to take effect in 2017, but the Senate also passed a similar bill by a 49-0 vote in June. The House added a provision that called for the state Department of Education to look at alternatives to the Keystone tests and report their findings and recommendations before the end of six months.

It was House Education Committee Chairman Stan Saylor (R-Red Lion) who made the proposal to impose a two-year moratorium on the Keystone requirement. That change, however, sends the bill back to the Senate for approval.

If the bill makes it to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk, he will likely sign it, says his spokesperson. But State Board of Education Chairman Larry Wittig supports the Keystone exams and questions the delay. The state board approved the requirement in 2013 and had been waiting for the 2017 testing to prove the value of the Keystone testing.

Wittig questions whether it is wise to delay the requirement, as Keystone supporters say students needed the exams to ensure they learned the basic math, science, and language arts skills necessary to be successful in college, career, or the military. The scores are also used to evaluate teachers and principals.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell approved the Keystone requirement, but both political parties became anxious about the test after many students did not make a passing grade, according to Kevin McCorry of WHYY Public Radio. The 2014 scores showed that a quarter million Pennsylvania students would require remediation through other means that had no funding allocations. Bipartisan lawmakers had to call it an unfunded state mandate.

At this point, Gov. Wolf may have bigger concerns, since the state is into its fifth month without a state budget. Wolf does say that things may be coming together now, writes WPMT-TV’s Katie Kyros. He has reached an agreement with Republicans for a never-before-seen education funding increase. GOP leaders agreed to a $750 million increase over the next two years.

Rev. Aaron Anderson, head of Logos Academy in York, wrote a letter to lawmakers, along with other nonprofits, of his many students who rely on scholarships that come from the state. At this time, the school is surviving on donations and its line of credit while the budget has languished in the Legislature.

On Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) walked out of the governor’s office and expressed optimism that the finalization of the agreement would take place next week. For now, a proposed hike in sales tax, from 6 to 7.25%, was off the table. The raise would bring $2 billion and lower property taxes across the state, report Angela Couloumbis and Chris Palmer of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Across Pennsylvania, the fallout from the delay in approving a state budget has continued to build. Bucks County halted state payments until a budget agreement was complete. Robert G. Loughery, chairman of the board of commissioners, said Bucks County wanted to be the leader in proactive efforts and encouraged other counties to follow suit.