Statewide Educational Supports (H.677) - Jan 11, 2024

On Thursday the House Education Committee had Legislative Counsel walk through a summary of H.677, which is intendent to provide funding for statewide student support system. The bill, as introduced, would make two separate appropriations totaling $800,000 from the Education Fund.

The bill would amend the Community Schools Grant Program. Originally, this was a 3-year program, but this bill would make it permanent (subject to availability of funding) with an appropriation of $1.2M. Additionally, the bill would amend Act 28 (2021), which created a Literacy position at the Agency of Education (AOE) that was originally funded by ARPA. The funding is set to expire this year and the bill would backfill those funds with state dollars.

Instead of a full-time person at AOE, they would hire a contractor to serve as a Literacy Support person.

Representative Buss gave a comprehensive overview of the bill and the approach to it. She believes that AOE support staff are highly educated and underpaid, so sees some of the appropriations in this bill helping to address this.

She cited examples of declining literacy scores and highlighted “newer techniques” for addressing literacy remediation skills that are not being applied statewide due, at least in part, to the lack of support staff. Buss noted that an evidence-based approach is the statutory standard. Science-based systems are sometimes used to support evidence based, but not all the evidence-base techniques are so well formed.

NOTE: This is in large part how we ended up with declining literacy rates, because of a shift away from phonics, which in the long run ended up working better than the new approaches.

Buss added that “we need a learning management system” which she explained is not software, but rather the methods by which AOE distributes vital information and resources. Additional funding is needed to do this effectively.

Also included in the bill is support funding for mental health and self-harm (addiction) programing at the local level. This would likely take the form of a matching program with local school budgets.

Representative Williams questioned why the teacher colleges are so far behind in these areas. Buss answered that it was not necessarily the school’s fault because they teach to the license requirements; inferring they can address this issue by adjusting the license requirements.

Chairman Conlon noted that the Senate will be sending a literacy bill to them that will include AOE recommendations. If for some reason that bill gets delayed, they have H.677 as a vehicle.

Conlon stressed that taking funds “off the top” of the Education Fund is not a great idea because the services AOE provides generally do not replace those in local schools. He questioned whether Buss had been “able to secure AOE support for the added positions and these appropriations.” Buss admitted that she had not attempted to secure approval from the Administration yet.

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