State Reduces Mandated Testing for Students
In a win for Pennsylvania students, families and educators, mandated tests that are part of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) will be reduced by 20 percent for the upcoming 2017-18 academic year. This will allow teachers to better instruct their students in specific subjects rather than increasing the amount of classroom time preparing for mandated exams.
Specifically, the state Department of Education is removing two sections – one in math, one in English/language arts – and additional questions from the science section, which could eliminate up to two full testing days for some schools.
This change impacts students and teachers in grades three through eight, who will now spend an average of 20 percent less time on statewide testing.
In similar efforts, the House continues to look at all facets of education to ensure a quality, affordable education for Pennsylvania families. Within the past year, the House has spearheaded legislation to further invest in public schools, ensure greater effectiveness and accountability with the PSSA, bring needed reforms to charter schools, and enhance career and technical education.
Save for College with State 529 Plan
For families looking to plan for higher education, the Pennsylvania Treasury offers the PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan (GSP), in which growth is tied to the rate of college tuition inflation, and the PA 529 Investment Plan (IP), which offers 15 investment options by The Vanguard Group.
Contributions to PA 529 plans are deductible from Pennsylvania income taxes, grow tax free, and, when used for qualified educational expenses, are federal and state tax exempt. Both plans provide flexibility to pay for higher education expenses at most higher education institutions across the country.
The PA 529 GSP is designed to enable your savings to help keep pace with the rising costs of higher education. The PA 529 GSP contributions grow at the rate of tuition inflation but are subject to fees and premiums.
The PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan (GSP) is offering free enrollment – a $50 savings – for all new accounts opened before Sept. 30, at PA529.com. Use code “BOBACK” or “SUMMER2017” when prompted.
Pennsylvania also offers a second 529 plan, the PA 529 Investment Plan (IP), which features low fees and more than a dozen conservative and aggressive investment options from The Vanguard Group. No enrollment fee is charged for the PA 529 IP.
Families may also enter for a chance to win $529 to get started at PA529.com/contest until Sept. 30.
$1 Fishing Licenses to be Offered on Labor Day
To encourage the love of fishing, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is offering two special fishing opportunities to fish on Labor Day, Sept. 4.
The first is a $1 license for adult residents and non-residents good for Labor Day only.
The second opportunity is the Mentored Youth Panfish Day. This provides youth anglers, who have obtained a free mentored youth permit or have purchased a voluntary youth license, an opportunity to fish on 19 Panfish Enhancement lakes. Panfish include bluegill, pumpkinseed and redear sunfish, which are collectively called sunfish; black and white crappies; and yellow perch.
The 19 lakes will be open to all anglers all day, but only mentored youth participants (adults and kids) may keep fish under the minimum size. More information is available here.
To participate in the mentored youth program, adult anglers (16 years or older) must have a valid Pennsylvania fishing license and be accompanied by a youth. Accompanying youth anglers must have either a free PFBC-issued permit or a purchase a voluntary youth fishing license. Both permits and licenses can be obtained at www.GoneFishingPA.com.
Fire, EMS Grant Program to Open Sept. 6
Fire companies and ambulance services throughout Pennsylvania are encouraged to apply for this year’s grant program from the Office of State Fire Commissioner. The application period will open on Sept. 6 and close on Oct. 20.
Grants may be used for construction or renovation of a unit’s station, the purchase or repair of equipment, training or debt reduction. The maximum grant amount is $15,000 for fire companies and $10,000 for volunteer ambulance services. Career ambulance companies can apply for the grants, so long as they are designated as a municipality’s primary EMS provider.
A total of $30 million will be awarded through the program, which is funded through state gaming proceeds.
For more information about the program, click here.
Thank you, Madison
Madison Goodwin, a rising sophomore at Syracuse University, served as a summer intern in my office. Thank you, Madison, for all your help and hard work.
RABIES ALERT: Wyoming County Cat Tests Positive for Rabies
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health laboratory in Exton, a cat in Wyoming County recently tested positive for rabies.
Pennsylvania law requires that all dogs and non-feral cats three months old and older must have a current rabies vaccination. Booster vaccinations must be administered every 12-14 months or as directed to maintain lifelong immunity. Failure to comply with the law may result in a fine of up to $300.
Watch for animals behaving abnormally, such as nocturnal animals active in daytime hours, a lack of fear of people, or aggression. Other times an animal may simply be sluggish or have trouble walking. Not all animals will show every sign though. All neurological or behavioral abnormalities could potentially be rabies.
Rabies is primarily transmitted through a bite wound or by having infected saliva contact an open wound or mucus membranes. To determine if you have been exposed to rabies and need treatment, please contact either your local PA Department of Health (877-PA-HEALTH) or a physician.
Avoid contact with wildlife, including feral cats. If you encounter an animal that you suspect may have rabies, contact your local law enforcement or local Pennsylvania Game Commission office. Your regional Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture office can provide guidance for safely preparing and submitting the animal for rabies testing. If you may have been exposed to the rabies virus, seek medical attention.
For more information, visit www.agriculture.pa.gov and search “rabies.”
PHEAA Encourages Caution
PHEAA reminds students and families to be extremely cautious if solicited by any company offering FAFSA assistance, scholarship searches or student loan debt relief, such as through loan consolidation, loan cancellation, loan forgiveness or defaulted loan assistance. These companies typically charge significant upfront fees for services – sometimes through non-existing – that are readily available for free from the federal government.
Encourage your constituents to first research FREE sites such as EducationPlanner.org, MySmartBorrowing.org, StudentAid.ed.gov and StudentLoans.gov. In addition, NerdWallet’s Watch List names companies that charge for fraudulent or questionable debt relief services.
Students and families who believe they have been targeted or victimized by a scam should complain to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Keep PA Beautiful Encourages Pennsylvania Schools to Participate in Keep America Beautiful’s Recycle-Bowl
Registration is open for the 2017 Recycle-Bowl. Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful is encouraging educators in Pennsylvania to get their students involved in Keep America Beautiful’s Recycle-Bowl competition.
Recycle-Bowl is a program designed to invigorate student participation in recycling through a national K-12 recycling competition.
The objectives of the competition include: new recycling programs established within schools, the increase of recycling rates in schools that currently recycle, and the provision of teacher/student educational opportunities about recycling and waste reduction.
Recycle-Bowl competition begins Monday, Oct. 16, and runs through Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.
More than 1,200 schools across the nation competed in the 2016 Recycle-Bowl.
Recyclables recovered during the competition totaled 2.2 million pounds, which prevented the release of 3,150 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This reduction in greenhouse gases is equivalent to the annual emissions from 655 passenger cars. To register, go to www.recycle-bowl.org.
Concealed Carry Seminar Set for Oct. 12
Reps. Aaron Kaufer, Tarah Toohil and I are co-hosting a Concealed Carry Seminar on Thursday, Oct. 12, from 6-8 p.m. at the Luzerne Volunteer Fire Department, located at 66 Tener St. Luzerne.
The seminar will feature Luzerne County officials, including District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and Sheriff Brian M. Szumski. They will include information about how recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions affect the Second Amendment rights of citizens.
Due to space limitations, those planning to attend are required to RSVP in advance. There is no fee to attend. To register, visit www.RepBoback.com or call my offices at (570) 675-6000 or (570) 836-4777.