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Smart Talk is a daily, live, interactive program featuring conversations with newsmakers and experts in a variety of fields and exploring a wide range of issues and ideas, including the economy, politics, health care, education, culture, and the environment.  Smart Talk airs live every week day at 9 a.m. on WITF’s 89.5 and 93.3.

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Host: Scott LaMar

STF: Teen suicide mandate stopped in House; Political Junkie; Wine country weekends

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | May 2, 2014 7:10 AM

What to look for on Smart Talk Friday:

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Republican leadership in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives came under fire this week after a story reported by the Patriot-News/PennLive's Donald Gilliland.  

Gilliland wrote that a proposal to mandate teen suicide prevention training for teachers was stopped dead in its tracks by House Leader Mike Turzai because his caucus is opposed to more unfunded mandates on schools.  Gilliland reported the training wouldn't come with any significant cost.

Gillliland appears on Smart Talk Friday to provide more insight into what he found.

Pennsylvania's primary election is set for May 20.  We'll get Ken Rudin -- the Political Junkie's -- take on how the primary looks from afar and nationally. 

Pennsylvania's credit rating is in danger of being downgraded if the state doesn't come up with a solution to its pension debt for retired workers -- that's according to credit analysts Standard and Poors.  WITF Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Wilson talks with an actuary about the pension obligations.

Also, we'll learn about Spring Sensations -- a three weekend event for wine lovers -- at Central Pennsylvania's wineries.  Mike Wilson, the COO of Hershey Harrisburg Wine Country, will tell us more.

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  • thinkwrite img 2014-05-02 08:53

    In general, there are too many laws being created because a mother with a tragedy goes into the government with a horrible story and a law is passed. The legislators who oppose unfunded mandates are correct. The schools are not the place to address all of society's problems. As much as this is a tragedy for this mother and is a problem in society, there are other ways to address it, including education programs on the outside of schools. My wife works as a substitute teacher, and she has to take required programs to teach her how to detect child abuse and she can be penalized if some child in her care would be abused and she did not detect it. How many roles are teachers supposed to take on? Where does it stop?

  • Scott LaMar img 2014-05-02 09:09

    Steve Miskin, Press Secretary for the House Republican Caucus responds...
    House Bill 1559 as it originally passed the House on September 24, 2013 required teacher training for youth suicide prevention. The bill was dramatically broadened by the Senate without consultation with the House – which is any member or chamber’s prerogative – but they should not expect 100 percent acquiescence (look at the privatization bill for an example).

    The Senate passed the amended and broadened bill on February 4, 2014. As per House Rules, bills coming back from the Senate automatically get referred to the Rules Committee. Regardless of the bill’s location, the staff from the House Education Committee reviewed the changed bill and crafted what we believe is a stronger bill which could pass our chamber.

    The fact is, many Members in the House have concerns with curriculum mandates. We try to work out ways for districts to make decisions for themselves about what they teach. While it is not just about costs, costs cannot be ignored. As people clamor about property taxes, it needs to be realized, each unfunded state mandate drives up local costs.

    On April 9, the House Rules Committee amended the bill and it was voted out of the House unanimously.

    The bill is currently in the Senate Rules and Nominations Committee… where it awaits action. The fate of House Bill 1559 rests only with the Senate right now.

    So, what does the current version of House Bill 1559 do? You will notice, there are a number of requirements in the bill… not reflected in the dissertation. The bill amends the Public School Code of 1949 (School Code) to:

    (1) Require the Department of Education (PDE) to develop a model policy, model curriculum and professional development materials related to youth suicide awareness and prevention;

    (2) Require school entities to provide for professional development in youth suicide awareness and prevention;

    (3) Allow school entities to adopt a youth suicide awareness and prevention policy and provide instruction on this topic in grades 6 - 12;

    (4) Require the State Board of Education (State Board) to conduct a study on
    the manner in which youth suicide awareness and prevention education is offered;

    (5) Require PDE to develop a model curriculum and professional development materials related to child exploitation awareness;

    (6) Require school entities to provide for professional development in child exploitation awareness;

    (7) Allow school entities to provide instruction on child exploitation awareness in kindergarten through grade 8; and

    (8) Require the State Board to conduct a study on the manner in which child exploitation awareness education is offered.

    As stated above, the House sent a bill requiring teacher training for teen suicide awareness; the Senate looked at the issue and decided to go further: teacher training and curriculum mandates about teen suicide. OK. We (the House) received the bill and looked at what the Senate had done. Understanding the issue and its importance, the House (under the leadership of Rep. Mike Turzai, the Majority Leader and with the bill's sponsor, Rep. Frank Farina) worked to build the education aspect of teen suicide. We required the state Department of Education to create a curriculum and send it to each school district, we required teacher training as that was the original intent of the legislation. We went further as you can see above.

    Now the bill which passed the House unanimously (as did the Senate version, I am not dismissing that vote) sits in the Senate awaiting their review -- as they should.

    The House and Senate often work together on legislation and issues of concern. Sometime there are just differing opinions and sometimes strong opinions. So what... that is often how legislation improves. I know in the world of Gilliland and Pennlive that can't happen... but you are espousing that way too... without even the courtesy of asking?

    Why are members squeamish about curriculum mandates?

    (1) Every mandate from the state results in new costs for school districts for which the districts have not budgeted for. Thus as school districts are doing their budgets and they have costs which have not been accounted for they raise property taxes.

    (2) if the state allows them to do it without a direct mandate, districts can implement it with in their budgets, thus they can plan for it and plan for it in a way which is effective for their districts.

    (3) The Department of Education has not been able to roll out any program in an effective manner for 500 school districts. Not to mention bureaucracy always adds more. The simplest mandate can turn into a horror story at the end of the regulatory process.

    (4) The General Assembly is not a school board. We have school boards to make local decisions. It's called local control. We have it and a lot of it.

    (5) the core function of school districts is to educate our children. The more you have them do, then less education happens. We need to refocus school districts so the educate first.

    (6) school districts are not a welfare system, nor are they designed to raise our children. Mandates take school districts out of their core function. They are an easy target because it's always about "for the children". In reality it's about headlines. Politicians doing something for the children, but in reality schools are not the place nor should they be the place to implement many policies. Teachers educate. Administrators manage. Lets get back to those simple functions.

    • thinkwrite img 2014-05-02 09:21

      One thing that I didn't think of when I wrote my first comment is this: If the schools are mandated to teach some sort of suicide prevention information, does this NOT create an opportunity for liability in the case of a suicide? So, child "A" commits suicide, and the parents of child "A" decide that the school was negligent or ineffective in their suicide prevention program, therefore they have basis to SUE the school for damages. So what seems to be a well-intended program ends up being an opportunity for lawyers to take money from taxpayers via lawsuits. Believe me, no school could win that sort of lawsuit because any parent with a dead child will be able to make the schools look like fools who know nothing.