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December 9, 2010

PA okays textbook affordability requirements

State lawmakers have approved new textbook affordability requirements as part of changes to Pennsylvania’s public school code.

Act 104, which became law Nov. 22, also establishes a college textbook policies advisory committee within the state Board of Education. Members of the unpaid standing committee are to include university faculty and students, representatives of the education department, the state board of education and the House and Senate education committees, as well as appointees representing bookstores and textbook publishers. One member also must have a background in information technology/electronic media.

The committee will include a faculty member from each of the state-related institutions, to be recommended by the institutions’ chancellors. Paul A. Supowitz, vice chancellor for Governmental Relations, said a Pitt appointee has yet to be selected.

In addition, one student must sit on the subcommittee to represent the state-related universities. Supowitz said that choice, to be made in collaboration with Penn State, Temple and Lincoln universities, also has not been finalized.

Among the committee’s duties will be making recommendations on textbook affordability and accessibility. The committee must meet within 60 days then report its findings and recommendations to the education department, the governor’s office and House and Senate education committees within 18 months. The committee is to convene at least quarterly and must update its report every three years.

Act 104 requires that by 2020 textbook publishers “shall, to the extent practicable, make the college textbooks available, in whole or in part, for sale in an electronic format when commercially reasonable.”

Effective immediately, the act requires publishers to disclose pricing information to faculty, provide the copyright dates of the three previous editions (if any) and indicate the content revisions made from the earlier edition.

Publishers also must offer textbooks “unbundled” and priced separately from supplemental materials, except when supplemental materials are an integral part of the bundle.

The act requires faculty to consider the least costly practices in assigning course materials, to consider using the course materials for a longer period (providing they are not outdated), to work with bookstores to ensure students have timely pricing information, and to promote book buy-back programs and encourage participation in college textbook rental programs.

The act requires institutions to make available textbook lists and pricing information at registration, online or by written request and to make available to bookstores course schedules for the term as well as the number of students enrolled and the maximum enrollment for each course.

Universities may establish a textbook rental program (Pitt began offering one prior to the start of the fall term), but the law forbids institutions from requiring that students participate in such programs. Pitt’s bookstores are on top of the legislation, said Debra Fyock, interim director of the Book Centers. Students who register through PeopleSoft can see the books required for classes as soon as the book center receives faculty members’ orders and confirms price information from publishers. “We provide all relevant information for students to be able to research the texts and compare pricing. We provide this on our own web site as well.”

Fyock said the Book Center has “for years” provided the two non-Pitt Oakland textbook sellers with the information necessary to order all required texts, although the Book Center is the only store that carries all the required texts.

“We currently offer eBooks from two sources, we offer a rental program and we offered — and will continue to offer — guaranteed buy-back for approximately 18 classes last fall,” she said. “We are dedicated to procuring used books for students — beginning with our own year-round buy-back.” Fyock said the bookstore has worked with the Pitt Pathfinders and a student advisory committee to inform parents and students about the methods available for text content delivery, for procuring texts and for making the most of buy-back programs. “We will continue to look at all available options for students, including content delivery methods and cost-saving strategies,” Fyock said.

Other aspects of the bill impact higher education by:

Requiring institutions of higher education to establish sexual violence education programs for students.

Allowing institutions of higher education the option of developing programs that would enable adults 60 and older to en-roll in courses tuition-free.

Supowitz said existing Pitt programs exceed the requirements outlined in the legislation.

Legislators approved the bill in an override of Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s veto. The governor vetoed the bill in October, citing concerns about provisions unrelated to higher education.

In an Oct. 22 statement, the governor’s office labeled unconstitutional the bill’s provision to give property tax exemptions to nonprofit organizations that rent space to charter schools.

“I support many of the initiatives included in this legislation, so withholding my signature is not easy for me,” Rendell stated. “But this bill does not meet the threshold of constitutionality or basic fairness.”

The full text of the legislation can be viewed by entering HB 101 in the “find legislation” section at

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 43 Issue 8

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