Thursday, May 23, 2019

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 23: In 2016-17, taxpayers in House Ed Committee member .@RepPattyKim’s school districts in Dauphin County had to send over $9.6 million to chronically underperforming cybers that they never authorized. #SB34 (Schwank) or #HB526 (Sonney) could change that.


Started in November 2010, daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 4050 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Wolf education transition team members, superintendents, school solicitors, principals, charter school leaders, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, faith-based organizations, labor organizations, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

These daily emails are archived and searchable at http://keystonestateeducationcoalition.org
Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg




School Funding Briefing Thursday, May 23, 2019 6:30 – 8:00 PM
Drexel Hill Middle School, 3001 State Road, Drexel Hill, PA 19026



Break Ground on PlanCon 2.0: Contact Your Senator!
PASBO Website
A year after the PlanCon Advisory Committee issued it's final recommendations for moving forward with a new PlanCon program, their recommendations have still not been implemented. As a result, school districts with school construction needs have no option for obtaining any state support for their projects, meaning that needed projects will be deferred or property taxes will increase. Senator Pat Browne (R-Lehigh)--co-chair of the PlanCon Advisory Committee--is reintroducing legislation to implement the recommendation of the Committee. Those recommendations include streamlining the PlanCon funding formula and making it electronic, developing a small projects grant program targeted to maintenance needs and requiring guidance on what constitutes a maintenance project for the purposes of determining prevailing wage applicability.

Senator Browne’s Co-Sponsorship Memo: Plan Con - Construction and Renovation of Buildings by School Entities and Establishing a Grant Program for Maintenance Projects 

Blogger note: Total cyber charter tuition paid by PA taxpayers from 500 school districts for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 was over $1.6 billion; $393.5 million, $398.8 million, $436.1 million and $454.7 million respectively. We will continue rolling out cyber charter tuition expenses for taxpayers in education committee members, legislative leadership and various other districts.

Data Source: PDE via PSBA
Central Dauphin SD
$4,538,413.84
Harrisburg City SD
$5,145,276.66

$9,683,690.50


This morning there are 67 bipartisan cosponsors on this bill; has your state representative cosponsored HB526?

Has your state senator cosponsored SB34?

Pay close attention to House Bills 356 and 357. Tell your legislator charter legislation that removes local authority and leaves out funding reform has missed the mark! Visit our website to send a letter to your legislator:
PSBA Website May 14, 2019

Tell your legislator to vote NO on charter bills fast-tracked for a House vote 
Significant concerns, expansion without oversight
Monday the House Education Committee reported out a package of four bills addressing various charter school issues. The package is expected to be positioned on a fast track, with a vote on the House floor to occur as early as this Wednesday, May 15. Unlike attempts in previous sessions to move one omnibus charter “reform” bill, the plan now is to separate issues into a series of bills and push the package as a whole.  While PSBA supports two of the bills in the package, the other two present significant concerns and are not supported by PSBA.
Please contact your legislators in the House immediately and tell them to vote NO on the charter package. 

Find your State Representative’s Contact Info Here:

Parkland survivor David Hogg tells young Pittsburgh activists: Unite the fight against gun violence
DAN GIGLER AND ANDREA KLICK Pittsburgh Post-Gazette MAY 23, 2019 6:20 AM
The lanky 19-year-old with a mop of hair and a baby face sat in a small chair in a cramped conference room, wearing an orange hoodie, wind pants, and black Nikes. He wouldn’t look one bit out of place tossing a Frisbee 10 blocks away on Schenley Plaza, and by any reasonable estimation, that’s the kind of place he should be. Instead, a year, three months and eight days after 14 of his classmates and three of his teachers were gunned down and his life was irrevocably changed, David Hogg on Wednesday was on the second floor of a building on Melwood Avenue in Oakland, talking with other people his age about activism and spreading a simple message – unite against gun violence. “I’m not going to stop until I stop breathing,” he said. “Even if we don’t cross the finish line in this generation ... what I define as winning is giving people the chance to cross that finish line in the future, for kids that aren’t even here yet.”

Innovative Arts Academy Charter School makes argument to stay open while Catasauqua blasts school’s poor academic scores
By SARAH M. WOJCIK | THE MORNING CALL | MAY 22, 2019 | 9:50 PM
Catasauqua administrators painted the Innovative Arts Academy Charter School as a school that’s habitually failing students academically. Charter school administrators sought to portray the school as one where students in need of extra attention found solace and purpose while staff contended with a demographic of economically disadvantaged students with unexpected challenges. It will be the Catasauqua Area School Board who must decide whether the embattled school, which serves grades 6-12 with a career-based curriculum, will stay open with a renewed charter or will close its doors. The board has 30 days to issue their decision. The charter school can appeal the decision to the state if they disagree. Student Mariah Simpson, a junior, provided an emotional appeal to the board to renew the charter. “I’ve grown so much since it first opened. I never used to talk to anyone,” Simpson said, her voice wavering. “All the teachers they care about... they care about the students. They’re just like a family here.” On Tuesday, the Catasauqua Area School District outlined their concerns about the charter school, focusing on the lack of academic achievement at the school. Superintendent Robert Spengler later emphasized the school’s problems were made under “prior leadership.”

Tamaqua area votes split along party lines over arming teachers, primary results show
By MICHELLE MERLIN | THE MORNING CALL | MAY 22, 2019 | 4:36 PM
Tamaqua Area School District residents will have to wait until November to find out whether their school board supports a policy of arming teachers with guns to thwart a school shooter. Primary voters on Tuesday selected five candidates on each major ballot. Candidates who oppose the policy did best of the Democratic ballot. And those who support the policy did best on the Republican ballot. But cross-filing, which allows a candidate to appear on both ballots, showed that not all Democratic voters oppose the measure, nor do all Republican voters support it. Those 10 winning candidates will square off Nov. 5 over five board seats. “We’ll just have a rerun of [Tuesday’s] election," said Larry Wittig, one of the winning Republican candidates. “The issues will be the same.”

Hermitage school budget holds line
The Herald By DAVID L. DYE Herald Staff Writer May 23, 2019
HERMITAGE — The Hermitage School Board unanimously approved a preliminary 2019-20 budget that holds property taxes steady. The preliminary budget calls for total spending of $33,183,375. The real estate tax rate would remain at 63.907 mills, so the tax bill for a property with an assessed value at the city’s average of $24,450, the tax bill would remain at $1,562.63. The 1 percent earned income tax would not change, either. The preliminary spending plan’s overall cost is a 1.8 percent increase over the 2018-19 budget’s overall expenditures of about $32.6 million. That includes an increased contribution to the state’s Pennsylvania School Employee Retirement System, or PSERS, to 34.29 percent from 33.43 percent of employee wages. To keep the pension system solvent, the state has required a dramatic, seven-fold increase in public school districts’ contributions, up from 4.78 percent in 2009-10. But the rate of increase is leveling off, Hermitage Superintendent Dr. Dan Bell said. He said projections through 2026 show the PSERS contribution increasing to 39 percent of salaries. “The increases to get to this point were very difficult, but it seems that all the big increases for the PSERS are behind us,” Bell said.

Voters have spoken, but nine months of chaos threatens unless the state takes over Harrisburg SD | PennLive Editorial
By PennLive Editorial Board Posted May 22, 5:14 PM
The low turnout was disappointing, considering what was at stake in Harrisburg, but the voters who headed to the polls Tuesday got the job done. They ushered in a new era for the Harrisburg School District Their message was clear – serious change is needed in the city’s schools. Voters concluded the incumbents on the ballot had failed in their most basic duty – to be accountable to the people and transparent in carrying out their duties. Uptown resident Kim Hughes put it well: “The board is dysfunctional. You watch a board meeting, and it’s out of control.” It wasn’t just the chaotic board meetings. It was the backroom dealings, the poor financial oversight, the mismanagement of faculty and staff and the poor academic achievement of most of the district’s students.

Study shows controversial soda tax works
Citizens’ Voice by THE EDITORIAL BOARD / PUBLISHED: MAY 23, 2019
A new study affirms public benefits from a controversial “soda tax” that Philadelphia implemented in January 2017. The levy, which is equivalent to about $1 on a 2-liter bottle of soda, contributed to a 38 percent decline in soft drink sales in Philadelphia in 2017, compared to the preceding year, according to research published in the recent Journal of the American Medical Association. The study was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, a group that supports anti-obesity efforts, and affirms previous findings that beverage taxes reduce consumption. Soda tax supporters say it helps deter people from indulging in sugary drinks, an effective tool in the battle against obesity, diabetes and other diet-related health afflictions. Obesity rates have doubled nationally over the last 40 years and the number of people with diabetes has quadrupled. The beverage industry, which has fought the tax vigorously and continues to argue that the levy hurts working families and small businesses, has drawn intense condemnation for minimizing the connection between sugary drinks and obesity. The state Supreme Court in July 2018 rejected a beverage industry challenge to Philadelphia’s tax. As an added benefit, the tax has generated some $130 million so far to help Philadelphia pay for free preschool programs and other community services.

Sue Legg: Twenty years later, Bush plan fails Florida’s students
Gainesville Sun By Sue Legg / Special to The Sun Posted May 22, 2019 at 2:00 AM Updated May 22, 2019 at 8:58 AM
Sue Legg is a retired University of Florida faculty member. She serves on the Network for Public Education Action board. The complete report is on the Network for Public Education Action website, http://bit.ly/twentyyearslater.
Did the A+ Plan produce a miracle in Florida’s schools? A 20-year perspective on the impact of a test-driven curriculum, school grades and school choice provides some answers. When Jeb Bush was elected governor in 1998, schools were huge, and only four states had larger class sizes. Charter and private schools were championed as an inexpensive fix to improve education. Florida’s citizens countered in 1998 by approving Amendment VIII to the Florida Constitution to ensure that all students would have equal access to a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools.” The intent was clear — no public money to private schools. The 2007 recession put Florida’s schools on the verge of a fiscal and social crisis. Citizens for Strong Schools filed a lawsuit in 2009 to protest growing inequities in school funding. In January the Supreme Court, in a contentious 4-3 split decision, rejected the plaintiff’s claims. The minority opinion stated that the decision “eviscerates the 1998 opinion ... only time will truly reveal the depth of the injury inflicted upon Florida’s children.” The injury comes in many forms. Florida touts improved academic achievement that is not supported by research. Fourth grade reading scores did jump in 2004 when Florida was the first state to retain low-performing third graders. Unfortunately, the gains were lost by eighth grade. A recent National Bureau of Economic Research study reported that eighth graders were at the national average in 2002 and are now. In 2012, PolitiFact confirmed that one half of Florida’s high school graduates do not read at grade level. The National Assessment for Educational Progress reported Florida’s graduation rate was above only 14 states in 2016. There was no Florida miracle.


PA Schools Work Capitol Caravan Days Wed. June 5th and Tues. June 18th
If you couldn’t make it to Harrisburg last week, it’s not too late. We are getting down to the wire. In a few short weeks, the budget will likely be passed. Collectively, our voices have a larger impact to get more funding for Pennsylvania’s students. Legislators need to hear from you!  
Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) will be at the Capitol on Wednesday, June 5th and Tuesday, June 18th  for our next PA Schools Work caravan days. We’d love to have you join us on these legislative visits. For more details about the caravans and to sign up, go to: www.pccy.org/k12caravan . Please call Tomea Sippio-Smith at (O) 215-563-5848, ext. 36 or (C) 215-667-9421 or Shirlee Howe at (O) 215-563-5848, ext. 34 or (C) 215-888-8297 with any questions or specific requests for legislative meetings. 

Drexel Hill Middle School, 3001 State Road, Drexel Hill, PA 19026
In 2019, the Public Interest Law Center is celebrating 50 years of fighting for justice, and preparing for 50 more, through a series of 50th anniversary events.
As part of this series, the Upper Darby School Board is pleased to host the Public Interest Law Center at Drexel Hill Middle School on Thursday, May 23rd, for a School Funding Briefing.
Pennsylvania has the largest funding gap in the country between low-wealth and high-wealth school districts. Pennsylvania is also ranked 46th in the share of funding that comes from the state, leaving local taxpayers to take on rising costs. How did we get here? At the briefing, you will learn the basics of education funding and how it works in Pennsylvania, as well as ways you can get involved in advocacy for fully funded public education. You will also learn about the latest developments in the Law Center's school funding lawsuit.
Afterward, you will have a chance to meet Law Center attorneys working on this landmark case, as well as mingle with other interested in Pennsylvania education.

Do you have strong communication and leadership skills and a vision for PSBA? Members interested in becoming the next leaders of PSBA are encouraged to submit an Application for Nomination no later than May 31 to PSBA's Leadership Development Committee (LDC).
The nomination process: All persons seeking nomination for elected positions of the Association shall file with the Leadership Development Committee chairperson an Application for Nomination (.PDFon a form to be provided by the Association expressing interest in the office sought. The Application for nomination shall be marked received at PSBA Headquarters or mailed first class and postmarked no later than the application deadline specified in the timeline established by the Governing Board to be considered timely-filed.” (PSBA Bylaws, Article IV, Section 6.E.). Application Deadline: May 31, 2019
Open positions are:


PSBA Tweet March 12, 2019 Video Runtime: 6:40
In this installment of #VideoEDition, learn about legislation introduced in the PA Senate & House of Representatives that would save millions of dollars for school districts that make tuition payments for their students to attend cyber charter schools.
http://ow.ly/RyIM50n1uHi 

PSBA Summaries of Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526

PSBA Sample Board Resolution in Support of Statewide Cyber Charter School Funding Reform

PSBA Sample Board Resolution in Support of Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 256

How much could your school district and taxpayers save if there were statewide flat tuition rates of $5000 for regular ed students and $8865 for special ed.? See the estimated savings by school district here.
Education Voters PA Website February 14, 2019


Has your state representative cosponsored HB526?

Any comments contained herein are my comments, alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or organization that I may be affiliated with.



Wednesday, May 22, 2019

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 22: Urban district leaders protest proposed charter law changes, call for more funds


Started in November 2010, daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 4050 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Wolf education transition team members, superintendents, school solicitors, principals, charter school leaders, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, faith-based organizations, labor organizations, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

These daily emails are archived and searchable at http://keystonestateeducationcoalition.org
Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg




School Funding Briefing Thursday, May 23, 2019 6:30 – 8:00 PM
Drexel Hill Middle School, 3001 State Road, Drexel Hill, PA 19026



Blogger note: the PA House and Senate return for session days on June 3.

Urban district leaders protest proposed charter law changes, call for more funds
Superintendents, who have been meeting regularly to discuss strategy, say resources are their most critical issue and that charter amendments would weaken their oversight.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa May 16 — 9:26 am, 2019
HARRISBURG – Leaders of 10 urban school districts in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite, traveled to the State Capitol this week to oppose pending charter school legislation that they say would wreck their capacity to plan financially and weaken their ability to monitor charters’ performance. The bills would restrict what information districts could seek from charter applicants, would squeeze the renewal process into 90 days, and would allow some charters to open in multiple locations without prior approval, among other changes. As the leaders were talking, those bills sailed through the House Education Committee on a party-line vote, with Republicans in favor and Democrats against. The school leaders, a group that included superintendents and school board members, stood in the Capitol Rotunda and said, as cameras rolled, that their paramount concern was securing additional state revenue for their districts. These laws, they said, would make it even harder to control spending, plan responsibly, and meet the needs of all students. “We are asking for fiscal relief,” said Joseph Roy, superintendent of the Bethlehem School District. He was among 13 people representing 10 mostly urban and financially struggling districts across the state – Philadelphia, Greater Johnstown, Bethlehem, Pottstown, Allentown, Reading, Steelton-Highspire, Harrisburg, Southeast Delco, and York. These are also the districts where the state’s charter schools are concentrated.

My Turn: Monroe, Pike taxpayers foot the bill for online charter schools
Pocono Record Opinion By Susan Spicka Posted May 19, 2019 at 11:00 AM
Funny thing about those billboards advertising “free” online education: The education isn’t free — and neither is the billboard. Both are paid for with taxpayer dollars. Same goes for those radio ads, TV ads, and internet ads promoting free cyber school — all paid for with public money. In fact, over the last three school years, Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools spent more than $21 million combined in taxpayer money on expensive advertising campaigns to promote their schools. Cyber charter schools also use school tax dollars to pay for lobbying, shareholder profits of private management companies, and generous CEO and administrative salaries. And in the case of the high-profile fraud committed by Nick Trombetta, founder and former CEO of PA Cyber, more than $8 million in taxpayer money was spent on a private airplane, vacation homes, and other luxuries. This waste, fraud, and abuse of school tax dollars happens because the state’s funding system for cyber charter schools is broken. And this broken system has a significant and negative impact on taxpayers and students here in Monroe County. Each year, Monroe County school districts spend $13,932,726 or more and Pike County school districts spend $1,512,395 or more in local taxpayer money on student tuition bills for cyber charter schools. In order to pay these bills, school districts must raise property taxes, cut teachers or programs, or take money away from something else in their budgets. In other words, home and business owners in Monroe and Pike Counties are paying more and students are going without, because state law mandates that school districts send cyber charter schools millions of dollars in education funding that are spent on things not related to educating students.

“As a result, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court has recently announced the procedural schedule for this lawsuit challenging the state’s school funding system. Judge RenĂ©e Cohn Jubelirer issued the order and will oversee the pre-trial proceedings. Before the actual trial, the parties will conduct extensive fact discovery and produce expert reports by Oct. 4, 2019. The parties will then have 60 days to file expert reports and rebuttals to these reports. Motions for summary judgment are due by Feb. 4, 2020.”
Guest Column: Education funding: William Penn families finally get day in court
Delco Times By Joseph Batory Times Guest Columnist May 20, 2019
Joseph Batory is the former superintendent of the Upper Darby School District. 
Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court had dismissed a major lawsuit challenging the state system of public education funding in 2015 (William Penn School District et al. v. PA Department of Education et al). It was filed in 2014 by the Education Law Center and the Public Interest Law Center on behalf of parents, school districts, and statewide organizations. It alleged that the Pennsylvania’s system of funding public education was violating Pennsylvania’s Constitution, due to significant underfunding and gross disparities in allocations that penalize students in low-wealth districts. However, on September 28, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court decision and delivered a major victory to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania students by ordering the Commonwealth Court to hold a trial on whether state officials have been violating the state’s constitution by failing to adequately and equitably fund public education. The Supreme Court decision asserted that considering this lawsuit will ensure legislative compliance with Pennsylvania’s Education Clause, which requires the General Assembly to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education” for Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren. The court also found no basis to deny consideration of allegations by parents and school districts that the legislature’s current funding discriminates against children based on where they live and the wealth of their communities.

Pay close attention to House Bills 356 and 357. Tell your legislator charter legislation that removes local authority and leaves out funding reform has missed the mark! Visit our website to send a letter to your legislator:
PSBA Website May 14, 2019

Tell your legislator to vote NO on charter bills fast-tracked for a House vote 
Significant concerns, expansion without oversight
Monday the House Education Committee reported out a package of four bills addressing various charter school issues. The package is expected to be positioned on a fast track, with a vote on the House floor to occur as early as this Wednesday, May 15. Unlike attempts in previous sessions to move one omnibus charter “reform” bill, the plan now is to separate issues into a series of bills and push the package as a whole.  While PSBA supports two of the bills in the package, the other two present significant concerns and are not supported by PSBA.
Please contact your legislators in the House immediately and tell them to vote NO on the charter package. 

Find your State Representative’s Contact Info Here:

Blogger note: Total cyber charter tuition paid by PA taxpayers from 500 school districts for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 was over $1.6 billion; $393.5 million, $398.8 million, $436.1 million and $454.7 million respectively. We will continue rolling out cyber charter tuition expenses for taxpayers in education committee members, legislative leadership and various other districts.

Data Source: PDE via PSBA
Bentworth SD
$275,827.37
Bethel Park SD
$571,465.60
Elizabeth Forward SD
$343,876.78
Ringgold SD
$1,020,865.05
South Park SD
$294,224.01
West Jefferson Hills SD
$472,637.67

$2,978,896.48

This morning there are 67 bipartisan cosponsors on this bill; has your state representative cosponsored HB526?

Has your state senator cosponsored SB34?

Another failing grade for Pa.: It’s past time to reform the Legislature | Opinion
By Carol Kuniholm  Capital-Star Op-Ed Contributor May 21, 2019
Carol Kuniholm writes on behalf of the government reform group Fair Districts PA.
Last week U.S. News & World Report released its third annual list of the best and worst states in America to live in, based on “thousands of data points to measure how well states are performing for their citizens.” Pennsylvania was ranked 41st: down from 30th in 2017 and 38th in 2018, far behind our neighboring mid-Atlantic states. For those concerned about our economy: we’re now ranked 44th. Every indicator points back to priorities and policy in Harrisburg. That’s no surprise. A 2015 study by the Center for Public Integrity Project described PA’s “entrenched culture of malfeasance” and placed us 45th in the country for systems in place to deter political corruption. Year after year, our legislators promise solutions, introduce good legislation, then wait for legislative leaders to take interest. Whatever the problem, the answer is indifference or delay. A recent headline: “Pa. gets failing grade for treatment of lead in school drinking water.” We’ve known for years now that 18 cities in PA have worse lead levels than Flint Michigan. In the past two decades, over 25 bills have been introduced to address this, but so far no remedies have been given so much as a vote in committee. An op-ed last fall said “Pa. gets failing grade for helping college students with costs.” PA falls last or near last in share of public education funding, in school funding equity and in jobs creation, while ranking highest in the nation for average student debt. Bills are regularly introduced in Harrisburg to address all of these issues. None are given a hearing or a vote.

Who are Philly’s best teachers? Here are 60 who shine.
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Updated: May 21, 2019- 5:00 AM
Sixty Philadelphia School District elementary-, middle-, and high-school teachers have won 2019 Lindback Foundation Distinguished Teaching Awards. Each receives a $3,500 prize and will be honored Tuesday at a ceremony at the Philadelphia Film Society. These excerpts are from nominations submitted to the foundation, which celebrates excellence in education and has awarded teaching prizes since 2008.

Charter Appeals Board upholds decision to award charter to Catalyst Academy in Pittsburgh's East End
ELIZABETH BEHRMAN Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Lbehrman@post-gazette.com MAY 21, 2019
The Pennsylvania Charter Appeals Board on Tuesday upheld an earlier decision to award a charter to Catalyst Academy, overturning a unanimous vote by the Pittsburgh Public Schools board last year. The appeals board on Monday voted 4-2 to award the charter to the kindergarten-through-eighth grade charter school that plans to serve students in Pittsburgh’s East End communities. Charter school advocates said the board had to vote again due to a technicality, even though it voted in favor of awarding the charter in February, that time by a vote of 3-2.  At that time, district solicitor Ira Weiss said he planned to recommend that the school board appeal the decision to Commonwealth Court.  Catalyst Academy applied for a charter in 2017, which was denied by the Pittsburgh school board in February 2018. Board members had expressed concerns about the school’s proposed disciplinary policy and its ability to accommodate students with special needs, among other things.

Penn Hills school board eyes 55 layoffs, 6.7% tax hike to address financial woes
MATT MCKINNEY Pittsburgh Post-Gazette mmckinney@post-gazette.com MAY 21, 2019
As Penn Hills School District looks for ways out of its budget crisis, a state-appointed school finance expert on Monday released a plan that would cut dozens of jobs and hike property tax rates that already sit among the highest in Allegheny County. The school board is considering a plan to cut as many as 55 positions and raise property taxes by 6.7% as the financially struggling district attempts to climb out of more than $170 million in debt. The measures are part of a financial recovery plan and a proposed budget that the board reviewed at a meeting Monday. The budget has a projected shortfall of of $8.1 million. The tax increase would raise the district’s millage rate to 30.58 mills from the current 28.66 mills.  The majority of the layoffs would affect the district’s teachers, school officials said. The faculty total for this year is 244. According to the plan submitted to the school board, as many as 26 classroom teachers and another nine specialists, including counselors and social workers, would be cut through layoffs and attrition. Those layoffs would save the district an estimated $3.3 million, officials said. The plan also recommended cutting another 24 to 30 support staffers, who now number 93, which save the district another $569,000. 

Record number of Lancaster County parents opt their children out of PSSAs this year
Lancaster Online by ALEX GELI | Staff Writer May 16, 2019
Sarah Kuzmenko, a Manheim Township mother of two, feels like parents don’t have much of a say when it comes to their children’s education. But when it comes to standardized tests, she makes her voice heard. Kuzmenko has opted her two sons — now in third and fourth grade at Bucher Elementary School — out of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessments the last two years. In a way, she said, it’s a protest. But she’s able to use a religious exemption — the only legal way, besides a medical emergency, to prevent a child from taking the state’s high-stakes exams. "They’re using one measurement to measure every student across the state, and I believe that is wrong," Kuzmenko told LNP in a phone interview Wednesday. “Children, they learn differently.” More parents than ever have joined the booming opt-out movement this year. Including Kuzmenko’s two kids, 941 Lancaster County students opted out. That’s 14% more than last year, when 822 students opted out — and more than 6,000% more than the 15 opt-outs in 2013.  While the current numbers represent a miniscule portion of the county’s test-eligible students, school administrators have expressed concern over participation rates as opt-outs increase.

Debate on arming teachers falls along party lines, setting up Tamaqua school board fight in November
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com Posted May 21, 11:32 PM
Tamaqua was the first school district in Pennsylvania to pass a policy to let teachers carry guns, but the school board put the idea on hold in January pending the outcome of separate lawsuits from parents and teachers. Now parents have learned that the suspension of the policy has been lifted.
The arming of teachers is an issue that divides school districts across Pennsylvania and apparently will continue to divide the school board candidates running for election in the only district in the state with a policy where staffers carrying firearms in school is allowed. Tamaqua Area School Board has five seats up for election this year with just three incumbents – Larry Wittig, Dan Schoener, and Melanie Dillman – seeking another term. On Tuesday, all three incumbents, who support the gun policy, were among the five top vote-getters on the Republican ballot, according to the unofficial results on the Schuylkill County Election Bureau website.Joining them were newcomers Thomas Bartasavage and Trina Schellhammer, who the Morning Call in Allentown reported also campaigned to uphold the policy. The unofficial results for the Democratic nomination for the five seats told a different story, one that mirrored the image of the larger gun control debate.

New faces set to join Philly City Council as Democratic machine takes at-large races
The party’s endorsed candidates beat out a huge field of contenders.
Billy Penn May 21, 2019
Philadelphia City Council looks like it will get two new faces next year. The slate of five Democratic party-endorsed candidates held a decisive lead with 96 percent of votes tallied, according to unofficial returns. Democratic voters in Tuesday’s municipal primary were able to cast ballots for five of 28 City Council at-large candidates. The top five vote-getters will now go on to represent the Dems in November’s general election, where the city’s voter registration makeup gives them the clear edge for victory.
As of 11 p.m., the Democratic nominees appear to be:
  • Incumbent Councilwoman Helen Gym, with over 104,000 votes (15 percent)
  • Incumbent Councilman Allan Domb, with over 65,000 votes (10 percent)
  • Incumbent Councilman Derek Green, with over 59,000 votes, (9 percent)
  • Isaiah Thomas, with over 62,000 votes, (9 percent)
  • Katherine Gilmore Richardson, with over 44,000 votes, (7 percent)
Helen Gym - At-large Councilwoman Helen Gym is sailing toward her second term with 15 percent of the vote citywide — a much larger number of votes than any of her Democratic rivals in the race. Gym spearheaded the city’s Fair Workweek legislation in her first term, and earned clout as a champion for progressive social justice reforms. Before her political career got started, she was an activist who focused primarily on improving the city’s stock of public schools. In her bid for reelection, Gym earned support from Mayor Kenney, the Democratic City Committee, and unions like AFL-CIO, AFSCME and the Local 98 electricians union, whose leaders are under federal indictment. She’s said in her second term she’ll work to end the tax abatement and get more funding for public schools.

Activist Harbin edges another newcomer to win race for seat on Pittsburgh school board
Two other first-time candidates claim victories
ELIZABETH BEHRMAN Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Lbehrman@post-gazette.com MAY 21, 2019
The three contested races for Pittsburgh school board were likely decided by Tuesday’s primary, making November’s general election largely a formality barring any upsets from independent or write-in candidates.  Based on unofficial results Tuesday night, community activist Pam Harbin edged out public policy analyst Anna Batista in the race for the District 4 seat. Both candidates cross-filed as Republican and Democrat, and Ms. Harbin led on both ballots.

Ninth grade academies are helping Philly students stay on track
Fewer than 20 percent of freshman who fall behind make up ground and earn diplomas.
The notebook by Connie Langland May 17 — 1:27 pm, 2019
David Jones, Amanda Strickland, Christine Wu and Kayla Milton – all 11th graders at South Philadelphia High School – have ambitious plans for after graduation. Jones, 17, will opt for culinary school – he’s a whiz at pastry. Strickland and Wu, both 17, want careers in the health field, Strickland as a nurse, Wu as a surgeon. Even in high school, Milton, 18, is gaining experience in the graphic arts field. Similar optimism is apparent at Sayre High School in West Philadelphia. There, 11th graders Unique Stephens, 16, and Michael Taylor, 18, both plan to attend college. Stephens plans to study civil engineering, while Taylor wants to be a lawyer. All these students – and scores of their peers – are among the first cohort of young people to benefit from having started their high school journey in their school’s ninth-grade academy, an ambitious and promising District program now established in all 21 neighborhood high schools. Education researchers describe the transition into ninth grade as the riskiest of years for students in urban districts, with as many as 40 percent of students failing to get promoted from ninth to tenth grade on time. That setback puts those young people in grave jeopardy for dropping out. Fewer than 20 percent of students who fall behind make up ground and earn diplomas, according to MDRC, a national education research group.

Charter Schools Are Quietly Gobbling Up My Public School District
Gadfly on the Wall Blog by Steven M. Singer May 20, 2019 stevenmsinger 
I work in a little suburban school district just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that is slowly being destroyed by privatization. Steel Valley Schools have a proud history. We’re located (in part) in Homestead – the home of the historic steel strike of 1892. But today it isn’t private security agents and industrial business magnates against whom we’re struggling. It’s charter schools, voucher schools and the pro-corporate policies that enable them to pocket tax dollars meant to educate kids and then blame us for the shortfall. Our middle school-high school complex is located at the top of a hill. At the bottom of the hill in our most impoverished neighborhood sits one of the Propel network of charter schools. Our district is so poor we can’t even afford to bus our kids to school. So Propel tempts kids who don’t feel like making the long walk to our door.  
Institutions like Propel are publicly funded but privately operated. That means they take our tax dollars but don’t have to be as accountable, transparent or sensible in how they spend them.

This school district outsourced many of its high school courses to an online program. But it’s not clear students are learning.
Chalkbeat BY MATT BARNUM  -  1 DAY AGO  -  UPDATED 8 HOURS AGO
A Milwaukee high school student walks into his class on “Romeo and Juliet.” But there’s no teacher walking students through Shakespeare’s turns of phrase and no peers to discuss them with. Instead, “The student toggled between his phone and the lesson on the screen, texting while the lecture played and talking to a student nearby,” researchers who observed the course recorded. “The instructor came by and told him to take notes, but he did not follow through.” Welcome to the world of online coursetaking, where regular public high schools farm out some instruction to computer programs, often in an effort to help students rapidly earn course credits. In Milwaukee, one in five credits earned in middle and high school in the 2016-17 school year came through an online class. New research finds the approach does help students graduate — but raises big questions about whether it actually helps them learn. Researchers who spent years watching students take online courses in 18 Milwaukee high schools found teachers struggling to monitor large groups of students, classes that effectively segregated students with behavioral problems, and students habitually searching the Internet for answers. Taking the classes also appeared to actually hurt students’ year-end math and reading scores.

Here are 7 'Schools of Opportunity’ that 'show us a way forward’
Washington Post Answer Sheet By Valerie Strauss Reporter May 20
Five years ago I began spotlighting the winners of an annual project called “Schools of Opportunity,” which recognizes high schools that work to close opportunity gaps by creating learning environments that reach every student. Here are the seven winners in the 2018-19 cycle. The Schools of Opportunity project started in 2014 as a pilot in New York and Colorado, and went national in 2015-16. Several dozen schools have been honored in the program, which assesses a range of factors (see graphic above), including how well the adults in a school building provide health and psychological support for students as well as judicious and fair discipline policies, and broad and enriched curriculum. Schools submit applications explaining why they should be recognized. Next year’s application cycle is already open, and if you know a potential School of Opportunity, please visit http://schoolsofopportunity.org/ to learn more. In the following piece, Kevin Welner, one of the founders of Schools of Opportunity, explains what it’s all about and briefly describes the schools that won the latest cycle. In the coming weeks I will publish pieces on each separate school.

Bernie Sanders’s Education Plan Laments Rise of Charter Schools
The New York Times By Sandra E. Garcia May 18, 2019
Senator Bernie Sanders took aim at charter schools on Saturday, calling for a moratorium on federal funding for the schools in a declaration of his education policy priorities ahead of the 2020 election. In a 10-point plan, Mr. Sanders, one of nearly two dozen candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, said that, if elected, he would “desegregate schools” in part by forbidding federal spending on new charter schools as well as by banning for-profit charter schools — which account for a small proportion of existing charters. “The proliferation of charter schools has disproportionately affected communities of color,” Mr. Sanders wrote, adding, “We do not need two schools systems; we need to invest in our public schools system.” Mr. Sanders of Vermont would also require that charter schools be subject to the same oversight as public schools, and that teachers and parents account for at least half the representation on all charter school boards. Additionally, his plan would demand that charter schools disclose student attrition rates, nonpublic sources of funding and financial interests.

Feds: DeVos used personal emails for work in ‘limited’ cases
Inquirer by Collin Binkley, AP Education Writer, Updated: May 20, 2019- 1:16 PM
An internal Education Department watchdog says Secretary Betsy DeVos has sometimes used personal email accounts for government business and did not always save the messages properly. The agency's Office of Inspector General released a report Monday finding "limited" instances in which DeVos sent work emails from four personal accounts. Investigators say they found fewer than 100 emails to or from DeVos' personal accounts on the department's email system, and found no evidence of "active or extensive" use of her personal accounts. But they found that the emails, which should have been forwarded to her government account, "were not always being properly preserved." The report says many of the emails were from people congratulating DeVos on her 2017 confirmation or offering staffing recommendations.
House Democrats requested the review in October 2017.


PA Schools Work Capitol Caravan Days Wed. June 5th and Tues. June 18th
If you couldn’t make it to Harrisburg last week, it’s not too late. We are getting down to the wire. In a few short weeks, the budget will likely be passed. Collectively, our voices have a larger impact to get more funding for Pennsylvania’s students. Legislators need to hear from you!  
Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) will be at the Capitol on Wednesday, June 5th and Tuesday, June 18th  for our next PA Schools Work caravan days. We’d love to have you join us on these legislative visits. For more details about the caravans and to sign up, go to: www.pccy.org/k12caravan . Please call Tomea Sippio-Smith at (O) 215-563-5848, ext. 36 or (C) 215-667-9421 or Shirlee Howe at (O) 215-563-5848, ext. 34 or (C) 215-888-8297 with any questions or specific requests for legislative meetings. 

Drexel Hill Middle School, 3001 State Road, Drexel Hill, PA 19026
In 2019, the Public Interest Law Center is celebrating 50 years of fighting for justice, and preparing for 50 more, through a series of 50th anniversary events.
As part of this series, the Upper Darby School Board is pleased to host the Public Interest Law Center at Drexel Hill Middle School on Thursday, May 23rd, for a School Funding Briefing.
Pennsylvania has the largest funding gap in the country between low-wealth and high-wealth school districts. Pennsylvania is also ranked 46th in the share of funding that comes from the state, leaving local taxpayers to take on rising costs. How did we get here? At the briefing, you will learn the basics of education funding and how it works in Pennsylvania, as well as ways you can get involved in advocacy for fully funded public education. You will also learn about the latest developments in the Law Center's school funding lawsuit.
Afterward, you will have a chance to meet Law Center attorneys working on this landmark case, as well as mingle with other interested in Pennsylvania education.

Do you have strong communication and leadership skills and a vision for PSBA? Members interested in becoming the next leaders of PSBA are encouraged to submit an Application for Nomination no later than May 31 to PSBA's Leadership Development Committee (LDC).
The nomination process: All persons seeking nomination for elected positions of the Association shall file with the Leadership Development Committee chairperson an Application for Nomination (.PDFon a form to be provided by the Association expressing interest in the office sought. The Application for nomination shall be marked received at PSBA Headquarters or mailed first class and postmarked no later than the application deadline specified in the timeline established by the Governing Board to be considered timely-filed.” (PSBA Bylaws, Article IV, Section 6.E.). Application Deadline: May 31, 2019
Open positions are:


PSBA Tweet March 12, 2019 Video Runtime: 6:40
In this installment of #VideoEDition, learn about legislation introduced in the PA Senate & House of Representatives that would save millions of dollars for school districts that make tuition payments for their students to attend cyber charter schools.
http://ow.ly/RyIM50n1uHi 

PSBA Summaries of Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526

PSBA Sample Board Resolution in Support of Statewide Cyber Charter School Funding Reform

PSBA Sample Board Resolution in Support of Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 256

How much could your school district and taxpayers save if there were statewide flat tuition rates of $5000 for regular ed students and $8865 for special ed.? See the estimated savings by school district here.
Education Voters PA Website February 14, 2019


Has your state representative cosponsored HB526?

Any comments contained herein are my comments, alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or organization that I may be affiliated with.