Thursday, February 20, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for Feb 20, 2020: Some cyber history: From Junk Bonds to Junk Schools

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
Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg

PA Ed Policy Roundup for Feb 20, 2020

“That a charter school can prepare such a poor application, yet still have a chance of opening its doors to students, shows the deficiencies of Pennsylvania’s charter school law, said David Lapp, executive director of the Philadelphia-based education research organization Research for Action.  “It’s pretty baffling that they got a 20-page rejection letter with very detailed descriptions of their deficiencies, and now the law allows them to resubmit it,” Lapp said. “The law gives applicants a number of bites out of the apple before their application can get completely rejected.”
Failed Philly cyber charter application highlights weaknesses in state law, observer says
PA Capital Star By  Elizabeth Hardison February 19, 2020
The state Department of Education has issued its first denial in years to a cyber charter school, thwarting a proposal for a new school that aimed to enroll 2,500 Pennsylvania students starting in 2021. The Virtual Preparatory Academy of Philadelphia Cyber Charter School fell short on every standard Pennsylvania uses to evaluate cyber charter schools, including support among parents and students, long-term financial planning and proof that its students would meet state educational standards, according to a Jan. 27 memo from the state Department of Education. The school also flat-out failed to provide parts of the application, such as a sample curriculum and plans for staffing and professional development. Reviewers also said its plans for serving children with special needs, or those learning English, were nonexistent. The Virtual Preparatory Academy is the first new cyber charter school to apply for a license in Pennsylvania in five years. Attempts to reach its Philadelphia-based board president, Richard Flynn, were unsuccessful. The rejection comes at a time when Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has clamped down on the state’s cyber charter schools, which currently enroll 39,000 Pennsylvania children who take courses primarily through computers at home.

Virtual Preparatory Academy of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School
Decision by the Pennsylvania Department of Education
Pennsylvania Department of Education January 27, 2020
After reviewing the Virtual Preparatory Academy of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School application, it is the decision of the Pennsylvania Department of Education to deny the application. Please review the pages that follow for more information.

Blogger note: here’s some background/history on K12, Inc. and Ron Packard who is noted in the PA Capital Star piece:
Reprise 2013: From Junk Bonds to Junk Schools: Cyber Schools Fleece Taxpayers for Phantom Students and Failing Grades
PRWatch Submitted by Mary Bottari on October 2, 2013 - 7:38am
The data is in and K12 Inc.'s brand of full-time public "cyber school" is garbage. Not surprising for an educational model kicked off with a $10 million investment from junk-bond king Michael Milken. Milken was the Wall Street financier who virtually invented junk-bonds -- high-risk securities that were used to leverage hostile buyouts in the "go-go" 1980s. Milken came to symbolize Wall Street excess, serving as inspiration for the Michael Douglas character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street. Milken spent almost two years in a federal penitentiary for securities fraud. After he was released from prison, Milken set his sights on the $600 billion public education "market," forming new companies including Knowledge Universe and Knowledge Learning, parent company of the KinderCare child care chain. With his $10 million stake in K12 Inc., Milken aided one of his Vice Presidents and another junk dealer, Ron Packard, who specialized in mergers and acquisitions for Goldman Sachs back in the '80s. The duo prepped to exploit the public education sector, and boy, have they. His various educational ventures have made Milken one of the richest men in America, and Packard raked in over $16 million in compensation from 2008 to 2012 as CEO of K12 Inc. Almost all of that money came from U.S. taxpayers.

From 2016: “K12 Inc. and the Baltimore-based Connections Education—the two largest national virtual school management companies—spend millions of dollars on well-connected lobbyists to convince lawmakers to see things their way.
Together, the companies educate over half of the over 200,000 students who are enrolled in virtual charter schools. They have hired hundreds of lobbyists, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and spent more than $14.5 million to retain those lobbyists since 2000 in the 25 states with publicly reported lobbying expenditures examined by Education Week. That dollar amount is likely an underestimate—in several states, lobbying expenditures don't have to be reported, or, if they do, the dollar amounts are reported in broad ranges.
Connections Education confirmed that it has spent $1.3 million in lobbying in 27 states so far this year.
Pennsylvania and Colorado are among the top states for lobbying by both companies. Since 2007, the companies together spent $1.8 million to lobby lawmakers in Pennsylvania, and since 2003, spent $1.3 million in Colorado.
Despite well-documented weak performance and mismanagement in some Colorado cyber charter schools, the state has never shut one down.
Together, K12 Inc. and Connections have spent nearly $2 million on contributions to political campaigns and parties since the mid-2000s, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. That number does not include spending on political action committees or donations made by individuals who work with either company.
K12 Inc. accounts for the vast majority of spending on lobbying and political contributions by the virtual school sector over the last decade or so—including around $1.8 million in political contributions and more than $10.5 million on lobbying.
Reprise 2016: Rewarding Failure
An Education Week Investigation of the Cyber Charter Industry 2016
With growing evidence that the nation's cyber charter schools are plagued by serious academic and management problems, Education Week conducted a months-long investigation into what is happening in this niche sector of K-12 schooling. The result is a deep-dive account of what's wrong with cyber charters. Education Week uncovered exclusive data on how rarely students use the learning software at Colorado’s largest cyber charter, the questionable management practices in online charters, and how lobbying in scores of states helps keep the sector growing.

Pittsburgh city school board may endorse bills on charter reform
ANDREW GOLDSTEIN Pittsburgh Post-Gazette FEB 19, 2020 10:54 PM
The Pittsburgh Public Schools board next week could vote to endorse two bills soon to be introduced in Pennsylvania’s Legislature that aim to reform the way charter schools in the state are funded. House Bill 2261 and Senate Bill 1024, which have identical language, seek to make charter school funding more equitable to public school districts in the state as well as increase transparency of charter school business.   “There’s a lot of school districts now that are showing that they each year are losing money because of a bad funding law,” Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Pam Harbin said Wednesday night. “Every year, school districts are forced to raise taxes basically to fund this unfunded mandate, and it’s not sustainable at this point.” State Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-Montgomery County, is sponsoring the House bill, while the Senate bill is being sponsored by state Sens. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport, and Lindsey Williams, D-West View. Two provisions in the bills would provide most of the cost savings, according to Alex Teplyakov, Mr. Ciresi’s chief of staff. First, the bills include a requirement that charter schools would be reimbursed using the special education fair funding formula for special education students already used by public school districts. The bills also institute a statewide cyber charter school tuition rate.

PA lawmakers take aim at cyber charter schools
River Reporter By OWEN WALSH Posted Wednesday, February 19, 2020 10:51 am
Harrisburg, PA — Private online schooling in Pennsylvania is facing some radical changes from both the executive and legislative side of the government. The House Education Committee recently held a hearing on a bill that would require cyber charter schools to “cease operation and dissolve” at the end of the 2020-21 school year. It would also require each public school district to offer its own online curriculum as an alternative to traditional schooling. The private online education industry is big in PA—one of the largest in the nation. It’s also one wracked with reports of fraud, unaccountability and a poor quality of education. In 2016, the commonwealth’s auditor general called its charter law the worst in the country.

Starting school later – possible solution to kid’s sleep deprivation crisis?
Schools encouraged to start at 8:30 or later
WITF Smarttalk by Merideth Bucher FEBRUARY 18, 2020 | Audio Runtime: 49:49
Any parent who has attempted to roust a sleeping teenager for school will tell you it is not always an easy task. Teenagers, it seems, really like to sleep. According to experts, teenagers also need to sleep and there is science to back it up. The Pennsylvania General Assembly commissioned a report in 2019 called, “The Case for Delaying Secondary School Start Times.” The report raised the alarm by calling sleep deprivation among teenagers a public health crisis and recommending districts move school start times to 8:30 or later.
The American Academy of Pediatrics made the same policy recommendation more than five years ago, saying that later start times would better align with children’s changing sleep patterns. Dr. Gail Karafin and Superintendent Joe McFarland appear on Smart Talk on February 18, 2020. While it appears that many school districts around the country and in Pennsylvania, have considered the recommendations, the average high school start time remains unchanged since 2011. The majority still start classes before 8 a.m. If student health and achievement is improved with later start times, why does it seem so difficult for districts to make the change? Joining Smart Talk on Tuesday to discuss the science for later start times and how some districts are making the change are Gail Karafin, Ed.D., School Psychologist and PA Statewide leader of Start School Later, Orfeu Buxton, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Biobehavioral HealthPennsylvania State University and Derry Township School District Superintendent Joe McFarland.

Philly District, Queen Village community group cancel school planning review Q&A
Public forums to start soon, but “town hall” format unlikely.
The notebook by Bill Hangley Jr. February 19 — 7:23 am, 2020
District officials and a South Philadelphia community group have agreed to cancel a planned appearance by Superintendent William Hite, at which he was expected to take public questions about the new Comprehensive School Planning Review for the first time since it launched last November. “Our goal has always been to ensure that all communities … have an opportunity to hear the same information at the same time,” said District spokesperson Monica Lewis in a statement. “We believe it would not be appropriate to engage individual communities in conversations about CSPR at this time.” Hite had been scheduled to appear at the monthly community meeting of the Queen Village Neighbors Association (QVNA) on Wednesday. The meeting announcement, posted on Facebook this weekend, promised that Hite would “present and answer questions about the Comprehensive School Planning Review,” or CSPR, a strategic planning process designed to reorganize neighborhood K-12 networks to make them more efficient and effective. Two Queen Village elementary schools, Nebinger and Meredith, are part of the process and could see changes. Hite’s appearance would have offered the public its first opportunity to directly question District officials about CSPR in an open forum, and word of the meeting quickly spread on social media.
The appearance was cancelled by “mutual agreement,” said QVNA President Eleanor Ingersoll.

Philly School Planning Review is treating a human problem – equitable education – like a numbers game
The District "should end its pattern of bringing in outside consultants who have no stake in the outcomes and who do not have the history or love for the city’s children that is needed."
The notebook Commentary by Laurie Mazer and Zoe Rooney February 19 — 3:47 pm, 2020
The School District of Philadelphia is now halfway through the first year of its Comprehensive School Planning Review (CSPR) process, but no closer to a truly comprehensive District-wide plan that prioritizes equity or the aspirations that parents and students have for their schools. The CSPR is described on the District’s website as a “collaborative process” to help “plan for the future in a way that ensures our students have access to a great school close to where they live.” In reality, it has been marked by lackluster attempts at family engagement and negligible return on the $1.4 million investment into out-of-state contractor FLO Analytics and its subcontractor, Bloom. Although parents, teachers, and community members are supposed to be engaged in the process, the CSPR planning committees are limited to four representatives per school, including and selected by principals. Attendance has been low, with two or fewer parents in total at some committee meetings in Study Areas Two and Three, which are also the areas where schools are more likely to face closure.

Philly school asbestos problem: What’s closed, what’s open and what’s being done
Reference this list to find out where things stand.
Billy Penn by Michaela Winberg Today, 7:30 a.m. February 19, 2020
Asbestos has reared its head as a pervasive problem for the Philadelphia School District this academic year. Several of the city’s school buildings have been temporarily shut down for remediation after officials discovered exposed toxic material — so many that it’s hard to keep track. Teachers say they’ve lost confidence in the district’s ability to manage the problem, and in January their union sued the School District in January, alleging that Superintendent William Hite repeatedly mishandled problems with asbestos, lead and mold. For his part, Mayor Jim Kenney defended the superintendent, saying he’s done a “terrific job” considering the condition of the aging structures that house the city’s educational institutions. Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf made $1 billion available to schools across Pennsylvania to could mitigate asbestos and lead on their premises. In Philly, the bad news started in August 2019, when it was discovered that the freshly renovated building set up to host Benjamin Franklin High School and Science Leadership Academy was full of the toxin. It took until October for the district to admit it needed time to clear the contaminated pipes. Students were temporarily relocated away from Broad and Green while a $13 million cleanup took place. Since then, officials have discovered damaged asbestos in seven additional school buildings — bringing the shuttered total for this school year to nine. Some of them have reopened, while others have not. To help people keep track of the situation, we’ve created this list as a reference. We’ll keep it updated throughout the year.

PAFA displays Black art collection of Constance Clayton, former Philadelphia school superintendent
WHYY By Peter Crimmins February 20, 2020
After receiving a substantial gift of African American art last year, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is now exhibiting 76 paintings and sculptures that came from the personal collection of the former Philadelphia School District superintendent, Dr. Constance Clayton. Clayton was the first African American woman to be Philadelphia’s school superintendent, holding that position from 1982 – 1993. Toward the end of her tenure, she began collecting art with her mother, Willabell Clayton. The mother and daughter duo wanted to acquire work specifically by African American artists, combing galleries and antique stores with an eye for things that would look good in their shared Mt. Airy home. She also wanted work that told a story or conveyed a message about African American life. “If I’m going to live with it, I want to like it,” Clayton said. “I don’t want to buy it because it has someone’s name on it.” Clayton continued to collect art after her mother died in 2004, amassing about 300 pieces, including landscapes, domestic scenes, portraits of Black families and children and abstract works.

Pa. Legislature needs to act quickly on gerrymandering bills | Letter
Express-Times Letters to the Editor by Mary C. Erdman Vice president, League of Women Voters, Lehigh County, Public speaker, Fair Districts PA February 19, 2020
How long have issues such as property tax reform, equitable school funding, traffic and transportation problems, and environmental issues been kicked around in Harrisburg? It seems like forever! Look at education. We are 47th in the nation in equitable school funding. Our state higher education funding ranks 50th, and we lead the nation in premature deaths due to air pollution. We each have an issue that is of most importance, but to begin to solve these problems, we need to choose the abolishment of gerrymandering as the first thing we need to do. Numerous studies have proven that special interest money in campaigns and gerrymandering are the major reasons why little gets done in Harrisburg. Other research tells us Pennsylvania is one of most gerrymandered states in the nation! When a state is gerrymandered, incumbents are re-elected because they are from “safe” districts that have been drawn to protect them, so they are not as motivated to work hard to solve problems. Gerrymandering feeds partisanship, as we retreat to our party “corners” and tend to fight more than compromise. Problems get solved when legislators come to the middle and work together. Creating a citizens independent redistricting commission is the first step in creating more fairly drawn districts. Please ask your state legislator to support HB 22 and HB 23 now, or we face 10 more years of gridlock and dysfunction! Please go to to learn more.

With dozens of Pa. lawmakers heading for the exits, do Democrats have the edge in 2020?
Inquirer by Cynthia Fernandez, Updated: February 19, 2020- 3:49 PM
Capitol Notebook by Spotlight PA provides updates on important news and notes from the halls of power in Harrisburg. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.
HARRISBURG — A wave of resignations and pending retirements in the state legislature — including two of the Republican Party’s most prolific fundraisers — has fueled hope among Democrats that they can regain control of the GOP-held state House and Senate. Since the current two-year session began in January 2019, 19 lawmakers have announced plans to retire and seven have resigned. At least seven of the Republican-held seats were won by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2018, making them prime targets for Democrats. Among those retiring this year are two of the most powerful GOP lawmakers, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny). Both are leaders not only in the Capitol, but on the campaign trail, raising large sums of money for the party. Democrats are hopeful the departures are a sign of good things to come in November, especially since it is a presidential election year.

Here’s who is running for state House and Senate seats representing central Pa.
Penn Live By Jan Murphy |; Posted Feb 19, 2020
Democratic Rep. Patty Kim is seeking re-election to the state House. Republican Rep. Dawn Keefer is also seeking another term in that chamber. Neither incumbent made a formal announcement about their re-election plans but both were among the 415 candidates who filed nominating petitions by Tuesday’s deadline to get their names on the April 28 primary ballot for one of the 203 House seats up for grabs this year, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State website. Meanwhile, 63 candidates filed to make a bid for their party’s nomination for one of the 25 state Senate seats up for election. Here is a list of the candidates vying for their party’s nomination for Senate and House seats representing all or parts of Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York counties. The incumbent is marked with an asterisk. For a full list of candidates who filed petitions to get on the April ballot, visit the state department website.

Blogger note: support Governor Wolf’s proposed charter reforms:
Reprise: PA Ed Policy Roundup for Feb 10, 2020
1. Adopt resolution for charter funding reform
2. Ask your legislators to cosponsor HB2261 or SB1024
3. Register for Advocacy Day on March 23rd

Adopt: the 2020 PSBA resolution for charter school funding reform
In this legislative session, PSBA has been leading the charge with the Senate, House of Representatives and the Governor’s Administration to push for positive charter reform. We’re now asking you to join the campaign: Adopt the resolution: We’re asking all school boards to adopt the 2020 resolution for charter school funding reform at your next board meeting and submit it to your legislators and to PSBA.

Cosponsor: A 120-page charter reform proposal is being introduced as House Bill 2261 by Rep. Joseph Ciresi (D-Montgomery), and Senate Bill 1024, introduced by Senators Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) and James Brewster (D-Allegheny). Ask your legislator to sign on as a cosponsor to House Bill 2261 or Senate Bill 1024.

Register: Five compelling reasons for .@PSBA .@PASA .@PAIU school leaders to come to the Capitol for Advocacy Day on March 23rd:
Charter Reform
Cyber Charter Reform
Basic Ed Funding
Special Ed Funding
Register at

Volunteer your time and talents.
Register Today to Help transform education in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Education Fund
Learn More at PEF's Information Session
Tuesday, February 25, 2020 4:30 - 5:30 pm
Philadelphia Education Fund, 718 Arch Street, Suite 700N Philadelphia, PA 19106
Do you have a willingness to engage with the students we serve through our college access and college persistence programming? The Philadelphia Education Fund supports nearly 6,000 students and serves 16 schools. As a result, we produce and host hundreds of sessions for students on a range of topics that are intended to help our young people navigate a successful journey through high school and college.
This Information Session will explain how you can help!

Hear relevant content from statewide experts, district practitioners and PSBA government affairs staff at PSBA’s annual membership gathering. PSBA Sectional Advisors and Advocacy Ambassadors are on-site to connect with district leaders in their region and share important information for you to take back to your district.
Locations and dates

Sectional Meetings are 6:00 p.m. -8:00 p.m. (across all locations). Light refreshments will be offered.
Cost: Complimentary for PSBA member entities.
Registration: Registration is now open. To register, please sign into myPSBA and look for Store/Registration on the left.

Allegheny County Legislative Forum on Education March 12
by Allegheny Intermediate Unit Thu, March 12, 2020 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM EDT
Join us on March 12 at 7:00 pm for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's annual Allegheny County Legislative Forum. The event will feature a discussion with state lawmakers on a variety of issues impacting public schools. We hope you will join us and be part of the conversation about education in Allegheny County.

All school leaders are invited to attend Advocacy Day at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units (PAIU) and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) are partnering together to strengthen our advocacy impact. The day will center around meetings with legislators to discuss critical issues affecting public education. Click here for more information or register at
School directors can register online now by logging in to myPSBA. If you need assistance logging in and registering contact Alysha Newingham, Member Data System Administrator at

Register now for Network for Public Education Action National Conference in Philadelphia March 28-29, 2020
Registration, hotel information, keynote speakers and panels:

PSBA Board Presidents Panel April 27, 28 and 29; Multiple Locations
Offered at 10 locations across the state, this annual event supports current and aspiring school board leaders through roundtable conversations with colleagues as well as a facilitated panel of experienced regional and statewide board presidents and superintendents. Board Presidents Panel is designed to equip new and veteran board presidents and vice presidents as well as superintendents and other school directors who may pursue a leadership position in the future.

PARSS Annual Conference April 29 – May 1, 2020 in State College
The 2020 PARSS Conference is April 29 through May 1, 2020, at Wyndham Garden Hotel at Mountain View Country Club in State College. Please register as a member or a vendor by accessing the links below.

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.