Tuesday, July 23, 2019

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 23: Duquesne, Pittsburgh districts go door-to-door to lure students back from charters

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PA Ed Policy Roundup July 23, 2019

Pennsylvania: The State’s Largest Charter School—Low-Performing But Profitable
Diane Ravitch’s Blog By dianeravitch July 23, 2019 //
Chester Community Charter School is the largest brick-and-mortar charter school in Pennsylvania, with more than 4,000 students. It is a for-profit charter school owned by a wealthy lawyer named Vahan Gureghian, who was the largest individual contributor to former Governor Corbett. It is hard to know how much money CCCS makes, because its books are not open to the public. It must be doing very well, because his 36,000 square-foot oceanfront house in Palm Beach was recently sold for $60 million. But his profits are less important than the fact that CCCS now enrolls 70% of the primary students in the Chester-Upland school district. And it is not because the charter is an academic success. Its test scores are very low. Only 16.7% were proficient in English language arts, compared to a state average of 63%. Only 7% were proficient in mathematics, compared to a state average of 45%. By most metrics, this charter school is a failing school, yet it gets preferential treatment. The scores in the charter school are below those of the remaining public schools in the district. The district, one of the poorest in the state, is in receivership, and the receiver—who exercises total control over the district—decided in 2017 to take the unprecedented step of extending the charter to 2026. No charter in the state has ever had a nine-year extension. The receiver said he did it in exchange for a promise by the charter that it would not open a high school to compete with the Chester High School, but would remain satisfied to enroll 70% of its primary students. Why might the receiver make this unusual decision? Surely it would not be because he was treasurer of Governor Corbett’s campaign. So, from 2017 to 2026, there is no accountability for this low-performing for-profit charter school. The charter corporation is now recruiting young students from Philadelphia with an aggressive marketing campaign. Currently, more than 1,100 students from Philadelphia ride a school bus that takes from 2-3 hours to reach the school in the morning and another 2-3 hours to return home each day. 

“Duquesne, which enrolls just under 400 students in kindergarten through 6th grade, quietly launched its “Bring Your Kids Home” campaign last summer, and recruited 18 students — and about $340,000 in tuition payments — back to the district from charter schools, officials said. The district spent just over $8,000 for the summer recruitment program, including the cost of the postcards and brochures they sent to every family or left at the homes they visited in person.”
ELIZABETH BEHRMAN Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Lbehrman@post-gazette.com JUL 21, 2019
Dressed in matching red T-shirts, a group of educators from the Duquesne City School District on Wednesday split into two teams and packed into vans adorned with the district’s red logo. Each was armed with a printed list of the addresses of students who live in the district’s two square miles and attend charter schools. The group, which included Superintendent Sue Moyer, raced to beat the summer rain and spent about two hours knocking on a total of 20 doors. If a parent answered, they made the case for the Duquesne district and why that student should return to their neighborhood public school. If no one was home, they left a brochure hanging on the front door.  “Where there is choice, there’s competition,” said Sarah McCluan, supervisor for communications services at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which handles Duquesne’s communications and marketing. “If parents have choice, it’s up to the school district to market ourselves and inform parents why they should send their child here instead of to a charter school.”

In the mix for charter school reform: SB497 Brewster (D-45) Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties
Senator Brewster is a member of the Senate Education Committee. His SB497, Charter School Reforms, was referred to the Senate Ed Committee on March 29, 2019. It includes financial reforms, upgrading accountability to students and taxpayers, and reforms to the Charter Appeal Board. You can read the cosponsorship memo with details here:

Lack of State Funding Pushes Districts to Financial Precipice
According to a recent report published by the Center on Regional Politics at Temple University, Pennsylvania is becoming permanently divided between have and have-not districts.
The Legal Intelligencer By Deborah Gordon Klehr | July 19, 2019 at 12:00 PM
Deborah Gordon Klehr is the executive director of Education Law Center
The Pennsylvania legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf recently enacted a state budget that added $160 million to basic education funding for school districts, a modest 2.6% increase, and added $50 million to special education funding, a more substantial increase of 4.4%. The budget also includes some welcome increases in state funding for early childhood programs. Unfortunately, despite some congratulatory rhetoric from legislators, the approved state budget did little to change the overall dismal picture of school funding in Pennsylvania. According to a recent report published by the Center on Regional Politics at Temple University, Pennsylvania is becoming permanently divided between have and have-not districts. The report warned that Pennsylvania’s education funding system is creating a “persistent gulf” between districts with surpluses and districts with shortfalls. The findings from this report confirm what plaintiffs in an active school funding case have known for years: Pennsylvania’s schools are defined by entrenched and deepening inequities, and children residing in underfunded school districts are deprived of educational opportunities. The petitioner school districts, parents and statewide organizations in William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania Department of Educationcontend that school funding in Pennsylvania is both inadequate and inequitable. As a result of deficient state funding, children in “have-not” districts are deprived of their right to the quality education guaranteed to them by the state constitution, and there is no legitimate state purpose justifying such gross disparities between school districts. The Education Law Center, along with Public Interest Law Center and law firm O’Melveny & Myers, represents petitioners in the case. As we get ready for a likely trial date in 2020, evidence against the state is mounting.

Could Pa. school districts change funding themselves? A substitute teacher wanted to know
PA Post by Ed Mahon JULY 22, 2019 | 5:00 AM
Pennsylvania sends billions of dollars to public schools every year, and some school districts think the way that lawmakers distribute that money is unfair and unconstitutional. Amid that dispute, substitute teacher Anne Gray attended an education forum in York a few months ago. It was hosted by POWER, a group that says there are “deep and persistent racial disparities” in how the state distributes basic education money. “That was pretty shocking and dismaying,” Gray said. That prompted a question for her. She wondered whether school districts could take matters into their own hands, instead of waiting for state lawmakers or judges to take action. “Would it be legal for PA school districts to simply redistribute their own funds between districts according to the Fair Funding Formula without waiting for a Bill to pass that forces them to?” she asked in a Listening Post question. To understand the conflict, it helps to know how much money is at stake, what exactly the “Fair Funding Formula” is, and why some people think it’s not fair enough. First, the money: Each year, state lawmakers appropriate several billion dollars to public schools across the state through the basic education funding subsidy. The recently passed state budget includes $6.7 billion for the basic education subsidy.

PA state budget: spending and spending and spending...
York Daily Record Opinion by Mike Folmer Published 1:32 p.m. ET July 22, 2019
Sen. Mike Folmer is a Republican from Lebanon whose district includes parts of York County.  
Snap your fingers.  Snap them again, again, and again.  Now, imagine having a fistful of $1,000 bills in your other hand.  Under the 2019–2020 General Fund budget, Pennsylvania will spend over $1,000 ($1,078.05 to be exact) each second.  Imagine spending those $1,000 bills you’re holding each and every second for the next year. Total General Fund spending beginning July 1 is $33,997,395,000, or $93,143,547.95 a day, $3,880,981.16 an hour, $64,683.02 each minute, and $1,078.05 every second. However, General Fund expenditures are just one piece of overall state spending.  When you add federal and specially designated funding, total spending tops $80 Billion.  These additional outlays are covered by a host of special funds, including:  Motor License Fund, Lottery, Horse Racing Fund, Capital Budget, debt service funds, and various other stewardship and singular-purpose funds. Education remains the largest element of the General Fund budget:  $13,127,581,000, or 38.6% of the total state budget.  This is in addition to federal and local tax moneys (mostly school property taxes – another big issue for another time).  Under the state’s current basic education funding formula (yet another big issue for another time), appropriations to school districts total $6,255,078,997, or an average of $12,510,158 per each of the 500 school districts.

Blogger note: the following is an excerpt from a PDE “Dear Colleague” letter dated July 18, 2019 from Secretary Rivera.
A Response to the Auditor General’s Special Report on Standardized Testing
There has been widespread news coverage and social media engagement regarding the Auditor General’s recent special report on standardized testing. At best, the report oversimplified a critical issue that has significant implications for public schools, students, and educators. More concerning, the report included inaccurate information about the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and our state-level implementation efforts. Because Pennsylvania’s education community played a vital role in establishing our current state assessments, I want to take a few moments to set the record straight.
…..First, contrary to the impression left by the report, no state can unilaterally change the secondary level assessment, or any assessment, it uses to comply with federal requirements. Any shift in this regard is governed by 1) the ESSA statute; 2) Title I—Academic Assessments regulations issued in December 2016; and 3) Assessment Peer Review requirements issued in September 2018. Assessment selections by states are evaluated based on a range of criteria including accommodations policies for students with disabilities; technical quality and validity; reporting procedures; and, importantly, alignment with the breadth and depth of state academic standards.[2] As of July 8, 2019, no state that proposes to use the ACT or SAT for its high school grade span testing has fully satisfied these requirements. While my team is following these developments closely, it is worth underscoring that Pennsylvania has unique, state-specific standards that were developed by Pennsylvania educators and approved by the Pennsylvania State Board of Education. Neither the ACT or SAT, nor any other national
standardized test, is aligned to our Pennsylvania-developed state standards.

Blogger note: Last Friday we ran a WHYY article By Avi Wolfman-Arent dated July 17, 2019 that stated: “Student test scores in Pennsylvania could spike next year — and a 90-word provision recently tucked into the state’s school code may be the reason why. The language states that Pennsylvania will no longer count the standardized test scores of students who miss at least 20% of school days prior to the end of the state testing window.”
PDE has issued a response:
Act 16 of 2019: Section 221.3—Full Academic Year Requirement
The 2019 School Code (Act No. 16 of 2019; formerly House Bill 1615) includes provisions (Section 221.3—Full Academic Year Requirement) to redefine the full academic year (FAY) requirement for student participation in statewide assessments as contingent on student attendance during the period of October 1 to the last day of the applicable testing window the following spring. Specifically, Section 221.3 would exempt from “school accountability performance calculation” the scores of students who are “absent for at least 20 percent of the school days” during the period used to calculate FAY (Section 221.3(a)). The provision includes an important caveat, however: “This section shall only be effective if in compliance with Federal law” (Section 221.3(b)).
Section 1111(c)(4)(F) of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that for “a student who has not attended the same school within a local educational agency for at least half of a school year, the performance of such student on the indicators described in clauses (i), (ii), (iv), and (v) of subparagraph (B)1 may not be used in the system of meaningful differentiation of all public schools as described in subparagraph (C) for such school year...” (emphasis added) In the case of Pennsylvania and any state with a 180-day school year, this language creates a 90-day trigger that matters greatly for annual meaningful differentiation (i.e., accountability determinations). Specifically, for purposes of accountability, a student must miss at least 90 days of school before their assessment data can be excluded from calculations. The 20 percent absence rate trigger established by Act 16, which is equivalent to 36 days across the school year, is far short of the ESSA threshold. While the federal law affords states additional flexibility in lower stakes reporting not used for accountability, Act 16 clearly references “school accountability.” Accordingly, the exemption provision in Section 221.3 is incompatible with the ESSA and Pennsylvania’s approved ESSA State Plan.

“The program is five years old; this year, for the first time, the Philadelphia School District funded it, spending $58,215 for 30 public school students to have the weeklong summer experience. Some participants are strong students and some struggle in school, but each has the potential to push past hardships. Colleen Landy, the School District’s assistant director of education for children and youth experiencing homelessness, said the funds go a long way. In general, homeless youth and those who have been involved in the foster care system have lower high school graduation and college entrance rates than their peers.”
How do the most vulnerable Philly teens get to college? This program helps them reach higher.
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Updated: July 22, 2019- 11:26 AM
Carlos Torres recently was homeless. His mother has cancer, and his sister has autism; the 15-year-old knows the weight of worry very well. So, when Torres was offered the chance to spend a week this summer living on a college campus, taking college classes, living in a dorm room, and picturing the possibilities of a future that looks very different from his life now, he grabbed it with both hands.  “I saw this as an opportunity to leave my predicament behind,” said Torres. “This could be a way out for me.” Torres was part of Temple University’s College Bound Academy, a program for Philadelphia high school students who are either homeless or involved in the foster care system. It’s designed to immerse them in the college experience, exposing them to information about possible career paths and academic majors they might otherwise have a tough time accessing. Philadelphia high school students from Temple University's College Bound Academy program for young people who have been homeless or involved in the foster care system tour a garden at Temple's Ambler campus.

What school segregation looks like in the U.S. today, in 4 charts | Opinion
Penn Live Opinion by Erica Frankenberg, Professor of Education and Demography, Pennsylvania State University By The Conversation, editorial contributor Posted Jul 20, 2019
Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris, a senator from California, has spoken about how she benefited from attending Berkeley’s desegregated schools. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me,” Harris said in the first Democratic debate to candidate Joe Biden. “So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly.” School segregation is the separation of students into different schools by race. In 1954, the Supreme Court declared segregation was unconstitutional. Desegregation efforts since then have used a variety of tools to try to overcome patterns of segregation that persist. Studies have shown that school desegregation has important benefits for students of all races. Recent research illustrates that its positive impact on the educational attainment, lifetime earnings and health of African American families persists for multiple generations. Yet, despite years of government desegregation efforts and the proven benefits of integrated schools, our recently published research shows that U.S. school segregation is higher than it has been in decades, even if there are no longer overt laws requiring racially segregated schools.

“Evangelical leaders have also joined the chorus.
On July 17, they sent letters to Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Congress calling on them to “respect U.S. laws that protect children and families seeking asylum,” according to the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of faith groups that includes the Assemblies of God, Bethany Christian Services, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Faith and Community Empowerment (formerly Korean Churches for Community Development), the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, The Wesleyan Church, and World Relief and World Vision.
Evangelical leaders were critical to Trump’s 2016 election. More than 1,300 evangelical pastors signed the letter.”
‘We should not allow history to repeat:’ How Pa.’s faithful are speaking up on the border crisis | Monday Morning Coffee
PA Capital Star Commentary By  John L. Micek July 22, 2019
Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
In ways both large and small, Pennsylvania’s religious leaders, and religious activists, are making their voices heard in the ongoing debate over the ever-worsening humanitarian crisis at America’s southern border with Mexico. From the processing of asylum requests to conditions in migrant detention centers, religious leaders and the faithful across a range of religions and faiths are speaking to say they’re not happy with American policy. And they’re calling on elected officials and the Trump administration to up their game. In a July 12 letter to Pennsylvania’s U.S. House and Senate delegation, Bishop Edward Malesic, of Greensburg, called on Washington to “to please work as hard as you can” on legislation that “releases the unnecessary stranglehold on immigration to the United States that has caused tragic and inhumane consequences,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. Malesic also sent his letter to President Donald Trump, the newspaper reported. “I write today, in a land of freedom and almost unlimited opportunity, to call your attention to the fact that there are people, each one a child of God, who by our common relationship with the Lord are our brothers and sisters who need our help,” Malesic wrote, according to the newspaper.

3 Takeaways from Rep. Smucker's trip to the U.S.-Mexico border
Lancaster Online by GILLIAN McGOLDRICK | Staff Writer July 23, 2019
During U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker’s one-night trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, he felt sadness for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and migrants staying in detention facilities. “It was just this overwhelming sense of, ‘It’s up to us to fix this,’ ” he said Monday in his Lancaster city district office. “We’ve got to get it done.” Smucker co-led 14 members of the Problem Solvers Caucus on a trip Friday to the border city of McAllen, Texas. The bipartisan caucus, consisting of 24 Republican and 24 Democratic members of Congress, has tasked itself with finding solutions to some of the country’s most pressing problems. Immigration, members agree, is one of them. “I’m one who felt shame today. Shame about the failure of the leadership in both houses of congress, Democrat and Republican, in the White House — not just this one,” Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minnesota, said Friday at a news conference. The caucus members visited several places along the border, including an intake facility, a family detention center, the Hidalgo port of entry and a nonprofit long-term home for teenage boys who came unaccompanied across the border. Other Pennsylvania lawmakers have recently visited the border, too, including U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., last week. Smucker said it was important for Problem Solvers Caucus members to visit the border to see the problems firsthand. Here are three things Smucker took away from his visit to the border.

Scanlon, Dean make surprise visit to Berks detention center
Pottstown Mercury By Karen Shuey MediaNews Group July 23, 2019
BERN TOWNSHIP, PA — It's not like it is at the border. After touring immigration detention centers at the southern border earlier this year, congresswomen Madeleine Dean and Mary Gay Scanlon stopped by the Berks County Residential Center for a surprise visit Friday afternoon. The facility houses undocumented immigrants seeking asylum from their country of origin in an arrangement between the county and the Department of Homeland Security. While the conditions at the Bern Township facility are far superior to those at the border, Dean and Scanlon said, the fact that asylum-seekers are being detained at all is wrong. "A golden cage is still a cage," Dean told a group of reporters after their two-hour tour had ended. "The conditions we are seeing here are not the conditions we are seeing on the southern border," Scanlon added. "While it's clearly bad for the mental health of children to be detained at all, at least there are beds and classrooms here so it is not the same situation." Berks manages and pays for the operation, including 59 staff, and is reimbursed by the federal government. In return, Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays to lease office space and provides about $1.3 million in revenue annually to the county. The center can hold a maximum of 96 people. It is one of three ICE residential centers in the United States with the two larger facilities located in Texas.

“Even though their daughters are U.S. citizens, the government is moving to deport them as fast as it can, said Christopher Casazza, an immigration attorney who has taken their case. This is a “100 percent change in policy” from what generally happened before President Trump took office, said Casazza, a partner with the firm of Solow, Isbell & Palladino LLC, who has been working in immigration law for 10 years. From a legal standpoint, being a parent of minor children who are U.S. citizens is a “non-factor” in deportation proceedings, Casazza said. In practice, however, under previous administrations, people in such situations who have no criminal record were generally allowed to stay under “orders of supervision” and required to check in periodically with immigration officials. “It was called ‘staying the removal,’ but the current administration has done away with that altogether,” Casazza said. “They’re trying to clean up how many orders of supervision they have. They’re trying to get people off that list, and they’re doing that by detaining and removing them.”
Indonesian parents, here for 20 years, await deportation under more stringent Trump policies
Prior administrations typically let parents of minor children stay under supervision. Trump has ended that practice.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa July 20 — 11:42 am, 2019
Elly and Fnu (not their real names) came to the United States in 1999, fleeing religious and political persecution in their home country of Indonesia. They are ethnic Chinese and Christian and were living in a country where both groups were major targets during deadly riots in 1998 set off by the nation’s economic collapse. “Bad things were happening,” said Sinta Penyami Storms, who runs an Indonesian dance studio in South Philadelphia and is herself an immigrant. Food was scarce and unemployment was high. “It was unsafe for them to go out. There was a lot of robbery of houses and rapes of Chinese Indonesians,” Storms said. More than 300 people were killed in the unrest. The couple are Catholic. Indonesia is majority Muslim, and although it is not a religious state, Christians face discrimination. “It’s hard to go to church; your church can’t get a permit to have a house of worship. They’re a double minority,” Storms said. The couple fled to the United States, applied for political asylum, and settled in South Philadelphia, where there was an established Indonesian community. Their asylum petition wound its way through the system. In 2007, it was denied. They appealed. In 2009, 10 years after they first arrived, their appeal was turned down, and they were ordered deported. By this time, they had a life here. They had bought a house. They had jobs and paid taxes. They were active parishioners in their church and had no trouble with the law. They had two daughters, who are U.S. citizens; one of them is a minor. Both the husband and wife work in delicatessens, but they had high hopes of a prosperous life in the United States for their daughters and were determined to get them a good education.
Facing all this, they decided to stay.

“Despite the governor’s insistence the legislation is clear, gun-control groups say they fear some school officials may use the legislation to arm teachers, said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire PA.”
Law change bars schools from arming teachers, Gov. Wolf says
Meadville Tribune By John Finnerty CNHI News Service Jul 20, 2019
HARRISBURG — A gun control activist is worried that an attempt to clarify training requirements for armed security in schools muddies the water about whether schools can arm teachers. Gov. Tom Wolf said those concerns are misplaced and that his administration made sure the changes in Senate Bill 621 can’t be used to allow teachers to carry guns in school. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Wolf noted he went so far as to pen a letter when he signed the legislation into law indicating that school districts shouldn’t try to use the legislation to justify arming teachers. In that letter, Wolf said all schools will be notified by the Department of Education that the legislation “bars teachers from being armed.” “I want teachers to teach,” he said. The legislation was authored by state Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland County. “The bottom line is that this legislation provides schools with options to allow them to continue protecting their students and staff as they see fit,” Regan said when Wolf signed the bill on July 2, making it Act 67. He said it was necessary because the state’s school code didn’t allow armed private security guards or sheriff’s deputies to carry weapons in schools. The law only allowed police officers to carry firearms in schools.

“If you know of a school district in Pennsylvania trying put guns in our schools, CeaseFirePA is here to help. We can assess the situation and work with our legal and organizing partners to help fight back against this dangerous maneuver. CeaseFirePA is focused on protecting all Pennsylvanians against gun violence and will work to get you the resources and focused attention needed to keep guns out of our schools. Send us an email at SafeSchools@CeaseFirePA.org or call 215-923-3151 and someone from our team will reach out to you shortly.”
CeaseFirePA Guns in Schools Hotline
CeaseFirePA Website
We all want our schools to be a safe place for our children to learn and teachers to teach. Some Pennsylvanian school boards believe that putting guns in classrooms will protect students and faculty against school shootings. Teachers, students, and parents across Pennsylvania and the nation have voiced concerns about this type of policy. Time and time again we have seen incidents in schools in which untrained staff members have left their firearms unattended, leading to unintentional discharges or guns ending up in the hands of students. This creates a real safety concern that puts lives at risk. CeaseFirePA is committed to building a safe learning environment for everyone without the presence of firearms in our classrooms. If you have concerns about the policies or safety procedures of your school district, CeaseFirePA may be able to help. Arming our teachers is not the answer to preventing gun violence in our schools. Governor Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvanian Department of Education have made it clear that it is unlawful to allow teachers to carry firearms yet some school boards have expressed interests in manipulating a new Pennsylvania law to try to do so.

Woodland Hills becomes the first PA school district to pass climate change resolution
NextPittsburgh by  Bill O'Toole  July 22, 2019
On July 17, the Woodland Hills School District made history.
The district’s school board passed a “Call to Climate Change Action” resolution calling for state and federal lawmakers to address the climate change crisis and committed the district to a new set of eco-conscious policies. “Climate change is here and it’s real, and we have to do anything we can to fight it,” says Mike Belmonte, the vice president of the Woodland Hills School Board. “Bringing awareness and educating our children are great ways to do that.” Fifty-four school districts across the nation have passed similar climate actions since 2017 but Woodland Hills is the first to do so in the state of Pennsylvania. “The Woodland Hills School Board recognizes climate change as a generational justice and human rights issue,” reads the resolution. While people at every age and every level of society are affected by our increasingly extreme climate, “it disproportionately affects people of color and people in poverty, thereby exacerbating existing inequalities and limiting equality of opportunity which is a foundational aspiration for modern America.” The push for the resolution began in Margeaux Everhart’s eighth grade science classes at Woodland Hills Junior High School, where students took part in a Climate Change Workshop led by Pittsburgh-based environmental nonprofit Communitopia earlier this year. Inspired by the workshop, the class sent 27 letters to the school board, expressing concern for the future of our region and our planet. The resolution specifically calls for lawmakers to quickly enact carbon pricing policies, and directs the Woodland Hills Superintendent to create a Climate Change Committee to create a roadmap for new environmentally-conscious policies at the district level. Those policies include reducing food, instituting green design standards and incorporating more environmental studies and activism into the school’s curriculum.

Don’t have your lunch money? 1 Pa. school district threatens foster care
WHYY/NPR By Bobby Allyn July 22, 2019
Dozens of families in Pennsylvania received an alarming letter from their public school district this month informing parents that if their kid’s lunch debt was not settled, their child could be removed from their home and placed in the foster care. Wyoming Valley West School District, one of the poorest districts in the state as measured by per-pupil spending, is located in a former coal mining community in Northeastern Pennsylvania, known affectionately by locals as “the valley.” When officials there noticed that families owed the district around $22,000 in breakfast and lunch debt, they tried to get their money back. “By mail, email, robo calls, personal calls and letters,” said Joseph Mazur, the president of the district’s board of education. But, Mazur said, nothing worked. That’s when district officials sent out the now-infamous letter to about 40 families deemed to be the worst offenders in having overdue cafeteria bills — those were children with a meal debt of $10 or more. “Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch,” said the letter signed by Joseph Muth, director of federal programs for the Wyoming Valley West School District. “This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child’s right to food. If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care.” Not all local officials endorsed the move. County officials criticized the threat of foster-care placement, pointing out that the foster-care system should be used only when children are abused or in danger, not as a weapon to collect money. But in an interview with NPR on Sunday, Mazur defended the letter.

Businessman: Wyoming Valley West board president denied 22K school lunch debt donation offer
Citizens Voice by BOB KALINOWSKI / PUBLISHED: JULY 22, 2019
A Philadelphia businessman says he has offered to pay the school lunch debt at Wyoming Valley West that recently sparked a national controversy, but the district's board president refused the offer. In a message to The Citizens’ Voice, Todd Carmichael, the CEO and co-founder of La Colombe Coffee, claimed Board President Joe Mazur on Monday denied his offer to pay the full tab, which is around $22,000. The school ignited shock and outrage across the nation recently after sending letters to parents threatening to place students in foster care if the debt was not paid. “Shockingly, Mr. Mazur turned us down. I can’t explain or justify his actions. Let me be clear: we offered over $22,000 with no strings attached. And he said “NO,” Carmichael wrote. A consultant for La Colombe on Monday confirmed the authenticity of the letter in a phone call, also expressing surprise Wyoming Valley West would refuse the donation and let the controversy fester. “Over the weekend, Todd saw a lot of the national press about the issue. He said this doesn’t need to be a thing. We can fix this,” said Aren Platt, a consultant for La Colombe. “Mr. Mazur was emphatic that he was non interested in taking the money. It’s bizarre to me you’d call a school board president and they would say no.”

Taxpayers shouldn't be paying millions to fund state Capitol spin machine
Lancaster Online by THE LNP EDITORIAL BOARD July 23, 2019
THE ISSUE: The Pennsylvania General Assembly, with 253 members, is one of the largest and most expensive legislatures in the United States. And it spends nearly $10 million a year, on average, on legislative communications, according to first-of-its-kind analysis of spending records from 2013 through 2018 conducted by Sam Janesch, a staff writer for The Caucus, an LNP Media Group watchdog publication that covers state government. With large budgets and a combined 130 staffers at their disposal, each of the four legislative caucuses — the Senate and House Republicans and the Senate and House Democrats — essentially operates its own public relations firm, Janesch noted in The Caucus. (An abridged version of his article was published in Monday’s LNP.) Communication between lawmakers and their constituents is essential. But who is the audience for videos of legislators touring factories in hard hats, for what Janesch describes as “television-quality shows produced in studios built within the Capitol”? Have you watched any of these videos lately? No one we know has except for journalists, and only to assess the videos’ news value, which is generally minimal. So what is the point of the videos, beyond making lawmakers look good? “People tell us that they want to be more connected with government, and we’re trying on our end to provide those services,” Drew Crompton, chief of staff to Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, told Janesch. “To what degree do they really want to be connected with government? I don’t know. But we think it’s important to send out as much information as someone would view.”

Murphy scraps Christie’s salary cap for N.J. superintendents
WHYY By John Mooney, NJ Spotlight July 22, 2019
Nine years ago, almost to the day, then-Gov. Chris Christie turned New Jersey school administrative pay on its head when he announced a $175,000 cap on superintendent pay — a figure equal to his own salary. On Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy — without fanfare — signed into law an end to the cap, an almost inevitable conclusion for a measure that had run its course but also left a lasting mark. In both policy and politics, Christie’s unilateral move resonated in a state where the high end of superintendent pay was easily topping $200,000 in 2010. A recent state report highlighted the Keansburg superintendent getting a package of more than $500,000. Pushback and court challenges were immediate, but that only added to the political theater of the then new governor’s bold cost-cutting agenda. “This is a new day for superintendent pay in New Jersey,” Christie said, when announcing the salary cap at a Spotswood elementary school on a July morning in 2010. “Everyone knows this is right to do, but people are afraid to take the first step.”

PCCY: 2 seconds for $200,000 and a game-changing opportunity for kids
PCCY needs your votes!  We are in the running for a $200,000 Key to the Community Grant from the Philadelphia Foundation! Our idea is simple – give more parents in the Greater Philadelphia region tools, resources and networks to amplify their voices in advocacy and policy impacting our children. To launch the Parent Advocacy Accelerator, we need your help.  The Philadelphia Foundation is running an on-line voting contest. The idea that gets the most votes in a category, wins the grant. Voting is quick and easy at  https://www.philafound.org/vote/. Just scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page and vote for the project listed as the Parent Advocacy Accelerator under the “Community and Civic Engagement" category, Every vote, every day counts. VOTE EVERY DAY UNTIL JULY 26! Share with your networks in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, or Delaware and ask them to vote every day, too.
Thank you for your votes and support!

In November, many boards will be preparing to welcome new directors to their governance Team of Ten. This event will help attendees create a full year on-boarding schedule based on best practices and thoughtful prioritization. Register now:
PSBA: Start Strong: Developing a District On-Boarding Plan for New Directors
SEP 11, 2019 • 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM
In November, many boards will be faced with a significant transition as they prepare to welcome new directors to their governance Team of Ten. This single-day program facilitated by PSBA trainers and an experienced PA board president will guide attendees to creating a strong, full year on-boarding schedule based on best practices and thoughtful prioritization. Grounded in PSBA’s Principles for Governance and Leadership, attendees will hear best practices from their colleagues and leave with a full year’s schedule, a jump drive of resources, ideas for effective local training, and a plan to start strong.
Register online at MyPSBA: www.psba.org and click on “MyPSBA” in the upper right corner.

The deadline to submit a cover letter, resume and application is August 19, 2019.
Become a 2019-2020 PSBA Advocacy Ambassador
PSBA is seeking applications for two open Advocacy Ambassador positions. Candidates should have experience in day-to-day functions of a school district, on the school board, or in a school leadership position. The purpose of the PSBA Advocacy Ambassador program is to facilitate the education and engagement of local school directors and public education stakeholders through the advocacy leadership of the ambassadors. Each Advocacy Ambassador will be responsible for assisting PSBA in achieving its advocacy goals. To achieve their mission, ambassadors will be kept up to date on current legislation and PSBA positions on legislation. The current open positions will cover PSBA Sections 3 and 4, and Section 7.
PSBA Advocacy Ambassadors are independent contractors representing PSBA and serve as liaisons between PSBA and their local elected officials. Advocacy Ambassadors also commit to building strong relationships with PSBA members with the purpose of engaging the designated members to be active and committed grassroots advocates for PSBA’s legislative priorities. 

PSBA: Nominations for The Allwein Society are open!
This award program recognizes school directors who are outstanding leaders & advocates on behalf of public schools & students. Nominations are accepted year-round with selections announced early fall: http://ow.ly/CchG50uDoxq 

EPLC is accepting applications for the 2019-20 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program
Education Policy & Leadership Center
PA's premier education policy leadership program for education, policy & community leaders with 582 alumni since 1999. Application with program schedule & agenda are at http://www.eplc.org 

2019 PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference Oct. 16-18, 2019
WHERE: Hershey Lodge and Convention Center 325 University Drive, Hershey, PA
WHEN: Wednesday, October 16 to Friday, October 18, 201
Registration is now open!
Growth from knowledge acquired. Vision inspired by innovation. Impact created by a synergized leadership community. You are called upon to be the drivers of a thriving public education system. It’s a complex and challenging role. Expand your skillset and give yourself the tools needed for the challenge. Packed into two and a half daysꟷꟷgain access to top-notch education and insights, dynamic speakers, peer learning opportunities and the latest product and service innovations. Come to the PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference to grow!

NPE Action National Conference - Save the Date - March 28-29, 2020 in Philadelphia, PA.
The window is now open for workshop proposals for the Network for Public Education conference, March 28-29, 2020, in Philadelphia. I hope you all sign on to present on a panel and certainly we want all to attend. https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NBCNDKK

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.