Wednesday, October 21, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for October 21: PA charter group aims to expand schools with a $30 million grant

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, 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.


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Keystone State Education Coalition

PA Ed Policy Roundup for October 21, 2020

PA charter group aims to expand schools with a $30 million grant



Congratulations to #305 Brentwood Borough School District (@AmyMBurchDEd) for passing the charter funding reform resolution. Thank you to Representative Harry Readshaw, @SenatorBrewster PSBA Ambassador @LenaHannah4.



Why are cyber charter tuition rates the same as brick and mortar tuition?

Taxpayers in House Ed Committee Member Gerald Mullery’s school districts paid over $7.4 million in 2018-2019 cyber charter tuition. Statewide, PA taxpayers paid over $600 million for cyber charter tuition in 2018-2019.

Crestwood SD


Greater Nanticoke Area SD


Hanover Area SD


Hazleton Area SD


Wyoming Valley West SD




Source: PDE via PSBA


“In the past four weeks, the coronavirus incidence rate per 100,000 people in Chester County has climbed from 49.2 to 52.1. In Delaware County, it went from 40.1 to 76.6 per 100,000. If the trend continues, officials say it could jeopardize in-school hybrid education, which relies on metrics based on community transmission. As of Oct. 15, the statewide percent-positivity rate increased to 4.3 percent from 3.9 percent the previous week. Overall, Chester County's positivity rate for the week ending Oct. 15 is 3.2 percent, Delaware County's rate is 4.1 percent, Philadelphia County's rate is 4.5 percent, Bucks County's rate is 3.1 percent and Lehigh County's rate is 2.8 percent.”

After decline, coronavirus cases trending up in Chester, Delaware counties

Delco Times by Fran Maye October 21, 2020

WEST CHESTER — After weeks of steadily declining coronavirus cases in Chester County, the rate of infection is back on the rise, according to the Chester County Health Department. Nearby Delaware County is experiencing the same trend. The news comes as hospitalizations rose by at least 5 percent in 37 states as of Sunday. The seven-day average for new cases in the nation is up 13 percent from the previous week and statistics indicate a new wave of the virus is underway in the United States. “Over the past 14 days Pennsylvania has had more than 1,000 new cases each day, which also means the number of people in close contact with some with a positive test result has grown,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.


Pennsylvania charter group aims to expand schools with a $30 million grant

Inquirer by Maddie Hanna, Posted: October 20, 2020- 1:48 PM

Armed with a $30 million federal grant, the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools will be soliciting proposals to expand charter schools in the state over the next five years, a new role for the advocacy organization. Lenny McAllister, the coalition’s new executive director, told reporters Tuesday outside Freire High School, a Philadelphia charter, that the grant announced this month by the U.S. Department of Education would allow the organization to facilitate "the development, expansion, and replication” of charter schools throughout Pennsylvania. In its federal grant application, the coalition said Pennsylvania, which currently has 158 charters, would “open, replicate or expand at least 18” brick-and-mortar charter schools by 2025. That pledge, however, depends in part on whether new charter proposals gain approval from school districts. Publicly funded but independently run, charter schools have been popular with many families but a continued source of controversy for policymakers, producing mixed academic results and costing school districts. “Pennsylvanians would be better served if [the coalition] spent its time and resources on improving the many already existing low-performing charter schools in the commonwealth before spending taxpayer money on expanding the sector,” said Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters PA, an advocacy group that supports traditional public schools.


A skeptical Lancaster school board denies sports-infused charter school proposal

Lancaster Online by ALEX GELI | Staff Writer October 20, 2020

Less than a month after the school board described its latest charter school application as “extremely negligent,” the School District of Lancaster on Tuesday night denied it. The school board unanimously voted down the application for the AFCLL Academy Charter School, which would have served students in grades five through eight and focused on educating children through sports, particularly soccer. The school’s plan was to serve about 100 students starting in August 2021, with the hopes of doubling enrollment in five years. Applying for the school was a group led by AFC Lancaster Lions pro soccer club founder Brian Ombiji. The board’s decision didn't come as a surprise, as board members expressed doubt regarding the proposed charter’s curriculum, financial model and community support since it first had the opportunity to discuss Ombiji’s application in September. Members of the community, including Tommy Henley, principal of La Academia Partnership Charter School, and the Rev. Al Williams, speaking on behalf of the Lancaster NAACP, also have rebuked the proposal. Tuesday’s vote came swiftly and without discussion from the board as the majority of the meeting consisted of conversations surrounding the potential return to in-person learning. The district’s students have learned online since March, with the exception of the summer months, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Under Pennsylvania’s charter school law, Ombiji may submit another application or challenge the board’s decision by appealing through the Charter School Appeal Board.


State Funding to Ensure Safe and Healthy School Facilities: Lessons for Pennsylvania

Research for Action Brief by Mark Duffy and David Lapp  October 2020

Long before closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, many Pennsylvania schools faced a different health crisis: unsafe facilities. Crumbling buildings, asbestos, lead, and other school facility health and safety risks plague many schools across Pennsylvania, particularly in low-income districts and those that enroll a high percentage of Black and Latinx students. Protesters recently drew a connection between systemic racism and these on-going school facility safety hazards.i These problems are not exclusive to Pennsylvania.ii But the Commonwealth’s failure to provide adequate facilities funding has created what Pennsylvania school administrators and school business officials have called a “growing disparity between those school districts that can address vital school construction, renovation or maintenance needs and those that cannot.”iii In this brief we (1) examine available evidence related to the condition of Pennsylvania’s school facilities, (2) review past, current, and proposed policies related to how the state funds emergency facilities expenses, and (3) discuss how other states provide for emergency school facilities funding.


Pay attention: Pa. is poised to fall off a budget cliff | Editorial

The Inquirer Editorial Board Posted: October 20, 2020 - 1:57 PM

Pennsylvania is staring at a fiscal cliff. It’s easy but perilous to ignore state budget minutiae amid a contentious presidential election. Right now is when the state budget needs the most sunlight. That’s always tough to find in Harrisburg, which makes lawmakers’ abbreviated schedule (they meet Wednesday for the last time until after the election) particularly risky. After the shutdown in March, revenues cratered, and Harrisburg passed a five-month budget that flat-funded most state agencies (except education). It bought time to get a clearer economic picture, and for the federal government to provide fiscal relief for state and local governments. That federal help never came, and our budget expires at the end of November. If we don’t start looking at the budget in a new way, this recovery could be slower and more painful than the one that followed the 2008 Great Recession.


‘The best part of it is picking your own time to leave,’ Scarnati says, as Pa. Senate pays tribute to retiring GOP leader

PA Capital Star By  Elizabeth Hardison October 20, 2020

Members of Pennsylvania’s state Senate paid tribute on Tuesday to outgoing Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, the Jefferson County Republican who will retire when his term expires in November.  A 20-year veteran of the Senate, Scarnati announced in February that he would not seek reelection this year, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.  Senators spent more than an hour Tuesday recognizing Scarnati’s legacy, and sharing memories from his career. Their tribute included a pre-recorded video with messages from current and former lawmakers and Senate staffers, as well as Scarnati’s parents, wife and children.  “Joe has been a consensus builder, diplomat and respected leader,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said. “We all love you and thank you for your friendship.”


Despite virus case surge, schools should reopen for youngest students, Philadelphia health chief says

The school board will vote on the plan Thursday.

Chalkbeat Philly By Dale Mezzacappa  Oct 20, 2020, 5:58pm EDT

City health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said Tuesday that he thinks it is safe to reopen schools for the youngest students next month despite a continued rise in COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia. Based on the experiences of about 50 private, Catholic, and charter schools that have conducted some in-person learning for the past seven weeks, Farley said, there is very little evidence of spread within school buildings. While 44 sites “have seen cases of either students or staff” testing positive, they have been “mostly isolated cases … with no evidence of spread within the facility,” Farley said at a press briefing. In 26 of these situations, the city recommended quarantines that were followed. The exception has been at the private Philadelphia School, where so far there have been 15 cases in a “cluster” and where information indicates it was due to classroom spread. “This is the only situation where we think this has occurred,” Farley said, adding that he thinks this was attributable to a one-time “slip in [safety] technique.”


Are The Risks Of Reopening Schools Exaggerated?

NPR by ANYA KAMENETZ October 21, 20207:05 AM ET

Despite widespread concerns, two new international studies show no consistent relationship between in-person K-12 schooling and the spread of coronavirus. And a third study from the United States shows no elevated risk to childcare workers who stayed on the job. Combined with anecdotal reports from a number of U.S. states where schools are open, as well as a crowdsourced dashboard of around 2000 U.S. schools, some medical experts are saying it's time to shift the discussion from the risks of opening K-12 schools to the risks of keeping them closed. "As a pediatrician, I am really seeing the negative impacts of these school closures on children," Dr. Danielle Dooley, a medical director at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., told NPR. She ticked off mental health problems, hunger, obesity due to inactivity, missing routine medical care and the risk of child abuse — on top of the loss of education. "Going to school is really vital for children. They get their meals in school, their physical activity, their health care, their education, of course."


School is digital, kids are overwhelmed. How do you manage screen time in the COVID era?

Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Posted: October 20, 2020- 6:59 PM

Pheng Lim knows how exhausting virtual school can be for children. As principal of Folk-Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School in Philadelphia, Lim and her team have prioritized balancing lessons with not overwhelming their K-8 students with large chunks of time in front of a computer. Kids have breaks in between every class and an hour for lunch. Teachers remind students to shut off their screens, to move around, to pace themselves, to engage in hands-on activities. But Lim is also the mom of two FACTS students, and while her 9-year-old manages virtual school well, her first grader can get overwhelmed. “My 6-year-old just has had a more difficult time,” said Lim. “After two hours, she is done, and she comes to me for hugs and encouragement.” With COVID-19 forcing schools to conduct most or all of their learning via computer, the amount of time children spend on screens has risen dramatically, with mixed results. Some children are coping fine, but others are dealing with fatigue, headaches and strain in a way they didn’t when classes were face-to-face. Some schools, like FACTS, de-emphasized screen time from the beginning of the term.


Lake-Lehman board member encourages use of district’s own cyber charter

Times Leader By  Mark Guydish  October 19, 2020

LEHMAN TWP. — Monday’s virtual Lake-Lehman School Board meeting began with an appeal from Board Member David Paulauskas urging students enrolled with outside cyber charter schools to consider using the district’s own cyber option, and ended with Superintendent James McGovern reading a letter from support staff union negotiators seeking to re-energize talks for a new contract. Paulauskas made his plea during discussion of what is usually a routine “payment of bills” motion. He noted that, while looking through the bills, one group “jumped out”: Payments to outside cyber charters, which are projected to be around $900,000 this year. Cyber charters are public schools approved by the state and funded by the local districts, which must pay a certain amount for each student in that district who enrolls in that cyber. “The distressing thing to me is that we offer a cyber school option,” Paulauskas said, yet district students opt for the outside cybers. He asked that those making such choices “tell us exactly why, because if they are doing something different from what we are doing, we could adjust to meet their needs.”


Old Forge School Board postpones emergency meeting

Times Tribune Oct 20, 2020 Updated 42 min ago

The Old Forge School Board postponed an emergency meeting scheduled for Tuesday after the Google Meet online platform wouldn’t allow more than 100 participants to join. The board aimed to discuss planning after a surge in coronavirus cases recently pushed Lackawanna County into the state's highest tier of community spread. The change to the "substantial" tier triggered a recommendation from the state for districts to move fully to online learning. School districts do not have to comply with the recommendation, however. Superintendent Erin Keating, Ed.D., said holding the meeting despite these technical difficulties would have violated the Sunshine Act, and she wanted there to be “equitable participation.” She plans to work with the board to reschedule the meeting, then share the details with the public.


Students at Perseus House Charter, General McLane School District test positive for virus

GoErie by Ed Palattella Valerie Myers Erie Times-News October 21, 2020

Two more public school systems in Erie County are reporting that students have tested positive for COVID-19. The Perseus House Charter School of Excellence in Erie and the General McLane School District have one case each, according to their public statements on the cases. The coronavirus cases are the first for both institutions, officials said. The General McLane student attends the 660-student James W. Parker Middle School, the district said. "A General McLane student has tested positive for COVID-19 as determined by a rapid response test," General McLane schools Superintendent Rick Scaletta said in a statement posted on the district's website on Monday.


2 Plum School District employees test positive for covid-19

Trib Live by MICHAEL DIVITTORIO   | Tuesday, October 20, 2020 10:34 p.m.

Two Plum School District employees have tested positive for covid-19, district officials announced Tuesday. According to a message addressed to district families, the district consulted with Allegheny Health Department officials, conducted contract tracing to determine individuals that may have been in close contact with the students and other employees, cleaned and disinfected the impacted rooms and notified 10 other individuals determined to have been in close contact with the employees that tested positive. Those in close contact must quarantine for 14 days, according to county health department guidance.


McKeesport has another positive COVID-19 test

By JEFF STITT October 20, 2020 Mon Valley Independent Latest News

The McKeesport Area School District announced Monday night that a Founders’ Hall Middle School staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. That announcement came one day after the district announced it had a total of five students or staff members district-wide test positive for the virus last week. “As the week begins, we’d like to take this opportunity to update you with a recap of this past week. Across two of our buildings, Twin Rivers Elementary and the High School, we have had three positive cases of COVID-19 in teachers, and two positive results in students,” the district said Sunday.


Hempfield Area High School will temporarily close as new COVID-19 cases are reported


Hempfield Area High School will close for the rest of the week due to new COVID-19 cases. A letter from Hempfield Area School District Superintendent Tammy Wolicki dated on Tuesday said that the district was notified at around 1 p.m. that another high school student and middle school student had tested positive for the virus. The new cases make a total of 12 high school students who have tested positive since Oct. 12, according to the letter. The high school is expected to reopen on Monday, Oct. 26 for group “A” students.


Reading School District superintendent named Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year

Reading Eagle By David Mekeel @dmekeel on Twitter Oct 19, 2020 Updated 20 hrs ago

When Dr. Khalid Mumin took the reins as superintendent of the Reading School District back in 2014, the district was facing a lot of struggles. According to Dr. Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, when Mumin's tenure began "he was confronted with 19 buildings of failing infrastructures, eight bargaining units without contracts for five years and a district having little to no transparency with either staff or constituents." The district was also one of the poorest in the state, had a highly transient student population, was facing a financial crisis and perhaps even a state takeover, DiRocco said. "Dr. Mumin demonstrated visionary leadership right from the start to get the district back on a positive track and focused on academic growth and support," DiRocco said. For his efforts, Mumin has been named the 2021 Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. He will be honored at a yet-unscheduled event in 2021.


Parkland superintendent Richard Sniscak to retire at end of school year after 37 years in education


This school year will be the last for Parkland School District Superintendent Richard Sniscak, who plans to retire in June after 26 years with the district. The pandemic-marked year is an unusual punctuation point to a 37-year career in public education, the last decade as superintendent of one of the state’s largest public school districts. Sniscak submitted his letter of retirement to the school board Tuesday night, and he did so with “mixed emotions,” he told them. “It was a very emotional decision for me to get to this point, but one that I’m embracing,” he said in brief comments at the conclusion of the meeting. “I always considered it an honor of the first order to represent this District as superintendent of schools,” he wrote in a letter shared with staff. “Parkland School District remains tradition rich, goal oriented and future focused. The time has come for me to turn the page on the next chapter in my life."



“The candidates and their surrogates are pouring in: Cory Booker and Andrew Yang on Sunday, Mike Pence on Monday, Mr. Trump and Donald Jr. on Tuesday, Barack Obama on Wednesday. So is the money: Since the beginning of the election, the campaigns have lavished close to $200 million on Pennsylvania — $121.5 million from Team Biden, $74.2 million from Team Trump. Welcome to life in a swing state, with less than two weeks until the election. If you’ve ever felt starved for attention, ignored by the good and the great, come sit by me in Pennsylvania.”

I’m Drowning in Campaign Lit and Freaking Out About My Mail-In Ballot

Greetings from swing state Pennsylvania.

New York Times By Jennifer Weiner Contributing Opinion Writer Oct. 20, 2020

PHILADELPHIA — On Tuesday afternoon, it was Karla texting my husband. On Saturday, it was Carin and Britney. Mara got in touch the next day. Susan and Debra reached out last week. Normally, I would look askance at strange ladies blowing up my husband’s phone. But I know these women don’t want his time or his affections. They (and Julia, and Debra No. 2) want his vote. Our phones aren’t the only things that have been crammed with election-year come-ons. An average day’s mail brings at least two pieces of campaign literature, plus a guide or two on how to correctly complete a mail-in ballot. On the digital front, Trump and Biden ads have invaded my YouTube feed and colonized my husband’s Scrabble app. I try to do yoga: There’s Joe Biden. He wants to watch football: There’s Donald Trump. The real world offers no respite. In Center City, my neighborhood, people walk the streets wearing “Bad Things Happen in Philadelphia” T-shirts, an ironic appropriation of President Trump’s statement from the first debate. The lampposts bristle with “MAKE A PLAN: VOTE” placards. In Limerick, a suburb an hour to the northwest, one voter told me, “It seems the Trump supporters feel the need to show who loves him the most by having the biggest and ‘most tremendous’ signs.” She says it’s the profanity that really gets to her, like the truck emblazoned with the slogan “Trump 2020 — [expletive] Your Feelings” in the pickup line at school.



What's the connection between reading early and high school dropout rates? Learn with us at the Education First Compact on 11/5.

Philadelphia Education Fund Free Virtual Event Thursday November 5, 2020 9:00 am - 10:30 am

From Pre-K to Fifth Grade: Early Literacy as Dropout Prevention

It’s long been understood that literacy is the gateway to learning. No doubt you’ve heard the maxim: In grades K-3, a student must learn to read, so that in grades 4-12 they can read to learn.

In the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2014 report, “Double Jeopardy,” researchers also found a link between 4th grade reading proficiency and high school completion rates. Astonishingly, they discovered that students with low levels of proficiency were four times as likely to drop out of high school. In Philadelphia, the struggle to improve upon rates of early literacy is a collaborative one. At the center of these local efforts are the School District of Philadelphia, the Children’s Literacy Initiative, and various community partners engaged through Philadelphia’s Read By 4th Campaign. Join us for the November Education First Compact to probe such questions as: What lessons has been learned prior to and during COVID? What adjustments are being made during this period of distance learning? What challenges remain? And, most importantly, what role can the larger Philadelphia community play in the effort?


  • Caryn Henning, Children’s Literacy Initiative
  • Jenny Bogoni, Read By 4th Campaign
  • Nyshawana Francis-Thompson, School District Office of Instruction and Curriculum

Host: Farah Jimenez, President and CEO of Philadelphia Education Fund

Schedule: 9:00 – 9:45am    Presentation
9:45 – 10:15am   Q & A

Attendance is free, but registration is required.


Tell your legislators that school districts need their support


If you missed Advocacy Day, it's not too late to reach out to your legislators and ask for their support for public schools during this challenging school year. Take Action to send a letter to your members of the Senate and House of Representatives. The letter addresses the need to support our schools and help to control our costs so that districts may better serve their students. Among the most important areas of concern are limited liability protections; broad mandate relief; delay in new state graduation requirements delay; the need for broadband expansion; and charter school funding reform. Now, more than ever, it is vital that legislators hear from school districts.


Adopt the resolution against racial inequity!

School boards are asked to adopt this resolution supporting the development of an anti-racist climate. Once adopted, share your resolution with your local community and submit a copy to PSBA. Learn more:


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.

Resolution for charter funding reform (pdf)

Link to submit your adopted resolution to PSBA


305 PA school boards have adopted charter reform resolutions

Charter school funding reform continues to be a concern as over 300 school boards across the state have adopted a resolution calling for legislators to enact significant reforms to the Charter School Law to provide funding relief and ensure all schools are held to the same quality and ethics standards. Now more than ever, there is a growing momentum from school officials across the state to call for charter school funding reform. Legislators are hearing loud and clear that school districts need relief from the unfair funding system that results in school districts overpaying millions of dollars to charter schools.

The school boards from the following districts have adopted resolutions calling for charter funding reform.


Know Your Facts on Funding and Charter Performance. Then Call for Charter Change!

PSBA Charter Change Website:


The Network for Public Education Action Conference has been rescheduled to April 24-25, 2021 at the Philadelphia Doubletree Hotel


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.