Tuesday, May 26, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 26, 2020: How Many Charter School Lawyers Does It Take to Dismantle a Public School District?

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.

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 26, 2020

Are you ready for a PA budget, or at least part of one, that might get done before the start of June? Capitolwire: https://bit.ly/3bYqzOZ. Amidst reports of pending agreement on a 12 month budget for education that includes flat funding of BEF and SEF, the PA House starts session today at 1 p.m., while the Senate comes in at 7 p.m. - yes, 7 p.m. - which suggests something is in the works

Order Approving the Submitted Revised Financial Recovery Plan (Chester Upland School District) And Implementation of Recommendations Thereof
Delaware County Court of Common Pleas May 14, 2020

“I want my children to spend time with, be taught by, formed by, known and loved by competent and committed adults other than their mom and dad. I want them to have teachers who are as human as I am, real and flawed and imperfect, but who love them anyway. A virtual setting does not provide that. It is no wonder, then, that virtual schools have performed so poorly across the nation. I have seen why firsthand, and I certainly don’t want my taxes to pay for something with such a poor track record. No, I want my money to support my local community school and teachers. Let’s not conclude during an unprecedented crisis that this is a good time to start transitioning all education to a computer. It’s ridiculous and irresponsible. And it is opportunistic by the very same people who want to dismantle traditional public education. Rather than the way of the future, this is a moment that will pass. We will look back at this moment and stand in awe of how public schools and schoolteachers kept our nation afloat. Then we will all finally realize that they are worth every penny.”
Commentary: Online learning not the future of education
By Cameron Vickrey, For the San Antonio Express-News May 22, 2020
Cameron Vickrey is the associate director for Pastors for Texas Children. She also co-founded RootEd, a local parent-led advocacy group for public schools.
I hate online learning for my elementary-aged kids. And while I’m grateful that it’s keeping us afloat while it isn’t safe to be at school, it is not the way of the future for education. Powerful people and organizations all over the country, and even right here in Texas, are seizing this opportunity to hail the benefits of distance and online learning. They are using this tragedy to push for permanent models of virtual education, paid for by our taxes and federal grant money.
If you are among those who think distance learning is the future, please come to my house.
My house doesn’t come with the most difficult hurdles to educational success. We have internet access, two laptops, two iPads, two iPhones and a Chromebook. We have a full refrigerator and the ability to restock when we get low. We have a two-parent, two-income household. Our school district was prepared and ready for a crisis such as this. So, we shouldn’t have a problem, right? No reason to complain. According to virtual school proponents, this can be the way of the future.
The first week of distance learning back in March, our school suggested we follow a similar schedule to the one our children were used to at school. It was fast-paced and rigorous, and I knew immediately that this was not going to work for us. Eventually, though, the steep distance-learning curve began to flatten out. And the days of getting one child settled into an assignment just to hear that another one is done and ready for the next assignment, never to find any time for my own work, are mostly in the past.

“According to multiple other sources, the proposal includes flat funding for all levels of education from preschool to colleges and universities for all of 2020-21, which undoubtedly will be helpful to school districts as they finalize their annual budgets next month.”
Pa. lawmakers expected to tackle partial year state budget this week
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com Today 5:30 AM
Just when you think 2020 couldn’t get any stranger, Pennsylvania lawmakers are hoping to complete work on a partial year budget this week before the last month of the state’s 2019-20 fiscal year even begins. According to House and Senate Republicans and Democrats, the spending plan expected to be considered is intended to be a five-month temporary budget that keeps the state moving forward and allows time for the revenue picture to become clearer. According to multiple other sources, the proposal includes flat funding for all levels of education from preschool to colleges and universities for all of 2020-21, which undoubtedly will be helpful to school districts as they finalize their annual budgets next month. It also provides for full-year funding for food programs that have seen unprecedented demand as the state’s jobless benefit claims topped 2.1 million since March 15. The temporary budget does not require any increase in the state’s personal income or sales tax.

With a bottom line rocked by COVID-19, Pa. lawmakers set to pass stop-gap budget this week
PA Capital star By  Stephen Caruso May 25, 2020
The Pennsylvania General Assembly is prepared to pass a temporary budget this week that would push off tough spending choices until after the 2020 election, according to two Capitol sources with knowledge of the process. The proposed budget was presented to House Democrats Monday afternoon in a virtual caucus, according to another three House Democratic sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly.  The plan presented to them included a projected $5 billion shortfall between this year’s revenue and next year’s spending. The sources indicated that the budget would equal roughly five months of spending based on last year’s fiscal blueprint, which passed with bipartisan support in late June. Education funding would be an exception, receiving a full-year budget, but with no increase based on current, approved spending for fiscal 2019-2020.

Schools are pillars of our community. When classes resume, we need to treat them that way | Opinion
By Thomas J. Wilson  Capital-Star Op-Ed Contributor May 25, 2020
Rear Adm. Thomas J. Wilson, III, United States Navy (Ret), is the president of the Upper Adams School District Board of Directors in Adams County. He writes from Biglerville, Pa.
The COVID-19 crisis has impacted every aspect of our society, from healthcare to businesses to our homes. Together, we are experiencing a new appreciation for a pre-pandemic life and for the many things we took for granted. With the unprecedented shutdown of Pennsylvania’s school facilities has come a realization that Pennsylvania’s public schools are critical pillars of their community. The fact is that 90 percent of Pennsylvania’s students are enrolled in our traditional public schools. Public education is a vital component of our workforce pipeline. The pandemic has shown that schools are not only critical for the education they provide, but also for the food security, stability, special education and mental health resources our families find within the physical walls of their school buildings. Our educators, staff and administration are doing yeoman’s work rewriting curriculum and working with parents who, themselves, are often juggling a full-time job from home while facilitating their children’s learning. Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Legislature took action to allow school districts to continue paying staff, gave districts flexibility for learning instruction, and ensured that public schools could continue to provide continuity of learning to students. School board members, such as myself, are grateful for their efforts.
It’s a great start but it will not be enough. With local tax revenues predicted to drop precipitously, school districts across the state are facing a shortfall of about $1 billion this year. Recent federal education stimulus will only fill a portion of this gaping hole.

Tuesday, May 26th 4:00 p.m.: PCCY Community Forum – Montgomery County
The citizens and businesses of the Montgomery County are facing unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, May 26 at 4pm, PCCY IS HOSTING A COMMUNITY FORUM to discuss the threat of looming education cuts to Montgomery County.  Please join us for this virtual COMMUNITY FORUM allowing a platform for school officials and business leaders to discuss challenges facing Montgomery County if school district funding is slashed. Decisions on stimulus legislation and budgets are being made now and all voices matters — Montgomery County requires a unified voice in Harrisburg!
Participants include:
  • Ken Lawrence – Montgomery County Commissioner
  • Russ Johnson – HealthSpark Foundation, President, CEO
  • Chris Dormer – Norristown School District Superintendent
  • Frank Gallagher – Souderton Area School District Superintendent
  • Peggy Lee-Clark – Pottstown Area Industrial Development. Inc., Executive Director
  • Laura Johnson – Pottstown School District School Board Member
CLICK HERE TO REGISTER VIA ZOOM – After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Pa. education groups form task force to explore reopening schools
ANDREW GOLDSTEIN Pittsburgh Post-Gazette agoldstein@post-gazette.com MAY 24, 2020
Eight Pennsylvania education groups this month formed a task force that will seek to create a plan for schools across the state to reopen in the fall. All schools in Pennsylvania have been closed since mid-March in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, and instruction has shifted to distance learning.  While there has been no guarantee that schools will reopen in the fall, state Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera said he expects they will in some form. The task force, which includes the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Pennsylvania State Education Association, and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, will evaluate many of the hurdles schools will face when reopening. “The work groups that have been established will include well over 100 members of these various organizations and look to compile a list of innovative solutions for districts to consider within numerous areas, including operations, scheduling, facilities, academics and transportation,” Nathan Mains, CEO of PSBA, said during a recent hearing before the state Senate education committee. “These work groups will be charged with identifying and increasing attention to the areas of policy and practice that may require temporary changes in order for districts to reopen in compliance with state, federal and CDC recommendations.” Mr. Mains said the task force will create an online repository of resources for policymakers, school districts, communities and parents.

“A few days ago, I called the College Board, which administers AP exams, desperate to find a solution. Their suggestion: She should try to take the test sitting outside a McDonald’s. I got off the phone in disbelief as I rehearsed what I was going to say to her: “Sorry, Nat. I tried, but College Board says your best bet is to bum the free wifi off the McDonald’s on Knickerbocker.” I thought of the many students across the East River and across the country who will take the same test sitting undisturbed in their own rooms on their own computers, having never even seen an internet bill before.”
Taking an AP test outside McD’s: The low-income student’s predicament
Of the thousands of students I’ve taught in my 10-year career, Natalie is the brightest, sweetest and purest. She shines in my Advanced Placement English class, pushing the thinking of her peers while deftly articulating her own ideas. A relentless hard worker, she juggles two other AP classes, honors math and extracurriculars. Outside of school, she finds time to help her mom, an immigrant from Ecuador, sell Icees from a cart in downtown Brooklyn, while at home she translates bills and documents for her. Since the COVID-19 outbreak forced our school to close and we traded our rich classroom discussions for grainy Zoom breakouts, Natalie hasn’t missed an assignment or complained a single time about a dizzying online school schedule or crowded lifestyle. Instead, she asks how I’m doing. She’s still maintaining her straight As. If she earns a passing score on the coming AP test, she’ll be able to turn her hard work into college credit, and a savings of at least $3,000 on her future tuition. But she may never get that chance — because she won’t be able to get online to take the test. Natalie’s family doesn’t have reliable internet access at home. Since we closed in March, she’s relied on a Chromebook our school provided and 60 days of free access from her local cable company, Optimum. But that 60 days is about to expire, cutting off her ability to connect to the world, continue her education, see her teachers’ faces, giggle at her friends’ TikToks — and take her AP English exam.

Why many Philly students aren’t logging on for school, and what that could mean for September
Rudecina García rises at 4 a.m. to cook meals her three boys will eat while she works long hours as a home-health aide. While García is away, a friend watches the children in the family’s North Kensington home. The caregiver is loving, but cannot read or write in English or Spanish, leaving the 13-, 12-, and 10-year-olds to fend for themselves when it comes to schoolwork. The children got Chromebooks from Lewis Elkin Elementary, their neighborhood school, but the internet connection is spotty, so García pays $125 monthly for phones with data plans so the boys can complete assignments. Still, she knows her children, especially the younger two, frequently skip logging in. “I’ve tried everything I can to be responsible with them and for them to be responsible with their teachers," García said, "but it’s hard for a single mother to guarantee my kids’ education under these circumstances.” Ten weeks into distance learning forced by the pandemic, the Philadelphia School District registers just 61% of students attending school on an average day, with 53% of elementary school children making daily contact and 74% of middle and high schoolers logging on, officials said Friday. That’s well short of the 92% attendance rate the district had during the 2018-19 school year.

Letter to the Editor: Crisis exposes education inequities
GoErie by Cheryl Kleiman, staff attorney at Education Law Center, Pittsburgh May 24, 2020
Your article , “Bus company mobilizes to deliver meals to students” (April 9), highlighted the impressive teamwork involved in local efforts to meet students’ basic needs. As families grapple with the reality that schools are closed until June, school staff have worked hard to respond to students’ health and safety needs while also finding ways to provide students with remote learning. For many students of color and students living in poverty in our country, public schools may be the only place they can turn to for meals, physical and mental health care, and social supports. Structural racism is baked into our employment, health, housing, and education systems, denying equal opportunities. While our schools try to rise to the challenge, the shift to remote learning has illustrated again how students with the highest needs are too often shortchanged. In difficult times, Pennsylvania’s unfair, inequitable school funding system leaves low-wealth communities with the fewest resources. These are injustices that our organization, the Education Law Center, has been highlighting and challenging for years — as has the statewide PA Schools Work coalition. Getting schools through this crisis is going to be a struggle, but we cannot neglect to address the underlying inequities. That will take a true movement, where schools and communities come together to address these challenges. It will require that public education be fully and equitably funded. Let’s remind state and federal leaders to invest in this vital public good now so students emerge from this crisis attending schools that are more just.

“Recently, EPS joined more than 232 other school boards across Pennsylvania seeking relief by calling for charter funding reform. State House Education Committee Chairman Curt Sonney of Harborcreek has put forth reform proposals himself. And reviewing budgetary items at the state and local level reveals how, at 14% of Erie schools’ annual budget, charter school funding siphons off nearly $30 million every year. Every. Year. Simply overhauling cyber charter funding alone would save the district $3.8 million per year.”
Charter school reforms key to school funding
Echo Pilot Letter by – Bill Kuhar, president, Erie Education Association
Erie schools Superintendent Brian Polito has done a masterful job in streamlining the budget for Erie’s Public Schools, gaining as much value as he possibly can for every dollar the district spends. And the Erie Education Association certainly commends him for freezing his pay. With selflessness like that, he would have made a fine teacher. But we believe the financial and academic uncertainty that lies ahead calls for an overhaul of charter school funding, not wages. We are not alone in this view. Recently, EPS joined more than 232 other school boards across Pennsylvania seeking relief by calling for charter funding reform. State House Education Committee Chairman Curt Sonney of Harborcreek has put forth reform proposals himself. And reviewing budgetary items at the state and local level reveals how, at 14% of Erie schools’ annual budget, charter school funding siphons off nearly $30 million every year. Every. Year. Simply overhauling cyber charter funding alone would save the district $3.8 million per year. Clearly, a reexamination of charter school funding must be foremost among the choices the Editorial Board endorses, as charter funding is now a luxury we can no longer afford. The EEA will continue to work with Polito, his staff and the Erie School Board to redesign for success in this current crisis. It’s what we do, what we’ve always done. In closing, I’d like to commend the parents of our students, as they have worked hand in hand with our teachers, each a unique laboratory of innovation in this extraordinary time, collaborating to do what’s best for our children. Together, we look forward in that same spirit of professional innovation as we prepare a flexible and adaptive instructional delivery model for the 2020-21 school year, one which will best serve the unique needs of our students and our urban population.

Guest column: Assessing Pennsylvania’s Public Cyber Charter Schools: What the Numbers Don’t Tell Us
Pottstown Mercury Opinion by Dr. Michael Conti May 24, 2020
Dr. Michael Conti is chief executive officer of Agora Cyber Charter School and a member of the Public Cyber Charter School Association.
Our children’s education and future are highly emotional topics. That’s especially true for educators like me and advocates like Dr. Jeff Sparagana, who recently shared his views on the ways my school, Agora Cyber Charter School, “fails students.” We all want what is best for our students. But in such an emotionally charged debate, people use weapons that elevate their side and offer only negative facts on the opponent. The danger in this, demonstrated by Dr. Sparagana, is misleading decision makers by sharing “shocking” numbers without explanation. However, data with proper context paints an accurate picture leading to the most informed decisions. The most important reality when assessing the performance and rankings of Agora is that a large percentage of our students begin our journey behind the starting line. Agora’s ability to specialize in working with and nurturing students who have been in some way left behind or failed by brick-and-mortar schools makes us extremely attractive to families. But out of the gate, these students aren’t level with the students, schools and districts against which we are measured. We invest months or years in bringing a student who is educationally or emotionally behind up to speed before we can really nurture him or her to thrive. Keeping this in mind, I’ll touch on the key points presented as evidence that Agora “fails” our students.

Blogger note: The Philadelphia School Partnership’s major funders include school privatization advocates The Walton Family Foundation and Jeff and Janine Yass (major funders of Pennsylvania’s Students First PAC)
Philly’s charter and Catholic schools are seeing higher student participation in remote learning than district schools, survey finds
Inquirer by Maddie Hanna, Updated: May 22, 2020- 8:59 PM
Many Philadelphia charter and private schools are reporting higher overall student participation than the city’s traditional public schools since the start of remote learning, possibly because they are smaller and can more nimbly make the transition, the nonprofit Philadelphia School Partnership says. In a survey that drew responses from 117 charter and private — primarily Catholic — schools that received Chromebooks donated by the nonprofit, it found that most launched online learning by the end of March, about two weeks after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all commonwealth schools to close. Student participation rates for those 117 schools in either the last week of April or first week of May were 78% for K-3 students, 80% for students in grades 4-8, and 69% of high schoolers, according to results of the survey released this week. The Philadelphia School District, which officially began teacher-led instruction May 4, reported 57% of its students participated that week — including 48% of students in K-8 schools, and 73% in middle and high schools. It said participation had increased to 61% for the week of May 11. The Philadelphia School Partnership is an influential nonprofit that donates millions to charter, private, and other city schools. Its executive director, Mark Gleason, attributed the participation rates among private schools and charters — which are publicly funded but independently run and educate about 70,000 Philadelphia students — in part to their smaller size.

$65.7M Pottstown School Budget Won't Raise Taxes
Digital Notebook Blog by Evan Brandt Friday, May 22, 2020
The Pottstown School Board backed away from the idea of a tax hike in the midst of a public health and economic crisis, voting unanimously to adopt a preliminary budget for the coming fiscal year that does not raise taxes. The $65,721,174 million spending plan for the 2020-2021 school year filled the gap between spending and revenues with a deep dive into its reserves, pulling a total of $1.7 million from its various back-up funds. "We did what we've always planned to do, we have reserve funds for a rainy day, and clearly, today is a rainy day," said board member John Armato. Under the state's Act 1 tax cap, Pottstown was limited to a tax increase of 3.8 percent, which as recently as last month was the tax hike being considered. Even with the tax hike, the previous budget draft called for pulling nearly $1 million out of reserves.

Reading School Board OKs preliminary 2020-21 budget
WFMZ by Gregory Purcell May 21, 2020 Updated 20 hrs ago
READING, Pa. – Pre-COVID and post-COVID – it's a whole new way to look at things.
The unprecedented pandemic forced the Reading School District to change its 2020-21 budget in just two months. Business Manager Wayne Gehris and his team crunched the numbers and ended up with a post-COVID budget of $308,155,305, with no tax increase. The school board approved the budget with an 8-0 vote Wednesday. The missing voter was Jean Kelleher, whose resignation was accepted with regret at the meeting. The 2019-20 budget was $300,944,258. The 2020-21 post-COVID budget is $493,117, less than the pre-COVID figure of $308,648,422. The budget anticipates a $9,855,246 decrease in local tax revenue to $37,092,021 from a pre-COVID level of $46,947,267. State revenue is anticipated at $216,640,759 post-COVID, down from $221,209,742 in the pre-COVID budget but an increase of $4,076,844 over the 2019-20 budget. Due to stimulus efforts, however, post-COVID federal revenue will increase $11,638,593, to $36,315,793 from $24,677,200 in the pre-COVID budget.

$125M OJR budget would hike taxes 2.6%
West Chester Daily Local by Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-centurymedia.com @PottstownNews on Twitter May 22, 2020
SOUTH COVENTRY — The Owen J. Roberts School Board has voted unanimously to adopt a $125.5 million proposed budget for 2020-21 that will increase property taxes by 2.6 percent. The budget plan, which represents a 3.5 percent increase in spending, will increase by $153 the annual tax bill of property assessed at $184,195, the district average assessment, according to the budget posted on the district website. The proposed tax hike, which still requires another vote by the board, is the maximum allowed by the state's Act 1 index, which capped the district's tax hike at 2.6, unless a larger one is approved by voters. According to the budget, for the last five years Owen J. Roberts has raised taxes by the maximum allowed by the state and, in two of those years, more than the maximum using "exceptions" for higher tax rates written into the Act 1 law.

Bellefonte Area School District announces plans for drive-thru commencement ceremony
Centre Daily Times BY MARLEY PARISH MAY 25, 2020 09:36
As the academic year wraps up, the Bellefonte Area School District will say goodbye to its seniors in a drive-thru commencement ceremony. Although COVID-19 posed challenges for the district, high school Principal Mike Fedisson announced plans for an in-person graduation ceremony. The celebration will begin at 10 a.m. June 5, with two cars allowed per family. A rain date is scheduled for June 8. “While we know many of us would prefer traditional graduation and awards ceremonies, our current situation does not permit such gatherings,” Fedisson wrote in a letter to district families. “However, we have taken your input to create a ceremony that can mimic that as much as possible.” Families are asked to register online in order to participate. Both vehicles must be in a caravan format with the graduate sitting in the lead car in cap and gown. Cars are instructed to enter through the driveway across from Rite Aid and proceed to the student parking lot where they will be given their diploma. Two stages will be stationed outside of the building. After the student receives their diploma, they, along with one family member, will be allowed to exit the car and take photos while on stage. “We recognize that this year has been extremely unique and not one that any of us expected,” Fedisson said. “Yet, we offer a heartfelt congratulations to the class of 2020 and a thank you to all of the families for your patience and support as this plan has been developed.” Bellefonte is the final Centre County school district to announce socially distanced graduation plans. The Philipsburg-Osceola, State College, Penns Valley and Bald Eagle area school district have announced plans for virtual and in-person ceremonies in June.

Erie-area high schools plan ‘one-of-a-kind’ commencements
GoErie By Valerie Myers @etnmyers Posted May 24, 2020 at 12:01 AM
Schools plan hybrid ceremonies and even big-screen showings.
High school commencements this spring will be unique. With traditional ceremonies canceled or postponed due to public gathering restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, schools are getting creative about how they will hand out diplomas and honor graduates. Members of the class of 2020 will receive diplomas individually, most of them at school. Presentations will be filmed for virtual ceremonies that will be shown online. Some also will be shown at a drive-in theater. Yard signs provided to soon-to-be-graduates in many districts invite honks and cheers. Community members are sending cards and gifts to “adopted” seniors. Virtual baccalaureate services and honors convocations, caravans to students’ homes, and burger deliveries also are planned.

High school graduation will be ‘a moment to remember’
Johnstown Tribune Democrat By David Hurst dhurst@tribdem.com May 21, 2020
To Mason Waite, Windber Area High School’s Class of 2020 has always been a unique bunch. So why shouldn’t they be the ones to break from decades of traditions to celebrate their final moments as seniors, he said Wednesday. On May 28, Waite and 86 classmates will step out of their cars and trucks and walk to the front of Windber High School – one at a time – to receive their diploma covers, following a parade through town. “We’re getting a unique send-off and I’m excited for it,” Waite, 17, of Paint Borough, said. In a move driven by COVID-19 safety guidelines, the district paused plans for its traditional Windber Stadium event and developed a celebration that will instead mark the moment with a motorcade of students. With family members inside their vehicles with them, seniors will travel from Windber Recreation Park through the heart of the borough and then on to Windber High School. Principal Jason Hicks said the campus will be dressed in Rambler blue and white. At the school’s doorstep, students and their family members will be able to exit their vehicles. A professional photographer will greet them to capture the moment, he said. Then, parents will continue on into their cars to watch their students step onto a small stage for conferment, Hicks said.

With school online, teachers take attendance through engagement
With the transition to online learning to finish out the school year amid the pandemic, teachers are taking attendance by engagement rather than a roll call. “We recognize that families are facing unprecedented challenges. It’s not feasible for everyone to be present at 10:15 on a Thursday,” said Abington Heights Superintendent Michael Mahon, Ph.D. Schools across Pennsylvania began mandatory online learning after Gov. Tom Wolf closed schools April 9 to stop the spread of COVID-19. The swift transition has fundamentally changed not only how school districts offer education but how students show up for and complete their lessons. Districts are using programs provided by the state as well as Google Classroom. Students log on to the programs to complete uploaded assignments. Some teachers, like at Abington Heights High School, are given blocks of time for their classes. Taking attendance is now more than noting who shows up for class. Riverside is holding students accountable for their mandatory work through the completion of their assignments, said Superintendent Paul Brennan. Attendance has improved at Abington Heights since mandatory lessons began, said Mahon. Teachers monitor attendance closely and reach out to families or students who are not regularly logging in. “We are working with families to make sure they’re engaged,” he said.

“But the dominant theme was the need for sufficient funds to avoid a repeat of what happened during the last recession, when state and federal dollars to the state’s school districts were slashed by $1 billion, with Philadelphia absorbing a quarter of those cuts. This resulted in thousands of layoffs, including all counselors and nurses.”
Philadelphia school officials plead their case for more funds before council
WHYY By Dale Mezzacappa May 21, 2020
This article originally appeared on The Notebook.
School district officials, the teachers union president and advocates implored City Council on Wednesday to do all it can to make sure that Philadelphia schoolchildren don’t suffer from severe cuts to educational programs, especially in this time of crisis. At the annual district budget hearing, councilmembers were receptive and praised the district for its response to the pandemic and its work in pivoting to online learning. But they were largely noncommittal about supporting a property tax hike proposed by Mayor Kenney that would raise more money for the district. Several topics dominated the discussion, including the need to improve internet access across the city. In response to a question from Councilmember Helen Gym, Superintendent William Hite said that Comcast and other internet service providers had been asked, but declined to open residential hotspots to general use. A Comcast spokeswoman said in response that these are not designed for broad public use. Councilmembers also questioned Hite, Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson, and Acting Facilities and Operations Chief Jim Creedon about ongoing work to make schools safe from lead and asbestos hazards. They praised the district for taking advantage of the empty school buildings to catch up on remediation work. And they extracted a promise from Hite that all students would be given a cap and gown they can wear for a virtual graduation.

The school year is ending soon. But the educational needs of our students, teachers and schools are greater than ever
Philadelphia Citizen BY JESSICA PRESS MAY. 25, 2020
Typically when Memorial Day rolls around, parents, students and teachers alike know they can breathe a sigh of relief as the last day of school finally nears. But this year, with so much uncertainty surrounding education (and everything), we can’t afford to check out. Instead, we need to dig in to support our students, educators, and school communities—even if we need to do it from a distance. We talked to those on the education frontlines to get tips on the most meaningful ways to help now, and as we look ahead.

Have you checked out the PSBA #2020StateofEd report yet?
This report highlights a unique look at the state of PA public education pre-coronavirus, complete with detailed facts and figures.

PSBA launches new advocacy campaign and resolution
Yesterday PSBA released a Special Legislative Report announcing a new advocacy effort designed to relieve school districts from the effects of state-imposed unfunded and underfunded mandates and provide the flexibility needed to weather the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Campaign to Support Public Schools was developed through member recommendations and includes 13 proposals addressing cost savings, planning and budget issues of concern to our members. See PSBA’s mandate relief web page that includes the campaign details and also includes our updated mandate report. In conjunction with the advocacy campaign, PSBA is asking school boards to adopt the new resolution urging the General Assembly to provide critical support and mandate relief benefitting public schools and students. Send your adopted resolution to your legislators and to PSBA. The resolution is posted on PSBA’s Mandate Relief website page and can be downloaded and submitted to PSBA online.

Tom On Point: Au revoir
National School Boards Association June 01, 2020
In his last ASBJ column as Executive Director & CEO of NSBA, Thomas J. Gentzel reflects on the incredibly rewarding job of serving school board members.
Writing these columns has been one of the joys of my work at NSBA. I have had the opportunity to comment, and occasionally to pontificate, on issues facing public education. This has been a wonderful bully pulpit, but it is one I will leave when I retire soon. I am spending these days both looking ahead enthusiastically, anticipating more time with grandkids and the pursuit of personal interests, and reflecting on an amazing four-decade experience. In 1980, I took a position as a lobbyist for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA)—a next step on an early career path that had started with county government and, I assumed then, would lead me to many more and varied places as time went by. Yet, public education had a way of gently pulling me in. I went on to become PSBA’s chief lobbyist, then served as its executive director for 11 years, and since 2012, have led NSBA. This was more than a succession of titles, however. Along the way, a job became a career, then a calling. I came to appreciate public education as an integral part of our democracy and a vital asset of every community, which is why the leadership of school boards is so important. Over my career, I have met thousands of local school board members from every walk of life, literally ranging from coal miners to astronauts, and from a broad range of ethnic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic groups. They are a cross section of America. Those who serve on school boards typically are paid little if anything, but that does not diminish the value of their work. In fact, they represent one of the last vestiges of true civic service.

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving America’s schools toward a financial meltdown
Education leaders are warning of a financial meltdown that could devastate many districts and set back an entire generation of students.
WITF By Cory Turner/NPR MAY 26, 2020 | 5:44 AM
(Washington) — Austin Beutner looked haggard, his face a curtain of worry lines. The superintendent of the second-largest school district in the nation sat at a desk last week delivering a video address to Los Angeles families. But he began with a stark message clearly meant for another audience: Lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. “Cuts to funding at schools will forever impact the lives of children,” Beutner said less than a week after California’s governor called for emergency cuts in education spending. The harm children face from these cuts, Beutner warned, “is just as real a threat to them as is the coronavirus.” Similar alarms are sounding in districts across the country. With the nation’s attention still fixed on the COVID-19 health crisis, school leaders are warning of a financial meltdown that could devastate many districts and set back an entire generation of students. I think we’re about to see a school funding crisis unlike anything we have ever seen in modern history,” warns Rebecca Sibilia, the CEO of EdBuild, a school finance advocacy organization. “We are looking at devastation that we could not have imagined … a year ago.”

Are We Ready? How We Are Preparing – And Not Preparing – Kids For Climate Change
In an analysis of dozens of middle and high school textbooks, we found descriptions of climate change were superficial and contained errors; some did not discuss it at all.
Huffington Post By Caroline Preston and Rebecca Klein 05/23/2020 08:00 am ET
This story about climate change and education was produced as part of the nine-part series “Are We Ready? How Schools Are Preparing ― and Not Preparing ― Children for Climate Change,” reported by HuffPost and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.
Science textbooks used in Florida and Texas call climate change “one of the most debated issues in modern science.” A Texas science textbook for seventh graders says “scientists hypothesize” that the increase in carbon dioxide “has contributed to the recent rise in global temperature.” A high school social studies book, also used in Texas, says of rising temperatures, “Some critics say that this warming is just part of the Earth’s natural cycle,” though, in truth, there’s overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that the current warming is due to human activities.  Such descriptions of climate change are muddled and misleading, according to four climate scientists who reviewed them as part of a Hechinger/HuffPost analysis of 32 middle school and high school textbooks and digital curricula and what they say on the subject.  In the review of the 32 textbooks, which are used in California, Florida, Oklahoma or Texas, we found that at least 12 included descriptions of climate change that were superficial or contained errors. Another four of the science books did not discuss the topic at all. And some downplayed the scientific consensus that human activities are causing the current climate crisis, according to the four experts who reviewed the passages for Hechinger/HuffPost, although they had varying perspectives on the extent of those problems. 

Some Pa. seniors are turning on Trump. That could be a problem for his reelection.
Inquirer by Julia Terruso, Updated: May 26, 2020- 5:00 AM
Bob Banion has been a Republican all his life. A 68-year-old sales manager from Harleysville, Pa., he voted for Donald Trump in 2016. But he’s felt his political center shifting over the last four years — along with his support for the president. “As you get older in life, you start to move toward the left, when you’re thinking about health care, when you’re thinking about other people’s rights and futures,” Banion said. “Older people believe in class, believe in dignity, believe in doing the right thing. And you see all [Trump’s] doing to break that down. I am really disgusted I voted for him.” Trump, who needs to win states like Pennsylvania and hopes to hold onto supporters like Banion, may have a lurking problem. National polling averages show he’s in a relative dead heat with Joe Biden among voters over 65, a group he won by 10 points in 2016. In recent polling of Pennsylvania voters, Trump comes up a few points short of Biden with voters over 45, according to an April Fox poll. (Pollsters use varying age groupings.) How to explain the Trump senior slide? His opponent this time, Biden, polls better with seniors than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. (Trump appears to be losing across the board with voters who said they backed him as a protest vote against Clinton). Another factor is likely Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately affected the elderly.

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.

Over 230 PA school boards adopt charter reform resolutions
Charter school funding reform continues to be a concern as over 230 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:

Congressman Dwight Evans will join State Lawmakers from Philadelphia to hear from students experiencing firsthand the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on their education.
Please join us for this virtual TEEN TOWN HALL VIA ZOOM allowing students a platform to discuss challenges facing their public schools during COVID-19 shutdown. Decisions on stimulus legislation and budgets are being made now and all voices matters!
CLICK HERE TO REGISTER VIA ZOOM – After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.  You can also CLICK HERE TO SET A REMINDER TO JOIN LIVE VIA FACEBOOK.

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.