Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Commentary - E.I.S.C: How do you spell Chutzpah?

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Commentary - E.I.S.C: How do you spell Chutzpah?
Here are a couple of press reports about Rep. Christiana introducing a bill today that would take another $450 million away from constitutionally mandated public education and give it to private and religious schools via a new Supervoucher -  Educational Improvement Scholarship Credit program.

Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish defines chutzpah as "gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible 'guts,' presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to." In this sense, chutzpah expresses both strong disapproval and condemnation. In the same work, Rosten also defined the term as "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."

PA school districts have seen a billion dollars cut from their budgets in the past two years.  Since January, there have been more than 800 articles in the press statewide detailing budget cuts, program cuts, staffing cuts and tax increases being discussed by local school districts.  We are facing an enormous, growing, long-term pension burden.  During the budget discussions thus far, we have heard repeatedly that there is no more money.

Saying that there is no more money, for the past 2 years the Governor has proposed eliminating the Accountability Block Grant program used by many districts  to fund kindergarten programs.  In Harrisburg there is no more money for kindergarten.  In our urban, high-poverty school districts there is no more money for counselors, school nurses or safety officers.  In Upper Darby there is no more money for arts and music programs…..the list goes on and on, all over Pennsylvania.

Those setting Pennsylvania education policy seem intent upon dismantling our struggling school districts - turning them into test-prep centers of last resort; turning our good districts into poor districts and turning our great school districts into merely good ones.

Chutzpah.  Although we are hearing over and over that there is no more money, Rep. Christiana’s EISC supervoucher proposal would divert another $450 million to private and religious schools.  Ninety percent of our kids go to public schools.

Legislators, ask your school districts what impact the loss of another $450 million might have on their students, programs and taxpayers.

Western PA lawmaker eyeing voucher alternative bill.
Capitol Ideas Blog by John Micek June 11, 2012
A western Pennsylvania lawmaker is eyeing an expansion of an already popular business tax credit  program that could extend school choice by this fall to students in Pennsylvania's worst-performing schools.
Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, said he could introduce legislation as soon as soon as Tuesday creating a new program to offer scholarships to students in the worst-performing 15 percent of state schools. It would be modeled on Pennslvania's already existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program.

Proposal would give businesses tax credits for funding scholarships for troubled schools

By JAN MURPHY, The Patriot-News  Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 1:11 AM
While plans for school vouchers remain mired in the General Assembly, some lawmakers are supporting a new idea to help kids in failing schools.  Rep. Jim Christiana, R-Beaver, is introducing a bill that would create a $100 million tax credit program aimed at children in poor-performing schools.
The bill to create the new Educational Improvement Scholarship Credit will be introduced today in the House of Representatives.

Here’s another commentary on the EISC program…..
Yinzercation blog by YinzerThing June 12, 2012
Problem solved! Apparently, Rep. Jim Christiana, a Republican from our neck of the woods over in Beaver County, believes we have an extra $200 million lying around for schools. That’s perfect, since the Post-Gazette is reporting today that the governor’s office and Republican leaders in the Senate and House have negotiated their different budgets down to just about that figure: “the two sides appear to be about $233 million apart in how much money they believe the state should have left over at the end of next fiscal year.” [Post-Gazette, 6-12-12]

Ah, but wait – Rep. Christiana wants to give those public tax-dollars to private schools under a new scheme that he may introduce today in the House. Seriously? We can’t find enough money for the block grant program that lets school districts all across Pennsylvania fund Kindergarten, but he wants to talk about taking more money out of our state coffers for private and parochial schools?

We already have this ill-advised program in place with the poorly named Educational Improvement Tax Credit, or EITC. (See why we say “EITC: No Credit to PA” when we let $75 million walk out the front door every year.) Now Rep. Christiana and his colleagues propose adding a similar program, so that we give away an additional $100 million next year, rising to $200 million by its third year. [You can read the full text of his co-sponsorship memo at the Morning Call, 6-11-12.]

If we have $200 million available to hand out to businesses, why aren’t we spending that money up front on critical educational needs, rather than cutting Kindergarten, librarians, and tutoring? Pennsylvania school districts were forced to lay off over 14,000 teachers last year with many more furloughs coming this year. [“No More Teachers, No More Books”] These aren’t just good jobs – these are the people in the classrooms with our children every day, shaping our very future.

Kudos to House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, a representative from northern Allegheny County, whose office warned “the details of this latest try for a voucher program must be reviewed carefully.” He summed it up nicely: “The core problem in Pennsylvania schools is inadequate funding made worse by Gov. Corbett’s historic and tragic education cuts. No taxpayer-funded voucher experiment will help that, even one like this that’s limited to only a few schools. It will just make things worse for the great majority of students who get no help.” [Morning Call, 6-11-12]

We can’t allow the Governor and his allies to continue labeling our entire public education system as a failure, and then decimate it by cutting over $1 BILLION in funding to make sure that it really does fail so we can take our public dollars and send them to private institutions. Make no mistake, this is exactly the strategy now in play. As we reported last week, the ultra-conservative Koch brother funded superPAC FreedomWorks has rolled back into Pennsylvania using the language of “failure” in nasty radio ads aimed at pressuring the governor to get a voucher bill passed in the next three weeks. (See “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”)

That superPAC has two out-of-state lobbyists, Ana Puig and Anastasia Przbylski, sitting in Harrisburg right now turning up the heat on our legislators. About Rep. Christiana’s proposed voucher bill, Puig said, “It’s a start. We have to do something before this [budget] cycle is over to give opportunities to kids in the failing schools.” She made it clear that they are looking to expand vouchers well beyond these EITC type programs, and said, “We have a small window of opportunity.” [Morning Call, 6-11-12]

That might be the best news we get: these billionaire backers of school privatization see the next couple of weeks as their window of opportunity to ram more vouchers through the Pennsylvania legislature. We need to keep that window shut tight. Take a minute to call Rep. Christiana’s office and tell him that we need public funding for public schools:
(724) 728-7655 or (717) 260-6144
And if you know anyone in his district, please ask them to do the same. Christiana represents the following areas of Beaver County, which has lost over $13.5 MILLION in education cuts to its schools these past two years:
Brighton Township
Center Township
Greene Township
Hopewell Township
Independence Township
Patterson Heights
Patterson Township
Potter Township
Raccoon Township
Vanport Township
South Heights
If Rep. Christiana really thinks Pennsylvania taxpayers can afford an extra $200 million for this plan, let’s insist that we use those public dollars to address the real funding crisis in our schools caused by Governor Corbett’s historic education cuts. Then we can open real windows of opportunity for all our children.

“Part of Monday's conversation focused on specific legislation, including school reforms. The administration is said to be seeking, among other things:
•Changes in charter school funding.
•Changes in how charters are authorized.
•Tougher evaluation standards for public school teachers.
Corbett confirmed Monday that those subjects were discussed, along with "special categories" of funding, including how the state pays for special education. He declined to say whether he supported legislation authored by Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, that would change the special education funding formula.”
Pennsylvania state budget talks make 'baby steps' toward compromise
Republicans and Corbett make 'baby steps' on reaching deal before June 30.
By John L. Micek, Call Harrisburg Bureau 11:23 p.m. EDT, June 11, 2012
HARRISBURG— Legislative Republicans and Gov. Tom Corbett continued their slow crawl toward reaching an agreement on the 2012-13 state budget Monday, concluding a high-level negotiating session that one participant said had produced "baby steps" toward a settlement.
The two sides are about $233 million apart on how much the state will have available to spend when the new fiscal year starts on July 1. Republicans are seeking a year-end balance of $267 million. Corbett is looking for a landing pad of about $500 million.

“Whatever their amount, most area districts have been dipping into their savings accounts to balance their budgets. Those who do have plump reserves say they're preparing for upcoming pension costs, a sledgehammer of future debt many think could upend Pennsylvania's educational system.”
Districts, Corbett spar over 'rainy day' reserve funds
Governor says schools have money to spare, but districts say 70 percent are already dipping into their reserves.
By Andrew McGill, Of The Morning Call 11:25 p.m. EDT, June 11, 2012
A few weeks ago, Gov. Tom Corbett told a Philadelphia talk radio host he had found a few extra billion dollars for Pennsylvania's public schools.  No, he didn't announce new state grants. Nor did he offer to give more money back to districts for charter school expenses or special education.
Instead, he said, school district themselves are sitting on a pile of money, a combined $3.2 billion in reserves — "savings accounts" that could be used to prevent tax increases.
"I look at the reserves as, it's a rainy day fund. This is a rainy day," Corbett said May 16 on the Dom Giordano show. "But what do we hear out there? 'Because of Gov. Corbett's budget, we're going to have to get rid of all-day kindergarten, we're going to have to get rid of art and music.' "
But a Morning Call analysis of local reserve funds and interviews with school officials tell a different story.

Education Voters PA ‏@EdVotersPA
Please take 2 minutes to send an email to your state reps; ask them to restore public ed funding:

Is your State Rep. on the cosponsor list for HB 2364? Charter school funding, accountability and transparency

Vouchers Unspoken, Romney Hails School Choice

New York Times By TRIP GABRIEL Published: June 11, 2012
“Voucher” is a fighting word in education, so it may be understandable that when Mitt Romney speaks about improving the nation’s schools, he never uses that term.
Nonetheless, as president, Mr. Romney would seek to overhaul the federal government’s largest programs for kindergarten through 12th grade into a voucherlike system. Students would be free to use $25 billion in federal money to attend any school they choose — public, charter, online or private — a system, he said, that would introduce marketplace dynamics into education to drive academic gains.

New York Parents Protest Testing

 Michele Molnar  
York State, who are organizing against what they consider excessive use of standardized testing in public education, and the time it takes away from learning.
Nine organizations joined forces to boycott the stand-alone field tests taken by middle and elementary school students between June 5 and June 12.
The groups opposed to testing say that parents in 59 schools are "fighting back by refusing to allow their children to take these field tests," according to a press release about the event.
To express their opposition, many parents joined a recent protest at the headquarters of Pearson, the state's for-profit test development contractor. The company has a five-year, $32 million contract with the New York State Education Department.

Diane Ravitch on PBS Newshour June 5th, 2012

Here are more than 800 articles since January 23rd detailing budget cuts, program cuts, staffing cuts and tax increases being discussed by local school districts
The PA House Democratic Caucus has been tracking daily press coverage on school district budgets statewide:

June 29 is deadline to submit proposals for PSBA’s 2013 Legislative Platform
Your school board is invited to submit proposals for consideration for PSBA’s 2013 Legislative Platform. The association is accepting proposals now until Friday, June 29, 2012.  Guidelines for platform submissions are posted on PSBA’s Web site.  The PSBA Platform Committee will review proposals and rationale submitted for the platform on Aug. 11. The recommendations of the committee will be brought before the Legislative Policy Council for a final vote on Oct. 18.

PSBA accepting nominations for the Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award
Last year, PSBA created a new award to honor the memory of its long-term chief lobbyist, who died unexpectedly. The Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award may be presented annually to the individual school director or entire school board to recognize outstanding leadership in legislative advocacy efforts on behalf of public education and students that are consistent with the positions in PSBA's Legislative Platform. The nomination process is now open and applications will be accepted until June 22, 2012. The award will be presented during the PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference in October. For more information and criteria details, see the Allwein Advocacy Award page. To obtain an application form, see the Allwein Advocacy Award Nomination Form. Completed forms should be returned no later than June 22 to: Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Advocacy Award Selection Committee, PO Box 2042, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055-0790.

Absentee ballot procedures for election of PSBA officers
PSBA website 6/1/2012
All school directors and school board secretaries who are eligible to vote and who do not plan to attend the association's annual business meeting during the 2012 PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference in Hershey, Oct. 16-19, may request an absentee ballot for election purposes.
The absentee ballot must be requested from the PSBA executive director in accordance with the PSBA Bylaws provisions (see PSBA Bylaws, Article IV, Section 4, J-Q.). Specify the name and mailing address of each individual for whom a ballot is requested.
Requests must be in writing, e-mailed or mailed first class and postmarked or marked received at PSBA Headquarters no later than Aug. 15. Mail to Executive Director, P.O. Box 2042, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055 or e-mail administrativerequests@psba.org.

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