Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for March 16, 2013: Letter to Gov. Corbett: Pennsylvania Fails Education Requirements of Its Constitution; Fails to Meet the Needs of Its Children

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 1875 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, 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 and Twitter.

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Keystone State Education Coalition:
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for March 16, 2013:
Letter to Gov. Corbett: Pennsylvania Fails Education Requirements of Its Constitution; Fails to Meet the Needs of Its Children

The first edition of the Network for Public Education Newsletter is Here!

“The letter recommends the Governor and General Assembly adopt "a system of public education that secures the adequate and equitable funding of Pennsylvania's schools based on a rationally based formula that addresses the needs of students."
Pennsylvania Fails Education Requirements of Its Constitution
Fails to Meet the Needs of Its Children
Education Justice March 15, 2013
Writing on behalf of the state's schoolchildren in a letter to Gov. Corbett dated March 14, 2013, the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia were joined by Education Voters PA, Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), the Pennsylvania League of Urban Schools (PLUS), and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) in pointing out that "the basic educational needs of Pennsylvania's children are not being met."  They urge the Governor and the General Assembly to address the fact that the state's "underfunding is now so significant that the Commonwealth is failing to fulfill its constitutional obligation to maintain a 'thorough and efficient system of public education.'" They also explain that "the large funding gaps between public schools in wealthy communities and those in high-poverty rural and urban communities are additional evidence of the failure to meet the 'thorough and efficient' mandate." They declare that "Pennsylvania currently has districts that are able to spend only one third of the resources of the best-funded districts."

Charter school reform legislation, audits grab state’s attention
Beaver County Times Online By Mark Shade Calkins Media March 14, 2013 8:00 pm
HARRISBURG -- The money Pennsylvania’s school districts are required to pay to charter schools came under fire Thursday.  First, the House Education Committee listened to support and some sharp criticism about legislation that would change the way districts fund charter schools.
Later in the day, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the Corbett administration should take action to fix “systemic problems” that could be costing districts millions of dollars.

State wants to revoke charter of Philadelphia-based cyber school
by thenotebook on Mar 15 2013 Posted in Latest news
by Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner
Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis wants to close down the Solomon Charter School in Philadelphia, which opened just months ago.  Solomon was authorized by the state Department of Education to open as a cyber charter, providing online instruction to students in their homes.  But in a release, Tomalis said that on three separate visits last fall, state officials found that Solomon was functioning as a traditional school, with students meeting in classrooms and receiving face-to-face instruction from their teachers. 

Pa. moves to revoke charter of Philly cyber school
Martha Woodall, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER POSTED: Friday, March 15, 2013, 10:49 PM
The Solomon Charter School only opened in September, but Pennsylvania's secretary of education filed charges Friday to revoke the operating charter of the Philadelphia-based cyber school for violating its charter and state law.  Secretary Ron Tomalis said the cyber school based at 1209 Vine St. was not meeting the requirement of offering a significant portion of its instruction to students online.

Tomalis said.  “Cyber charter school operators cannot circumvent a local school district by receiving a cyber charter from the department and then operate as a brick-and-mortar school.”
PDE PRESS RELEASE: March 15, 2013
Secretary of Education Seeks Revocation of Philadelphia-Based Solomon Charter School’s Charter
Harrisburg – Citing significant and severe violations of the Pennsylvania Public School Code, Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis today filed charges to revoke the cyber charter of Solomon Charter School in Philadelphia.  “Solomon officials have consistently demonstrated their inability to adhere to the school’s governing charter and operate within the confines of the Charter School Law,” Tomalis said.  “The Public School Code is explicit – cyber charter schools are to offer a significant portion of their curriculum through the Internet or other electronic means.’’
“Since opening its doors in September 2012, Solomon has primarily operated as a brick-and-mortar charter school, circumventing the brick-and-mortar charter school authorization process, and negating the essential basis on which the charter was granted – that the school would provide a ‘cyber’ education to its students.’’

VICKI SMITH: Cyber school reform could save millions
Indiana (PA) Gazette Opinion Posted: Friday, March 15, 2013 11:00 am
Vicki Smith is president, Homer-Center school board and chairman, ICTC board of directors
As school districts prepare their budgets for 2013-2014, tuition payments to cyber charter schools continue to divert public funds from our schools.  The tuition rate for cyber charter schools is based only on school district costs. Cyber schools are paid far in excess of their actual costs.
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
As the Legislature considers changes to the funding formula, the cyber schools are mounting a campaign to keep the current formula.

Wall St. likes Philly public-school closings PhillyDeals Blog March 15, 2013, 2:12 PM Joseph N. DiStefano
The Philadelphia School District's plan to shut almost 1/10 of the district's 250 schools, as competing, taxpayer-funded charter schools draw off one-third of the district's student body and Gov. Corbett cuts state aid, is "positive from a credit perspective" because it shows school officials "are intent on reducing expenditures" even if it makes them "unpopular," writes Moody's analyst Michael D'Arcy in a report to bond investors.
Aliquippa, Wilkinsburg, Reading and Steelton-Highspire districts put on financial watch list
By Alex Zimmerman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette March 15, 2013 4:51 pm
The State Department of Education put Wilkinsburg and Aliquippa school districts on a financial watch list today, which is meant to identify and offer assistance to school districts in financial distress.  The financial watch list was created by Act 141--a state law passed last year--as part of an "Early Warning System" for designating school districts struggling to make ends meet.  The state also added Reading School District in Berks County and Sheelton-Highspire School District in Dauphin County to the list of school districts on the financial watch list.
Read more:

It's official: Students will have to pass Keystone Exams to graduate
Allentown Morning Call 8:52 p.m. EDT, March 15, 2013
It's official: Students in Pennsylvania will be required to pass the Keystone Exams if they want to get a diploma.  The State Board of Education on Thursday adopted regulations that implement Common Core Standards in all school districts and require students to pass Keystone Exams to graduate.  Districts must begin teaching classes that align to Common Core Standards in English language, arts and mathematics by July 1, according to an announcement by the state Department of Education.

Charters' business manager admits role in fraud scheme
Martha Woodall, Inquirer Staff Writer March 16, 2013, 3:01 AM
The former business manager of the Philadelphia-area charter-school network founded by Dorothy June Brown pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to his role in an alleged scheme to defraud the schools of $6.7 million.  ……Smoot admitted fabricating, altering, and backdating charter board minutes, invoices, contracts, and financial records to mask the fact that Brown - and not the charters' boards - was running the schools, and that she and her two management companies were receiving millions in taxpayer funds from the schools.

PA State Rep. Dwight Evans, PA State Senator Anthony Williams and PA State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown recipients of Inaugural BAEO Elected Official Awards
Black Alliance for Educational Options 2013 BAEO Elected Official Awards

Forum draws concerns, questions about York City school proposals
Community members sought more information about an all-charter idea for York.
By ANGIE MASON Daily Record/Sunday News Updated:   03/14/2013 11:41:15 PM EDT
At a public forum held as part of York City School District's financial recovery process, community members raised concerns about an all-charter school proposal and expressed a need for more information, while also airing frustrations about how the district ended up in its situation.
The advisory committee helping David Meckley, chief recovery officer, come up with a plan for turning the district around has been considering proposals including converting the district into all charters or transforming it internally through ideas such as magnet schools and local management.  Many in the audience at Martin Library on Thursday raised concerns about the all-charter idea and asked for more information, particularly about Philadelphia's Renaissance schools, a model the committee heard about earlier.
"People go to charter schools because they think miracles are going to happen at that school. The bottom line is, it's not necessarily happening," said city resident John Moroney.

“First, I believe that KIPP was denied expansion by School Reform Commission last June. Now Philadelphia School Partnership is providing private money to expand KIPP. Is PSP now acting in place of the School Reform Commission and the School District of Philadelphia?” asked Parents United for Public Education member Gerald Wright, who had several questions connected to this development. “Second, In light of the recent ruling that charter enrollment can't be capped and in light of the State Department of Education choosing to pay charter operations directly out of School District of Philadelphia funds before paying the School District of Philadelphia, it appears that the School District is vulnerable to a ‘hostile takeover’ by private interests for a relatively small investment, if state law isn’t changed.”
Nonprofit grants Philly charters $3.4M
PhillyTrib Written by  Damon C. Williams Thursday, 14 March 2013 18:18
The Philadelphia School Partnership – a pro-education nonprofit which has a stated mission to accelerate the pace of education reform in Philadelphia by increasing the number of great school options available to children – will invest $3.4 million in two of the area’s largest charter school operators – KIPP Philadelphia Schools and Scholar Academies.

Updated: ACLU gives Chambersburg until Wednesday to permit Gay-Straight Alliance at high school; no board meeting scheduled
Chambersburg Public Opinion Online By BRIAN HALL Date:   03/15/2013 01:40:53 PM EDT
UPDATED: CHAMBERSBURG -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has agreed to give Chambersburg Area School District an extension amounting to three more business days to reverse a decision that blocked a Gay-Straight Alliance from forming at Chambersburg Area Senior High School.  In a letter sent Tuesday by the ACLU Pa. and Equality Pennsylvania, the groups gave the district a deadline of Friday to reverse a decision or face a lawsuit.

Guest Voice: Sequester cuts hurt Pa. children BY JOAN BENSO PUBLISHED: MARCH 15, 2013 12:01 AM EST
JOAN BENSO is president of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, an independent, nonpartisan, statewide children's advocacy organization based in Harrisburg (
One of the wonders of early learning is a young child's ability to soak up hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of new words in the span of a few months. Who could have predicted one of those new words might be "sequester"?  Yes, those deep, across-the-board federal spending cuts finally have hit, and their impact could be devastating to our kids if Congress and President Barack Obama cannot reach a compromise this month to undo the sequester and adopt a continuing resolution (there's another term for your vocabulary, kids) to keep the federal government from shutting down. If the gridlock continues, it's going to take a harmful -- and potentially irreversible -- toll on our youngest Pennsylvanians.
About 2,300 Pennsylvania children will lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start services, depriving them of critical early learning opportunities they can never get back. Up to 1,800 disadvantaged Pennsylvania children could lose access to subsidized child care, impacting them and their working parents already struggling to make ends meet.

Pa. Charter School Audit Finds $550,000 of Improper Lease Payouts
Education Week Charters and Choice Blog By Katie Ash on March 14, 2013 4:10 PM
An audit of charter schools in Pennsylvania has found that six charters received about $550,000 in improper lease reimbursements, among other violations, over the past seven years.  The audit, headed up by state auditor general Eugene DePasquale, found that the schools received lease reimbursements for facilities that were owned by the charter organizations themselves or related entities, raising conflict of interest concerns from the auditors. Some of the schools were ineligible for the reimbursements they received because they were using modular classrooms, which should not have been included in the reimbursement. The names of the charter schools in violation of the lease reimbursement conditions, the amount of money they received in error, and links to the full audits of each school, according to DePasquale are as follows:

'Congressional App Challenge' Aims to Cultivate Students' Computer Science Innovation
Education Week Digital Education Blog By Victoria O'Dea on March 15, 2013 3:30 PM
By guest blogger Victoria O'Dea
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have created a new competition to discover the best young app designers and programmers in their congressional districts.
The House passed the Academic Competition Resolution of 2013 late last month. The resolution establishes an annual competition intended to promote and recognize student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math—or the STEM fields.
The competition is expected to evolve over time, based on need, but backers of the effort say the initial focus of the competition will be on computer science—a field where qualified workers are in high demand.  High school and college students will have a chance to show off their coding skills in the competition, called the "Congressional App Challenge," where they will compete to develop the best apps for mobile, tablet and computer platforms.

Voices: Inside for-profit education
Written by Patricia Lang on Mar 14th, 2013. | Copyright ©
Former online teacher Patricia Lang doesn’t believe taxpayer dollars should be used for online schools after her experiences in the trenches. 
In 2005 I began working for COVA, the Colorado Virtual Academy. The position was flexible to allow me to work from home, care for my granddaughter and still work with special needs students.   The mentor teacher walked me though the computer set up, the documentation and the procedures of the online school. I began with vast amounts of curriculum and a class list of 24 students. The expectation was to download their IEPs (individualized educational plans), written for students who have special needs in specific academic areas. I would contact the learning coach at least once a week to discuss their students’ academic progress, their individual goals and to assist with resources and teaching strategies. As a special education teacher I had the opportunity to work with both students and their parent(s). We worked together as a team building student confidence and skills.

Ala. Governor Signs Private School Tax Credit Bill
Education Week By The Associated Press March 14, 2013
Montgomery, Ala. - Gov. Robert Bentley quickly signed legislation Thursday providing Alabama's first tax credits for private school attendance after he was given permission by the Alabama Supreme Court.  The Alabama Supreme Court decided Wednesday to throw out a lower court order that kept the Legislature from sending the bill to the governor for signing. The Legislature delivered the bill Thursday and Bentley signed it.

Testing Resistance & Reform News: March 6 - 13, 2013
National Center for Fair and Open Testing Submitted by fairtest on March 14, 2013 - 11:59pm 
At the risk of information overkill, here's a fat package of just one week's clips reporting the rising tide of resistance to high-stakes testing. For more details on the scope and impact of the growing national movement, check out the March issue of FairTest's Examiner newsletter at

Cultivating ideas for John Coltrane's old Strawberry Mansion house
VALERIE RUSS, Daily News Staff Writer, 215-854-5987
POSTED: Friday, March 15, 2013, 6:29 AM
NORMAN GADSON bought John Coltrane's old house in Strawberry Mansion from a Coltrane cousin, jazz saxophonist Mary "Cousin Mary" Alexander, in 2004. Not long after, he'd call up musicians in the city and ask them to come over to jam in 'Trane's house.
Lenora Early, Gadson's widow, said her husband, a fervent jazz fan, intended to fix up the house and open it as a jazz venue.  "He just loved jazz," Early said of Gadson. But he died in 2007, before he could restore the house, on 33rd Street near Oxford.  Now Early, founder and board member of the John Coltrane House, is pursuing her husband's vision by renovating the house where Coltrane lived from 1952 to 1958, before moving to New York.  On Thursday, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia gathered scholars and other experts to discuss suggestions for the future of the house for a report they plan to provide to Early.
Among the considerations: Should there be live jazz performances there? What about musical instruction for young people in the adjacent house?

How to Join the Network for Public Education
Diane Ravitch’s Blog By dianerav March 13, 2013 
Several readers have contacted me asking how they can join the Network for Public Education.
Some read about it but don’t know how to find the website.
Here it is:

Teachers Lead Philly Spring Dinner/Workshop
Thu, Mar 21, 2013 ~ 5pm-7pm Franklin 1075 @ SDP/440 N. Broad Street
Register HERE!

Children with Specific Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia and Calls for Reforming Special Education
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia March 19, 2013, 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Session will take place from 12:00-4:00pm on the listed day at the United Way Building, located at 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19103.
Sessions also available via webinar.
Cost: Pay What You Can! (Minimum payment of $5 Requested)
This session is designed to address the legal aspects surrounding the needs of children with dyslexia, and other learning disabilities (ADHD, non-verbal learning disabilities). An expert in dyslexia will join Sonja Kerr to explain dyslexia/learning disabilities, the research and what we can do about it.

PSBA opens nominations for the Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award
PSBA website 3/15/2013
The nomination process is now open and applications will be accepted until June 21, 2013.
In 2011, 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 PSBAs Legislative Platform. The nomination process is now open and applications will be accepted until June 21, 2013. The award will be presented during the PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference in October.

Honoring Valor: National History Day Student Competition
Letters of intent due by April 1, 2013
The Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Army Heritage Center Foundation, and the Pennsylvania State Museum are pleased to announce a competition for students in Middle and
High School to demonstrate how and why societies honor valor. Inspired by the valor exemplified by Soldiers at Gettysburg in 1863, citizens on September 11, 2001, and the responses of individuals battling disease or injustice, the competition will recognize students who demonstrate
excellence in identifying and describing how and why societies honor their valiant men and women.

PSBA officer applications due April 30
PSBA’s website 2/15/2013
Candidates seeking election to PSBA officer posts in 2014 must file an expression of interest for the office desired to be interviewed by the PSBA Leadership Development Committee.
This new committee replaces the former Nominations Committee. Deadline for filing is April 30. The application shall be marked received at PSBA headquarters or mailed first class and postmarked by the deadline to be considered timely filed. Expression of interest forms can be found online at

Edcamp Philly 2013 at UPENN May 18th, 2013
For those of you who have never gone to an Edcamp before, please make a note of the unusual part of the morning where we will build the schedule. Edcamp doesn’t believe in paying fancy people to come and talk at you about teaching! At an Edcamp, the people attending – the participants - facilitate sessions on teaching and learning! So Edcamp won’t succeed without a whole bunch of you wanting to run a session of some kind! What kinds of sessions might you run?
What: Edcamp Philly is an"unconference" devoted to K-12 Education issues and ideas.
Where: University of Pennsylvania  When: May 18, 2013  Cost: FREE!
2013 PSBA Leadership Symposium on Advocacy and Issues
April 6, 2013 The Penn Stater Convention Center Hotel; State College, PA
Strategic leadership, school budgeting and advocacy are key issues facing today's school district leaders. For your school district to truly thrive, leaders must maintain a solid understanding of these three functions. Attend the 2013 PSBA Leadership Symposium on Advocacy and Issues to ensure you have the skills you need to take your district to the next level.

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