Sunday, December 22, 2013

PA Ed Policy Roundup for December 22, 2013: Keep Following the Money: Financial Accountability and Governance of PA Cyber Charter Schools

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Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for December 22, 2013:
Keep Following the Money: Financial Accountability and Governance of PA Cyber Charter Schools

SB1085: On Monday December 23rd 10-11 am, WHYY’s Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane will be featuring a conversation on SB1085, the charter school reform bill.  Scheduled guests are school choice advocate State Senator Anthony Williams and school board member/public education advocate Lawrence Feinberg.  Radio Times welcomes your phone calls during the morning live broadcast. Call 1-888-477-WHYY (1-888-477-9499)

EPLC Education Notebook Friday, December 20, 2013
Education Policy and Leadership Center

“Make no mistake, Senate Bill 1085 is being hotly debated for a reason. It would radically alter the playing field, requiring more scrutiny on the state’s 176 brick and mortar charter schools, and 15 cyber charters, while also possibly opening the floodgates to new charters.”
SB1085: Delco Times Editorial: Tread carefully with charter school reform
POSTED: 12/21/13, 11:34 PM EST | UPDATED: 31 SECS AGO
There’s a certain irony that while Edward Grisillo was collecting honors recently as the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year in Harrisburg, not far away the state Senate was debating the merits of a controversial overhaul of charter schools in the state.
Grisillo represents all that is right with public education. He is a longtime elementary school teacher in the Rose Tree Media School District, mentoring students in the Academically Gifted Program at Glenwood and Media elementary schools. We salute him for his accomplishments and second the voters who awarded him this honor.
On the other end of the spectrum are charter schools, for the most part reviled by the mainstream public education system as a drain on valuable assets, while being lauded by others for offering parents an alternative to public schools — very often in downtrodden neighborhoods — that too often fail their children.

“According to officials, research shows that 74 percent of students who fail to read proficiently by the end of third grade struggle in later grades and often drop out of high school. In Philadelphia only 6 percent of public elementary schools have at least 75 percent of their third-graders proficient in reading.”
Philly joins national effort to boost youth literacy
WITH MORE than half of its third-graders behind in reading skills, Philadelphia has signed on to take part in a national campaign to boost literacy in the early grades.
Mayor Nutter and Superintendent William Hite made the announcement yesterday, joining 140 other cities and communities around the country that participate in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The campaign's goal is to double the number of students reading at grade level by the end of third grade - a key indicator of future success - by 2020.
Thanks to an $87,000 grant from the Barra Foundation, the organization Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) and the Urban Affairs Coalition will spend the next six months working with several agencies and community groups to form an action plan to address the issue. They said some of the barriers to students reading at grade level are absenteeism and summer "brain drain."

Local campaign launched to have all students reading proficiently by 3rd grade
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 20 2013 Posted in Latest news
A newly formed coalition in Philadelphia is joining the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, an effort to make sure that as of the year 2020, all city students read on grade level by the end of 3rd grade.   "Reading proficiency by 3rd grade is the most important predictor of middle school and high school success," said Mayor Nutter at a Friday morning press conference that included Superintendent William Hite and Ralph Smith, the national campaign's managing director. Nutter said that low literacy rates contribute to "poverty, crime and loss of life opportunities." He noted that city agencies such as the recreation department and community-based organizations must be part of the effort. 

"There's no evidence state law was followed in establishing the expansion."
Critics: Documents don't prove Chester Community charter expansion legal
KATHY BOCCELLA, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Saturday, December 21, 2013, 2:01 AM POSTED: Friday, December 20, 2013, 5:31 PM
CHESTER The Chester Upland School District on Friday released hundreds of pages of documents it says prove that Chester Community Charter School was authorized to expand up to the eighth grade, but a group of community critics said the paperwork didn't prove anything.
Members of Concerned Citizens for Chester's Children said the documents did not show that the school board held a public hearing, as required, or voted to allow fifth through eighth grades at the charter school, which opened as a K-4 school in 1998.
"We did not sense that our question was answered. Was the state law followed?" said Joan Duvall-Flynn, who chairs the state NAACP's education committee.

Group challenges scope of Chester Community charter school
KATHY BOCCELLA, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER Friday, December 20, 2013, 2:01 AM
CHESTER Over the last 15 years, Chester Community Charter School has grown so rapidly that it educates more students - about 3,000 - than the cash-strapped traditional classrooms in the surrounding Chester Upland School District.  But a group of residents troubled by the charter's rapid growth are questioning whether the privately managed, taxpayer-funded school, which runs from kindergarten through eighth grade, has the legal authority to teach children beyond fourth grade.  The seeds of the dispute emerged in August, when the state auditor general reported that there was no evidence that Chester Community's original charter had been updated since being authorized in 1998 for grades K-4.
The school and the district dispute the assertion. They contend the Chester Upland school board has reviewed and renewed the charter three times since 2001.  But the group, Concerned Citizens for Chester's Children, says it has been pressing local and state officials for proof for months - yet received none.  "If the school has expanded without following state law, how come no one can answer that question?" asked group member Joan Duvall-Flynn, who also chairs the education committee for the Pennsylvania NAACP. "What we want to know is, did CCCS go through the legal process or are children in an unauthorized setting . . . and should taxpayers be continuing to pay for a school setting that is not legally authorized?"

Keep Following the Money: Financial Accountability and Governance of Cyber Charter Schools
By Susan DeJarnatt  Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law
45 Urban Lawyer 915 (Fall 2013)  Abstract:
Cyber charter schools are expanding as a sector of public education. Pennsylvania has the highest number of cyber charters in the country, including several schools that enroll thousands of children from across the state. These large cyber schools, though themselves non-profit entities, are often managed by for-profit management entities, who receive millions in public funds through their management contracts. The financial accountability and governance of the schools have received little attention from regulators or scholars. Although the cyber charter school issues are national in scope, this article focuses on Pennsylvania as an example of how these issues are playing out. In 2011-2012, cyber charters in Pennsylvania enrolled over 33,000 students and received over $400 million in public funds. The founders of two of the five mega-cybers in Pennsylvania have been indicted for fraud by federal authorities.
The article examines the weaknesses of the existing oversight system which relies primarily on disclosure of information to the state Department of Education and other governmental agencies, all of which lack adequate resources to respond effectively to the disclosures. My focus is on how the schools fit into the larger debate over governance of nonprofits, not to evaluate the educational value of this form. Charter schools, including cyber charters, share the same challenges of overreliance on disclosure instead of enforcement of rules, insufficient education and training of board members, and a lack of transparency as other non-profits. The article reviews the issues raised by the available documents which raise questions about the frequent use of for-profit management entities, expenditures for advertising, and the concerns about conflicts of interest raised in some cases. The article proposes increased funding for oversight, revision of the funding formula to reflect the lower costs of cyber education, and greater transparency by the schools.

Pennsylvania Department of Education School Performance Profiles
Based on a scale of 100, the average SPP score for traditional public schools was 77.1, brick and mortar charter schools was 66.4 and cyber charters was 46.8.
Here are the SPP scores for Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools:
21st Century Cyber CS                                     66.5
Achievement House CS                                   39.7
ACT Academy Cyber CS                                  30.6
Agora Cyber CS                                               48.3
ASPIRA Bilingual CS                                       29.0
Central PA Digital Lrng Foundation CS           31.7
Commonwealth Connections Academy CS     54.6
Education Plus Academy Cyber CS                 59.0
Esperanza Cyber CS                                        32.7
Pennsylvania Cyber CS                                   59.4
Pennsylvania Distance Learning CS                54.7
Pennsylvania Leadership CS                           64.7
Pennsylvania Virtual CS                                  67.9
Solomon Charter School Inc.                          36.9
Susq-Cyber CS                                                46.4

Special report: York County school districts combat cyber schools with own online options
York Dispatch By NIKELLE SNADER UPDATED:   12/19/2013 11:13:09 AM EST
School districts across York County are combating fund-draining cyber charter schools with online programs of their own, a move that allows schools to keep money inside the district.
In York County, 11 school districts have an in-house cyber school program, with another to start in January. School officials say the programs allow the districts to make sure students have proper accountability and say the students' diplomas carry the same weight no matter the medium of learning.  It's also an effort to keep taxpayer dollars in the district, as thousands of dollars per child leave when a student is enrolled in a cyber school. School officials say their own programs can decrease their expenses to about half of what it costs to pay cyber school tuition, because they can operate the programs efficiently while keeping pension and salary costs inside the district.

Special report: Pa. cybers still falling short of York County schools on state standards
York Dispatch By NIKELLE SNADER UPDATED:   12/19/2013 07:29:46 AM EST
School performance reports might be on a new website and in a different format, but Pennsylvania cyber schools still fall short of the standards set by their public school counterparts in York County.  In the past, public schools and cyber schools received proficiency scores based primarily on results from PSSA testing. This fall, the Pennsylvania Department of Education rated each school building on a scale from 0 to 100 based on multiple factors, including Keystone Exams, PSSA tests, graduation rates and other factors. The scores are listed on a new website created by the department.  The Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School scored 67.9, the highest among cyber schools enrolling York County students. Other cyber schools scored between 35 and 60.  Of the 102 York County public schools, 92 scored a 70 or higher. State officials say a score of 70 or higher is satisfactory; high school and middle school results were just finalized last week.

LIU offers another York County option for cyber education
York Dispatch By NIKELLE SNADER UPDATED:   12/19/2013 11:14:24 AM EST
School districts that want to save costs but don't have an in-house cyber school program of their own can cooperate with the Lincoln Intermediate Unit, a regional educational service to the public school districts.  Alan Moose, a site manager at the intermediate unit, said the organization works with about half the school districts in York County to provide cyber options that retain district oversight for funding.

York County student: Cyber option allows schooling minus the drama
York Dispatch By NIKELLE SNADER UPDATED:   12/19/2013 11:13:26 AM EST
Kelsi Rohrbaugh works best independently.
She's efficient working at her own pace and was not interested in the drama she found as a ninth-grader last year at Northeastern High School.
So instead she enrolled in Northeastern's in-house cyber school program.

Grading Pa. lawmakers and Philly City Council
Education advocates have released a report card on the performance of Philadelphia City Council and the Pennsylvania General Assembly. In this budgetary climate, there's no such thing as an "easy" A.  They're the kind of report cards kids might hide in the bottom of their lockers.

Groups Release Report Card On Philly School Funding By Queen Muse |  Thursday, Dec 19, 2013  |  Updated 7:18 PM EST
Education advocates held a news conference today to jointly release a report card that grades funding for Philadelphia public schools. The advocate groups rated the performance of Philadelphia City Council and the Pennsvlvania General Assembly on how the Philadelphia School District is funded.  City Council received a C- and the General Assembly received a D.

East Penn teacher receives prestigious Presidential Award
The award, announced by President Obama, is the highest honor for science, math teachers.
By Patrick Lester, Of The Morning Call 7:20 p.m. EST, December 20, 2013
Susan Bauer, a science teacher in the East Penn School District, has received the nation's highest honor for math and science teachers.  Bauer has been named a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence and Science Teaching, the White House announced Friday.
Bauer, who lives in Macungie and teaches at Eyer Middle School, was one of 102 teachers in the country to receive the honor, which is awarded annually to outstanding science and math teachers. She was one of only two Pennsylvania teachers to receive the honor.
East Penn schools Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger said he was "delighted" for Bauer.
Subtract Teachers, Add Pupils: Math of Today’s Jammed Schools
New York Times By MOTOKO RICH Published: December 21, 2013
…..“We can’t have the doublespeak where everybody talks about how important education is to our being globally competitive,” said Daniel A. Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, “and then education is not a priority when it comes to funding.”  In Pennsylvania, although the state’s education budget is now above prerecession levels, a large proportion of money is being diverted to replenish underfunded pensions, leaving less for actual classrooms, said Michael Wood, research director at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.  The cutbacks have been particularly pronounced in less affluent school districts, which have trouble raising local property taxes or asking parents’ associations to fill in gaps.
Wealthier communities can lean mo

The state budget line for Special Education funding in Pennsylvania has been flat for 6 years running.  However, mandated services provided by schools between 08-09 and 11-12 increased by $453 million.
Guest column: While special education needs grow, state's funding doesn't
By MIKE STURLA,JIM ROEBUCK and MARK LONGIETTI Times Guest Columnists POSTED: 12/20/13, 9:44 PM EST |
Nearly 270,000 Pennsylvania children -- one out of every 6.5 students – receive special education services in our public schools. While the number has steadily grown over the years, funding for special education has been stagnant since 2009. Many school districts around the state struggle to deliver the services that they’re mandated by law to provide.
The shortfall is partly due to an antiquated state funding formula, which assumes that a blanket 16 percent of students – the statewide average -- require special education programs regardless of the actual number. In reality the percentage of special education students served in school districts across the state ranges from 8 percent to 26 percent.
Recently, the Special Education Funding Commission, established under Act 3 of 2013 and consisting of lawmakers and officials from the governor’s administration, released a report with recommendations to address the chronic underfunding of special education, including instituting a new formula to distribute funds.

“Mr. de Blasio needs state leaders’ approval for his plan to raise the city’s tax rate to 4.41 percent, from 3.87 percent, on income over $500,000, a difference of about $530 for every $100,000 above that threshold. “
Formal Beginning to de Blasio’s Plan to Expand, and Pay for, NYC Prekindergarten
New York Times By AL BAKER Published: December 19, 2013
Trying to harness the widespread electoral and celebrity support that delivered him to City Hall, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio on Thursday unveiled his newest campaign, to win a tax on high-earning New Yorkers to vastly improve the city’s prekindergarten and after-school programs.
The effort, which Mr. de Blasio discussed at a news conference at a Brooklyn educational center, includes a team of loyalists with national and international bona fides, and a bit of panache, who, he said, would marshal public support.

2014 PA Gubernatorial Candidate Plans for Education and Arts/Culture in PA
Education Policy and Leadership Center
Below is an alphabetical list of the 2014 Gubernatorial Candidates and links to information about their plans, if elected, for education and arts/culture in Pennsylvania. This list will be updated, as more information becomes available.

The DCIU Google Symposium is an opportunity for teachers, administrators, technology directors, and other school stakeholders to come together and explore the power of Google Apps for Education.  The Symposium will be held at the Delaware County Intermediate Unit.  The Delaware County Intermediate Unit is one of Pennsylvania’s 29 regional educational agencies.  The day will consist of an opening keynote conducted by Rich Kiker followed by 4 concurrent sessions. 

NPE National Conference 2014

The Network for Public Education November 24, 2013
The Network for Public Education is pleased to announce our first National Conference. The event will take place on March 1 & 2, 2014 (the weekend prior to the world-famous South by Southwest Festival) at The University of Texas at Austin.  At the NPE National Conference 2014, there will be panel discussions, workshops, and a keynote address by Diane Ravitch. NPE Board members – including Anthony Cody, Leonie Haimson, and Julian Vasquez Heilig – will lead discussions along with some of the important voices of our movement.
In the coming weeks, we will release more details. In the meantime, make your travel plans and click this link and submit your email address to receive updates about the NPE National Conference 2014.

The National School Boards Association 74th Annual Conference & Exposition April 5-7, 2014 New Orleans
The National School Boards Association 74th Annual Conference & Exposition will be held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, LA.  Our first time back in New Orleans since the spring of 2002!
General Session speakers include education advocates Thomas L. Friedman, Sir Ken Robinson, as well as education innovators Nikhil Goyal and Angela Maiers.
We have more than 200 sessions planned! Colleagues from across the country will present workshops on key topics with strategies and ideas to help your district. View our Conference Brochure for highlights on sessions and focus presentations.
·                             Register now! – Register for both the conference and housing using our online system.
·                            Conference Information– Visit the NSBA conference website for up-to-date information
·                             Hotel List and Map - Official NSBA Housing Block
·                             Exposition Campus – View new products and services and interactive trade show floor
Questions? Contact NSBA at 800-950-6722 (NSBA) between the hours of 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. EST

Join the National School Boards Action Center Friends of Public Education
Participate in a voluntary network to urge your U.S. Representatives and Senators to support federal legislation on Capitol Hill that is critical to providing high quality education to America’s schoolchildren

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