Friday, February 21, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup for February 21, 2014: US high school graduation rate at an all-time high

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3100 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, 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 February 21, 2014:
US high school graduation rate at an all-time high

US high school graduation rate at an all-time high
NSBA’s Edifier by Jim Hull February 20, 2014
Secretary Duncan proudly wore number 80 on his jersey at the NBA celebrity All-Star game this past weekend— as well he should’ve. It just so happens the number 80 represents one of the best kept secrets in education: our national on-time graduation rate.
This may come as a shock to many as popular perception tends to be the myth that our public schools are flatlining. But the facts show otherwise, as recent data released by the National Center for Education Statistics show our national on-time graduation rate for our public high schools now stands at 80 percent— an all-time high.  It’s quite an accomplishment considering the rate hovered around 71 percent for much of the 1990s.

Corbett campaign launches its first TV ad of 2014: Thursday Morning Coffee
By John L. Micek |  on February 20, 2014 at 7:49 AM
Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
This year's crop of Democratic gubernatorial candidates are all over the airwaves, so you may be asking yourself, "Hey, when is Gov. Tom Corbett going to get into the air wars?"
Wonder no longer.  The Republican's re-election campaign launched a new 60-second spot that began airing statewide on cable and broadcast outlets on Wednesday. It stresses his efforts to save money to be fiscally conservative.

Pa. Democrats roll out website bashing Corbett's budget, education cuts
By Jeff Frantz |  on February 20, 2014 at 12:20 PM
Did Gen. George Meade miss a chance to end the Civil War by not attacking the Confederate army after Gettysburg?  Did German belligerence start World War I, or was the conflict spurred on by aggression and arrogance on the parts of all of Europe's great powers?
Did Han shoot first?*  Did Gov. Tom Corbett really cut $1 billion from education funding in his first budget, or did he simply build the first budget after Pennsylvania's share of federal stimulus money ran out?  These, Pennsylvania, are the great debates that we will hear argued into eternity. And if you need talking points for that last one -- or the size of the Commonwealth's deficient, or its economic performance -- the state's Democrats have a nifty new website for you.

Pa. education secretary Carolyn Dumaresq addresses concerns over pensions, snow days
Lancaster Online By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer February 20, 2014 6:00 am
Of all the challenges facing public schools in Pennsylvania, pension reform is the one that keeps Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq up at night.  “If we do not get pension reform, I won’t have four districts that are in financial distress — I’ll have all but maybe 10” of the state's 500, she said at a Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry forum held at the Eden Resort on Thursday morning.  In his 2014-15, Gov. Tom Corbett proposed$12.01 billion for early, basic and post-secondary education. The $387 million, or 3.3 percent, increase over last year would bepartially funded by delayed pension payments.  The secretary visited Lancaster County to discuss ways for education institutions and the business community to work together.

“The fact remains that Pennsylvania is falling further behind in providing an appropriate share of public education funding,” the lawmakers wrote. “The key reason for this is that we are not dedicating enough state revenue to the K-12 educational services and we are not abiding by a formula that allocates funds based on an objective manner.”
Reps. seek fairness in ed funding
By John Kopp, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 02/19/14, 10:21 PM EST |
State Reps. Nicholas Micozzie and Dwight Evans have joined together to advocate for a fair education funding formula to be adopted alongside the state budget.  Micozzie, R-163, of Upper Darby, and Evans, D-203, of Philadelphia, distributed a letter last week urging their respective parties to jointly revamp the state’s education funding system.  “The fact remains that Pennsylvania is falling further behind in providing an appropriate share of public education funding,” the lawmakers wrote. “The key reason for this is that we are not dedicating enough state revenue to the K-12 educational services and we are not abiding by a formula that allocates funds based on an objective manner.”

West Chester leaves school tax options open
By Jeremy Gerrard, Daily Local News POSTED: 02/19/14, 7:43 PM EST |
WEST GOSHEN – The West Chester Area School Board fulfilled its obligation to adopt a preliminary budget for the 2014-2015 school year but more work is needed to address a multi-million dollar gap that could mean higher costs to residents.  The board adopted the preliminary budget by a vote of 6-3 at a special meeting Tuesday night. Board members Vince Murphy, Linda Raileanu and Maureen Snook were the dissenting votes.  A budget totaling $224.1 million was proposed, representing a 7.5 percent increase in expenses from the previous year. The increase in spending leaves the district with a $14.9 million budget gap for the coming school year
According to district officials, spending increases are primarily because of mandated expenses that the district can’t control. Those include the state pension program known as PSERS, special education, debt service and charter school funding.

Spring-Ford approves $137.4M preliminary budget
By Frank Otto, The Mercury POSTED: 02/19/14, 6:02 PM EST |
LIMERICK — The Spring-Ford Area School Board set the jumping-off point for its 2014-15 budget discussions Tuesday by unanimously approving a preliminary $137,443,689 operating budget.
It carries a $4,891,331 funding shortfall from the district’s projected revenue.  When the budget was originally put forth last month, Spring-Ford Business Manager Tim Anspach characterized it as “very preliminary”  “There’ll be many, many changes through the finance committee team working through the process until the final budget in June,” Anspach told the board at the Jan. 27 meeting.  In another unanimous vote, the board approved filing with the Pennsylvania Department of Education for Act 1 exceptions for special education and Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS) contributions.

Greencastle leaders discuss growth, economic future
GREENCASTLE >> The ability of the Greencastle area to attract industrial and commercial industries is a big factor in the financial future of Greencastle-Antrim school district.  But more local business could mean even more enrollment growth for the already packed school district.
How all this works together made up the discussion among G-A school board, Antrim Township Supervisors, Greencastle Borough Council and Franklin County Commissioners during their annual meeting on Wednesday.  G-A Superintendent Greg Hoover presented some fast facts about his district's educational and financial status (numbers come from Pennsylvania Department of Education for the 2011-12 school year, the most recent data available):

School director will challenge Metcalfe
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  By Rick Wills Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 11:21 p.m.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Cranberry Republican, will have a challenger in a primary election for the first time in six years.  Gordon Marburger, a school bus driver, farmer and Mars Area school board member, said Metcalfe focuses on issues such as immigration and gay rights that have little to do with his district, which includes most of southern Butler County.
‘The chamber's president and chief executive, Rob Wonderling, said the business group has supported the mayor's education-related lobbying efforts for more than three years, and is reaching out to chambers of commerce around the state to garner support for what he called a "modern" school-funding system.  "Not one city, not one mayor, not one chamber is going to be able to get it done in Pennsylvania," Wonderling said.
Nutter to business group: Make school funding your business
By Claudia Vargas, Inquirer Staff Writer POSTED: February 19, 2014
PHILADELPHIA Education funding should be the Philadelphia business community's main priority if it wants to have a competitive workforce in the next decade, Mayor Nutter told the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday during his annual address.
Nutter used a quarter of his time to argue for state school funding.
"Quality education remains the greatest challenge Philadelphia faces in the 21st century," he said.  Nutter called for a state funding formula based on the number of students in each district and their needs, such as learning disabilities and poverty.

Philly school-funding request faces tough road
IN THE PAST, many politicians have justified their reluctance to throw money at city schools by saying that the School District of Philadelphia didn't have defined goals for educational reform and that it spent money wastefully.  By most accounts, Superintendent William Hite has helped change that image by cutting administrative costs, closing schools and, this week, issuing a bold plan for the district - with a bold price tag.  So are the politicians ready to pony up?
Apparently not yet.

School District of Philadelphia’s Action Plan 2.0 and the accompanying Financial Supplement.
The District’s Action Plan webpage is
A pdf of the Action Plan 2.0 is available at
A pdf of the Financial Supplement is at  

“But for many at the SRC meeting, the most important thing was sending Chairman Green a message: They're wary of his plans for the district, they will be watching him closely, and they will push hard against him if the situation warrants it.”
Green's first SRC meeting: High drama, big plans
Dozens of cameras clicked as Bill Green walked into the room to begin his first School Reform Commission meeting. More than 100 people rose to their feet.  First, a low rumble of boos. Next, shouts.  "Whose city? Whose schools?" one person yelled.  "Our city! Our schools!" came the loud answer.  Philadelphia School District officials said Thursday night that they had an unexpected $14.2 million shortfall for this school year, and would ask for $320 million in new money for next year. And Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said he wants to open three new high schools in the fall.

The new chairman of the SRC Opinion by PATRICK KERKSTRA POSTED: Friday, February 21, 2014, 1:08 AM
Newly sworn-in School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green is getting tired of being placed on the psychiatrist's couch.  Even before Gov. Corbett announced Green was his pick, columnists, activists, pols, and educators have been diagnosing the potential ills of a Green-led SRC.There's been talk not just of his policy preferences, but of his temperament and style, his ambition and motivations. The worry is that Green is too divisive, too pushy, too ostentatiously superior to balm the grievous wounds of the School District of Philadelphia.
If he is to succeed, conventional wisdom holds, Green will have to change. A lot.
Well, good luck with that.

Philadelphia’s new School Reform Commission Chairman — Bill Green
WHYY Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane February 20, 2014 (audio runtime 52:02)
Former City Councilman Bill Green has a big job ahead of him as he assumes the chairmanship of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission. The District is dealing with a serious budget and funding crisis, a teacher’s union that is slow to negotiate a new contract, and most importantly, the challenge of getting students on track to achieve (currently 45 percent of the district’s children are reading below grade level). In this hour of Radio Times, Marty talks to former City Councilman Bill Green about his vision for education and how he can fix what many consider to be a broken system.

BTW, the Walton Family Foundation reports that it invested a total of $1,876,666 in the Philadelphia School Partnership during 2013.
PSP used lobbying firm to promote Green as SRC chair
thenotebook by Bill Hangley Jr. on Feb 20 2014 Posted in Latest news
As Bill Green takes the helm of the School Reform Commission, new details have emerged about the process that brought him to the job.  Officials at the Philadelphia School Partnership say that their hired consultants from one of the state's most influential lobbying firms, Wojdak & Associates, actively urged legislators in Harrisburg to support Green as SRC chair during the run-up to his approval by the state Senate.

“David Lapp, staff attorney at the Education Law Center, challenges the notion that MaST should be able to expand.  He says charters wishing to grow should first prove that they are serving populations on par with average district-run schools.  "Too often the metrics we use to determine what is a 'quality' or 'failing' school are merely proxies for the kinds of students those schools serve," said Lapp. "[MaST] does not serve anywhere close to the numbers of traditionally vulnerable student populations that the average school district school serves."
Parents hoping their children will one day walk MaST's beautifully designed halls tend to care less about the city-wide, societal questions that Lapp raises than about this basic issue: Is my kid going to be able to attend a safe, good school.”
Students aching for a spot in top Philly charters sweat out lottery season
Anastasia Ratkova draped an anxious arm around her 14-year-old daughter.  That arm was wrapped in a blood-pressure monitor.  It was the night of the MaST charter school enrollment lottery, and people were anxious. Really anxious.  Mother and daughter sat on folding chairs in MaST's auditorium on Tuesday, listening as the school administrators randomly pulled 96 of the more than 5,000 names of students who'd applied for admission to the popular and successful charter school in the Somerton section of Philadelphia.

School funding suits focus on new state accountability standards
NSBA Legal Clips February 20,2014
USA Today reports that litigation is currently pending against 11 states over inadequate or inequitable school funding.  School finance suits are not new, but the plaintiffs’ arguments are changing.  Higher state standards lie at the heart of the arguments in many of the recent cases.
“The states have promulgated content standards, assessment systems—they’ve promulgated lots of accountability,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which advocates on behalf of students in New Jersey and is viewed nationally as a leader in school funding lawsuits.  ”But what the states haven’t done is determine the cost of delivering standards-based education to all kids.”
Teachers and schools are increasingly being held accountable for student achievement.  As a result, Sciarra and others argue it costs more to educate children to the higher standards, and that states need to figure out how much more.  The extra money might be used, for example, to shrink class sizes, provide preschool for low-income students, or to beef up instruction for students with special needs, such as those learning English or those with disabilities.
Some of the lawsuits specifically argue that states are not spending enough to educate students with special needs, who are being asked to meet the tougher standards along with their classmates.

States Sued Over Education Funding
Huffington Post by  Adrienne Lu Posted: 02/18/2014 10:50 am EST
This piece comes to us courtesy of Stateline, where it was originally published.
Any week now, the Kansas Supreme Court will rule on a lawsuit filed by parents and school districts alleging that school spending cuts violate the state’s constitution, which promises “suitable” funding for public education.  In New York last week, an education advocacy group filed suit claiming the state is nearly $4 billion short of fulfilling its school spending obligation under a 2006 court ruling. And in Texas, lawyers earlier this month wrapped up closing arguments in a similar lawsuit.  Across the country, litigation is pending against 11 states over inadequate or inequitable school funding. That is nothing new: Over the years, all but five states have been the subjects of such lawsuits. The change is that in many of the recent cases, higher state standards lie at the heart of the arguments.

“But public education isn't just a market, and our children are more than line items on a balance sheet. That’s why education policymaking shouldn’t be driven by people who have a vested interest—and a fiduciary obligation—to see them that way.”
Closing the Department of Education’s revolving door
The Hill By Sabrina Joy Stevens January 17, 2014, 12:00 pm
One of Education Secretary Arne Duncan's favorite talking points is that "the best ideas in education won't come from Washington." But if his policy agenda is any indication, he may think the best ideas come from for-profit companies, and the front groups they control. 
No matter who has them, the “best ideas” take time, energy and resources to become reality. And in a growing number of public school communities, increasing amounts of all three are being spent preparing for and taking mind-numbing tests, struggling to keep professional teachers in classrooms, and fighting to protect our schools from hostile takeovers and closure. Even as they cut the people who make it possible for kids to learn (and even just to remain safe on school grounds), districts continue to spend money on pre-packaged curricula and tests, testing-related tech products, and an expanding array of for-profit education services, all in an effort to win a so-called “race to the top.”  Could that be a result of the revolving door between many of the corporations selling those products and services and the federal education officials involved with many of the department's high-profile initiatives?
States Struggle to Hash Out Funding Formulas for Virtual Charter Schools
Education Week Charters and Choice Blog By Katie Ash on February 19, 2014 3:44 PM
Several issues complicate the creation of funding formulas for virtual charter schools, such as the lack of a designated enrollment area for the schools, says a new primer on the subject published by the Education Commission on the States.  Virtual charter schools, which operate in about 30 states (although 34 states have laws allowing them), may enroll nearly limitless student populations because many of them do not have defined enrollment boundaries, and they are not restricted by the limitations of physical buildings, the report says. A graphic from the report shows the percentage of students currently in virtual charter schools:

China’s Determination to End School Choice and Testing: New Development
Yong Zhao’s blog 19 FEBRUARY 2014 942 3 COMMENTS
(from my new book: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China Has the World’s Best and Worst Education to be published by Jossey-Bass)
For those who admire the Chinese education system, here is another cautionary tale.  The Chinese government has (re)issued another round of orders to end two practices that have delivered China’s great test scores: school choice and testing.
In January 2014, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a stern policy demanding all middle schools (grades 6 to 8 ) admitting students solely based on residence in an attempt to end school choice and the use of any form of exams for students advancing from primary school to middle school[1].  “Exams cannot be used by local educational administration, government schools, or private schools to select students,” stated the policy document. “Government schools cannot use any certificates of contest prizes or qualifications as basis for determining students’ eligibility for admissions.” For schools with more applicants than space, a computerized lottery is to be used.

Anti-testing groups form alliance to bring sanity to education policy
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog BY VALERIE STRAUSS February 21 at 6:00 am
With resistance to standardized test-obsessed school reform growing around the country, three dozen local, state and national organizations and individuals have now banded together in an alliance to expand efforts to bring sanity to education policy.
The alliance, which is called Testing Resistance and Reform Spring, will support a range of public education and mobilizing tactics — including boycotts, opt-out campaigns, rallies and legislation — in its effort to stop the high-stakes use of standardized tests, to reduce the number of standardized exams, and to replace multiple-choice tests with performance-based assessments and school work. The alliance will help activists in different parts of the country connect through a new Web site that offers resources for activists, including fact sheets and guides on how to hold events to get out their message.

Who Are America’s Highest Paid Government Workers?
Diane Ravitch’s Blog By dianeravitch February 20, 2014
According to Education Week, the Center for Media and Democracy and Education has released a report on America’s highest paid government workers, and they are not whom you would think of.  In education, it is Ron Packard, who until recently was CEO of K12 Inc., which manages virtual charter schools. Packard, formerly of McKinsey, was paid handsomely. The company insists its schools are public schools,” as it sucks tuition dollars away from community public schools:  “The center says Packard earned more than $19 million in compensation between 2009 and 2013, and notes that that compensation rolled in as K12 achieved a lackluster academic showing in various states. As a company, the report says that K12 took in $848 million in 2013, with $731 million derived from its “managed public schools” operations.”

Workshop: For the Love of Schools: Be a Public Education Advocate  
Join us in Philly at Arch St. United Methodist Thursday, Feb 27, 6-8 pm OR Saturday March 1, 10 am - 2 pm in the chapel of the church.
Public Citizens for Children and Youth and Education Voters PA is  offering two  duplicate workshops designed to support parents, community members, and advocates in their efforts to improve public education.  The workshop will provide leaders with information on the state of public education  funding in our region and what they can do to get involved.  Participants will learn advocacy best practices and develop individualized action plans.
Participants should enter through the door on Broad St.
This event is free and open to the public.. Childcare and light refreshments will be provided. 

Senate Ed Committee Chairman Folmer Holding Town Hall Meetings on Education
Senator Folmer’s Facebook Page February 10, 2014
Parents, I want to hear your thoughts on education! Join me for a parent town hall meeting Tuesday, February, 19, at 6:30 p.m. in Room 203 of the Neidig Garber Building, on the campus of Lebanon Valley College.
A similar meeting is planned for Monday, February 24, at 6:30 p.m. in the Quiet Study Room of Penn State Harrisburg’s Capitol Union Building.
Seating is limited - please RSVP to (717) 787-1347 or

Register Now! EPLC’s Education Policy Forums on Governor Corbett’s 2014-2015 State Budget Proposal for Education
The next EPLC education policy forums will be held on the following days and in the following locations.  These forums will take place shortly after Governor Corbett’s February 4th presentation of his proposed 2014-15 state budget and will focus on his plans for education.
Monday, February 24, 2014 – Philadelphia, PA
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 – State College, PA
Thursday, February 27, 2014Harrisburg, PA
Space is limited for each event and an RSVP is required. Anyone wishing to receive an invitation should inquire by contacting The Education Policy and Leadership Center at or 717-260-9900.

Register Now! EPLC’s 2014 Education Issues Workshops for Legislative Candidates, Campaign Staff, and Interested Voters
EPLC’s Education Issue Workshops Register Now! – Space is Limited!
A Non-Partisan One-Day Program for Pennsylvania Legislative Candidates, Campaign Staff and Interested Voters
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 in Harrisburg, PA
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 in Monroeville, PA
Thursday, March 27, 2014 in Philadelphia,PA

Auditor General DePasquale to Hold Public Meetings on Ways to Improve Charter Schools
Seeks to find ways to improve accountability, effectiveness, transparency
The public meetings will be held:
  • Allegheny County: 1 to 3 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 25, Commissioners Hearing Room, Ross Township Municipal Center, 1000 Ross Municipal Rd., Pittsburgh
  • Northampton County: 1 to 3 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 27, City Council Chambers, 6th Floor, City Hall, One South Third St., Easton
  • Cambria County: 1 to 3 p.m., Thursday, March 6, Commissioners Meeting Room, Cambria County Court House, 200 South Center St., Ebensburg
  • Bucks County: 1 to 3 p.m., Friday, March 7, Township of Falls Administrative Building, Suite 100, 188 Lincoln Highway, Fairless Hills
  • NEW: Philadelphia: 1 to 3 p.m., Friday, March 14, City Council Chambers, Room 400, City Hall
Time is limited to two hours for each meeting. Comments can be submitted in writing by Wednesday, Feb. 19, via email to Susan Woods at:

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.

Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia February Seminars
Dear Parents and Advocates:
This month we are offering TWO great special education seminars. 
Learn about special education provisions in charter schools, 
including how one's rights differ from school to school. 
Tuesday, February 11, 2013 12:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Audience members will learn about the legal needs of children with dyslexia, and other learning disabilities, and hear from expert presenters on the latest research and trends. 
Tuesday, February 25, 2013 12:00 - 4:00 p.m. - Full Session 
6:00 - 8:00 p.m. - Abbreviated Session 

NPE National Conference 2014

The Network for Public Education
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.

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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