Wednesday, February 26, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup for February 26, 2014: Letting colleges and universities authorize charter schools doesn't necessarily mean better results

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Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for February 26, 2014:
Letting colleges and universities authorize charter schools doesn't necessarily mean better results

SB1085: Letting colleges and universities authorize charter schools doesn't necessarily mean better results: Kate Shaw
PennLive Op-Ed  By Kate Shaw on February 25, 2014 at 11:00 AM
Kate Shaw is the executive director of Research for Action, an education reform group based in Philadelphia.
In what has become an almost annual occurrence, Pennsylvania lawmakers are discussing changes to the state’s Charter School Law.  As the sector has grown steadily over the last 17 years to enroll more than 100,000 students statewide, attempts to enact more robust academic and financial oversight have repeatedly fallen short.  With two proposals pending, lawmakers are once again considering a range of policies including charter school funding, enrollment provisions, and renewal and oversight practices.  Reform legislation sponsored by Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, has drawn particular attention because it would substantially reconfigure charter school authorization. 

The schedule for this series of AG public meetings appears towards the bottom of this posting.
Speakers at AG hearing question charter school funding
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 25, 2014 11:11 PM
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale doesn't think the Legislature is moving fast enough to revise Pennsylvania's charter school law to address funding and other issues.  So in Ross Tuesday, Mr. DePasquale began a series of five public meetings with the goal of issuing recommendations and then pushing for them in the Legislature over the summer.
State Sen. James Brewer, D-McKeesport, also participated.  The six speakers at Tuesday's session addressed a wide range of issues, including who should authorize charter schools, how much the schools should be paid and what their impact is on school districts.  Two bills are pending in the Legislature addressing some of the issues, but Mr. DePasquale doesn't think they are comprehensive enough.

Speakers assail state's school funding formula
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review By Megan Harris Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, 2:42 p.m.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale calls the state's education funding formula “immoral.”  Funding disparity between districts — from $4,000 per child in Duquesne School District to $30,000 per child in some Philadelphia suburbs, according to speakers — contributes to the need for quality charter school options, DePasquale said at a public meeting on Tuesday in Ross.  “The unequal funding system we have in Pennsylvania, whether it's charter or traditional public, is literally immoral,” DePasquale said. “There's no debate about that. We have to get better at this.”  The meeting is the first of five statewide scheduled in February and March to discuss charter school effectiveness, accountability and transparency.
"We need to know that [basic education funding] is reliable and sustainable," President Roberta Marcus said before the board voted unanimously to sign a resolution that advocates for funding that is equitable, adequate, comprehensive and consistent.
Parkland School Board to state: Change funding formula
Like other districts, Parkland wants more of a say in how it spends money.
By Meghan Moravcik Walbert, Special to The Morning Call 10:43 p.m. EST, February 25, 2014
The Parkland School Board voted Tuesday to urge state lawmakers to establish a new public schools funding formula that allows more flexibility in how education dollars are spent.
Probing Question: Do cyber charter schools help or hurt the educational system?
Penn State News By Andy Elder February 25, 2014
When charter schools were first created in the early 1990s, they were viewed as alternative learning environments for a small number of students. The ideal model was to unhitch these schools from many of the state laws and district regulations governing traditional public schools, and allow them to tailor the education to families looking for an option outside the conventional system.  Typically, for each student who leaves a public school system to attend a charter school, the school district pays the charter the equivalent of what it cost to educate that learner in their home district.  "In the beginning, because there were so few students, the drain on the host school districts' coffers was hardly a drip," says Alison Carr-Chellman, Penn State professor of education and department head of learning and performance systems. "But with the proliferation of charter schools and even more notably, cyber charter schools, that drip has turned into a significant stream."  "Cyber charter schools are what I think of as the Wild West of today's educational terrain," explains Carr-Chellman, who has given a popular TEDx talk on this topic.

Rolling in dough: Top 100 donors to Pa. gubernatorial candidates
I've often said that everyone who cares about democracy should, at least once, spend an hour paging through the campaign finance report of a well-funded candidate for office in Pennsylvania.
There are no limits to contributions here, and when you see page of lawyers, lobbyists, insurance brokers, unions and others who have $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000 thousand to give to a political candidate, it's kind of like watching ants devouring a grasshopper – awe-inspiring and creepy all at the same time.  The seven Democrats who filed reports for 2013 raised a collective $29.4 million last year, and incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett raised $6.8 million.  My able assistant Joshua Raifman and I spent some time combing over reports of Pennsylvania's gubernatorial candidates  and compiled a list of every contributor who gave $25,000 or more in 2013 (it wasn't easy – more on that soon). We found 118 donors who could afford $25,000 or more.

Tracking political money in Pa. still a chore
The task seemed simple enough: Make a list of donors to Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidates who gave $25,000 or more in 2013.  I posted that information yesterday, but getting it took hours because Pennsylvania is still in the dark ages when it comes to getting legally required campaign finance information online and searchable.  And there's a reason for that.
"Pennsylvania law allows candidates and campaign committees to file either electronically, or on paper," said Ron Ruman, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State.  And if a candidate with hundreds of contributions and expenditures files his report on paper, the department has to send it to a private vendor to hand-enter the data for the state's searchable campaign finance website.  And guess how many gubernatorial candidates chose to file their reports electronically? None of them.

Harper Poll: Wolf at 40%, Schwartz at 14%
PoliticsPA Written by Brittany Foster, Managing Editor February 25, 2014
In the last Harper Poll held in November, former Revenue Secretary and gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf found himself in the back of the pack with 5%. In the latest poll, he leads every other candidate with 40%.  This meteoric rise, no doubt due to his television blitz, has put him paces ahead of his competitors. The early-on frontrunner in the race, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz took just 14% in this poll. State Treasurer Rob McCord got 8%. Former Auditor General Jack Wagner  - who announced his bid last week – got 7%. Former DEP Secretaries John Hanger and Katie McGinty tied at 6%.  19% of those polled remain undecided.

FYI – by comparison, minutes for K12, Inc.’s Agora Cyber Charter school showed that Agora ran over 19,000 local TV commercials using our “free online tuition” tax dollars………
Wolf now leading the pack in Dems' race for governor
York County businessman uses barrage of TV ads to leap ahead of six others.
By Scott Kraus and Steve Esack, Of The Morning Call 9:51 p.m. EST, February 25, 2014
With three months to go until the primary election, Tom Wolf has used more than 1,800 television commercials to emerge as the new Democratic front-runner.  Wolf, a wealthy York County businessman and former state Revenue Department secretary, has gone from last to first in a changing field of seven, according to a Harper Polling survey released Monday. Harper's automated survey of 501 likely voters was conducted over the weekend with a margin of error of 4.83 percentage points.  The surge coincides with a "Fresh Start" TV ad campaign Wolf launched with money from his $13.2 million campaign fund, which is mostly self-funded.  Wolf aired about 1,850 commercials in every media market but Erie between Dec. 30 and Feb. 23, according to TVB Local Media Market Solutions' most recent analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data on the state's televised political ads. That includes around 550 ads in the state's most expensive media market, Philadelphia, which includes the Lehigh Valley, the TVB analysis shows.
The 15 Governorships Most Likely to Flip
National Journal By Steven Shepard and Karyn Bruggeman February 24, 2014
National Journal ranks the gubernatorial seats in the top running for new red or blue paint jobs this year.
1-Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett (R)
Corbett is the most unpopular governor in the country. Education cuts, slow job growth, and Corbett’s handling of the Penn State-Jerry Sandusky scandal are among the issues contributing to his sagging first-term poll numbers. His weak approval ratings have spurred an array of eager Democrats to jump into the race, and Corbett trails even the least well-known of them in the polls. Although the contested primary will sap Democratic resources from the general election, the intra-party battle has been fairly civil so far. Some Democrats are especially excited about the bids of Rep. Allyson Schwartz and former state Environmental Secretary Katie McGinty, which offer voters a historic opportunity to elect the state’s first female governor. Treasurer Rob McCord and self-funding businessman Tom Wolf are also top Democratic contenders.

“I haven’t heard them distinguish themselves as to where they differ from each other. I know they think they can do the job better than me, fine. But what are [they] going to do?”
Corbett added that he has a history of beating the odds in elections and shouldn’t be counted out.  “Keep in mind: Every race I’ve run I wasn’t supposed to win,” he said. “Every race I’ve run, I won.”
Tom Corbett: Don’t count me out
Politico By EMILY SCHULTHEIS | 2/23/14 7:31 PM EST
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said Sunday he’s not concerned about polling in his race for reelection that shows him trailing his Democratic opponents.  “We haven’t gotten our message out,” the Republican told POLITICO in an interview. “We’re starting to get our message out now. … I have a good record to run on: improving the economy of Pennsylvania, keeping the promise of less taxes, more jobs.”  Corbett, in Washington for the National Governors Association meeting over the weekend, is generally viewed as one of the most vulnerable GOP governors up for reelection this year. Polls put Corbett’s approval ratings in the 30s or even the 20s, and he trails most of the Democratic candidates in head-to-head matchups.  Corbett he said his Democratic opponents — eight are battling it out in a primary — haven’t impressed him.

Toomey scores high with Club for Growth
Post-Gazette Early Retyrns Published by Tracie Mauriello Monday, 24 February 2014 4:51 pm.
Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey isn’t perfect but he’s close as far as Club for Growth is concerned.  The conservative Washington think tank gave him a 93 percent rating in its scorecard released this morning. That’s higher than all but seven fellow senators.
His voting record also qualified him to be named a Defender of Economic Freedom, a distinction the club grants to lawmakers whose ratings have never dipped below 90. Mr. Toomey, a former Club for Growth president, also received a score of 93 last year, down from 97 the year before.
The club is no fan of Mr. Toomey’s democratic counterpart, Bob Casey, who scored just 5 percent.   Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, is Pennsylvania’s top score House member. Coming in at 90 percent, he tied with three other members for 23rd in the club’s ranking of House members.
Here’s how the rest of the Pennsylvania delegation scored:

Area's GOP congressmen score low in a way that could help
WASHINGTON - For local Republicans, these failing grades might be a good thing.
The Club for Growth, the conservative advocacy group that favors low-tax, anti-regulation, pro-business policies - and opposes any hint of compromise - released its 2013 ratings Monday, and Republican congressmen from the Philadelphia suburbs received some of the lowest marks of anyone in the GOP.

Charter school denied for K-6 in Duquesne
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 25, 2014 10:45 PM
The receiver for the Duquesne City School denied the application for a proposed charter school for grades K-6 filed by a group of residents.  Receiver Paul Long announced his denial at his receiver’s business meeting Tuesday, saying the application was contrary to the district’s recovery plan and failed to demonstrate sustainable support or provide a comprehensive learning experience.  Mr. Long also said the application failed to include all necessary contents and to show the school could serve as a model for other public schools.
The application was filed by former school director Connie Lucas along with retired Wilkinsburg superintendent Archie Perrin and his wife, Carolyn, and local architect Larry Hassan.
The group can appeal to the state charter appeals board. That board last year denied a previous charter application filed by Ms. Lucas for a school in Duquesne.

Hempfield Area School District proposes increasing taxes
Tribune-Review By Richard Gazarik Published: Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, 11:30 p.m.
The Hempfield Area School District could have a modest tax hike for the 2014-15 school year and some additional expenses that could run the deficit to $1.6 million, the business manager said.
The district proposes to raise taxes by 1.5 mills and dip into its $11 million surplus to balance the budget, Jude Abraham said.  If the increase is approved, the tax rate would be more than 75 mills. Each mill generates $596,000 for the district.  Despite the bad news, Abraham said, “This is one of the better budget years we've ever had.”  The school board has raised taxes the past two years by 1.5 and 1.47 mills, respectively. For the current budget, the district had to use $2.6 million from its surplus to balance the spending plan that totals more than $84 million.
Phoenixville School Board OKs $83.2M prelim budget with 3.8% tax hike
By Frank Otto, The Mercury POSTED: 02/24/14, 7:08 PM EST | UPDATED: 1 HR AGO
PHOENIXVILLE — At the end of a budget meeting on Feb. 18, the Phoenixville Area School Board approved a $83,232,993 preliminary budget by a 6-1 vote.  The budget carries a shortfall of approximately $500,000 which could be covered by a 3.89 percent tax increase, according to district figures.  Such an increase would raise the mill rate within the Phoenixville Area School District from 28.64 mills to 29.75. That would cause a property at the median value in the district, $133,540, to have an increase in taxes of $148.22 next year.
It’s relatively unlikely the tax increase will remain so high, as in years past the preliminary budgets have been trimmed significantly before they were finalized by July.

City, suburban schools more alike than different Written by  Wilford Shamlin III Sunday, 23 February 2014 17:55
A tour of two high schools, one in West Philadelphia and the other in Montgomery County, with Sen. Vincent Hughes on Friday revealed common challenges in educating their respective students.  Teachers and administrators for the School District of Philadelphia and Upper Dublin High School talked about the best strategies for instructing students, even those who show little interest in learning. School staff say one adult could make a difference.

Legislators push for trade school funding
Hazelton Standard Speaker BY JIM DINO (STAFF WRITER) Published: February 24, 2014
One way to get more young people to study a trade rather than get a four-year degree may be to give trade schools more state funding.  But first, parents and educators have to tell young people being a tradesman is just as professional and respectable as anything else.
State Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-124, Tamaqua, said there is a stigma against the trades.
"We need to change the stigma of being a plumber or an electrician," Knowles said. "I can't get a plumber. We grill it into our kids to go to college and get a four-year degree to be competitive. For the kids who want to get a four-year degree, fine. We need to create opportunities for kids who can get a two-year degree."

“It boosts our AP Spanish Language exam participation and PSSA success, and requires little to no extra administrative attention than do other special and general programs that the district offers,” commented Nikki Rivera, Spanish teacher in a neighboring district.  That program was started almost 20 years ago and has produced close to 500 bilingual citizens.”
MT board holds off phasing out Spanish Immersion
Lancaster Online LTE by Michelle Yost Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 4:45 am
I would like to thank Manheim Township School Board for tabling the vote regarding the administration’s recommendation to phase out the Spanish Immersion program.
At first, the vote to phase it out seemed to be easy for the board as they listened to the administration’s presentation that cited mostly administrative challenges related to the program.

Changes Coming to Charters in N.Y.C., D.C., and Philadelphia
Education Week Charters and Choice Blog By Katie Ash on February 25, 2014
Charter schools in three of the nation's largest school districts are facing changes in how they operate, including how they will be evaluated, how they will be authorized, and where they can operate. Read on for a roundup of news about policy changes to charter schools in New York City, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia.

Class size matters a lot, research shows
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog BY VALERIE STRAUSS February 24 at 8:00 am
Every now and then someone in education policy (Arne Duncan) or education philanthropy (Bill Gates) or the media (Malcolm Gladwell) will say something about why class size isn’t really very important because a great teacher can handle a boatload of kids.  Not really.
new review of the major research that has been conducted on class size by Northwestern University Associate Professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and published by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder makes clear that class size matters, and it matters a lot. 

Panel Seeks Greater Disclosures on Pension Health
New York Times Dealbook By MARY WILLIAMS WALSH FEBRUARY 24, 2014, 12:05 AM
A panel of risk experts sees a teachable moment in Detroit’s bankruptcy and pension woes.
blue-ribbon panel of the Society of Actuaries — the entity responsible for education, testing and licensing in the profession — says that more precise, meaningful information about the health of all public pension funds would give citizens the facts they need to make informed decisions.
In a report to be released on Monday, the panel will recommend that pension actuaries provide plan boards of trustees and, ultimately, the public with the fair value of pension obligations and estimates of the annual cash outlays needed to cover them. That means pension officials would disclose something they have long resisted discussing: the total cost, in today’s dollars, of the workers’ pensions, assuming no credit for expected investment gains over the years.

Research Review Gives Thumbs Up to Community Schools Approach
Education Week Inside School Research Blog By Holly Yettick on February 25, 2014 8:51 AM
In the wake of newly elected New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's pledge to open 100 community schools, a report released Tuesday finds promise in this type of educational intervention. The study, supported in part with a grant from an organization founded by de Blasio's predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, concludes that research and theory support the concept of community schools that seek to boost academic performance by offering mentoring, counseling, healthcare, and other wraparound services that extend well beyond the classroom.

The Myth Behind Public School Failure
Monday, 24 February 2014 09:46By Dean PatonYes! Magazine | News Analysis
Until about 1980, America’s public schoolteachers were iconic everyday heroes painted with a kind of Norman Rockwell patina—generally respected because they helped most kids learn to read, write and successfully join society. Such teachers made possible at least the idea of a vibrant democracy.  Since then, what a turnaround: We’re now told, relentlessly, that bad-apple schoolteachers have wrecked K-12 education; that their unions keep legions of incompetent educators in classrooms; that part of the solution is more private charter schools; and that teachers as well as entire schools lack accountability, which can best be remedied by more and more standardized “bubble” tests.  What led to such an ignoble fall for teachers and schools? Did public education really become so irreversibly terrible in three decades? Is there so little that’s redeemable in today’s schoolhouses?

Stealing From Teachers
Huffington Post by Adam Kirk Edgerton Posted: 02/03/2014 12:51 pm EST
When teachers sit down to complete their federal taxes this year, they will see one big change: the $250 classroom supply deduction. The failure to extend this tax break for teachers has gone largely unnoticed. It should be a source of outrage.

High Quality Pre-K: Families Need it, Voters Want it – County Meetings

PCCY February 21, 2014
Only 16% of children in southeastern Pennsylvania have access to publicly funded high quality early learning programs.  Statewide analysis from Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children echoes the findings of PCCY’s Bottom Line Report on Early Care and Education that shows access to high quality early learning programs remains out of reach for many children and working families.  A recent poll of likely voters finds 63% of Pennsylvania voters support investing more public funds in high quality pre-k, even 58% say they are willing to pay higher taxes to pay for it.  With proven research and strong voter support, the Pre-K for PA campaign is working to make sure that every candidate running for office in Pennsylvania sees the political wisdom and social benefits of making access to high quality preschool a top priority in their campaign.  YOU can help build momentum for making Pre-K a defining issue in the 2014 elections, join the Pre-K for PA campaign.
Help This Campaign Succeed.  Join the County Organizing Meetings:
Delaware County Weds. Feb. 26 at Upper Darby High School
Bucks County Thurs. Feb. 27 at Middletown Township Public Hall
Montgomery County Weds. March 5 at Montgomery County Community College

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. 

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.
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
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.

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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