Friday, February 28, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup for February 28, 2014: Pennsylvania official hears calls for tougher charter school scrutiny

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Keystone State Education Coalition
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for February 28, 2014:
Pennsylvania official hears calls for tougher charter school scrutiny

“After the first two hearings, DePasquale said his takeaway is a need for more consistent accountability for charter schools. They go through a rigorous charter authorization and then operate with little transparency until their renewal in five years, he said.”
At Easton hearing, Pennsylvania official hears calls for tougher charter school scrutiny
By Sara K. Satullo | The Express-Times on February 27, 2014 at 5:26 PM
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is done waiting for Harrisburg to tackle charter school reform.  DePasquale was in Easton today, holding his second of five hearings across the state. He is seeking input to find ways to improve charter school accountability, transparency and effectiveness.  All of the testimony will be packaged into a report filled with recommendations that DePasquale expects to release in mid-April.
Charter schools were created to innovate outside of the constraints of the traditional public school system. The schools are funded by taxes and authorized by local school districts under current state law, which aims to encourage competition and collaboration between public and charter schools.  "That's clearly not happening," DePasquale said about collaboration in particular, following today's hearing that lasted a little more than two hours.

“Terry Mutchler, executive director of the state's Office of Open Records, testified that charter schools are the state's top violator of the Right to Know law, which grants residents access to public documents. Of appeals that have come before her office involving charter schools, the charter school completely ignored the request in 88 percent of the cases, Mutchler said.  "I don't believe I can stand here … and say that they in good faith are attempting to comply with the Right to Know law," Mutchler said.”
School officials discuss charter problems with auditor general
At Easton forum, officials discuss ways to improve schools' effectiveness.
By Adam Clark, Of The Morning Call 10:12 p.m. EST, February 27, 2014
By the letter and spirit of the law, Pennsylvania charter schools are intended to work in collaboration with school districts, experimenting with new ideas and sharing innovative concepts that are proven to produce positive results.  But as Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale was told Thursday at Easton City Hall, the law and reality are not one and the same.
In a meeting hosted by DePasquale to discuss how to improve the accountability, effectiveness and transparency of charter schools, local school officials described charter schools as competitors aggressively recruiting students while spending taxpayer money with little to no oversight.
Possible Roadmap for Fixing Pa.'s Public Education Funding
Rhonda Brownstein, The Legal Intelligencer February 24, 2014
Earlier this month, 15 parents from throughout New York state, along with a coalition of statewide education groups, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state's public school students, charging that the state is neglecting its constitutional obligation to ensure that every school has sufficient funding to provide all students a meaningful educational opportunity.
The suit, titled New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights v. the State of New York, No. 14 (Feb. 10, 2014), is being led by Michael A. Rebell, who successfully litigated the Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. the State of New York, 2003 NY Int. 84 (June 26, 2003), case.  Last month, the Washington Supreme Court ordered the state to submit, no later than April 30, "a complete plan for fully implementing its program of basic education for each school year between now and the 2017-2018 school year." The recent ruling was based on the court's 2012 decision inMcCleary v. State, No. 84362-7, which held that Washington was in violation of the state constitution because it had not provided "ample" funding for the basic education to which all students are entitled.
And in December 2013, the Connecticut Supreme Court rejected the state's attempt to dismiss a longstanding education funding adequacy case, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, 295 Conn. 240 (March 10, 2010). The court ruled that the constitutionality of the state's education system must be determined at trial.
These recent rulings may provide a roadmap for where Pennsylvania is headed in its quest for education funding equity and adequacy.

From the rural 'T', a public school funding SOS: Priya Abraham
PennLive Opinion  by Priya Abraham on February 27, 2014 at 10:00 AM
Priya Abraham is a senior policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg.
The message—really an SOS—about public school funding came from rural Tioga County, but it’s one most Pennsylvanians have grown used to hearing.  “We are in a much, much more difficult situation than we were five or six years ago,” a teacher wrote to the Commonwealth Foundation where I work.   “We have had to cut staff, programs and even close schools in our district just to stay afloat. We have never been able to offer many extras in our curriculum due to the size of our school and minimal tax base, but now we are down to the bare essentials,” the teacher wrote.

“The representatives re-litigated the most popular arguments of the last four years: If Corbett did or did not cut $1 billion from education, if the state should have a severance tax for natural gas drilling, if the state could afford to cut corporate taxes, if the state could afford to not cut corporate taxes, if pension payments should count as education funding, if the state should or should not expand Medicaid.”
Reps from both sides of the aisle try out campaign lines during Zogby's House budget hearing
By Jeff Frantz |  on February 27, 2014 at 4:54 PM
State Rep. Steven Santarsiero had left his line of inquiry behind long ago, and Bill Adolph was growing weary.  Budget Secretary Charles Zogby had been at the table before Adolph's House Appropriation's Committee for nearly an hour, and the representatives had almost all gone on like this. Finally Santarsiero, a Bucks County Democrat, wound down with a comment on governors signing budgets, "To your point earlier, I'd rather be late with Ed than on time with Tom."
Adolph, a Delaware County Republican, is a patient chairman. Unlike his Senate counterpart Jake Corman, Adolph doesn't keep a set of lights on the dais to tell members they are out of time. In three weeks of budget hearings, Adolph has rarely jumped in. But Thursday, he had enough.

Allentown School Board rejects two proposed charters
Allentown School Board: Applicants' plans fall short.
By Adam Clark, Of The Morning Call 11:04 p.m. EST, February 27, 2014
The Allentown School Board rejected two proposed charter schools Thursday, saying neither application had a strong enough curriculum to pass muster under charter school law.
The board voted 8-1 to deny the Executive Academy Charter School and 8-0 with one abstention to reject the LVenture Charter School. Supporters of both schools said they will continue to pursue their plans.  "Completely shocked," said Bob Lysek, who would have been the chief executive officer of the Executive Academy Charter School. "Curriculum was the last thing I was really worried about."
LTE: Taxpayers used as ATMs for schools
Lancaster Online Letter by Brian Smith Friday, February 28, 2014 4:30 am
It appears the School District of Lancaster is going to petition the state for a tax increase above the maximum allowable amount.  After reading Stacey Marten’s article Sunday, I realized the school district’s solution to budget shortfalls is to ask homeowners and taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets again this year.  While I’m sure everyone wants the best education available for their children and the hardworking educators to be well paid, there reaches a limit to the financial pressures put on SDL residents.

LTE: Excessive testing
Post-Gazette Letter by JON PARKER February 27, 2014 7:10 PM
The writer is a Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher and member of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.
This year as we debate whether Pittsburgh Public Schools’ “failures” are the fault of parents, teachers, administrators, board members, community groups or the bogeyman, our students from K-12 will sit for a sum total of 281 standardized tests. Can we at least agree that it would be best for all of us if we taught more and tested less?  As much as I long for the summer, checking the temperature 281 times tomorrow won’t do anything to hasten its arrival.

Sanchez bill seeks new school Philly funding formula PhillyClout blog by Jenny DeHuff  THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2014, 1:25 PM
In another effort to pull the beleaguered School District of Philadelphia out of its fiscal slump, Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez introduced a bill today that funnels a greater percentage of property taxes from the city to the school district.  As it stands, about 45 percent of property tax revenues go to city coffers, while the remaining 55 percent are dedicated to the school district. Sanchez’s bill would tip the scales so that 40 percent goes to the city and 60 percent to the school district.  The councilwoman claims that the shift could mean at least $50 million more in school funding without affecting tax rates.

Delco arts group hopes to influence politicians LAST UPDATED: Tuesday, February 25, 2014, 1:08 AM
Arts group hopes to influence politicians
UPPER DARBY A group that fought to maintain funding for arts programs at Upper Darby High School in 2012 is looking to broaden its influence.  Save Upper Darby Arts launched a PAC on Monday, and plans to support candidates for state office who will fight for equitable funding of public schools.  Save Upper Darby Arts founder Colleen Kennedy said the group wanted to direct its focus beyond a single school budget and the "token response" that Upper Darby education advocates received from lawmakers in 2012.  Kennedy said the PAC has supporters who are parents, former teachers and students. She hopes to raise more than $20,000 for the primary election in May, and more for the general election in November.

 “How'd he do it? A wise Philadelphia politician named Ozzie Myers said it best: "Money talks, bulll(bleep) walks." Wolf's wall-to-wall TV advertising has been funded with $10 million of his own money and more than $3 million he's raised from others.”
Pa.'s TV-addled voters cry, 'Wolf!'
Philly Daily News Attytood Blog by Will Bunch THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2014, 7:31 PM
If the election for Pennsylvania governor were held today...that would be really weird, as it's a Thursday in late February. But if that did happen, a guy that many of you never heard of a few weeks ago -- Central Pennsylvania businessman and former state revenue commissioner Tom Wolf -- would certainly be elected the state's 47th governor.  Look at the polls that came out this week. The once little-known Wolf is obliterating his seven (at least it was seven the last time I checked five minutes ago, it's probably changed once or twice since then) Democratic primary rivals, and then in a head-to-head match up with Unpopular Republican Governor (his official title, apparently) Tom Corbett, he's winning by nearly 20 points.

Pennsylvania Department of Education’s School Performance Profile (SPP), in December 2013, reported that all 14 cyber charter schools scored among the lowest schools in the state.
Boyertown School District Flyer
None of the cyber charter schools met or exceeded the average performance of Pennsylvania’s public and charter schools.

Pennsylvania districts grapple with loss of federal funding for special education services
NSBA Legal Clips February 27, 2014
According to The Times Leader, school districts throughout Pennsylvania are experiencing drastic reductions in the amount of federal money they receive for special education funding.  It’s a case of a federal money being cut while the federal mandate the money helps fund remains.
In a recent webinar hosted by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, state Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq blamed two federal changes in how Medicaid money can be used in schools, calling it “a perfect storm.”  The changes are choking off money from Medical Assistance at two points, hitting districts with reductions that have run close to 90 percent in some cases.

“The school district and the state are obligated to ensure that kids with disabilities receive appropriate services, and there's nothing in the federal law — in the federal IDEA — that says, 'P.S. Except we don't have money this year.' It's not in there," she said.  If the Philadelphia School District doesn't have enough money to provide services, Kerr says, then it "needs to step up to the plate and say that to the governor, and say that publicly."
Special-education caseloads at Philly high school exceed legal limits, pushing teachers to quit
This is a story about how the system crushes your soul.
Emotional-support teacher Danyell Dahn came to the Philadelphia school district four years ago from Bloomington, Indiana, eager to devote herself to the city's most vulnerable students.
She arrived at Center City's Ben Franklin High School with a mix of idealism and determination — certain that she could help kids overcome big problems by taking time to get to know them, talking honestly and building rapport.

AFT, Advocacy Group Want More Accountability for Charters
The American Federation of Teachers and In the Public Interest claim some for-profit charter school operators aren't held to the same accountability standards as public schools.
US News and World Report By Allie Bidwell Feb. 26, 20144 Comments SHARE
Charter schools were created to serve as incubators of good practice, and have the freedom to operate independently with public funds, assuming they meet certain accountability standards. But the rapid expansion of charter schools throughout the country has some worried that they lack critical elements of transparency, accountability and quality, according to a new collaboration between the American Federation of Teachers and advocacy group In the Public Interest. 
Cashing in on Kids, as the venture is called, looks into concerns that have been raised with five different for-profit charter school operators: K12 Inc., Academics, Imagine Schools, Charter Schools USA and White Hat Management. The group claims the operators do a poor job of serving students and taxpayers, and that private interests have trumped the public good.
"This is a simple exercise of following the money," says Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, one of the nation's two largest teachers unions. "How many times do people simply get up on a pedestal and say we care about kids, and then you realize that they care about profits, they care about tax deductions, they care about privatizing the public system?"

Twitter handle is @CashingInOnKids
Cashing in on Kids
The Facts About For-Profit Education in America

Why preschool critics are wrong
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog BY VALERIE STRAUSS  February 28 at 5:00 am
W. Steven Barnett is the director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University and he is annoyed. At what? People who keep arguing that preschool has not lasting benefits — despite evidence to the contrary. In this post he takes on the critics and their interpretation of the research.

Major NY Charter School Chain To Lose Space Under New De Blasio Plan
By Posted: 02/27/2014 1:38 pm EST
NEW YORK -- Mayor Bill de Blasio is pulling back the space-sharing arrangements for nine schools, including three charter schools that are part of Success Academy, a high-profile school chain whose leader has been a frequent de Blasio target, the administration announced Tuesday.
De Blasio made the announcement official through a Department of Education memo after The Huffington Post first reported the news. According to the memo, de Blasio green-lighted most of the 49 space-sharing proposals for the new school year, including those for four Success Academy schools. The administration said it would provide alternative locations for those schools whose plans were withdrawn, and it plans to hold community meetings in the neighborhoods where space-sharing arrangements will proceed. The administration deferred on deciding of the fates of four schools that are supposed to open in fall 2015.

NSBA’s President discusses school board advocacy on Education Talk Radio
NSBA School Board News Today by Alexis Rice February 26th, 2014
David A. Pickler, President of the National School Boards Association and member of Tennessee’s Shelby County Board of Education, was a guest on Education Talk Radio earlier this week. Pickler discussed school board advocacy and his experiences from traveling across the country meeting school board leaders.
Listen to the interview (runtime 40:44):

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:
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 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:
  • 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.

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