Thursday, May 1, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 1, 2014: SB76: Could Pennsylvania abolish school property taxes without also blowing up the basic funding formula for the state's public schools?

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3250 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

These daily emails are archived and searchable at
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Keystone State Education Coalition
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for May 1, 2014:
SB76: Could Pennsylvania abolish school property taxes without also blowing up the basic funding formula for the state's public schools?

PSBA members - Come hear former Assistant US Secretary of Education, author and education historian Diane Ravitch.
PSBA Buxmont Region 11 and Penns Grant Region 15 Combined Region/Legislative Meeting -- Thursday, May 15, at William Tennent High School
- Buffet dinner/registration, 6 p.m. ($8 charge for dinner) - Program, 7:30 p.m. -- Minority Senate Education Committee Chair Hon. Andy Dinniman will introduce guest speaker Diane Ravitch, author and education historian, and former Assistant Secretary of Education.  Retiring House Education Committee Chairman Paul Clymer will also be honored for his long time (1981) public service.

As of 6:30 a.m. this morning I have not seen any press coverage of last night's Education Forum in Philly with the four Democratic candidates for Governor.  If you are on twitter check out #EdForum14 for coverage of the event.  If you are not on twitter - get with the program (and follow me @lfeinberg)

Education Voters PA Statewide Call to Action May 6th
A part of the annual rite of spring, it is time to call Harrisburg and let them know what our priorities are for the Pennsylvania Budget! On May 6th, plan to take 15 minutes to call your State Representative, State Senator and the Governor about the education budget. Detailed materials will be posted here.
Education Voters of PA will be holding a Statewide Call-to-Action for Public Education!
On May 6th, thousands of people will set aside 5 minutes to call their state representative and senator and our governor. We will send a message that Pennsylvanians need a fair budget that gives students the instruction and support they need to meet state standards and provides funding that our communities can count on.  As the budget process gets underway, it’s important that our legislators and governor know we care about our public schools and are paying attention to what they are doing!

"Though enrollment is growing, as many as 50% of K12’s students drop out within a year, according to Gary Miron, a researcher with the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado. Because funding is allocated on a yearly basis in most states, however, Miron says that doesn’t matter much to K12’s bottom line.  “It doesn’t really hurt them because if the student leaves, the money stays,” Miron said. “They can just enroll another student the next year.”
K12, Inc.: Enrollment At Nation’s Largest For-Profit Charter Operator Still Growing Despite Lawsuits, Regulatory Problems
K12 Inc. is facing a litany of regulatory problems and a new shareholder lawsuit, but as long as new students are signing up, none of that matters to investors.
Molly Hensley-Clancy BuzzFeed Staff posted on April 29, 2014 at 12:54pm EDT
A K12 student does coursework in of the company’s virtual charter schools. K12 / Via
The problems plaguing K12 Inc., the country’s largest publicly traded virtual charter operator, are no secret. They’ve been hit with two shareholder lawsuits, subjected to state investigations, and weathered exposes in the New York Times and the Associated Press.
But in their quarterly earnings call today, K12 reported that enrollment has grown yet again, swelling to 125,000 students — an increase of more than 5% since March of last year. Their revenue, which topped $235 million, actually exceeded analysts’ estimates, as did their operating margins. Net income was $15.9 million.  Enrollment is what matters to the company and its shareholders: each student that signs up for K12’s online schools comes with public funding attached, and as long as enrollment grows, revenue likely will, too.

How Charter School Managers Succeed Fabulously in Busine$$
A few years ago, I was alerted to the phenomenal success of an entrepreneur-lawyer in Pennsylvania named Vahan Gureghian.
With a bit of googling, I learned that he had opened a charter school in Chester County, Pennsylvania, that enrolled 2,600 students, half the district’s children. Consequently, the district was plunged into bankruptcy, unable to make its payroll, and Governor Corbett appointed an emergency manager for the district who is a devotee of vouchers.  I also learned on google that Gureghian is one of the biggest donors to Republican candidates and committees in Pennsylvania, was Governor Corbett’s largest single donor, and was named to Governor Corbett’s education transition team. As of 2012, he had given some $800,000 to candidates and political groups.  Meanwhile, Gureghian’s empire continued to expand and to produce excellent returns for him.

This Keystone State Education Coalition posting regarding Vahan Gureghian continues to be one of the most visited pages on our blogsite:

SB76: Bill to eliminate property taxes raises questions about equal funding for schools
By Jeff Frantz | on April 30, 2014 at 3:46 PM
Could Pennsylvania abolish school property taxes without also blowing up the basic funding formula for the state's public schools?
That's was the thorniest question at a standing-room only Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday on a plan to replace the school property tax with increased sales and income taxes. That plan, Senate Bill 76, would guarantee a dollar for dollar replacement for what districts currently generate through property taxes.  But senators Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin, and Scott Hutchinson, R-Butler, both questioned if the state could legally preside over that kind of dollar-for-dollar replacement when the amounts school districts generate varies greatly across the state.
Lower Merion School District, for example, spends more than $24,000 per student from money raised locally. Meanwhile, Reading spends slightly less than $2,000 per student from money raised locally. Even after including state funding, Reading spends $11,200 per student.
"If the state is now going to pick up the local effort and make the total funding a state responsibility, doesn't that lock in the current system and the inequitable treatment and open us up to a constitutional challenge?" Teplitz asked.

"Opponents of the bill have said that the numbers don't add up to adequate school funding, but lawmakers at the finance hearing didn't explain how that was addressed by the amendment."
SB76: State Senate pushes forward on replacing property tax
Lancaster Online By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer Wednesday, April 30, 2014 4:34 pm
There aren't many people who like property tax, and the ranks of Pennsylvania lawmakers who want to eliminate it are growing.  The state Senate now has the 26 supporters it would need to pass Senate Bill 76, known as the Property Tax Independence Act. Half the supporters are Republicans and half Democrats.  In a renewed effort to push it forward as budget season approaches, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the recently amended bill yesterday. That committee is expected to vote on the bill within a week.

"Under the bill, no school district would lose revenue, Argall said. It is a dollar-per-dollar match, he said.  But Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, isn't sure.  School property taxes generate about $12 billion for public schools. At its current rate, the state's current income tax generates about $4 billion for each percentage levied — for a total of about $12 billion for state coffers. The state's sales tax brings in about $1.5 billion at its current rate.  That existing revenue would have to stay with the state budget, Miskin said. If Argall's and Folmer's bill brought in an additional $4 billion in income taxes and about $1.5 billion in sales taxes, it would leave a $6 billion hole for public schools, he said.
"Someone is going to be paying that," said Miskin. "It's not free."
SB76: Property taxes must go, crowd urges at Senate hearing
But bill co-sponsored by Schuylkill County state senator faces stiff opposition.
Bill by Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, faces stiff opposition among some lawmakers, school groups and businesses.
By Steve Esack, Call Harrisburg Bureau6:10 p.m. EDT, April 30, 2014
HARRISBURG — Like a lot of Pennsylvanians, Jeff Krystopa dislikes paying property taxes, which are the primary way local school boards pay for public schools and charter schools under state law.  Property taxes are eating into the 45-year-old man's bottom line and he is worried that if the tax doubles every 10 years, he would not be able to live in his Amity TownshipBerks County, home when he retires.  "Property taxes are the biggest wild card in my financial future," Krystopa said.  So he and dozens of other residents packed a state Senate hearing Wednesday in support of an amended bill from Sens. David Argall and Mike Folmer that would replace property taxes with higher personal income taxes and increased sales taxes on many items and services sold in the state.
Read more:,0,1963890.story#ixzz30QAuhQ6b

"Pennsylvania’s deep cuts in education funding singling out the most vulnerable districts fly in the face of overwhelming evidence that concentrated poverty is a major impediment to children’s educational progress," Ward's report said.
Report says recent state funding trends hit poorer districts hardest
the notebook by Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 30 2014
A report from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center released  Wednesday says that school districts like Philadelphia with large numbers of poor students have been hurt disproportionately by cuts in education funding since Gov. Corbett took office.  Written by PBPC executive director Sharon Ward, the report calls the scale of cuts to districts "unprecedented." It says Philadelphia has lost $1,341 per student, the most of any district in the state. PBPC is a non-partisan, progressive research center.  "Within Philadelphia, state funding cuts, and the siphoning off of state school funding to charter schools, have wreaked tangible devastation on schools and children," the report said.

"Ward's report pointed out that as the state cut money for public schools, it also reduced corporate taxes and "diverted additional funding for alternatives to public schools" including charter schools and tuition-assistance programs for private schools.  The center found that while cuts in state funding were taking place, districts were grappling with rising costs they could not control, including pensions and charter schools."
Left-leaning think tank blasts Gov. Corbetts' funding for education
Only hours before a Democratic gubernatorial candidates' forum Wednesday on education, a left-leaning Harrisburg think tank released a report outlining the harm done by the state's failure to adequately fund public schools.  "We want to contribute to that debate," Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said during a news conference at City Hall.  The report said cuts to state funding for schools made after Gov. Corbett took office three years ago has hurt all districts but has disproportionally harmed those with large numbers of low-income students.

Here's the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center report:
A Strong State Commitment to Public Education, A Must Have for Pennsylvania’s Children
Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center by Sharon Ward April 2014

Sources: Corbett looking for $1.2 billion in budget cuts
He's asking Legislature to come up with $400 million, sources say.
By Steve Esack, Call Harrisburg Bureau 10:49 p.m. EDT, April 30, 2014
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett is looking to cut $1.2 billion from his proposed $29.4 billion election-year budget to make up for a growing revenue shortfall, according to sources.
He and Republican leaders of the Legislature met Tuesday to go over details of his new plan at the governor's mansion, sources said. Corbett and top members of his staff told lawmakers the administration could cut $800 million and asked the Legislature to come up with another $400 million in reductions, the sources said.  But no one in the Republican administration and GOP-controlled House and Senate is saying where those cuts could come from, as state agencies and public schools continue to reel from steep cuts made in 2011-12.  And no one is saying if influential officials will propose taxes on natural gas drillers or smokeless tobacco to cover the shortfall, as rank-and-file lawmakers and Democratic candidates for governor are advocating.  Corbett, the entire House and half the Senate are up for re-election this year.
Corbett and lawmakers brace for weak tax revenue report
By Steve Esack, Call Harrisburg Bureau 10:56 pm, April 29, 2014
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett on Tuesday rewarded state employees whose innovative or commonsense ideas helped save taxpayers $650 million over the last three years.  But Corbett may need workers to come up with a lot more cost-saving plans to prevent a deficit and a threatened credit-rating downgrade for the state.  The Republican governor — up for re-election amid low approval ratings — is bracing for another weak economic report Thursday, when the state Revenue Department releases its April tax revenue collections. The Legislature's Independent Fiscal Office also is expected to revise upward its earlier end-of-the-year deficit estimate of $150 million.  If projections hold true, Corbett and lawmakers could face a cumulative deficit of up to $500 million by the June 30 close of the fiscal year, according to Senate Democrats.

"Why not use as a starting point returning to the funding formula already put in place by the costing-out study and Act. 61. It proved effective in getting more money into the hands of those districts that needed it most."
Editorial: A good starting point for property-tax reform
Delco Times Editorial POSTED: 04/30/14, 10:18 PM EDT |
The wheels of justice have nothing on property tax reform and education funding in this state.
Both grind away at a snail’s pace.  In the meantime, senior citizens and others on fixed incomes struggle to meet the bane of the Pennsylvania homeowner, the yolk of paying for public education on the backs of those who deign to own property.  With the state preparing for a battle royal of an election in which a bevy of Democrats are running to unseat Gov. Tom Corbett, it’s not surprising that education funding is zooming to the top of the list of hot issues in the race. Corbett is taking heat for the austere budgets in his first three years in office, ones that squeezed local education funding. The governor insists he’s gotten a bad rap, saying that the real culprit in recent education funding crises are local school boards who ignored warnings not to use federal stimulus funds for recurring projects. When the federal money dried up, the local boards hit up taxpayers to make up the difference.  Everybody agrees education funding is a critical issue. That’s the easy part. Where to get it is a little harder. 

SRC lashed over proposed cost-cutting budget
Parents and community members, anguished by a proposed Philadelphia School District budget that could mean 1,000 layoffs and class sizes swelling to 41, lashed out Wednesday night at the School Reform Commission, describing the situation inside schools as "dangerous," "insanity," even "institutionalized child abuse."  Chairman Bill Green, at whom much of the anger was directed, did not disagree.  "Make no mistake," he said in response to more than two hours of outrage from the public. "What we are doing in schools is immoral. It is wrong."

Parent vote set at Luis Munoz-Marin Elementary School, but questions remain about North Philadelphia charter operator
POSTED: Thursday, May 1, 2014, 3:01 AM
PARENT Luisa Vidal is worried about the future of Luis Munoz-Marin Elementary, and the possibility that charter operator Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania will be chosen to manage the school.
Vidal, 38, of Hunting Park, says she has questions about Aspira's finances - including the $3.3 million it borrowed from the five schools it manages, according to its tax form 990.
"Why should they borrow all that money?" she asked. "Why isn't it going to the school itself?
"Where is the money going?"

"We need to ensure that students who take these courses and do well on the exams are not denied college course credits. This could mean significant savings in college costs for the families of these students. Another benefit to both the state and parents would be the increased likelihood that these students would graduate on time and not have to seek further state grants or loans to finish college," Roebuck said.
Roebuck advanced-placement bill moves to full House
Representative Roebuck's website April 30, 2014
HARRISBURG, April 30 – State Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila., Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, said the committee today unanimously voted to send his advanced-placement bill to the full House of Representatives.  Roebuck's bill (H.B. 2076) would require Pennsylvania public colleges and universities, including community colleges, to award academic credit to post-secondary students who have obtained a sufficient score in exams for Advanced Placement, the International Baccalaureate Diploma or College-Level Examination program.
The bill would cover community colleges and the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education.

"Their hope is that the commissioners will go back to Harrisburg and City Hall with their stories: That parents all over the city are struggling with the decision of whether to send their children to public school or move to the suburbs, taking their tax dollars with them."
Naptime organizing
Star News Philly By Ali Eaves April 29, 2014
Fishtown parents fight for more funds for public schools as district unveils 2015 budget.
As the funding situation for Philadelphia’s public schools grows more dire, a group of Fishtown parents have stepped in the ring on behalf of their neighborhood school—and their children don’t even go there yet.  At a School Re­form Com­mission meeting Thursday night, Fishtown mom Christine Morrissey Grubb testified to ask for the commission’s help in securing much-needed money for the School District of Philadelphia.  Grubb attended the meeting with several other members of Friends of Adaire, a volunteer group of parents who live near the Alexander Adaire School at 1300 E. Palmer St. but whose children aren’t yet school aged. Grubb’s older child is 3 years old; her younger son is only 10 months.

Pittsburgh school board takes graduation requirements off the agenda for meeting
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Proposed changes in graduation requirements were removed from tonight's voting agenda of the board of Pittsburgh Public Schools.  School superintendent Linda Lane asked to have the item removed without comment.  In an interview, chief academic officer Jerri Lynn Lippert said more explanation was needed for the proposal to reduce high school physical education requirements. The proposal was announced earlier this month, and Ms. Lippert said the board did not have enough time to get adequate information.  She said the graduation requirements may be considered again in the fall.

Pine-Richland educators vote to authorize strike
By Lexi Belculfine / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pine-Richland educators voted tonight to authorize a strike, according to their union.
The Pine-Richland Educators Association will continue negotiating with the district, but the vote means they could call a strike, according to a press release.  …Those issues include a district-proposed pay freeze for senior teachers and increase in payment for health care, as well as union concerns over an early retirement incentive the district eliminated, said Fritz Fekete, a communications consultant for the union from Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Phillipsburg School Board approves budget with 6.89 percent tax increase
By Sarah Peters | The Express-Times on April 30, 2014 at 8:28 PM
The Phillipsburg School Board voted 9-2 to approve a $63.4 million 2014-15 operating budget that includes a 6.89 percent tax increase.  About 85 to 88 percent of the district’s day-to-day costs are fixed, Business AdministratorWilliam Bauer said. School districts are allowed to exceed the 2 percent cap on property tax increases for health care-related costs. 

"The method, generically known as “value added measures,” or VAM, is increasingly in use around the country — with the support of the Obama administration — after Michelle Rhee pioneered the method when she ran D.C. public schools several years ago. The result of this lawsuit could affect evaluation systems well beyond Texas."
VAM: Houston teachers sue over controversial teacher evaluation method
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog BY VALERIE STRAUSS April 30 at 10:30 pm
Andrew Dewey is an award-winning history teacher at Carnegie Vanguard High School in Houston. In 2011-12, he earned the top merit pay award that his school district gives out and had “most effective” teacher status through a controversial evaluation system that usesstudent standardized test scores. The next year, after teaching similar students in the same way, he went from being one of the district’s highest-performing teachers to one that made “no detectable difference” for his students.  Dewey is one of seven high-achieving teachers who, along with the Houston Federation of Teachers, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Texas late Wednesday alleging that the Houston Independent School District uses a badly flawed method of evaluating teacher effectiveness, known as the “Educational Value-Added Assessment System.” The teachers argue that the EVAAS is inaccurate and unfair but that it still plays a large role in determining how much teachers are paid and whether they can keep their jobs.

Test Prep Endures in New York Schools, Despite Calls to Ease It
New York Times By  APRIL 30, 2014
On the December day she was announced as New York City’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña denounced an overemphasis on test preparation as the dark underbelly of the previous administration’s data-driven reforms, telling an approving crowd, “We’re going to do all we can to roll that back to focus on the best quality teaching as opposed to test prep.”
Ms. Fariña’s salvo against teaching to tests, which she has repeated several times, so quickly became a mantra that the State Legislature this month passed a law severely restricting the practice. While thin on specifics, the law added New York to a short list of states trying to get a handle on the issue.  But in interviews across the city this past month, students and teachers said that test prep was as robust as ever.

Comedian Louis C.K. Slams State's Standardized Tests on Twitter
DNAinfo New Yorkl By Amy Zimmer on April 29, 2014 11:19am 
MANHATTAN — Comedian Louis C.K.became the darling of the anti-high-stakes testing movement after he went on a Twitter tear against the Common Core standardized tests Monday.
"My kids used to love math," the Manhattan-based television and stand-up star wrote in his first of a dozen tweets about the subject to his more than 3 million followers. "Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!"

Study Finds Poetry Slighted in Common Core English Standards
Education Views Apr 30, 2014 by Staff
Significant overall reduction in time spent on classic literary texts will make it difficult to give poetry the prominence it deserves
BOSTON – April is National Poetry Month, but poetry is not welladdressed in Common Core’s English language arts standards.  It’s unclear whether the genre will survive a Common Core-based English classroom given the dramatic reduction in time spent on literary texts implicitly mandated by these national standards, and the ambivalence, if not hostility, of the standards writers towards literature, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.  In “The Dying of the Light: How Common Core Damages Poetry Instruction,” co-authored by Anthony Esolen, Jamie Highfill, and Sandra Stotsky, Esolen, a poet and professor of literature at Providence College, concludes, “The Common Core proponents do not like poetry.”

Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) will Host an Education Funding Forum in Delaware County on May 7th
On May 7th,  PCCY will host a forum that discusses the state of school funding  in Delaware County. As many of you all know, state budget cuts have impacted districts beyond Philadelphia. The event will be held at the Upper Darby Municipal Branch Library, 501 Bywood Avenue, Upper Darby PA 19082 from 6:30pm-8pm.  Attendees will get a budget update from Sharon Ward of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, hear from School Board members representing Upper Darby, William Penn, and Haverford School Districts and learn how they can get  involved.  Contact Devon Miner at for any questions or concerns.

PSBA members in Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware Counties
PSBA Buxmont Region 11 and Penns Grant Region 15 Combined Region/Legislative Meeting -- Thursday, May 15, at William Tennent High School
- Buffet dinner/registration, 6 p.m. ($8 charge for dinner) - Program, 7:30 p.m. -- Minority Senate Education Committee Chair Hon. Andy Dinniman will introduce guest speaker Diane Ravitch, author and education historian, and former Assistant Secretary of Education.  Retiring House Education Committee Chairman Paul Clymer will also be honored for his long time (1981) public service.

Just added - Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq will be the after-dinner speaker on May 5. 
PSBA Advocacy Forum and Day on the Hill May 5-6, Mechanicsburg & Harrisburg
Make an impact on the legislative process by attending PSBA’s Advocacy Forum and Day on the Hill, May 5-6.   Day one will provide legislative insights on pensions, training on being an effective advocate, and media relations. Dr. G. Terry Madonna, leading Pennsylvania political analyst, will discuss the legislative landscape in his usual lively and informative style.  How to Be an Effective Advocate -- Hear from former Allwein Advocacy Award winners Larry Feinberg, Roberta Marcus and Tina Viletto on how to successfully support your issues.  At noon, Rep. Dave Reed, Majority Policy Chairman, will address participants.   On day two, participants will start with a breakfast at the Harrisburg Hilton with Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley as guest speaker  and then hit the ground running with visits to legislative offices in the State CapitolSpace is limited so register earlyClick here for more details and to register online.
Registration fee of $50 includes lunch and dinner on May 5 and breakfast on May 6. 

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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