Wednesday, May 7, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 7, 2014: Moodys: district's budget for next FY will “materially imperil its ability to provide students with an adequate education."

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Keystone State Education Coalition
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for May 7, 2014:
Moodys: district's budget for next FY will “materially imperil its ability to provide students with an adequate education."

Moody's: Pa. charter rules are wrecking Phila. School District
Joseph N. DiStefano POSTED: TUESDAY, MAY 6, 2014, 11:47 AM
Unless the Philadelphia School District raises more than $200 million extra in a hurry, Moody’s Investors Service warned it will cut the district's bond rating -- which is already down at Ba2, junk status, forcing the district to pay extra when it borrows money -- because the district's proposed $2.5 billion budget for the next fiscal year will “materially imperil its ability to provide students with an adequate education."   Without $216 million in additional funding, Moody's analyst Dan Seymour wrote in a report to clients, the district threatens to increase the average class size to 41 students and lay off more than 1,000 staff. " This is credit negative because a further deterioration in education services will likely result in additional student flight to charter schools and other alternatives," further reducing district revenues, Seymour added. 3 in 10 Philadelphia students already go to charter schools.

PA lawmakers get stern warnings from three major credit rating agencies
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent May 5, 2014
Once is a fluke, twice can be a coincidence.  But three times is a trend.
During the past two weeks, all three major credit rating agencies have issued stern warnings to Pennsylvania policymakers in advance of the coming budget season. Two of them, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, say they may be forced to reduce Pennsylvania’s credit rating, making it more expensive for the state to borrow money on the bond market, unless pension debts are addressed and spending is brought in line with revenue to address a structural deficit in the state budget.  “Pennsylvania faces fiscal pressures in the form of a structurally unbalanced budget, depleted reserves, and a rapidly growing pension cost burden following years of underfunding and market-driven investment declines,” Fitch warned on April 24. “Continued inability to address these concerns, or worsening of any of these conditions, over the near term could trigger further negative rating action.”  The agencies are most worried about Pennsylvania’s $48 billion unfunded pension liability, which is split between the State Employees Retirement System and the Public School Employees Retirement System.

Budget shortfall may scuttle governor’s plan to boost education funding
By Maura Pennington | PA Independent May 6, 2014
PHILADELPHIA — A $600 million shortfall could jeopardize Gov. Tom Corbett’s plans to spend more on public education next year.  In his proposed fiscal 2014-15 budget, Corbett called for $387 million in new spending on schools, mostly in the form of targeted grants. But Pennsylvania’s revenue numbers have not met expectations, leaving the state with a deficit of more than $500 million, which must be filled before new spending can be considered.

“What we have now makes no sense,” Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq said. “Students with multiple physical handicaps don't require the same amount of funding as kids who need speech language therapy, and everyone is paying more than they should.”
PA formula for special education funding unworkable, experts say
By Daveen Rae Kurutz and Megan Harris Published: Sunday, May 4, 2014, 9:10 p.m.
More than 46,000 Western Pennsylvania special education students are on the losing end of a state funding formula that dumps their education costs onto school districts inequitably, educators and some lawmakers say.  The state formula distributes aid on the assumption that 16 percent of students — the state average — will need services such as speech therapy, tutoring and devices to accommodate physical and intellectual disabilities. But the formula shortchanges districts with higher-than-average percentages of special education students, experts say.  Even districts with fewer special education students than the state average lack state resources to meet needs, school officials say.

Charter schools blast proposed special education funding fix
Bucks COunty Intelligencer By Natasha Lindstrom Staff Writer Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014
HARRISBURG — Legislation intended to fix Pennsylvania's flawed system for funding special education could be a long overdue update — or it could deliver crippling financial blows to charter schools statewide, depending whether you ask traditional public school officials or charter school advocates.  Identical bills in the House and Senate are making headway in the General Assembly in an attempt to overhaul what educators and lawmakers agree is an outdated and inequitable funding formula for special education. The legislation is based on about eight months' worth of work by the Special Education Funding Commission, chaired by state Rep. Bernie O'Neill, R-19, Warminster, and state Sen. Pat Browne, R-16, Allentown.
School districts and their advocacy groups hail the proposed changes, which they say will finally reimburse schools based on the true costs to serve students with special needs.

"Crippling Blows?"  Palm Beach Daily News, November 2011
Owners on the record — There’s finally word about who bought 1071 N. Ocean Blvd. and the lot next door for a combined $28.9 million — the year’s second-largest Palm Beach residential purchase by a single buyer.
Palm Beach Florida Daily News By DARRELL HOFHEINZ, DAILY NEWS HOME & LOGGIA EDITOR Posted: 4:04 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011
Although the property is owned by a trust named after the 1071 address, public documents submitted to the town show that behind the purchase were Philadelphia attorney and entrepreneur Vahan Gureghian and his attorney wife, Danielle. They are planning to build a 20,000-square-foot mansion, complete with a two-lane bowling alley in the basement.
Among his business interests, which include a billboard company, Vahan Gureghian is the founder and CEO of CSMI, a management and consulting firm for the charter-school industry. The company also runs a large charter school that he founded in Chester, Pa., more than a decade ago. Politically well-connected, Gureghian served on the transition team for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania after his election in 2010.

EDITORIAL: Pa. property tax reform moving at snail's pace
Pottstown Mercury POSTED: 05/05/14, 5:09 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.

Inquirer Editorial: Give Council an F
Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial POSTED: Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 1:08 AM
City Council has lost all credibility when it comes to bailing out Philadelphia's cash-strapped public schools. Its members may sound concerned, but if they were, they wouldn't continue to sit on $120 million in potential sales-tax revenue that they could give to the schools with one vote.
Council President Darrell L. Clarke on Monday condescendingly assured Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. that Council would "pony up more money" because "we always do." But it is Clarke's insistence that half the sales-tax money be used for pension relief that is blocking its use for schools. He and Mayor Nutter must look elsewhere to pay for pensions.
Read more at 

School Budget Problems Have Deep Roots in Philadelphia
District's problems seen as chronic
Education Week By Denisa R. Superville Published Online: May 6, 2014
For the second year in a row, the public schools here face the possibility of hundreds of layoffs, larger class sizes, and fewer programs.  The problem for the Philadelphia district is revenue, or a lack thereof, according to Superintendent William R. Hite, who described what has amounted to an annual cycle of deep budget cuts as "immoral."  Urban school districts, to be sure, have had their share of financial challenges, but Philadelphia's case appears to be far more acute and intractable, a confluence of politics and money, ability, and means.

A school's fate remains in question pending investigation
thenotebook by Bill Hangley Jr. on May 06 2014 Posted in Latest news
In the wake of a contentious and contested charter school election at Edward T. Steel School, District officials have promised City Council that next year’s Renaissance process will be better, with clearer criteria explaining schools’ selection and more time for everyone to prepare and take part.  But with the results of one of Steel’s two votes now in question, the school must wait to find out its fate.  Officials say they’ve only just begun investigating the various grievances about last week’s vote and won’t have a recommendation on the school’s future until that process is complete.

Pennsylvania schools lament possible loss of phone, Internet subsidies
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  By Debra Erdley  Published: Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 11:15 p.m.
A Federal Communications Commission proposal to trim some Internet and telephone subsidies to schools and libraries is raising red flags in cash-strapped school districts.  The subsidies, known as E-rates, underwrote more than $1.1 billion in costs for telephone service, new websites, Internet connections and email access for 1,100 Pennsylvania schools and libraries between 1998 and 2012, according to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officers.
Although the FCC has not released its final plan, many suspect the agency intends to phase out subsidies for so-called legacy services such as telephone voice services and hosted email and add money for new technologies and services.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, fears changes could hurt many schools.
PLANCON: Show us the money: School districts wait in vain for promised state funds
Lancaster Online By GIL SMART | Staff Writer Posted: Sunday, May 4, 2014 6:00 am
The Donegal School District might want to send a bill collector after the Pennsylvania Department of Education.  In recent years, the district has built a new high school and renovated two others, projects which collectively cost more than $60 million. But part of the deal was that the state was going to help the district shoulder the burden via a long-standing program that reimburses school districts for a portion of building and renovation costs. Donegal jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops, and the Department of Education agreed to reimburse the district a total of $7 million spread over annual installments.  But the annual installments dried up during the 2010-2011 school year. Donegal is currently owed $779,000. When is that money going to arrive? No one knows.

"Crocamo, along with Gary Schreckengost, Brian Kresge, Alice Yoder, Charlie Hample and Bryan Sanguinito, were railing against a moratorium placed on funds under the state's PlanCon program, which provides funds to help schools build and expand. Freezing the money has left school boards, and quite possibly taxpayers, in Donegal, Eastern Lancaster County, Elizabethtown, Hempfield, Lancaster, Manheim Township, Octorara and Penn Manor, holding the bag for $8.5 million."
Democrats denounce PLANCON cuts to local schools
Lancaster Online By LARRY ALEXANDER | Staff Writer Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 8:59 pm
Gov. Tom Corbett's decision to renege on state funding promised to schools for construction projects has Democrats running for office in November angry.  On Tuesday six candidates gathered at the corner of Route 772 and Koser Road just outside Donegal High School to vent their frustration and pledge to restore funding the Pennsylvania's schools.

Pa. lawmakers send Corbett child abuse bill
Lancaster Online by Associated Press Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 5:45 pm
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania lawmakers are sending the governor a bill designed to improve reporting by school employees of suspected child abuse.  The House voted unanimously on Tuesday in favor of the measure that the prime sponsor says puts school workers under the same reporting requirements as people employed in other types of work environments.
Gov. Tom Corbett's office says he plans to sign it.  The sponsor, Berks County Republican Rep. David Maloney, says he became aware that the standards were different while serving as a school board member.

New report cites $100 million-plus in waste, fraud in charter school industry
The Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog BY VALERIE STRAUSS May 6 at 1:30 pm
A new report (see below) by two groups that oppose reforms that are privatizing public education finds fraud and waste totaling more than $100 million of taxpayer funds in 15 of the 42 states that operate charter schools.  The report, titled “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, & Abuse,” and released by the nonprofit organizations Integrity in Education and the Center for Popular Democracy, cites news reports and criminal complaints from around the country that detail how some charter school operators have illegally used public money. It also makes policy recommendations, including a call for stopping charter expansion until oversight of charter operators is improved. Released during National Charter School Week, it notes that despite rapid growth in the charter industry, there is no agency at the federal or state level that has the resources to provide sufficient oversight.

Testing Run Amok I: U.S. judge: It’s ridiculous to judge teachers by test scores of students they don’t have, but it’s legal in Florida
The Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog BY VALERIE STRAUSS May 7 at 4:00 am
“Justice? You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.”
― William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own
A federal judge in Florida said that it is wildly unfair that the state evaluates many teachers on the standardized test scores of students they don’t have or subjects they don’t teach, but he ruled that can’t stop it because it is legal.  U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled in a lawsuit filed in 2013 by seven teachers and their unions which challenged the state’s educator evaluation system. The teachers said they had been or would be evaluated on the scores of students they haven’t taught and on subjects they don’t teach and that this violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clause of the Constitution.

"By state order, teachers and principals may not disclose any contents of the three days of standardized English tests that were given at the beginning of April"
Testing Run Amok II: A Conversation About Tests That Educators Want to Have, but Can’t
New York Times About New York By JIM DWYER MAY 6, 2014
Let’s talk about testing.  “I want to,” said Bob Bender, principal of Public School 11 in Chelsea. “I want my voice to be heard about how outraged I was about the exam.”  So by all means, speak up.  He sighed.  “I can’t go against the state embargo,” Mr. Bender said.
By state order, teachers and principals may not disclose any contents of the three days of standardized English tests that were given at the beginning of April.  Under many circumstances, this might be considered a favor to humankind: Few subjects are as fraught as standardized testing, with no end to the crossed wires of ideology, self-interest and strong opinions about arcane matters (how many “plausible distractors” — wrong answers that look as if they could be right — should be included in the multiple choices?) and ultimately, what is, or ought to be, at stake.  But it is hard to ignore an uprising by 37 principals from schools in Manhattan, as well as others from Brooklyn, who say they are not opposed to accountability or testing, but have spoken in blunt terms about the design and quality of this year’s state English tests. Among them was Mr. Bender. 

Spreading the A.P. Gospel to Nurture Scientists and Engineers
New York Times By KENNETH CHANG MAY 4, 2014
PITTSBURGH — Even before the first day of class in August, Maura Fritzley had second thoughts about taking Advanced Placement physics.  Although she got good grades in a mainstream physics class, Ms. Fritzley, an 18-year-old senior at Brashear High School here, had no intention of becoming a physicist, and A.P. classes, after all, are hard.  She decided she wanted to drop it, then changed her mind and stayed. And she struggled, a lot.
A.P. physics proved far more difficult than the earlier class. “Turns out that I’m not that good,” she said in November.  But Ms. Fritzley is exactly the sort of student Brashear administrators want in A.P. math and science classes — not just the brainiest top achievers, but also the average and above average.  Next week, she will take the advanced placement exam in physics, part of an annual two-week ritual for high school students. The goal is to score 3 or higher on the 1 to 5 scale, which many colleges will reward with course credit.

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.

PILCOP Know Your Child’s Rights Seminars
Join us on May 15th for one of three training sessions on Assistive Technology and Settlements.
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia
This training series on special education law teaches parents, attorneys and advocates how to secure education rights and services for students with special needs. These seminars aim to bring together a diverse community of advocates including parents, special education advocates, educators, attorneys, and community members. Each session focuses on a different legal topic, service or disability. Many sessions are co-led with guest speakers.
Next Trainings: Thursday May 15, 2014: Assistive Technology and Other Related Services; Settlements; Settlements (Abbreviated Session)

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.

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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