Thursday, May 29, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 29: Keystone Exams: Pa. bill would end plans for mandatory graduation tests

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Keystone State Education Coalition
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for May 29, 2014:
Keystone Exams: Pa. bill would end plans for mandatory graduation tests

What do the VA & Philly schools have in common?
Tweet from Signe Wilkinson

Keystone Exams: Pa. bill would end plans for mandatory graduation tests
KATHY BOCCELLA, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Thursday, May 29, 2014, 1:08 AM POSTED: Wednesday, May 28, 2014, 5:27 PM
A bill that would eliminate a key component of the state's Common Core curriculum - passing proficiency tests to graduate from high school - was introduced Wednesday by Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester), his third attempt to send the tests to the back of the class.  Critics have argued that the tests represent an unfunded mandate for school districts and penalize students from underprivileged schools.  Dinniman, co-chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has also sought funding for districts to administer the tests, and to limit the test subjects to biology, algebra, and language arts. Acting State Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq has said she would not increase the number of tests for the time being.

OK, its not exactly Game of Thrones but if you are concerned with the overemphasis on testing and with adequate/equitable school funding nuke up some popcorn and check this out….and thanks to Senator Dinniman and his staff for putting this event together.
Video of May 21st Southeastern Pennsylvania Roundtable Discussion on Education hosted by Senator Dinniman
On May  21st, State Senator Andy Dinniman brought together education professionals and advocates from throughout the southeast region for a roundtable discussion on critical issues in education at the Technical College High School – Brandywine Campus.  Discussion included the focus on testing and the Keystone Graduation Exams along with the need to adequately support and sustain public education for the future.  The panel featured education professionals from Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, Delaware and Philadelphia counties as well as representatives from major education organizations.  The video from the event is now available for viewing on Keystone on Demand (video runtime 1:56):

Here's local coverage of the above panel discussion….
Schools want more state funding to cover cost of Keystone Exams
Pottstown Mercury By Ginger Rae Dunbar, POSTED: 05/27/14
DOWNINGTOWN — School officials from five counties gathered recently to say that Pennsylvania school district budgets need more state funding as the mandated Keystone Exams are costly in preparation time and testing expenses.  State Sen. Andrew Dinniman, co-chairman of the senate education committee, hosted the education roundtable to listen to the issues concerning public education funds.

State pension reform plan could save Pennsylvania taxpayers billions
Despite long-term savings, the bill proposed by a Schuylkill County lawmaker faces uncertain future.
By Steve Esack, Call Harrisburg Bureau 9:10 p.m. EDT, May 28, 2014
HARRISBURG — Depending on who is counting, a bill to change the state's debt-laden public pension systems could save taxpayers $10 billion to $14.2 billion over three decades, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Public Employee Retirement Commission.  The State Employee Retirement and Public School Retirement systems are carrying $50.5 billion in debt, mostly from past-due payments the state and school districts skipped. The bill the commission reviewed does not tackle the old-debt problem; instead it looks to reduce future pension costs.  Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill, new employees could apply the first $50,000 of their salaries toward guaranteed benefits under the state or school pension plans. Any salary above that would be covered by a 401(k)-style private plan, which would produce the long-term savings for taxpayers.  But there is no guarantee the Legislature will approve the bill because it is tied to another pension plan floated by Gov. Tom Corbett as part of his 2014-15 budget proposal.
Hybrid pension plan for school, state employees projected to produce $11 billion in savings over 30 years
By Jan Murphy | on May 28, 2014 at 2:52 PM
A proposed pension reform plan that would change the design of the state and school employees' retirement plans would eventually erase the pension systems' $47.5 billion debt and introduce a mandatory 401k-style retirement-savings plan for new public employees.  The hybrid defined benefit-defined contribution plan would produce a projected $11 billion of savings in taxpayers' contributions to the systems over the next 30 years, according to an independent actuarial study commissioned and approved by the Public Employees Retirement Commission this morning.
Other actuarial studies put the 30-year savings between $6.5 billion and $13 billion, depending on the assumptions built into them, said commission executive director James McAneny.

Hybrid pension reform plan for future school and state employees draws mixed reviews
By Jan Murphy | on May 28, 2014 at 6:11 PM
A newly released pension reform idea that would move future state and school employees into a plan that combines the guaranteed benefits that they have now with the riskier 401k-style plan many in the private sector have is drawing mixed reviews.  View full sizeA hybrid pension reform plan that is now under consideration that combines a defined benefit plan with a defined contribution plan for future school and state employees is drawing mixed reviews. 
The shift to this so-called hybrid defined benefit-defined contribution plan is seen by its chief architect, Rep. Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill, as a way to move the State Employees' Retirement System and Public School Employees' Retirement System into a more sustainable way of providing taxpayer-funded pension benefits to future public employees.
But others question whether it puts public workers' retirement security in jeopardy or goes far enough.

Pension changes could save Pa. $11 billion over 30 years, analysis says
WHYY Newsworks BY MARY WILSON MAY 28, 2014
Pennsylvania House lawmakers have the actuarial analysis they need to start collecting votes on a measure to overhaul the state's pension plans.  A state commission central to the debate over changing public pension benefits in Pennsylvania has said its consulting actuary finds that the amended House proposal would save more than $11 billion for the commonwealth over a 30-year span.  The measure would change pension benefits only for future state and school employees, setting up a hybrid plan – part would be the traditional defined-benefit pension, and part would be a 401(k)-style plan. Current employees are enrolled in a defined-benefit pension plan.

Bangor Area School District looks at cutting wood shop, sewing classes to lower proposed tax hike
Lehigh Valley Live By Lynn Ondrusek on May 29, 2014 at 6:00 AM
Some hands-on classes in the Bangor Area School District may be cut in order to save taxpayers money.  Superintendent Frank DeFelice at Tuesday night's school board meeting recommended cutting wood shop classes in the middle and high school, sewing classes in the high school and not filling seven staff positions.  He said the staff cuts would come through attrition. The savings could take a proposed 2.7 percent tax hike down to less than 1 percent.

"At nearly $1 million, the total, conservative number for the costs would have been enough to pay about 20 teachers for one school year, according to the district. The fight began around 2008."
Cost of Pocono Mountain Charter School fight nears $1 million
Another $120,000 spent by district, charter since September
By Jenna Ebersole Pocono Record Writer May 19, 2014
The Pocono Mountain Charter School legal war has cost taxpayers another $120,000 since mid-September, and roughly $920,000 since its start.   The charter school and Pocono Mountain School District provided updated figures for the fight this week. The two sides together have averaged at least $15,000 per month in legal fees since September and have spent about the same amount in that time, with the district spending about $59,000 and the charter about $60,000.

New Hope founder plans private K-12 school
York Dispatch By ERIN JAMES UPDATED:   05/19/2014  
The company that manages New Hope Academy Charter School — which will close in June — is planning to open a private school.  The Hilda Goodling Impact Academy at 200 E. Princess St. will serve students in grades K-12, said Denise Stouffer, assistant managing officer for 3Cord Inc.  Stouffer said 3Cord is planning to open the academy in the fall.  Enrollment is open now, but a target number of students has not yet been decided, she said.  "We're still in that planning phase," Stouffer said.  According to the school's website,, the school will offer three academy programs — entrepreneurial, sports science and performing arts.  The website also lays out tuition costs for the private school. For elementary and middle school students, the cost is $8,500 annually.  That cost increases to $9,395 for high school students.
The academy, according to its website, will charge special-education students $12,500 annually.

Philly charter head calls state Supreme Court decision against his school 'political'
WHYY Newsworks BY KEVIN MCCORRY MAY 28, 2014
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in favor of the School Reform Commission in a case involving student enrollment caps at a Philadelphia charter school.  In a unanimous decision overturning a lower court ruling, the state's high court said that the Philadelphia School District and the SRC were within their legal rights to cap enrollment at Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School based on a mutually signed agreement.  In 2005, Palmer agreed to abide by a cap of 675 students, but a Commonwealth Court later ruled Palmer should be paid $1.3 million from the district for students in excess of the cap. In its 2005 charter-renewal application, the Palmer school asked to increase ts cap. The SRC denied its request, citing poor academic performance on state standardized tests.

PA Budget plan leaves no money for school construction
Tribune Review By Megan Harris Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 10:00 p.m.
Cash-strapped schools desperate to replace leaky roofs and crumbling infrastructure likely will go without state construction money for a third year, school business officials say, since Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposal continues a moratorium on funding new projects.  In 2012, Corbett cut funding to new applications, stalling 354 projects in varying stages of construction or capital planning. At least 200 since have been financed — some even finished — with the expectation of state money that didn't come.  The state Department of Education has estimated it would need at least $1.6 billion to reimburse them all.

"These school districts played by the rules and entered the PlanCon process with no knowledge of the impending backlog and no indication that reimbursement would be delayed in any way.  They have significant financial obligations and do not have the liberty of simply delaying payment until state reimbursement is received."
PlanCon Background and School District Impact
PASBO January 16, 2014
PlanCon is a lengthy process of approvals required by the Department of Education (PDE) for schools to receive reimbursement for new construction projects or for renovations of existing buildings. The PlanCon process and the reimbursement to schools for a portion of the cost has been established in the School Code and State Board of Education regulations for decades.
The PlanCon approval process consists of 11 steps, covering everything from preliminary planning and facility design and to project financing and refinancing. Once the extensive series of preliminary planning steps have been completed and approved by PDE, debt is put into place, schools seek bids, begin construction, and then apply for partial reimbursement for a percentage of their project costs. Wealthier districts receive a very small share (usually under 10% of the total project cost) while lower wealth districts can receive a larger state share of the project costs.

A growing push to abolish the SRC
Citypaper By Daniel Denvir Published: 05/28/2014
Pennsylvania Working Families plans to deliver 40,000 petition signatures this morning to Philadelphia City Council asking them to place a question on November's ballot demanding that the state abolish the School Reform Commission.  The measure would add a section to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter charging that "the state's takeover of our schools through the School Reform Commission has weakened the voices of parents and community" and "call[ing] upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to abolish the School Reform Commission and return local control of Philadelphia's schools."  City Council can propose a Charter amendment to appear on the ballot by a two-thirds vote, or by only a majority if a petition signed by at least 20,000 registered voters is submitted—but still only if Council chooses to do so.

School activists: Get rid of the SRC
The Inquirer by Claudia Vargas @InqCVargas POSTED: WEDNESDAY, MAY 28, 2014, 2:34 PM
A group of school activists went to City Hall today with 40,000 signatures on a petition calling for city and state support in abolishing the School Reform Commission.   The lead petitioners, who include members of the Pennsylvania Working Families, teachers and parents, want the city to get control back of its schools. The way to do that, they believe, is by asking for a City Charter amendment that would ask the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor to get rid of the SRC.

Debate Continues Over Holocaust Education
Jewish Exponent MAY 28, 2014 By: Eric Berger
Holocaust education advocates are again grappling with the best course of action in pushing for legislation that would increase the number of students studying the subject in Pennsylvania.
There still appears to be a divide over whether passing a bill that does not require students to learn about the Holocaust can be considered a success and, conversely, whether a bill that does include a mandate has any chance of passing in the Republican-controlled legislature. 

Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch May 28, 2014 //
The Florida League of Women Voters just released a bombshell study of charters across the state. The study shows that charter schools do not perform better than public schools; that charters are more segregated than public schools; that many charters funnel money to religious organizations; that a significant number of charters operate for profit; and that the charter industry has captured control of key seats in the legislature.  Here is the press release. Open the links and read the study. At the end of the press release is a list of state legislators identified by the LWV with “Conflict of Interest Concerns.”

NSBA urges U.S. House members to oppose school voucher bill
NSBA School Board News Today by Alexis Rice May 28, 2014
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel sent a letter today to members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging them not to support the CHOICE Act as it would provide federal resources for voucher schemes and fund private schools that are not fully accountable to the same laws and civil rights that govern public schools.
Representatives Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) are expected to introduce the CHOICE ACT on Thursday, May 29, 2014. The bill would provide vouchers to students educated under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students who reside in military installations, and students enrolled or waiting for vouchers through the DC Opportunity Scholarship program.

NSBA calls for research, not mandates, to help public schools serve ELLs
NSBA School Board News Today by Joetta Sack-Min May 28, 2014
The National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel participated in a National Roundtable on English Language Learners at the U.S. Department of Education this week, where he discussed the needs of students whose primary language is not English.  Gentzel emphasized the need for the federal government to focus on providing technical assistance and disseminating best practices rather than imposing new mandates on school districts.  “Changing demographics are affecting school districts of all sizes in every part of the country,” Gentzel said after the discussion, which included representatives of nearly a dozen national and statewide organizations, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and several other officials from the Department of Education.

The Country’s Cultural Capital Has a Big Arts-Education Problem
A new report found that many New York City schools in low-income areas don't have teachers for creative fields like dance, music, painting, or sculpture.
The Atlantic by JACOBA URISTMAY 28 2014, 12:52 PM ET
With its art fairs, first-class museums, a multi-billion-dollar theater industry, and the world’s largest performing arts center, New York City’s commitment to the arts seems absolute. But when it comes to providing access to arts education in public schools, the city's comptroller has given New York a failing grade.   In April, the office released its first-ever State of the Arts report, finding a big difference between the level of arts education in wealthier and lower-income schools. This has raised fresh questions about how art enhances learning and whether children will be better prepared for a 21st century economy if they have mastered the “soft” skills that art teaches. In an increasingly “creative” economy, the argument goes, students need original thinking to thrive—and then only wealthy New Yorkers are being set up to succeed.

"What if Booker had objectively reported the results of Newark's high-performing charters, such as North Star Academy, a member of the Uncommon Schools network? North Star was driven by data and non-unionized teachers who could "teach like champions!" The result was proficiency rates as high as 100% and graduation rates of 100%.  What if he then shared the research of RutgersBruce Baker? Baker showed that in comparison to Newark schools North Star served 14% fewer students with family incomes low enough for free lunch. It served 36% fewer students with learning disabilities. The charter served no students with emotional disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, or multiple impairments. North Star was tied with another charter school for the city's second highest suspension rate. That was only one reason why the attrition rate for black boys between 5th and 12th grade was 60%."
John Thompson: What Will Zuckerberg Learn From Newark?
Education Week Living in Dialogue Blog By Anthony Cody on May 28, 2014 9:47 AM
Guest post by John Thompson.
Dale Russakoff's New Yorker profile "Schooled" is a wonderful account of Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million investment in Newark school reform, and how and why it failed. Perhaps the best new revelation in "Schooled" starts with the lesson Russakoff learned from a wealthy donor. "Investors bet on people, not on business plans, because they know successful people will find a way to be successful." And, sure enough, when Facebook's founder announced his plan to transform Newark schools, "One Newark," he explained that he was persuaded by then-mayor Cory Booker, "This is the guy I want to invest in. This is a person who can create change."  Booker created a confidential draft plan to "make Newark the charter school capital of the nation." Because it would be driven by philanthropic donors, no openness would be required.  "Real change requires casualties," Booker argued, and stealth was required to defeat "the pre-existing order," which will "fight loudly and viciously."  This raises the question of what would have happened if Booker had done all of "the right things," and been transparent, instead of caricaturing teachers and unions. What if Booker had provided Zuckerberg with a fair and balanced analysis of school improvement issues?

Finns beat U.S. with low-tech take on school
Politico By CAITLIN EMMA | 5/27/14 11:39 PM EDT
HELSINKI — At the start of morning assembly in the state-of-the-art Viikki School here, students’ smartphones disappear. In math class, the teacher shuts off the Smartboard and begins drafting perfect circles on a chalkboard. The students — some of the highest-achieving in the world — cut up graphing paper while solving equations using their clunky plastic calculators.  Finnish students and teachers didn’t need laptops and iPads to get to the top of international education rankings, said Krista Kiuru, minister of education and science at the Finnish Parliament. And officials say they aren’t interested in using them to stay there.  That’s in stark contrast to what reformers in the U.S. say. From President Barack Obama on down, they have called education technology critical to improving schools. By shifting around $2 billion in existing funds and soliciting $2 billion in contributions from private companies, the Obama administration is pressing to expand schools’ access to broadband and the devices that thrive on it.

“How Public School Funding Works in Pennsylvania—Or Doesn’t: What You Need to Know” When: Friday, May 30, 2014, 9 am to 12 pm Where: Marriott Hotel in Conshohocken, PA
Session I:  "Funding Schools: What Pennsylvania Can Learn from Other States"

Key Pennsylvania legislators and public officials will respond to a presentation by Professor Robert C. Knoeppel of Clemson University, an expert on emerging trends and ideas in public school finance.
Introduction: Representative Steve Santarsiero
Moderator: Rob Wonderling, President and CEO, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce
Charles Zogby, Secretary of the Budget, Commonwealth of PA, Senator Patrick Browne, Senator Anthony Williams, Representative Bernie O'Neill, Representative James Roebuck
Session II: "Why Smart Investments in Public Schools Are Critical to Pennsylvania's Economic Future"
A discussion with a panel of CEOs who are major employers in the region.
Introduction: Rob Loughery, Chair, Bucks County Commissioners
Panel (confirmed to date):
Michael Pearson, President and CEO, Union Packaging, Philip Rinaldi, CEO, Philadelphia Energy Solutions, Bryan Hancock, Principal, McKinsey & Company, and author: "The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America's Schools"
You can register for this free event here:

Saturday, May 31, 2014 - 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM (8:30 Registration)
Keynote Speaker: Dan Hardy – Retired Reporter -Philadelphia Inquirer
Distressed Schools: How Did it Come to This?
  • The State of Education in Pennsylvania 60 Years after Brown
  • Keystones and Graduation: Cut the Connection
  • How Harrisburg Cut District Funding, Poured on the Keystones, and Connected them to Graduation
  • Financing Our Schools: What Does it Cost to Educate a Child in 2014 and How Should We Fund It?
  • Effective Advocacy – How to be Heard in Harrisburg - And - What We Need to be Saying
For more info and registration:

Education Policy and Leadership Center
Click here to read more about EPLC’s Education Policy Fellowship Program, including: 2014-15 Schedule 2014-15 Application Past Speakers Program Alumni And More Information

PCCY invites you to get on the School Spirit Bus to Harrisburg on Tuesday June 10th for Fair and Full School Funding!
Public Citizens for Children and Youth
On Tuesday June 10th, Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) will be going to Harrisburg.  Join committed parents, leaders, and community members from around state to make it clear to Harrisburg that PA students need fair and full funding now!  We are providing free transportation to and from Harrisburg as well as lunch.   Please arrive at the United Way Building located at 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway no later than8:15am.  The bus will depart at 8:30am sharp! Reserve your seat today by emailing us at or calling us at 215-563-5848 x11. You can download and share our flyer by clicking here. We hope to see you there!

Pennsylvania Education Summit Wednesday, June 11, 2014 from 9:00 AM to 3:30 PM (EDT) Camp Hill, PA
PA Business-Education Partnership
Welcome By Governor Tom Corbett (invited)
Remarks Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq (confirmed)
Perceptions & comments of business leaders, educators, college presidents, and advocacy groups

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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