Monday, June 2, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 2: Follow the 2014 charter operator money: $75K from Gureghian; $50K from Karp

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Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for June 2, 2014:
Follow the 2014 charter operator money: $75K from Gureghian; $50K from Karp

Blogger's note: According to Pennsylvania's Campaign Finance website, on March 18th, 2014 Vahan Gureghian, CEO of Charter School Management, Inc. contributed $75,000 to the PA House Republican Campaign Committee.  On May 5th, 2014 Michael Karp, founder of Belmont Academy Charter School, contributed $50,000 to the PA House Republican Campaign Committee.  BTW, both were members of Governor Corbett's initial education transition team.  IMHO, it would be great to see real old-school investigative journalism and reporting following the charter school money and the misuse of taxpayer dollars under the Inky's new Lenfest/Katz regime…..
"Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania are considering updates to their charter laws that would dilute local control. A Pennsylvania bill would bypass local boards by allowing universities to authorize and regulate charters. A New Jersey bill would vest authority over charters in a new state commission and give local boards a minority role in approving new schools.  Each state's circumstances are different, but their goals should be the same: Make sure students seeking a better education in a charter actually get it, and that taxpayers footing the bill get their money's worth."
Inquirer Editorial: No turning back on charters
POSTED: Sunday, June 1, 2014, 1:10 AM
Much of the emotional national debate over school vouchers has subsided in the wake of arguments that have been just as animated concerning the insidious proliferation of charter schools.  The rapid growth of charters in the past 10 years indicates America's consumer society is beginning to accept the notion that a good education, rather than being a right, is a commodity to be bought and sold.  As a result, the shoppers' motto - "Let the buyer beware" - has become the slogan for parents trying to choose a charter school that will deliver what it advertised. Too often, as test scores attest, they are disappointed.

Blogger commentary: As we head into the thick of budget season, here's a useful historical perspective and context for the education policy and funding decisions that have played out over the past three and a half years in Pennsylvania: significant expansion of tax credit programs that divert tax dollars to unaccountable private and religious schools, elimination of the entire charter school reimbursement budget line, expansion of cyber charter schools…..
Corbett transition committees
Post-Gazette December 19, 2010 12:00 AM
A look at the composition of key Corbett transition committee membership indicates a tilt toward insiders -- lobbyists, lawyers and industry types.  Transition team members were told not to talk to the media, so their take on the direction of the committees was not available.  But in response to questions about lobbyists and other government or industry insiders on the transition committees, Kevin Harley, spokesman for Gov.-elect Tom Corbett, said team members signed ethics contracts requiring them to steer clear of conflicts of interest and prohibiting them from using their influence to obtain advantages for themselves, their families or their companies……..
Tom Corbett for the most part bypassed the traditional K-12 education community and turned to charter school and voucher supporters, attorneys, former Ridge administration workers and others for his education transition committee.
The panel is co-chaired by University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Joel Greenberg of Susquehanna International Group.
The committee includes three top postsecondary executives and several college trustees, as well as one member of the library community, Cynthia Richey, director of the Mt. Lebanon Public Library.
The list of 34 members does not include a single active teacher, district school board member, district administrator or staff member of the state's two major teacher unions and Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
The list does, however, includes two who are former school district superintendents -- one of whom had a top post at the Pennsylvania State Education Association -- and another who has past K-12 teaching experience out-of-state.
Charter school advocates dominate the committee. Charter schools, including cyber charter schools, are public schools. Students do not pay tuition, but school districts pay a fee set by the state for each resident who attends.
The REACH Foundation, which advocates for school vouchers, tax credits, charter schools and home schooling. has a strong presence -- of the 12 members of the REACH executive committee and board, five are on the committee.
The panel has four other charter school advocates, including three charter school operators and a prominent national figure in the charter school movement, Jeanne Allen, who founded the Center for Education Reform in Washington, D.C. The charter school operators include Vahan Gureghian, a wealthy campaign contributor who started the Chester County Charter School and is also a co-chair on the transportation committee.
The list, counting some of the members of various boards, includes at least six attorneys as well as several employees of lobbying firms.
Two legislators were named to the committee, state Rep. Paul Clymer, R-Bucks, Republican chair of the House Education Committee; and state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin, Republican chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Mr. Corbett has taken some criticism for naming Ana Puig, co-chair of the Kitchen Table Patriots, to the committee. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party accused her of hate speech.
Wythe Keever, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, declined to comment on the selections.
"The new governor elect has the right to talk to whomever he wants to talk to in transitioning to his new administration," Mr. Keever said.
Tim Allwein, assistant executive director of governmental relations for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said, "I don't think it was a surprise that the composition of that team leans heavily toward cyber charter school operators and those who undoubtedly support the voucher issue." But, he said, "just under 90 percent of school-age children in Pennsylvania attend a public school. To totally ignore them, I thought was not the best decision."

PHILADELPHIA—Dr. William R. Hite, Superintendent, and William J. Green, School Reform Commission (SRC) chairman, gave the statements below at the May 29 SRC meeting. 

Pa. budget secretary to Philly schools: Hey, we've got money problems, too
WHYY Newsworks BY KEVIN MCCORRY MAY 30, 2014
By refusing to adopt a budget that would gut schools to the point of "empty shells," the School Reform Commission clearly intended Thursday evening to send an urgent message to the people in City Hall and Harrisburg who provide its funding.  One of those is Charles Zogby, the state's budget secretary. In a local appearance Friday, Zogby acknowledged the district's dire financial straits, but said the district's woes are but one of many issues that the governor has to weigh this budget season.  Gov. Corbett and the state legislature have to approve a budget before the end of June. In the meantime, Zogby said that "there's a lot of fluidity," and that "all options are on the table." He said finding more money for schools is going to be extremely difficult given the state's own budget gap, which hovers between $1.3 and $1.5 billion dollars

"The governor has proposed, and we have supported, the concept of increasing education spending," Mr. Pileggi said last week. "That's a very sensitive topic for our members. That's an area that I think will receive added scrutiny and added attention. ... There is very broad support for increased education spending. And it is hard to get to increased education spending when you have a gap to fill. That's part of the discussion -- what do we do with the education spending items? [That's] probably the most sensitive part of the whole discussion."
Deadline looms for Pennsylvania's state budget
By Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- When legislators return to Harrisburg today after a three-week break, they'll face a daunting task and a looming deadline -- to pass a balanced budget by June 30, in spite of a projected revenue shortfall of at least $1.3 billion.  "All options truly are on the table," said Drew Crompton, chief of staff and legal counsel to Senate President Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson. "It's not all the options except the ones we don't like. It's truly all options."  The state's fiscal year ends June 30 and the General Assembly must finalize a 2014-15 spending plan by that date.

"That no-revenue-increase scenario would likely mean erasing the boosts in spending for education, college grants for middle-income students, and people with intellectual disabilities, along with other budget lines, that Gov. Tom Corbett proposed in his $29.4 billion general fund budget in February.  Given that this is a legislative and gubernatorial election year and the priority that a recent Franklin & Marshall College poll shows the public has placed on increasing funding for schools, undoubtedly lawmakers will reject that notion and look to options to avoid those cuts."
Big decisions await Pa. lawmakers when they return to Harrisburg on Monday
By Jan Murphy |  on May 30, 2014 at 4:48 PM
June's arrival for many Pennsylvanians signifies the start of summer fun – beaches, sun and outdoor activities. But at the state Capitol, it's crunch time.  It's more like final exam week times four (and possibly longer) for state lawmakers and key legislative staffers.  Their days ahead promise to be filled with information overload, tension, fatigue, badgering by lobbyists and special interests, and many difficult decisions related mostly to finalizing a 2014-15 budget plan by or close to June 30, when the fiscal year ends.

Jazz buff Sen. Vince Hughes riffs his way through the state budget: John L. Micek
By John L. Micek |  on May 09, 2014 at 8:43 AM
On one wall in state Sen. Vince Hughes’ state Capitol office, jazz legends stare down from framed, black-and-white prints.  Miles. Bird. Lady Day. Duke. They cast their shadow over a conference table in the Philadelphia Democrat’s suite on the building’s “E” floor (for “entropy” maybe?).    And they’re as an apt a metaphor as any to describe the experience of talking with Hughes, whose jazz solo rhetorical style is marked by digressions and explorations that eventually return him to the original theme of the conversation.  And on a rainy Wednesday this week, a looming $1.2 billion budget gap — and how to fill it — was topic No. 1. It’s something that Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, has spent a great deal of time thinking about. 

Budget talks begin as revenue shortfall gets wider
Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | May 29, 2014 7:19 PM
State lawmakers return to Harrisburg next week for the relatively action-packed month of June. It's a time reserved for finalizing a state budget before the July 1 deadline, and all signs point to a tough road ahead.  A projected $1.2 billion deficit is likely to grow, as May tax collections have been lackluster.  "May's collection numbers, to date, have been below what we would've hoped," said GOP Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi. "So we're very closely watching how the month of May will close."  Republicans, who control both legislative chambers, are considering what a budget would look like without any new revenue -- that is, what a budget would look like with significant spending cuts.  "We haven't really discussed raising revenues yet," said Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

May bringing more bad budget news
By Andrew Staub | PA Independent May 30, 2014
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The bad budget news just won’t stop in Pennsylvania.
State Sen. Jake Corman and state Rep. William Adolph, the Republican chairmen of the state House and Senate appropriations committees, said Thursday that Pennsylvania’s May revenue numbers will be as much as $100 million below expectations.  That harrowing news comes after revenue from April — one of the biggest collection months of the year — were short by $328.3 million. Adjusting for an early $80 million transfer from the state liquor store profits, a $100 million revenue shortfall in May would leave the state more than $600 million below expectations for the year.  The Independent Fiscal Office estimated earlier this month that 2013-14 revenue could end up $608 million below estimates. The hole could still deepen in June.  The shortfall has already thrown Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal for next year off-kilter, Adolph said.

'Hybrid' pension reform idea is worth pursuing: Editorial
By PennLive Editorial Board on June 01, 2014 at 5:53 AM
As a new report makes clear, the pension proposal from Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill/Berks) would be a promising step toward much-needed long-term reform. The Public Employees Retirement Commission, an independent advisory group to state pension funds, found Tobash's plan would save roughly $11 billion over the next 30 years.  However, his plan is only part of the wider changes needed to protect both taxpayers and public workers from the drastic underfunding of state pension systems.  Tobash suggests a new hybrid that combines a smaller guaranteed traditional pension with the more flexible, but less secure 401k-style retirement savings plans.  Because his plan applies only to new hires, most of the benefit comes in the latter years covered by the analysis. There's no immediate relief for school districts and state agencies that face painful, steady increases in pension contributions.

State pension beat: of debt and design changes
WITF Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | May 29, 2014 7:10 PM
Democratic and Republican state lawmakers differ as to whether it matters that a plan to change pension benefits doesn't take a big bite out of the massive debt the state has already accrued.
The Republican plan to change pension benefits for future state and school employees would bring savings -- just not the kind that would help the state pay off pension debt much faster than existing law requires.  "You won't see big number changes until you're 25 or 30 changes in the future," said Jim McAneny, executive director of the Pennsylvania Employee Retirement Commission (PERC). "Actually, you don't totally see the changes until everybody has joined the choir invisible -- passed on."  Does it matter that a plan to change pension benefits wouldn't do much to pay off existing pension debt?

Architects’ house of cards
Scranton Times Tribune BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD Published: May 30, 2014
Soon after the 59-story Citibank tower in New York opened in 1978, its architects and engineers discovered that they hadn’t accounted for the prospect of high winds in a particular direction that could cause catastrophic damage. They devised a fix.   
Those architects are not Pennsylvania legislators.
In 2001 greedy lawmakers gave themselves a 50 percent pension increase, cut in state and public school employees for 25 percent, made all of it retroactive and, a year later, gave retirees a cost of living increase in their pensions. Then, they announced that the plans’ investment earnings would cover all of it because, after all, the markets only rise. So, they failed to make required employer contributions to the plan and advised school boards to follow suit.
Unfortunately, the markets hadn’t heard about gravity’s repeal. The “dot-com bubble” burst, markets plummeted and taxpayers were placed on the hook — all the more so when the markets tumbled even farther six years later during the Great Recession. Lawmakers responded by protecting themselves, deferring the issue for more than a decade — until now.
The plans are underfunded by about $50 billion, and the taxpayers’ cost is projected to increase exponentially for the next two decades — hundreds of millions of dollars a year, a rate that also diminishes the government’s ability to deliver needed services.
So it’s hardly surprising that the latest plan to fix the state pension systems, a “hybrid” covering only new state employees, won’t do much to help taxpayers while enabling the current generation of politicians to lob the problem farther down the road to their successors.

Did SRC's refusal to pass budget help district?
As the deadline for the Philadelphia School District to adopt a budget approached, its leaders gathered in a room to brainstorm: What could they do to make the numbers work? What solutions were open to them to avoid 1,000 layoffs, jamming 41 children into each classroom, and further cutting supports for needy students?  "Frankly, there weren't any," School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green said, recalling a conversation he and other top officials had recently.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. was the first to make the suggestion - what if the SRC didn't pass a $2.4 billion budget by May 31, the date the city's charter says a spending plan must be adopted? What if it blew the deadline on purpose?  "Dr. Hite said, 'Basically, I can't support any budget that has this little revenue,' " Green said.

Philly: One surefire way to wreck a public school system
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog BY VALERIE STRAUSS May 31 at 12:25 pm
How do you wreck a public school system?
There are plenty of ways, but right now let’s just focus on one district, the state-run Philadelphia School District, which has been starved for funding by the administration of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and has been a guinea pig for corporate school reform, with widespread school closures and rapid charter expansion in the past decade.  Things are so bad on the financial front that district officials created a $2.4 billion budget for the next school year with available resources and then urged the state-created School Reform Commission on Thursday night not to pass it.  The Notebook, an independent Web site that covers Philadelphia education, said Superintendent William Hite warned that  the budget was not “educationally sound or economically prudent for the city or the state.”  The Notebook said:

According to Pennsylvania's Campaign Finance website, on May 5th, 2014 the Students First PAC contributed $50,000 to the Williams for Senate campaign.  They spent millions on his failed gubernatorial bid a few years back.
Tony Williams building support for a 2015 mayoral run
Inquirer by Claudia Vargas @InqCVargas POSTED: FRIDAY, MAY 30, 2014, 5:05 PM
State Sen. Anthony Williams held a meeting Friday afternoon with various city, labor and business leaders to sell them on the idea of why he would be a good mayoral candidate in 2015.
Williams hired Washington D.C.-based 270 Strategies — made up largely of people who worked on both Obama campaigns — to run his senate reelection campaign but also to prepare for a likely 2015 run.  “Today was the first gathering of significant folks who have surrounded me in the last few years to say we would be interested in you running for mayor and reveal to them what I’ve been working on the last few years,” Williams said after the meeting and presentation.
The gathering, held at the Hilton on City Avenue, was closed off to the press.

Here's some background from July 2012…..
Will a PAC Pick Philly’s Next Mayor?
Students First is very interested in City Council.
Philadelphia Magazine BY PATRICK KERKSTRA  |  JULY 6, 2012 AT 7:30 AM
The pro-privatization Students First PAC has been a huge player in state politics from the moment it emerged in 2010 flush with cash, much of it from three local businessmen who together founded Susquehanna International Group, a global investment company.  Students First gave State Sen. Anthony Williams—a leading Democratic proponent of school vouchers—a staggering $3.65 million for his failed gubernatorial run. And ever since, the PAC has showered smaller sums on state representatives and senators receptive to the organization’s goal of sweeping education reform.

“We’re still licking our wounds from the spending cuts in 2011,” Cave said.  ….“We’re not looking to build a multimillion-dollar gym. We’re looking at very very basic needs.
William Penn School District feeling the financial pinch
By NICK TRICOME, Delco Times Correspondent POSTED: 06/01/14, 10:00 PM
William Penn Board Member Rafi Cave put it simply at the school district’s monthly business meeting.  “We’re still licking our wounds from the spending cuts in 2011,” Cave said.
Although the school district itself is struggling financially, it isn’t the only one feeling the effects from governor Tom Corbett’s $900 million cut to the education budget from three years ago. The impact is being felt statewide.  “Schools are making base-level, necessity type decisions for basic survival,” Cave said. “We’re not looking to build a multimillion-dollar gym. We’re looking at very very basic needs.

Wilkinsburg budget cuts teachers, expands courses
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette May 30, 2014 11:54 PM
The Wilkinsburg school board is considering a $28 million 2014-15 budget that calls for a staff reduction of at least nine teachers but will offer more courses for students by merging the faculties of the middle and high schools.  The number of furloughs could increase if the teachers union accepts a tentative contract approved unanimously by the board Friday.  The current high school schedule offers no math beyond pre-calculus, no upper level science, English or foreign language courses, no advanced placement or computer courses and just a handful of electives.

Charter operators are letting their legislators know their thoughts on pending legislation ($75K from Gureghian; $50K from Karp); are you?
Our Missing $200 Million
Yinzercation Blog May 30, 2014
We’d like our $200 million back, please. That’s how much money charter schools in Pennsylvania collected last year for special education in excess of what they actually spent on special education for students. Charter schools took in over $350 million, but spent only $150 million. (Or $350,562,878 vs. $156,003,034 to be exact.) So where’s our extra $200 million? (OK, $193,559,844 to be exact.)  Our colleague, Mark Spengler, who is a public education advocate in the Lehigh Valley and tracked down this data, points out that, “charter schools are not obligated to spend special education funding for special education purposes. That money can be spent for numerous miscellaneous reasons including billboards and mailer advertisements.” [Lower Macungie Patch, 5-26-14]  Last year, the Pennsylvania legislature created a Special Education Funding Commission to devise a new funding formula. Deplorably, the old formula did not reimburse schools for the actual cost of educating students with special needs, which resulted in great inequities (and under-funding for some of the state’s most vulnerable children). The bi-partisan commission’s recommendations formed the basis for House Bill 2138 and Senate Bill 1316 now under consideration. These bills would create a fair and rational system of funding special education in Pennsylvania based on actual costs. However, Harrisburg lobbyists are threatening to kill the two bills.
Our partner, Education Voters PA, is making it easy for us to help fight back:

Shameless Lobbying by Charter Schools Jeopardizes Solid Special Education Reform
Lower Macungie Patch Posted by Mark Spengler , May 26, 2014 at 02:25 PM
Pennsylvania charter schools collected $350,562,878 last year for special education funding and spent $156,003,034 for special education!  Where did the other $200 million go?  The fact of the matter is that charter schools are not obligated to spend special education funding for special education purposes.  That money can be spent for numerous miscellaneous reasons including billboards and mailer advertisements. 
Act 3 of 2013 created a Special Education Funding Commission given the task of examining special education funding and recommending a new formula for distributing funding to PA schools.  The old formula was not based on actual special education costs.  The commission, which included local Senator Patrick Browne, held 7 hearings, including 2 that focused totally on charter school funding of special education.  The commission's efforts resulted in House bill 2138 and Senate Bill 1316 which base special education funding on costs.

"Last December, Pearson paid $7.7 million Iin New York State to settle accusations that it used its charitable foundation to help its for-profit parent company develop course materials and software for Common Core.  If you thought that would disqualify them from the Common Core bonanza, you filled in the wrong little oval. In May, Pearson won the testing contract for Common Core states. We don’t know how much money this is, but at $24 per student we could be looking at the largest testing contract in history."
Common Core opposition is no joke
Behind Frenemy Lines Blog June 1, 2014 by Jason Stanford
It’s hard to tell what’s a bigger joke: Common Core or Common Core critics. Rightwing hysteria that Common Core will turn our children into gay socialists—not kidding about that one—is overshadowing legitimate reasons to oppose it. The problem with Common Core isn’t that Barack Obama is brainwashing our children. It’s that the brand new curriculum is being ruined by the same old tests.  The Common Core State Standards Initiative began innocently enough under George W. Bush. Governors and state education officials convened to determine what to teach our children in math and English to get them ready for college. Then Barack Obama got elected and offered competitive grants to states through Race to the Top, whereupon Common Core became an insidious plot to destroy America.  It’s gotten a little out of hand. In March, a Florida state representative said the purpose of Common Core was to “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.” The Oklahoma legislature just voted to repeal Common Core standards because, as one state representative said, it was “indoctrinating” children into socialism. An Alabama Tea Party leader warned legislators that voting to adopt Common Core would damn them to Hell because it promoted “acceptance of homosexuality, alternate lifestyles, radical feminism, abortion, illegal immigration and the redistribution of wealth.”

"Between 1971 and 2010, the authors write, supreme courts in 28 states responded to large gaps between richer and poorer school districts by reforming school finance systems. Although the changes had limited consequences for children from higher-income families, the paper says, they had large effects on the life chances of low-income children who were exposed to sizable and sustained spending increases."
School Spending Increases Linked to Better Outcomes for Poor Students
Education Week By Holly Yettick Published Online: May 29, 2014
In districts that substantially increased their spending as the result of court-ordered changes in school finance, low-income children were significantly more likely to graduate from high school, earn livable wages, and avoid poverty in adulthood.  So concludes a working paper published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, or NBER, a private, nonpartisan research organization with headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.  The provocative results provide new fodder for long-running debates over whether more education spending translates into improved outcomes for children. They also delve into thorny methodological questions over how to best estimate the way in which state-level school finance reforms have affected district-level spending.

Winning School Board Candidates in New York Area Backed by Opt-Out Group
Education Week K12 Parents and the Public Blog By Karla Scoon Reid on May 28, 2014
In New York's Nassau and Suffolk counties, 21 school board candidates endorsed by a grassroots group that advocates for students' rights to refuse state standardized testing won seats in the May 20 election.  Long Island Opt Out backed a total of 42 candidates across 26 districts, according to Newsday, giving the group a 50 percent success rate. The winning school board candidates even managed to unseat six incumbents.  A recent Newsday survey of more than half of Long Island's school districts found that 10,765 children, or about 1 of 8 students, opted out of the latest round of state math tests this month. A growing number of New York parents have protested against standardized testing after the state realigned its assessment system to meet the more challenging Common Core State Standards.(Read more about the opt-out movement nationally here.)

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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