Wednesday, June 4, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 4: Basic Ed funding commission bill advances in PA Senate

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Keystone State Education Coalition
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for June 4, 2014:
Basic Ed funding commission bill advances in PA Senate

Yesterday, PA-HB 1738, which would create a Basic Education Funding commission, passed in the Senate 47-1.
Capitolwire: Basic ed funding commission bill advances to PA Senate floor
Christen Smith, Capitolwire 6/3/2014
A bill that would create a commission to analyze basic education funding moved one step closer to the governor's desk Monday. Capitolwire, reprinted with permission
Rep. Bernie O'Neill, R-Bucks, introduced the legislation last October. The bill's language would establish a commission whose members would be "tasked with developing a formula that takes into account each school district's market value, personal income aid ratio, equalized millage rate, geographic price differences, enrollment levels, local support and other factors."
"All of these factors have an impact on the financial stability of our schools and education programs," O'Neill said in January just after the House passed the legislation on a vote of 187-9. "The goal is to collect current information, talk to our schools and other experts and develop a new way of distributing state funding based on actual student and school data."

Tom Wolf's Real Opponent
Politically Uncorrected by G. Terry Madonna & Michael L.Young June 3, 2014
Newly nominated Democrat Tom Wolf thinks he is running against Republican incumbent Tom Corbett for Pennsylvania governor.  And he is. But he is also running against history -- a lot of it -- all predicting that Wolf won’t defeat Corbett in the fall. That history may turn out to be Wolf’s toughest opponent and his greatest obstacle to becoming Pennsylvania’s next governor.
The history to which we allude is, of course, Pennsylvania’s now notorious “eight year cycle” -- a 60-year uninterrupted interval that began in 1954. During this period the Republican and Democratic parties have alternated the governor’s office exactly every eight years.
Over this time span, 15 total gubernatorial elections comprising seven successive eight-year cycles have occurred. No party has held the governorship less than two consecutive terms or more than two consecutive terms.

Nothing about school construction happens quickly
By John Finnerty Meadville Tribune June 2, 2014
HARRISBURG — With summer approaching, students across the commonwealth are scurrying to finish year-end projects. The state Department of Education had a big project due in May, too. But officials are quietly asking for an extension because they didn’t get the job done.
In a 22-page report, education officials say about one-third of the state’s school districts responded to a survey meant to gauge how much it will cost to replace or repair aging school buildings. That’s just not enough feedback to determine the scope of the problem, the report’s authors note.  Their study is not mere busywork. It’s important because the state must figure out how much money it needs to help local districts pay for new construction. In the meantime, a crisis is deepening for many districts that are waiting for cash from the state to help pay for new building or repairs.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em - could a higher cigarette tax help balance Pa's books?: Tuesday Morning Coffee
By John L. Micek |  on June 03, 2014 at 8:31 AM
Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
April's revenue showers brought with them only more rain in May, with tax collections coming in $108 million less for the month and $532.2 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
Thus are state lawmakers looking under every couch cushion for new money that will help balance the state's books without resulting in a broad-based tax increase or any severe cuts to programs, including public education.  So it was interesting to hear Senate Democrats on Monday as they partially resurrected a proposal, dating back to the Rendell administration, to slap new levies on cigars, smokeless tobacco products and eCigarettes, as well as a hike to the state's per-pack cigarette tax.

"A study produced for the legislature last month showed Internet gaming could generate about $70 million in new state taxes if rolled out in the middle of the fiscal year, rising to about $110 million annually after that."
Internet gambling might work in Pa., but key senator says it's too complex an issue for this year's budget
By Charles Thompson |  on June 03, 2014 at 7:05 PM,
A state senator who was one of the fathers of legalized slots play in Pennsylvania says Internet-based gambling may be a good fit for Pennsylvania long term.  But Sen. Robert "Tommy" Tomlinson, R-Bucks County, also said the next big expansion of legalized gambling in Pennsylvania shouldn't be rushed through this month simply to make a budget number.
"To me, I'd rather be more cautious… than to jump into something just so we can get money for this budgetary cycle," Tomlinson said Tuesday after a public hearing on Internet-based games.

This KEYSEC post reached more than 1700 people on Facebook yesterday….
In God We Trust? How about a bill that would require charter and cyber schools to post their PA School Performance Profile scores prominently in any advertising paid for with public tax dollars?
Keystone State Education Coalition June 3, 2014

"DePasquale singled out the Pocono Mountain Charter school as an example of the law's "enormous problems. Nearly a decade after the Pocono Mountain School District identified problems there, DePasquale's report said, the school was still open even though its charter has been revoked, it has no board of trustees and is being run by a court-appointed custodian."
Pocono Mountain Charter School loses another round to stay open
State board upholds decision to revoke Pocono Mountain Charter School's charter.
By Peter Hall, Of The Morning Call 6:37 p.m. EDT, June 3, 2014
The Pocono Mountain Charter School — which has been held up as an example of what's wrong with Pennsylvania's charter school law — was struck another blow Tuesday when the state Department of Education's Charter Appeal upheld a decision to revoke its charter for the second time.  In a unanimous vote, the appeal board found the Pocono Mountain School District's 2010 decision revoking the charter was based on substantial evidence of excessive entanglement between the school and Shawnee Tabernacle Church in Tobyhanna, where the school rented facilities.
Former head of Beaver Co. cyber charter says criminal charges should be tossed
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  By Brian Bowling  Published: Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 8:21 p.m.
A federal judge should dismiss criminal charges or throw out most of the evidence it gathered against the former head of a Beaver County cyber charter school because federal agents knowingly recorded his conversations with four attorneys providing him legal advice, the man says in court documents filed Tuesday.  A federal grand jury in August indicted Nicholas Trombetta of East Liverpool, Ohio, on 11 counts of mail fraud, bribery, tax conspiracy and filing false tax returns. Trombetta used his position as the head of the PA Cyber Charter School and his control of several related entities to grab at least $1 million in tax dollars paid to the school, prosecutors say.
"In 2012-13, the district provided Kenderton with 41.8 full-time employees for 389 students which works out to one for every 9.3 children.  Of the 41.8 FTE's, 26.9 were teachers, making for a 14.5 to 1 teacher to pupil ratio.   In 2013-14, under Scholar Academies' control, the school receives 61 full-time employees for 464 students – one for every 7.6 children. Of the 61 FTE's, 46 are teachers, allowing for a teacher/student ratio of 10 to one.  With these extra supports, the school can provide much more one-on-one attention to students struggling with academics and discipline. Every floor of Young Scholars Kenderton has a dean dedicated to counseling disruptive students."  …."Why would the district send Scholar Academies $5.1 million to operate Kenderton, if the district sent only $2.7 million to the school when it was under its own control?"
Touring a North Philly Renaissance school, a microcosm of the city's education debate
When Shereda Cromwell, mother of three, learned last year that her kids' school, Kenderton Elementary in North Philadelphia, would be converted to a charter, her heart sank.  As a parent of children with autism, Cromwell says she depends on predictability and routine to help her kids thrive in the classroom. Faced with the prospect of the unknown, Cromwell and other Kenderton parents stiffened in defense.  "When we heard about the change, we were kind of upset," she said.

Mastery Charter Schools seniors take part in College Signing Day
KEANU DAVIS didn't like going to school during his freshman year at Simon Gratz High School, and the numbers prove it: He was absent 30 times and arrived late 80 more times, he said yesterday.  Davis, now a college-bound senior, decided to stay enrolled at the Nicetown school the following year after Mastery Charter Schools took control of the district school. It took a few months, but Davis noticed a change. Other students started attending Gratz with regularity - as did he.

Mastery students celebrate 'College Signing Day'
Students roared for the Pickett Campus. They shouted for the Shoemaker Campus, cheered for Simon Gratz High School, and yelled for the Thomas Campus.  But at the end of "College Signing Day," they united to create one booming cry for what they had in common: They all attend Mastery Charter Schools.  Tuesday's ceremony at Temple University's Liacouras Center was Mastery's second annual College Signing Day, recognizing 460 high school seniors who have pledged to attend and graduate from college. The event is a play on the signings held when star athletes, often heavily recruited, announce which universities they will attend.

Inquirer Editorial: Schools dismissed
POSTED: Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 1:08 AM
Kafkaesque may be the word that best describes the Philadelphia School District's continued descent into the fiscal unknown while public officials act, rather bizarrely, as if there's nothing to get excited about.  At least Council President Darrell Clarke reportedly returned to Harrisburg Tuesday to speak behind closed doors with legislators (apparently his preferred approach to government) about enacting a city cigarette tax to fund the schools.  "There could be some potential impact on the city budget if this whole School District issue doesn't get resolved," Clarke told a KYW radio reporter. The comment suggests he would prefer that the city avoid digging deeper into its pockets for schools.  Given the gravity of the situation, however, isn't it time for the city do just that? Instead, Clarke and other Council members prefer to cite what they have already given to the schools. It's not enough.

"There was a saying popularized during the Vietnam War, that “we had to burn down the village in order to save it.” That seemingly nonsensical dichotomy is now at play in public school districts across the nation.  Must we abandon our schools, and our children, in order to save public education?"
Charter schools not only option
Written by Philadelphia Tribune Editorial June 3, 2014
Quietly, without fanfare, the New Orleans public school system has ceased to exist. The Recovery School District, the Crescent City schools governing body since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, shut down the last public school last week. When school opens in September, New Orleans schoolchildren will be educated in charter schools exclusively.
The change was gradual, as over the past few years more and more students, and their parents, opted for charter schools over the traditional neighborhood school. By this semester, more than 90 percent of New Orleans students attended charter schools, leaving only five traditional public schools.  The overwhelming numbers and the near-total abandonment of public schools left officials with little choice but to shut down their operation completely. Since the explosion of charter schools, the graduation rate in New Orleans has climbed to nearly 80 percent and significant gains were achieved in standardized tests in reading and math, which offered hope to frustrated parents and hurried the exodus.
The change has not been without criticism, however.

Why did 15 Philly legislators back In God We Trust bill?
Citypaper By Daniel Denvir Published: 06/03/2014
Perhaps the answer to Pennsylania schools' prayers is more prayers.
Fifteen Philly legislators joined with an overwhelming state House majority to pass a bill that "allows" school districts to post "In God We Trust" in school buildings.
HB 1728 was originally worded to require schools to display the motto. The amended version that passed made it optional, and also instructed schools that they should feel free to post the Bill of Rights.  The legislation comes at a time when Philadelphia schools and districts across Pennsylvania are suffering severe fiscal crises in the wake of state budget cuts. It is unclear how schoolchildren's prayers to the Almighty might impact the upcoming budget debate in Harrisburg.

Haverford School District tax rise averages $162 in proposed final budget
Main Line Times By Lois Puglionesi CORRESPONDENT Published: Tuesday, June 03, 2014
HAVERFORD TWP. ---School directors voted unanimously in favor of a $103 million proposed final budget at the May 22 school board meeting.  Discussed at multiple prior meetings, the 2014-15 budget includes a 3.58 percent real estate tax rate increase, from 27.6784 to 28.6692 mills. Taxes on the average residential property assessment of $162,858 will increase $162, for a total $4,669.  The district is using referendum exceptions for special education and PSERS to exceed the 2.1 percent Act 1 index.  Local taxes totaling $85.8 million comprise 83 percent of revenues, with $16 million or about 15 percent from the state and $1.2 million from federal sources.

Get on the Bus!
Yinzercation Blog June 3, 2014
After proposing a slight increase in education funding back in the winter, Gov. Corbett is now fishing in his own budget to cut over $1.3 billion. Guess where those cuts could come from? Education again, of course.  The state has been short on revenue for the past six months and now legislators are scrambling to put together a final budget by the end of this month, saying “all options are on the table.” While acknowledging that, “There is very broad support for increased education spending,” Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), maintains “it is hard to get to increased education spending when you have a gap to fill.” [Post-Gazette, 6-2-14] Of course, the Republicans who control both the House and Senate refuse to discuss the corporate tax giveaways that have tripled over the past decade (with the blessing of both parties), creating a large portion of that gap.

I am about to increase the scope of your vocabulary. The word, tsooris, is a Yiddish word for trouble. It is not all trouble, but a specific kind of trouble. It can be explained by the next description. Yesterday I bought a suit with two pairs of pants. Today I got a large rip in my pants. That is what is meant by tsooris. It is something that is incalculably hard to fathom. That is what is going on in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania right now.  We are now in the last month of budget deliberations. Our revenue for this year is way behind in projections. There are one time dollars in our budget that will not reoccur next year. We are bereft in job creation (in December 2013 we lost more jobs than anyone other than New Jersey). Our administration in Harrisburg is befuddled by what has happened and our legislature is divided into factions. This is not to say that it is broken into Democrats and Republicans. It goes way beyond that.

"As a result of this change to the tax code, banks and equity funds that invest in charter schools in underserved areas can take advantage of a very generous tax credit. They are permitted to combine this tax credit with other tax breaks while they also collect interest on any money they lend out. According to one analyst, the credit allows them to double the money they invested in seven years. Another interesting side note is that foreign investors who put a minimum of $500,000 in charter school companies are eligible to purchase immigration visas for themselves and family members under a federal program called EB-5."
Why hedge funds love charter schools
BY VALERIE STRAUSS June 4 at 5:00 am
One of the features of corporate school room is the interest that Wall Street has shown in supporting charter schools. Why?  No doubt hedge fund managers would say they want to support education and help young people have educational choices. But here’s another part of the answer, written by Alan Singer,  a social studies educator in the Department of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, and the editor of Social Science Docket (a joint publication of the New York and New Jersey Councils for Social Studies). He taught at a number of secondary schools in New York City, including Franklin K. Lane High School and Edward R. Murrow High School. He is also the author of several books.  This appeared on his Huffington Post blog.

D.C. officials allege improper diversion of charter funds
Washington Post By Emma Brown, Published: June 2, 2014
Kent Amos, founder of one of the oldest and largest D.C. charter school networks, allegedly funneled millions of school dollars to a for-profit management company he owns, according to a legal complaint filed Monday by D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan.  Amos founded Dorothy I. Height Community Academy Public Charter School, or CAPCS, as a nonprofit organization in 1998. About four years later, Amos and two colleagues founded a for-profit management company that was, according to the complaint, “a chimera created by Amos to effect distributions” of the school’s operating profits. Read the complaint  Attorney General says the founder of Community Academy Public Charter sent millions to for-profit company.  The company received millions of dollars in fees for work that “could have been performed, and in many cases was actually performed, by direct employees of the school,” according to the complaint, which was filed in D.C. Superior Court.

SEC charges UNO with defrauding investors, warns probe 'not done'
Chicago Sun Times by DAN MIHALOPOULOS MON, 06/02/2014 - 11:06AM
The United Neighborhood Organization defrauded bond investors by “making materially misleading statements” about charter-school construction contracts involving an UNO insider, federal authorities said Monday as they announced they had filed a civil complaint against the clout-heavy group.  The organization has agreed to settle the civil case, agreeing to oversight for a year by an outsider.  But an official with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which began investigating after reports in the Chicago Sun-Times revealed the insider dealings, said the case isn’t closed.

Handwriting fades, but what is lost?
By Maria Konnikova / The New York Times June 2, 2014 10:59 PM
Does handwriting matter?
Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.  But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.
Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it's not just what we write that matters -- but how.

Lunch may be healthier, but kids aren't eating up
Education Week Published Online: June 3, 2014
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — School lunch is not what it used to be.
The jokes have written themselves over the years, stereotyping cafeteria meals ladled up by lunch ladies, trays filled with mystery meat and canned fruit cocktail, with ketchup counted as a vegetable.  A peek into Centre County lunchrooms tells a different story. State College high school students feasted on baked sweet potatoes and General Tso's chicken last week. At Bald Eagle Area schools, chef salads with leafy romaine lettuce are a daily staple. At Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania Charter School, the fruits are fresh watermelon and sliced oranges.
The food is undoubtedly healthier. But are kids actually eating it?

PSBA opens nominations for the Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award
The nomination process is now open for the Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award. This award may be presented annually to the individual school director or entire school board to recognize outstanding leadership in legislative advocacy efforts on behalf of public education and students that are consistent with the positions in PSBA’s Legislative Platform.  Applications will be accepted until July 16, 2014. The July 16 date was picked in honor of  Timothy M. Allwein's birthday. The award will be presented during the PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference in October. More details and application are available on PSBA's website. 

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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