Friday, June 6, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 6: Philly charters get $100M more for special ed than they spend; debate rages in Harrisburg

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Keystone State Education Coalition
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for June 6, 2014:
Philly charters get $100M more for special ed than they spend; debate rages in Harrisburg

Trombetta claims government used illegal evidence in PA Cyber Charter School charges
By Rich Lord / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette June 4, 2014 10:48 PM
Seeking to defeat a federal criminal case against a cyber school pioneer, attorneys for Nick Trombetta on Wednesday accused prosecutors of improperly recording conversations involving his past lawyers.  Mr. Trombetta, the founder and former CEO of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, claimed in a 44-page court memorandum that federal agents used informants and wiretaps to capture conversations and emails with, or involving, five attorneys.
Some of those attorneys represented PA Cyber or its vendors and subcontractors, but the memorandum claims that they also represented Mr. Trombetta of East Liverpool, Ohio. He faces charges of mail fraud, theft or bribery, tax conspiracy and filing a false tax return related to his involvement in various entities that did business with PA Cyber.

Pa. Cyber School Founder Files Motion To Have Charges Thrown Out
CBS Pittsburgh KDKA Andy Sheehan June 4, 2014 9:31 PM
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — He created an empire — a revolution in cyber education.
But federal prosecutors say instead of serving cyber students, Nick Trombetta siphoned off $8 million in taxpayer dollars to fund his own lavish lifestyle.  It all included a corporate plane, luxurious homes, a sprawling real estate holding and a million dollars in cash. The collective spoils of an alleged scheme years in the making.  “We alleged that this was a conscious, intentional scheme to steal public money that was to be used to educate our children.”
It’s something that Trombetta denied when he was arraigned last August.

Blogger's note: take your time and read this next paragraph through a couple times.  Maybe three times….
"This pattern was repeated in other heavily charterized districts, ELC found, including Chester-Upland. There, the state’s largest brick-and-mortar charter school is managed by the for-profit management firm of Gov. Corbett’s largest single campaign contributor four years ago, Vahan Gureghian.  In that year, Chester Community Charter School enrolled 42 percent of the students in the bankrupt district, but 46 percent of the special education students – and 80 percent of those were diagnosed with the mildest, least-expensive disability.  The per-student payment for a special education student in Chester is among the highest in the state: $35,000.  Because CCCS drains the mildly disabled from the district, Chester-Upland is left with a concentration of the more expensive students. That drives up the district’s average special education cost, which is then used to determine the charter schools’ payments."
City charters get $100M more for special ed than they spend; debate rages in Harrisburg
the notebook by Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 05 2014 Posted in Latest news
Philadelphia charter schools received more than $175 million last year to educate special education students, but spent only about $77 million for that purpose, according to a Notebook analysis of state documents.  That is a nearly $100 million gap at a time when city education leaders are considering raising some class sizes to 41 students and laying off 800 more teachers in District-run schools due to severe funding shortfalls. Payments to charters, which are fixed under law, make up nearly a third of its $2.4 billion budget.  The issue goes beyond Philadelphia. Statewide, charters, including cybers, collect about $350 million for special education students, but spend just $156 million on them, according to calculations from the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officers (PASBO). The Notebook used the PASBO analysis of state data to calculate the numbers for Philadelphia, which has half the state’s 170 charter schools.

"But amazingly, in Pennsylvania, the pain doesn’t end there. Pennsylvania also has one of the least fair, least logical approaches to special education funding, both in terms of the way in which special education aid is distributed to local public school districts and in the calculations for determining how much should be paid by local public school districts to charter schools for serving special education students."
Baker: The Commonwealth Triple-Screw: Special Education Funding & Charter School Payments in Pennsylvania
School Finance 101 Blog by Bruce Baker Posted on June 5, 2012
This post is the second in a series (of unknown number) focusing on how states harm local public school districts through illogical, ill-conceived state school finance systems and components of those systems. One goal of this post is to illustrate the types of problems/manipulations that exist in state school finance systems, how they work, and the severity of the problems they can cause.  I have written previously, for example, how states find ways to actually use state aid to make their finance systems less equitable (school finance pork). I have also written about policies like census based financing of special education and it’s adverse effects on high need districts. The Commonwealth Triple-Screw takes it to another level.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has among the least equitable state school finance systems in the country. Pennsylvania operates a school funding system that on average provides systematically less state and local revenue per pupil to the state’s highest need large and mid-size city districts. Among the nation’s most “screwed” city districts are Philadelphia, Reading and Allentown.

Letter: State lawmakers tackled special ed; now we await the ‘big fix'
Delco Times LTE by Susan Gobreski and Susan Spicka 06/05/14, 9:38 PM EDT |
To the Times:
This year something extraordinary happened in the polarized Capitol in Harrisburg. Legislators put aside their partisan differences and came together in a bipartisan Special Education Funding Commission which worked to address the problems in the way that Pennsylvania funds special education services.  They came together to do what is right for children who need special education services, to try to fix the law. The current system is woefully underfunded and tax dollars are not sent to school districts or charter schools based on the actual costs of the services students receive.  After months of working with families of children with special needs and other stakeholders, the commission created a thoroughly-planned, fair, and new system that would allocate state tax dollars to all public schools in Pennsylvania the same way, based on students’ needs.
Unfortunately, all of the commission’s hard work may be derailed and this common sense legislation, which is known as the “special education funding and accountability reform bill” might be left on the side of the road.  Charter schools strongly oppose this legislation. Because Pennsylvania’s entire system for funding public schools is broken, charter schools currently receive more state dollars for special education than they spend on services for students.
SUSAN GOBRESKI, Education Voters Pennsylvania
SUSAN SPICKA, Education Matters in theCumberland Valley

Push is on to fix charter school funding
House members propose bill, while the Corbett administration wants commission to study the issue.
June 04, 2012 |By Patrick Lester, Of The Morning Call
The acrimonious tug of war over tax dollars used to fund charter and virtual charter schools in Pennsylvania is intensifying with the latest attempt at reform that educators on both sides of the issue say is overdue.  Public school officials, who have long clamored about the high cost of funding and lack of oversight of schools responsible for teaching more than 100,000 Pennsylvania students, joined state representatives in Harrisburg on Monday to pitch a bill they say will improve accountability and protect taxpayer dollars.  The proposal, backed by several state education groups, including the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania State Education Association, will rival a charter school-backed bill that calls for a state commission to study the funding issue, something the state Department of Education supports.  The issue could come to a head over the next three weeks as lawmakers try to hammer out a 2012-13 budget.

Special-education charter funding skews the numbers in Pennsylvania
The Tribune-Review  By Patrick Varine and Daveen Rae Kurutz Published: June 4, 2014
Frazier School District business manager Kevin Mildren compared the state's formula for special-education funding to taking a size 10 shoe and trying to force it on every foot in Pennsylvania.
Charter schools, privately operated but publicly funded, were set up to provide alternatives for parents who sought a different approach to their children's education. When parents choose a charter school, districts must redirect taxpayer money — known as tuition — for those children's education to the new school.  For special-education students, often the sum is greater than the cost in the student's home district because of a flawed funding approach that does not reflect the services a student needs, critics say.  “The calculation for outside tuition, it causes me a lot of difficulty, because it's more than what it would cost internally,” Mildren said.  Charter schools are required to provide the same type of education to students as a public school and yet receive more money to do so in many cases.

Capitolwire: Tensions grow over special education funding formula
By Christen Smith Staff Reporter Capitolwire June 02, 2014
HARRISBURG (June 2) — As lawmakers hunker down for another budget season, the fate of a slew of education proposals — including the hotly-contested special education funding formula — hang in the balance.  When the General Assembly recessed last month, Senate Bill 1316 was left sitting on the chamber floor amidst growing concern over the legislation’s impact on the state’s 160-plus charter schools.  Proponents of the bill — which would scrap the state’s assumption that 16 percent of students in each district require special education services in favor of a formula that weighs factors like student needs, poverty, property tax levels and “rural and small district conditions” — laud the legislation as a good step forward that better addresses the needs of each individual school district.  Critics, in short, describe the bill as the end of charter schools “as we know it.”

Are PA charters receiving windfall special ed payments?  Check out this oldie-but-goody that continues to be one of the most visited postings on the KEYSEC website.
PA Charter Schools: $4 billion taxpayer dollars with no real oversight
Keystone State Education Coalition

"The local share of total school funding has increased from 37 percent in 2010-11 to 45 percent in 2013-14, according to the report."
Survey paints bleak picture of Pa. school funding
By The Associated Press on June 05, 2014 at 3:33 PM
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Rising costs and shrinking state and federal aid at Pennsylvania's public schools are exacerbating a pattern of property-tax increases, school program cutbacks and employee layoffs, two statewide groups representing school managers said Thursday.
The report by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials sums up responses from 279 of the state's 500 school districts, ranging in size from Philadelphia to some of the smallest districts. The groups have compiled the reports annually since the 2010-11 school year.  The report said more than three-fourths of the responding districts plan to increase local property taxes next year.
"Increased property taxes are an annual fact of life in the great majority of school districts statewide — irrespective of poverty level, region or size," the report said.

Study shows Pa. schools continue to face tight money
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A school budget survey released today by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials found the financial condition of school districts continues to worsen.  In a news release on the organizations' fourth annual survey, Jim Buckheit, executive director of PASA, said, “Unfortunately, this year’s survey results show that the landscape has not changed and the financial condition of school districts across the Commonwealth continues to deteriorate.  “These financial challenges continue to create significant obstacles in maintaining the high-quality educational programs provided to students.”
The organizations cited reduced levels of state and federal contributions to total school costs, steeply rising pension costs and other increased costs, saying they have led to "unprecedented reductions in programs and school staff."

Survey of school districts says property taxes likely to keep rising
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review By Megan Harris Published: Thursday, June 5, 2014, 1:03 p.m.
Pennsylvania school officials estimate the cost of educating students will rise again this year, and they pledge more local property tax increases despite significant reductions in faculty, staff and resources.  That forecast was the result of the fourth annual survey of school district budgets from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.  More than three-quarters of respondents said they plan property tax increases next year, the highest figure in five years. About 280 of the state's 500 school districts responded.
Report: Fourth Annual PASA-PASBO Report on School District Budgets
PASA/PASBO June 2014
Click here (pdf - REVISED) to read the press release
Click here (pdf) to read the report.

Bill aiming to curtail teacher seniority clears hurdle in Pa. House
In a bipartisan 16-8 vote, the Pennsylvania House Education Committee has greenlighted a bill that would eliminate state-mandated seniority protections for teachers.  HB 1722, sponsored by state Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Westmoreland, would require districts to base layoffs on a teacher's performance as measured by the state's new teacher evaluation system.  Now, 499 of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts are required to base teacher layoff and recall decisions on the inverse order of seniority, sometimes referred to as "last in, first out."

Corbett endorses "hybrid" pension plan; no consensus yet on current-year savings
By Charles Thompson | on June 05, 2014 at 10:02 AM
Reform of Pennsylvania's public pension systems isn't necessarily the sexiest of issues, but it is shaping up to be one of the big prizes in this year's state budget lottery.  And just like the members of a jackpot-winning PowerBall pool, if legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Corbett do craft a winning ticket in this politically charged debate, they'll have a second question to decide:
Take the prize of reduced future costs to the state now, or later?
Corbett – seeking re-election to a second term in an already tough budget year - says cash in quick. He has already baked $170 million in pension savings into his 2014-15 spending plan.
Without that so-called "collar" on taxpayer-funded employer pension contributions that are scheduled to grow by more than $600 million, Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said a budget hole the administration places at $1.5 billion now will be closer to $1.7 billion.
Using some winnings from pension savings now to lower the employer contributions this year will help free more money for other priorities like school funding and aid to the intellectually disabled, Zogby said.  Some disagree.

Scarnati's plan to get lawmakers, elected officials out of the pension plan is worth considering: John L. Micek
By John L. Micek | on June 05, 2014 at 10:51 AM
If there's one thing that makes Budget Season in the state Capitol consistently entertaining, it's the endless capacity for the surprise turn of events that you never see coming — the ones that stump and flummox even the most jaundiced observers of the three-ring circus that is state government.  From the $75 million film tax credit brouhaha under formerGov. Ed Rendell to the last-minute collapse of liquor privatization and Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to offer tax credits to Royal Dutch Shell PLC to someday (maybe, possibly) build a natural gas processing plant in western Pennsylvania, the annual debate over the spending plan is nearly bottomless in its potential for shenanigans.  But in the midst of all that whiplash-inducing nuttiness, it's also possible for someone to have an actual good idea that advances the cause of the body politic and reinforces your belief in government's ability to, well, do good stuff for the electorate.
So I'm willing to give at least a preliminary shout-out to Senate President Joe Scarnati, who came out this week and advanced the radical, yet stunningly rational, notion that it's time to move elected officials in the legislative, executive and judicial branch out of Pennsylvania's defined-benefit pension system.

PhillyDeals: Plan to stall growing gap in state pension
By Joseph N. DiStefano, Inquirer Staff Writer POSTED: June 02, 2014
How to get out of a $50 billion hole?
First, stop digging, reasons State Rep. Mike Tobash (R., Pottsville).
Tobash has a plan - a moderate plan, by today's standards - to stall the growing gap between the billions Pennsylvania's politically appointed pension trustees have invested, in hopes the money will magically grow very fast, and the tens of billions actually needed to keep future pensions flowing to ex-teachers, prison guards, legislators, and other public servants.
This gap between assets and liabilities, which totals about $50 billion for the combined State Employees ( SERS) and Public School Employees ( PSERS) Retirement Systems, burns a hole in every Pennsylvanian's wallet. That's because state law requires that theGeneral Assembly and local school districts pay more into the pension plans each year, until the gap starts closing.

The Pottstown Mercury has done a good job covering the causes and effects of the pension crisis; this site has links to several articles following the issue:
Pottstown Mercury Tuesday, June 3, 2014
A look at the public pension crisis in Pennsylvania, causes and effects.

"The Muñoz Marín vote means that parents at the two district schools tapped this year for possible charter takeover have voted against those changes."
Parents at Phila. school reject takeover by charter
After a bitterly fought battle, parents at Luis Muñoz Marín Elementary have voted to keep their school a part of the Philadelphia public school system, rejecting a charter organization's takeover proposal.  According to results announced by Philadelphia School District officials Thursday night, 223 parents wanted Muñoz Marín to remain a traditional public school and 70 voted for ASPIRA of Pennsylvania to take control.  In a separate vote, 11 members of the school's advisory council wanted to remain with the district. None voted for ASPIRA.  Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has the final say on the fate of the struggling North Third Street school, which has 700 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. A decision is expected soon.

Pocono Mountain Charter School's charter revoked
'Entanglements' with Tobyhanna church cited; appeal still possible
By Jenna Ebersole Pocono Record Writer June 05, 2014
More than 330 students could be looking for a new school — and their teachers for new jobs — after what may be the final step in a fraught charter revocation process ended in victory for the Pocono Mountain School District on Tuesday.  The district has fought the Pocono Mountain Charter School for about six years seeking shutdown, at a cost of at least $920,000 to the taxpayer for legal bills on both sides, a Pocono Record analysis found last month. The fight may be over after Tuesday's decision, pending another possible appeal by the charter school.
The state's Charter Appeal Board, which has been at the center of the battle for several years, voted unanimously Tuesday to revoke the charter. The vote was the board's third in as many years on the issue and confirmed a vote to revoke the charter last summer.

Center for Public Education The EDifier June 5, 2014
EdWeek’s annual Diplomas Count report shows that the U.S. high school on-time graduation rate has hit an all-time high with 81 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school.  You may remember back in April another report also found high school graduation rates were at an all-time high. Both reports were based on similar data so it is not surprising they found similar results. But this most recent report sheds a brighter light on how state graduation rates have changed over time, especially between 2007 and 2012 —the most recent year available to calculate graduation rates. An examination of EdWeek’s data shows that in 2007, 19 states had graduation rates below 75 percent. By 2012 that number dropped to just six states. In fact, just two states (Nevada and Mississippi) currently have graduation rates under 70 percent compared to 11 states back in 2007.
So, states are in fact making tremendous progress in improving their on-time high school graduation rates at a time when many states have actually made it harder to earn a high school diploma. What remains to be seen is if this trend will continue t as states implement the Common Core State Standards, a more rigorous set of benchmarks that aim to prepare all students for college and careers. If states provide districts with the resources they need to effectively implement the CCSS, it is likely more students will not only earn a high school diploma but be more successful after high school as well.

In 2016, Democrats Have Good Reason to Run Against Obama's Education Record
The political weakness of the common core, charter schools, and other reform ideas
The New Republic By Conor P. Williams June 3, 2014
There’s a very real possibility that the Democratic Party is about to undergo a powerful shift on education policy. As others have noted, it’s an area where Democrats are meaningfully divided into competing camps. It’s also an area where the Obama Administration’s efforts have sparked both wide-ranging policy changes and widespread criticism. Obama has advanced significant new policies, and many of those policies are experimental, controversial, or both. And there’s evidence that a Clinton Administration would mean a substantial departure from those reforms.  

Big Brother: Meet the Parents
Politico By STEPHANIE SIMON | 6/5/14 5:03 AM EDT
This story is part of a POLITICO series examining the unchecked expansion of private-sector data collection and the implications for consumer privacy.
You’ve heard of Big Oil and Big Tobacco. Now get ready for Big Parent.
Moms and dads from across the political spectrum have mobilized into an unexpected political force in recent months to fight the data mining of their children. In a frenzy of activity, they’ve catapulted student privacy — an issue that was barely on anyone’s radar last spring — to prominence in statehouses from New York to Florida to Wyoming.

Mega-rich Walmart heirs give almost none of their own money to Walton Family Foundation
byLaura Claws onFollow fo rDaily Kos Labor WED JUN 04, 2014 AT 09:52 AM PDT
Just how greedy are the Walmart heirs of the Walton family? Despite having a combined $140 billion in wealth, as much as 42 percent of the American population, and a reputation as philanthropists, the living Walmart heirs have barely contributed anything to their family's namesake foundation. According to a new report from Making Change at Walmart, neither Rob Walton nor Alice Walton has contributed a single dollar to the Walton Family Foundation, Jim Walton gave $3 million in 1998, and sister-in-law Christy has given $52 million. (Maybe because she wasn't raised with Walton family values?) To put it in context:
The combined lifetime contributions of the second generation Walmart heirs and their family holding company to the Walton Family Foundation come to $58.49 million, or:
·         About .04% of the Waltons’ net worth of $139.9 billion;
·         About .34% of the estimated $17.1 Billion in Walmart dividends that Rob, Jim, Alice and Christy received during the years we analyzed;
·         Less than one week’s worth of the Walmart dividends the Waltons will receive this year;
·         Less than the estimated value of Rob Walton’s collection of vintage sports cars.

Julian Vasquez Heilig  |  | 1 Comment
WE NEED YOUR HELP! Do you believe in public education? Do you want US policymakers to understand why decision makers in Chile have now judged vouchers to be problematic after 30 years of universal implementation? Do you have frequent flier miles you can donate? Sponsor a grad student today!  This summer, I along with eight UT-Austin graduate students will travel to Santiago, Chile in August 2014 with Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig to conduct field research that will result in a policy brief, op-eds and a peer-reviewed academic paper detailing recent changes in Chile’s market-based education policy proposed this past April by Chile’s current Education Minister Nicholas Eyzaguirre.

Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education After 60 Years -
EPLC "Focus on Education" TV Program on PCN - June 8 at 3:00 p.m. 
The next EPLC "Focus on Education" episode will air this coming Sunday, June 8 at 3:00 p.m. on PCN television.  This June 8 panel will discuss the significance of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and its significance today; the current picture of racial segregation in public schools; whether, in Pennsylvania, we are improving or getting worse; the responsibility of state government; the effects of the "school choice" movement on segregation and integration in public schools; and much more.
The panel will include: 
·         Ron Cowell, President of The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC) and Host of the "Focus on Education" programs;  
·         Homer C. Floyd, Former Executive Director, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission;
·         Rhonda Brownstein, Esq., Executive Director, Education Law Center; and
·         Erica Frankenberg, Ed.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Education Policy Studies, Penn State University.
Visit the EPLC web site for related resources.

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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