Monday, July 14, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 14: K12 Inc 2013 executive compensation jumped 96% to $21 million; Agora Cyber SPP score was 48.3; 70 is considered passing.

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 14, 2014:
K12 Inc 2013 executive compensation jumped 96% to $21 million; Agora Cyber SPP score was 48.3; 70 is considered passing.

Considering "online tuition-free public education" that uses your neighbors' tax dollars for windfall executive compensation and ubiquitous advertising?  These guys want you!
K12 Inc 2013 executive compensation jumped 96% to $21 million; Agora Cyber SPP score was 48.3; 70 is passing.

As of February, 2013 Agora Cyber was serving 2,857 Philly students, the most of any PA cyber

In addition to never making AYP. Agora's 2012 graduation rate was 45% while the Philly School District graduation rate was 57%

Did you catch our weekend posting?
PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 12, 2014:
Ed Secretary Duncan: Philly school funding 'unacceptable'

EPLC Education Notebook July 11, 2014
Education Policy and Leadership Center

Corbett takes pension fight to the public - will they listen?: The Sunday Brunch
By John L. Micek | on July 13, 2014 at 9:09 AM, updated July 13, 2014 at 12:01 PM
Good Sunday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Gov. Tom Corbett is apparently making good on his promise to enlist voters to pressure the Legislature into passing a pension reform package this year.  The Republican has launched robocalls in southeastern Pennsylvania, home to several competitive state Senate races, urging voters to contact their local lawmaker, according to a post by the right-leaning Keystone Report.  It's tough to understate how large the pension problem really is, just as it's tough to understate the mix of bipartisan, civet cat greed, financial mismanagement and plain old economic apocalypse that led the state to its current predicament.   Trading stadiums for pensions in 2001, Gov. Tom Ridge went along with a pension hike that boosted retirement benefits for state employees, teachers and lawmakers.  Despite sweaty palms and nervous glances, lawmakers went along with the scheme, even though they had only hours to review it before it was rammed through the General Assembly.  The vote jacked up pension debt "by $10 billion instantly," according to an analysis byThe Commonwealth Foundation. Which, was, y'know, all kinds of awesome.

"Clearly, pensions are one of the most significant, if not the most significant, drivers of expenditures in school budgets, which in turn drives property taxes," said Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.
Corbett: Pension overhaul targets property tax issue
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau July 13, 2014 11:22 PM
HARRISBURG -- As Gov. Tom Corbett reasserts his case for changing the retirement benefits for future state and school workers, he has emphasized a connection more tangible to voters than that of state budget pressures: increases in local property taxes.  "Let me give you an example of not getting pensions," Mr. Corbett said last week in Lebanon County. "Number one, this is about property taxes, if we don't do something on pensions soon."  The next day, he announced that before signing the state budget he had vetoed a portion of funding for the General Assembly, in part because legislators had not delivered changes to the statewide pension systems.  Many Pennsylvania school districts name pension payments as a budgetary stressor. Indeed, one-third of the state's districts cited pension costs when they received state permission to raise property taxes in the upcoming school year beyond an allowed rate.

Gov. Corbett's budget standoff illustrates GOP divide in Pennsylvania politics
By The Associated Press on July 12, 2014 at 9:37 AM, updated July 12, 2014 at 9:41 AM
The relationship between Gov. Tom Corbett and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature took a turn toward the dysfunctional this week as they traded insults about leadership following his decision to veto millions from the General Assembly's budget.  It's not unusual in the Capitol for the executive and legislative branches to gripe about each other, sometimes even publicly, but the intra-GOP battle has left the governor's agenda in limbo with just four months before voters decide if he gets another term.  It also has raised questions about what a second Corbett term would look like, even if his party keeps control of one or both chambers.

 “Eventually everyone is going to have to cut programs in order to make these payments,” Wentzel said. “We’re doing everything we can to not put the burden on the local taxpayer.”
School districts wrestle with budgets
By Vince Sullivan, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 07/12/14, 10:33 PM
Pennsylvania school districts are in the midst of a decade-long series of steep increases in mandatory pension contributions and some in Delaware County are struggling to make the payments without drastically cutting programs or increasing taxes. And it’s likely to get worse in the years to come.  The Public School Employees’ Retirement System, which administers retirements benefits to teachers and staff of Pennsylvania public schools, is severely underfunded after about 10 years of under-performance and reduced contributions from school districts and the state. The program currently doles out pensions and health care benefits to more than 209,000 retirees, and collects moneys from more than 267,000 active employees. The $49.3 billion in assets are made up of employee and employer contributions, state contributions and investment income.

Local school districts hope money for construction costs is coming after state budget approval
By Sara K. Satullo | The Express-Times on July 13, 2014 at 4:30 PM, updated July 13, 2014 at 6:05 PM
Bethlehem Area schools Superintendent Joseph Roy hopes the end of a state moratorium on school construction cost reimbursements offers a financial boost for his district.  Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett hoped to extend the 2012 freeze another year but the state Legislature declined to act ahead of the June 30 expiration.  It means the Pennsylvania Department of Education is now accepting new projects in the Planning and Construction Workbook reimbursement process, known as PlanCon, said Tim Eller, department spokesman. The budget Corbett signed into lawThursday increases PlanCon funding by $10 million to $306 million.
"School districts can start submitting new construction reimbursement projects," Eller said. "They are going to take their place behind about 350 projects."
The backlog of projects requires about $1.6 billion.

"On the plus side, thanks to Mayor Nutter, the state has a potential new slogan: "A vortex of political hell with no way out."
Harrisburg borrows a page from Washington - for the worse
Harrisburg is finally getting ambitious. Legislators took a look at Washington and realized they could do better. And by better, I mean so much worse.
Summer is usually sleepy in our state capital, but this season fireworks keep igniting, though not in a good way. Gov. Corbett approved the state budget but cut a fifth of the legislature's allowance because it wouldn't give him pension reform. Corbett's critics immediately assailed the move as "about politics and not the hard work of governing."  And by critics, I mean fellow Republicans. The GOP has long been perceived as the unified party. Not so in Harrisburg, which has specialized in internecine warfare, even as the GOP controls everything.

Editorial: Legislature keeps fiddling around as Pa. burns
Delco Times Editorial POSTED: 07/12/14, 10:15 PM EDT
Nero had nothing on the fine denizens who we send to represent us in Harrisburg. Fiddling while serious issues burn? These folks play it like a Stradivarius.  Here’s the good news. The state has a $29.1 billion spending plan in place, albeit 10 days after the deadline, breaking Gov. Tom Corbett’s run of three straight on-time budgets.  And it does not raise taxes, giving the governor something to chortle about as he hits the road for an uphill re-election battle vs. York businessman Tom Wolf. It offers a modest increase in education funding, after years of cuts, exacerbated by the disappearing act of federal stimulus funds.
Unfortunately, it does not do much of anything else either.

Corbett’s choice: The governor spurns those he needs to get results
Post Gazette By the Editorial Board July 13, 2014 12:00 AM
Gov. Tom Corbett publicly scolded the Legislature and took away some of its money Thursday, a move that said more about his re-election campaign than the state budget he’d just signed or his quest for pension reform.  It was a peculiar way to end the annual fight over state spending, and it’s hard to see how it will help Mr. Corbett persuade lawmakers to enact pension changes that he and many school officials say they need to prevent property tax increases.

"My students weren't able to make progress this year," said Ciancetta, 28. "I did them an injustice. The School District did them an injustice. They did not get the education they should have."  Ciancetta's is one story, but it is emblematic of the plight of many teachers. The teaching profession has long had a fair amount of turnover, but in recent years the profession has gotten less stable, with higher numbers of teachers leaving in their first five years.
After seven years, too frustrated and tired to teach anymore
Maria Ciancetta isn't sure what to believe: Did she make a difference in students' lives, or throw away seven years?  When she walked out of Benjamin Franklin High School on a warm day in June, Ciancetta quit the Philadelphia School District - and the education profession - for good.
She started out starry-eyed, certain she would work in Philadelphia classrooms for decades. But things deteriorated every year. She said she lacked basic supplies, was ordered to teach in an area where she had no certification or training, and feared for her safety.

Blogger's note: For the 2012-2013 school year PA Cyber has a Pennsylvania School Performance Profile score of 59.4 on a scale of 100. The acting Secretary of Education has indicated that 70 is considered a passing score.
PA Cyber Charter School announces plans for $5.7 million expansion
Trib Live By Megan Harris Saturday, July 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
As school districts statewide continue cutting, Pennsylvania's largest cyber school announced plans for widespread expansion, including at least 80 new teachers and a $5.7 million building project in downtown Midland in Beaver County.
“It's a big jump, but we're a big school,” said Michael Conti, CEO of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. “For so long, we've relied on our students and our parents to do the heavy lifting for every child's education. We're changing things up a bit.”
The expansion arrives less than a year after prosecutors indicted the company's founder and former CEO Nicholas Trombetta, who investigators allege illegally funneled $1 million from school coffers. Trombetta pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of mail fraud, bribery, tax conspiracy and filing false tax returns last year. A trial date has not been scheduled.

Pocono Mountain Charter School auction opens new can of legal worms
By Jenna Ebersole Pocono Record Writer July 12, 2014
The now-defunct Pocono Mountain Charter School is in the process of dissolving, but the church that is its landlord continues to do legal battle with the former school and is now seeking to block the auction of items it claims to own.  The proposed auction opened a new front in the conflict between the school and Shawnee Tabernacle Church after the church saw representatives from an auction company come to take photographs, according to court paperwork.
The auction for the entire contents of the school, from smart boards to desks and lockers, is scheduled tentatively for 10 a.m. Aug. 2 pending litigation.

Former PA Cyber School CEO seeks dismissal of fraud charges
By The Tribune-Review Saturday, July 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
A federal grand jury in August indicted PA Cyber Charter School founder and former CEO 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 PA Cyber, its curriculum provider and other related entities to siphon at least $1 million in tax dollars paid to the school, prosecutors said.  Trombetta, who resigned from the school in June 2012, asked U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti in June to dismiss the charges. He claims federal agents knowingly recorded his conversations with four attorneys who advised him during the investigation.

Mutual merger: Cornell should give serious thought to Moon’s idea
Post-Gazette By the Editorial Board July 14, 2014 12:00 AM
School district mergers are a tough sell in Pennsylvania.
Twenty-nine years elapsed between the court-ordered creation of the Woodland Hills School District from five districts and the next merger, the voluntary combining of Monaca and Center Area in 2010 to form Central Valley.  Clairton sent letters to four districts in 2011 seeking to discuss possible jointures, but there were no takers.  That dismal history suggests that pessimism probably is warranted in the most recent discussion of a potential merger.

Why property tax reform fails
Lancaster Online By KAREN SHUEY | Staff Writer Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2014 6:15 am
Soaring pension payments, rising costs and shrinking state and federal aid at Pennsylvania’s public schools are creating a pattern of program cutbacks and teacher layoffs.   And, in most cases, the only option school district officials have is to raise property taxes to ease the pain.
A recent report issued by two statewide groups representing school managers found that the local share of school funding has increased eight percent in just four years. It concluded that higher property taxes are an annual fact of life in most districts — regardless of region or size.
The sharp spike has motivated many residents to call for a plan that would eliminate property taxes altogether and replace them with higher state sales and income taxes.

Common Core, hatched by governors, proving 'radioactive'
Lehigh Valley Live By Associated Press on July 13, 2014 at 9:00 PM
Reviled by staunch conservatives, the common education standards designed to improve schools and student competitiveness are being modified by some Republican governors, who are pushing back against what they call the federal government's intrusion into the classroom.
The Common Core standards were not on the formal agenda during a three-day meeting of the National Governors Association that ended Sunday, relegated to hallway discussions and closed-door meetings among governors and their staffs. The standards and even the words, "Common Core," have "become, in a sense, radioactive," said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican whose state voluntarily adopted the standards in 2010.

Meeting with U.S. education chief, Philly youth of color discuss struggles and success
Drug abuse. Violence. Incarceration.
Those are the pitfalls that plague far too many young men of color in America, according to the White House.  In order to steer young men away from that fate, President Obama has started the My Brother's Keeper initiative, a federal effort to call special attention to the plight of young black and Latino men, while developing best practices to keep them on track to fulfilling their potential.
As is, young black men make up 6 percent of the U.S. population, but 43 percent of its homicide victims.  As part of the effort to alter that trend, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan hosted a roundtable discussion Friday at Philadelphia Community College. He joined Mayor Michael Nutter and about a dozen young Philadelphians of color who have overcome significant obstacles.

AFT calls for Education Secretary Duncan to submit to ‘improvement’ plan or resign
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss July 13 at 8:01 PM  
Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s relations with the country’s largest teachers unions — which collectively have more than 4 million members — keep getting worse. Earlier this month, the nation’s largest teachers unioncalled for him to resign. On Sunday,  the second-largest teachers union passed a resolution that stopped short of a direct call for him to quit but urged President Obama to put Duncan on an “improvement plan.” If Duncan doesn’t improve, he should resign, it says.  The obvious hitch: Obama hasn’t shown a single sign that he disagrees with Duncan’s education reform agenda, which is largely focused on using standardized test scores to hold educators accountable (a method that accountability experts say is unreliable) as well as implementing the controversial Common Core State Standards and increasing the number of charter schools.

Arizona judge orders state funding education adjust with inflation
NSBA School Board News Today July 12, 2014
A ruling by Arizona Superior Court Judge Kathleen Cooper requires the State of Arizona to adjust base level funding for public education to reflect inflationary increases the Arizona Legislature has not provided to public schools for the past five years as mandated by law.  The decision, issued on July 11, 2014, will provide a minimum of close to $300 million to schools in the next fiscal year.
“This is a significant mark in time for Arizona public education as it restores funding to a level that reflects five lost years of inflationary increases,” said Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association. “The ruling also is a directive that the law can’t be ignored and that our students and teachers won’t lose any more ground.”
The base level is one of the major factors in the state funding formula for pubic schools.
The court also agreed in principle with plaintiffs – a group of education organizations led by the Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona Education Association and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials – that public schools should have received close to $1 billion in additional funding to account for inflation over the past five years.

Educational Collaborators Pennsylvania Summit Aug. 13-14
The Educational Collaborators, in partnership with the Wilson School District, is pleased to announce a unique event,  the Pennsylvania Summit featuring Google for Education on August 13th and 14th, 2014!  This summit is an open event primarily focused on Google Apps for Education, Chromebooks, Google Earth, YouTube, and many other effective and efficient technology integration solutions to help digitally convert a school district.  These events are organized by members of the Google Apps for Education community.

Pre-K for PA has supporters all over the greater Philadelphia region who want to help ensure all three and four year-old children can access quality pre-K.
We need your help -- join an upcoming phone bank. Join a fun gathering of like minds in Philadelphia and Conshohocken on Wednesday evenings throughout the summer. We are calling fellow Pre-K for PA supporters to build local volunteer teams.
Call a Pre-K Friend in Philly:
United Way Building, 6th Floor 1709 Ben Franklin Parkway 19107 
Wed July 30, 5-7 PM
Call a Pre-K Friend in Mont Co:
Anne's House 242 Barren Hill Road Conshohocken PA 19428
Wed July 16, 5-7pm
Wed July 30, 5-7pm

EPLC Education Issues Workshop for Legislative Candidates, Campaign Staff, and Interested Voters - Harrisburg July 31
Register Now!  EPLC will again be hosting an Education Issues Workshop for Legislative Candidates, Campaign Staff, and Interested Voters. This nonpartisan, one-day program will take place on Thursday, July 31 in Harrisburg. Space is limited. Click here to learn more about workshop and to register. 

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

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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