Tuesday, July 29, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 29: Pa. not alone in having pension woes, Pew notes

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 29, 2014:
Pa. not alone in having pension woes, Pew notes

"This year, a study released by the National Association of College Admission Counseling found almost no difference in college GPAs and graduation rates between students who submitted SAT scores and those who did not at colleges where scores are optional."
Temple to make test scores optional for admission
SUSAN SNYDER, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER  Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 1:08 AM
In an effort to cultivate talented students who don't test well, Temple University says it will become the first national public research university in the Northeast to make standardized test scores optional for admission.  The university expects as many as 150 to 200 students who likely would not have been accepted because of low SAT and ACT scores, but who exhibit other promising attributes, will be admitted for fall 2015. Many of them could come from the Philadelphia School District.  Students who opt not to submit test scores will have to answer written questions designed to assess attributes such as leadership, self-awareness, goal-setting, determination, and "grit," Temple officials said.
For years, critics have called the SAT an unreliable predictor of college readiness that discriminates against minority students and those from low-income families.
"We cannot ignore the mounting evidence that standardized test scores inject socio-economic bias into the admissions and financial-aid equations," said Hai-Lung Dai, Temple's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

William Penn Foundation leader departing after six months
PETER DOBRIN, INQUIRER CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC LAST UPDATED: Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 1:08 AM  POSTED: Monday, July 28, 2014, 9:58 PM
The William Penn Foundation's new leader will leave Aug. 31 after six months on the job.
Peter J. Degnan, who came to William Penn as managing director at the beginning of March from his post as vice dean of finance and administration at the Wharton School, has tendered his resignation, foundation leaders said Monday.  There will be no search for a replacement. Laura Sparks, previously chief philanthropy officer, will step into the top job, being retitled executive director, when Degnan leaves.

As $50B pension debt weighs on Pennsylvania, other states have embraced retirement overhauls
TribLive By Debra Erdley Saturday, July 26, 2014, 8:42 p.m.
The future of public pensions has become a bone of contention in this year's Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, and public employees fear they're the ones who will get bitten.
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who is trailing in the polls, insists underfunded state and school public employee retirement plans are causing hardships for taxpayers. He wants the Legislature to reduce the size of the lifetime pension guarantee for future hires and supplement it with a 401(k)-style benefit that shifts some of the risk to workers.  Corbett's Democratic opponent, Tom Wolf, claims the governor hasn't looked hard enough for new sources of revenue to fund state retirement systems.  Like most states, Pennsylvania offers lifetime pensions to employees. The plans require employees to contribute a portion of their pay — 6.25 percent for most state employees and 7.5 percent for most school employees. State and local school district taxes pay the employer contribution. Those payments, coupled with fund investment gains, furnish the pool for retiree payments.
“First, Pennsylvania has to commit to paying the current bill; second, we think they should establish a funding task force or study commission to come up with a comprehensive and transparent solution to this long-standing problem; and third, if that solution is some kind of hybrid plan design, that they consider a simple and proven hybrid model,” Mennis said.
Pa. not alone in having pension woes, Pew notes
West Chester Daily Local By EVAN BRANDT, ebrandt@21st-centurymedia.com POSTED: 07/28/14, 4:55 PM EDT
Pennsylvania is not alone in its public pension problems.  Other states have struggled as well.
Nationwide, total debt facing state pension plans is $915 billion, according to the Public Sector Retirement Systems project of the Pew Charitable Trusts.  “Only 15 states have consistently made at least 95 percent of the full actuarially required contributions for their pension plans from 2010 through 2012; the remaining 35 states (including Pennsylvania) fell short in at least one year,” according to the project website.  And since last fall, the director of that project, Greg Mennis, has been trying to help Pennsylvania solve its pension problems.

State budget worries halt plans
By Karen Langley and Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau July 28, 2014 12:00 AM
HARRISBURG — Autism education at the University of Pittsburgh. Emergency response through the Salvation Army. Programs educating young people about the rivers around Pittsburgh.
These and more Allegheny County programs were flagged to receive funding in legislation accompanying the new state budget, but Gov. Tom Corbett maintains that legislators were optimistic in their projections for state revenue this year, and he has put the designated spending — earmarks, in the administration’s words — on hold.
Mr. Corbett cited the gap in revenue projections earlier this month when he vetoed $65 million in funding for the General Assembly and $7.2 million in other appropriations. He indicated, too, that he would use his authority to hold appropriations in budgetary reserve, meaning the money, at least for now, will not be available for spending.  The administration has decided to divert all but a few of the legislative-designated spending items into budgetary reserves, said Charles Zogby, Mr. Corbett’s budget secretary.

Attack ad on Corbett’s education funding record 'a damned lie,' Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley says
By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com on July 28, 2014 at 1:42 PM, updated July 28, 2014 at 1:50 PM
Gov. Tom Corbett has been criticized for making a billion dollar cut to education funding since his first year in office and did little to fend off those attacks.  Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley admitted as much at a Monday morning news conference, saying the administration was focused on "doing our job" instead of taking the "time to effectively explain what it is we are doing."  But now that PA Families First, a coalition of the Democratic Governors Association and labor unions are airing a political ad attacking the Corbett administration's record on education spending, Cawley says enough is enough.  "For three and a half years, they have lied through their teeth and shame on us for not being louder in calling it what it is: a damned lie," said Cawley, during the news conference at the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association's Harrisburg headquarters.

But a third of the money cut was state funding, as the Morning Call has reported.
The roughly $355 million cut had, in years prior, gone into grants for early education and police officers, as well as reimbursements to school districts losing students to charter schools.
Campaign ad returns Pa. focus to education spending
WHYY Newsworks BY MARY WILSON JULY 29, 2014
Education funding cuts are front and center once again in a tiff between Pennsylvania's candidates for governor.  A television attack ad that surfaced last week highlights the issue, which has dogged Republican incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett in the polls for years.
In the spot, a narrator says Corbett "cut nearly a billion dollars from education, forcing schools districts to fire 20,000 teachers and staff."   On Monday, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley denounced the television attack ad and the administration's opponents.  "For three and a half years they have lied through their teeth," Cawley said. "And shame on us for not being louder and calling it exactly what it is -- a damn lie."  The Corbett administration maintains that the money cut from education in 2011 was simply federal stimulus dollars that weren't replaced because the governor was sticking to a no-tax promise.

More bad news for Gov. Tom Corbett
Lancaster Online By KAREN SHUEY | Staff Writer Posted: Monday, July 28, 2014 12:21 pm | Updated: 7:21 pm, Mon Jul 28, 2014.
Tom Corbett is (still) the most vulnerable governor in the country.
At least that’s how The Washington Post’s political blog The Fix sees things.
The site has been highlighting the top 15 gubernatorial races of 2014, and for the 13th month in a row Corbett has been voted the incumbent most likely to lose his job come November.

Few records found of work done by Corbett adviser
Education Week by AP Published Online: July 28, 2014
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former state education secretary under Gov. Tom Corbett remains on the state payroll, but a newspaper says there's limited evidence of the work he's performing.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/WITiRS ) that records concerning Ron Tomalis, in the 14 months since he stepped aside as education secretary, include a work calendar with weeks of little or no activity, phone logs that barely average a call a day and five outgoing emails.  Tomalis gets a $140,000-a-year salary and benefits as a special adviser with a focus on post-secondary education.
The newspaper says several key players in higher education report little or no contact with Tomalis in his advisory role.  Acting Education Secretary Carol Dumaresq says Tomalis works 40 hours a week and is in regular contact with staff.
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com

Ethics panel asked to investigate former Pa. education secretary
POSTED: Monday, July 28, 2014, 6:36 PM
HARRISBURG - A Harrisburg activist has asked the state Ethics Commission to investigate whether an adviser to Gov. Corbett is earning his keep.  In a complaint filed Monday, Gene Stilp asked the commission to determine whether Ron Tomalis, Corbett's onetime education secretary turned special adviser, "was actually working for his government salary . . . and all the related state benefits," according to a copy of the complaint.  Stilp is also asking the agency to examine "the character and the nature of the work that is actually being done, and whether or not the required amount of work time . . . has actually been utilized for actual work."  The complaint follows a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that questioned Tomalis' work since he was named a special adviser to Corbett on higher education 14 months ago - at the same $139,971 salary he made as education secretary.

Hite: Help schools join region's renaissance
Inquirer Opinion By William R. Hite Jr. POSTED: Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 1:08 AM
The Philadelphia region is on the rise. We celebrate economic and population growth, expansions by our world-class cultural institutions, and achievements in medical research. There's a positive vibe about the city and what we have to offer.  Yet, while there is widespread recognition that the key to our continued regional success is providing our young people high-quality educational opportunities that prepare them for college and career, we are falling short in delivering for our Philadelphia public school students.  That's why now is the time to make sure the children served by Philadelphia's public schools can enjoy the benefits of the city's improving outlook and can help to keep the region thriving tomorrow.

The path forward: Q&A with Donna Cooper of Public Citizens for Children and Youth
the notebook By Bill Hangley Jr. on Jul 28, 2014 04:25 PM
Equitable education funding has long been one of Donna Cooper’s top priorities. As Gov. Ed Rendell’s chief of policy, in 2008 she was instrumental in establishing the state’s most recent stab at creating a workable and predictable education funding formula.  That formula didn’t survive the arrival of Gov. Tom Corbett. But Cooper, now in her second year at the helm of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, believes that with the right political pressure, another version might not be too far off.  “A school funding formula is not brain surgery,” she says. “If the legislature feels the heat … they’ll do it..”  But creating a formula is one thing; getting the funds to back it is another. We asked Cooper to reflect on this year’s budget process, the strategic approach that could establish a fully funded formula, and the prospects of long-term stability for Philadelphia’s schools.

Phila. school budget cuts eat into college admissions
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Monday, July 28, 2014, 1:07 AM POSTED: Sunday, July 27, 2014, 11:02 PM
Christine Donnelly used to knock on students' doors when they stopped showing up at school. The counselor at Academy at Palumbo, a South Philadelphia magnet school, sat with seniors to make sure they were choosing colleges that were a good fit. She helped them puzzle through financial-aid forms.  Philadelphia School District budget cuts made those things often impossible this last school year. And, for the first time in recent memory, 10 Palumbo students failed to graduate, Donnelly said. And fewer planned to go to four-year colleges.  In urban public schools, there are always cracks to slip through, but this year, "the cracks became craters," Donnelly said.  District-level data are not yet available, but some counselors, in interviews, said they had seen evidence of collateral damage of the worst financial crisis the school system has ever had: a drop-off in college-going rates. Students stumbling through the financial-aid process, choosing schools that might not be the best for them, disappearing from school altogether.  Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. is not surprised by the counselors' observations.

Through bonds of mentorship, Philly student defies culture of low expectations
According to the most recent longitudinal study of Philadelphia graduation rates, a mere 10 percent of students who begin ninth grade in Philadelphia public schools manage to persist all the way through to college graduation.  In order to raise achievement levels, the city and state have vastly restructured the shape of public education in Philadelphia over the last 15 years, rapidly expanding both district and charter options – to mixed results.
While the school district continues to grapple with systemic, recurring and devastating funding shortfalls, students and parents currently find themselves desperately hoping that schools will be able at least to retain last year's admittedly insufficient levels of staff and resources.
In the face of these shortcomings – with faculty and school support-staff levels at dreadful lows – students now more than ever must rely on their relationships with family members and other adults outside of the school system.
This is the story of the power of one such relationship.

Tucked into Pa. bill, funding that critics call pork
By Angela Couloumbis, Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau POSTED: July 27, 2014
HARRISBURG - Hospitals from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. A performing arts center in Center City. An ambulance association in Montgomery County.
They are among the several dozen projects worth tens of millions of dollars that the legislature has designated for special funding this year. The money was tucked into a relatively obscure budget bill known as the fiscal code, and written in opaque language replete with legalese.
Some call it legislative pork; others, just another form of Harrisburg's infamous so-called WAMs (walking around money) - special funds for pet projects chosen by legislative leaders.
And though such projects have been tucked into the fiscal code for several years, they are getting special attention now because Gov. Corbett decided to veto some of them when he signed a $29 billion budget earlier this month. And now the legislature is considering suing him over it.

In Pa., corruption can be helpful
LET'S TALK pension costs.  And let's talk using corruption - arguably our most common public-sector commodity - to bring them down.  I'm semi-serious.
An overlooked benefit to paying taxes for public pensions in one of the nation's most corrupt states is that wrongdoing saves us money.  Think about it.  Many forfeit pensions after convicted of crimes under Pennsylvania Act 140 of 1978.  Through a Right-to-Know request, I got numbers on some of our more high-profile perps in order to show the sorts of savings available.  Remember, this is just a taste from the buffet of bad behavior, a sliver from a large pie of potential.  For instance, just five fairly recent legislators whose evil ways put them away save us more than $440,000 every year.

Increase in state funding still below local schools' expectations
TribLive By Jeff Himler Friday, July 25, 2014, 12:39 p.m.
Local schools will see increases in state funding in the recently approved 2014-15 budget. But, in some cases, state dollars have fallen short of what local districts were anticipating when they approved their fiscal spending plans last month.  Overall, the state budget allocates more than $10 billion in funding for support of Pennsylvania's public schools. That represents an increase of $305 million over the previous year.  For area school districts, the increased state funding will come primarily through more money provided for special education and the Ready to Learn Block Grant initiative that supports programs and services that increase student achievement.
Pre-K for PA Forum with Governors Rendell, Schweiker
Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Posted Monday, June 30th, 2014
Submitted by: Barbara Saverino, Director of Public Policy, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey
Former governors, democrat Ed Rendell and republican Mark Schweiker, crisscrossed Pennsylvania on June 9 traveling from Erie to Philadelphia for an event held at the offices of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. They endorsed the Pre-K for PA campaign and encouraged business and civic leaders to advocate expanded access to high-quality pre-kindergarten as a key strategy to strengthen Pennsylvania’s economy and competitiveness.
“If we can unite on this issue, we can make a positive change for Pennsylvania,” said former Governor Ed Rendell. “Study after study shows the proven benefits of quality early learning, from lower drop out and crime rates to stronger communities and businesses. The time has come for our state elected officials to generate the political will to invest in our human capital by offering high-quality pre-k to all Pennsylvania children.”
Former governor and Chamber CEO Mark Schweiker noted, “This is not just an education issue – this is an economic issue. As governor, I laid the groundwork for expanding early learning and Governor Rendell advanced it significantly because we knew that access to high-quality pre-k is imperative if Pennsylvania is going to grow and thrive.  Progress continues, but Pennsylvania still lags behind. This is an issue that has support on both sides of the aisle.”

"Under federal law, they are entitled to a free public education regardless of their immigration status."
For Schools With Child Immigrants, What Resources Are Available?
Education Week Learning the Language Blog By Lesli A. Maxwell on July 28, 2014 9:30 AM
While the Obama administration takes action to stem the flow of unaccompanied minors across the Southwest border and contain the mounting political blowback, many of these children have already turned up in public schools and will continue to do so in the months ahead.   Under federal law, they are entitled to a free public education regardless of their immigration status. Just two months ago, the U.S. Department of Education reminded school districts of their legal obligations when it comes to undocumented students.  Some districts may get so few of these young immigrants that they will absorb the costs of educating them with relative ease. But others have already seen a significant uptick in their numbers and anticipate more, so the impact on their resources could be greater. (The school board and superintendent in Miami-Dade, for instance, have already made it clear that they are after more help from the federal government to help cover the costs of hundreds of students from the wave or young immigrants.)
Those dynamics are raising questions among educators and advocates for school districts about what, if any, kind of help the feds might provide to schools as tens of thousands of children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras continue settling into communities while awaiting deportation proceedings.

Community Schools: A Bipartisan Argument for Full-Service Community Schools
Education Week COMMENTARY Published Online: July 28, 2014
By Steny H. Hoyer & Aaron Schock
One of the most important jobs Congress has is to ensure that our nation’s children have access to a quality education and the opportunities it brings. A strong education is critically important to secure a place in our middle class. However, we are not doing enough as a country to provide all of our children with the educational foundation they need to succeed. That’s why we joined together last week to introduce the Full-Service Community Schools Act of 2014, bipartisan legislation that would create a competitive-grant program to expand the number of full-service community schools around the country.  Full-service community schools provide support and resources to children and their families in order to encourage the future success of all students. Too often, students from low-income households don’t have the necessities that are critical to their success in the classroom, including proper nutrition and health care. As we learn more about the links between students’ health and well-being and their performance in reading and math, tackling the interrelated challenges of education, nutrition, and health care has become a top priority.

ALEC Does Dallas: ALEC Agenda in Dallas: Evisceration of Medicaid, School Privatization and Expansion of Gas Exports
PR Watch Posted by REBEKAH WILCE on July 28, 2014
ALEC holds its 41st annual meeting in Dallas, Texas starting on Wednesday, July 30, 2014. At this largest of its three annual national conferences, state legislators from across the country will meet with corporate and special interest lobbyists behind closed doors to vote on "model" legislation to change state laws. Numerous agenda items are reviewed below.
Draft bills to be voted on by lobbyists alongside state legislators at the coming annual meeting include:
Changing Laws Providing for Public Education
·         The "Affordable Baccalaureate Degree Act" would enrich companies invested in online college degree programs and materials -- like Pearson (whose subsidiary Connections Education has been a prominent member of ALEC's Education Task Force), which sells the LearningStudio platform used by many universities like Arizona State University's  popular and much-hyped online degree program. It would "require all pubic [sic] four-year universities to offer bachelor's degrees costing no more than $10,000, total, for four years of tuition, fees, and books. The Act would require that ten percent of all public, four-year university degrees awarded reach this price-point within four years of passage of this act." The bill instructs universities to focus on online and blended learning "to achieve this price-point."
·         The "Public Charter Schools Act" would expand on ALEC's pre-existing "Next Generation Charter Schools Act" and enrich ALEC members like K12, Inc., the nation's largest provider of online charter schools or cyber schools. It would allow privately-operated charter schools to continue taking public funds, but without public accountability. The bill would give charter schools carte blanche to operate without being "subject to the state's education statutes or any state or local rule, regulation, policy, or procedure relating to non-charter public schools within an applicable local school district..."
·         The related "Public Charter Schools Funding Act" restates charters' autonomy from the rule of law and democratically-elected school boards while still giving each charter school "one hundred percent" of the state and federal education funding "calculated pursuant to the state's funding formula for school districts."

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. 

Bucks Lehigh EduSummit Monday Aug 11th and Tuesday Aug 12th
Location: Southern Lehigh High School 5800 Main Street, Center Valley, PA 18034
Time: 8 AM - 3 PM Each Day(Registration starts at 7:30 AM. Keynote starts at 8:00 AM.)
The Bucks Lehigh EduSummit is a collaboratively organized and facilitated two day professional learning experience coordinated by educators in the Quakertown Community School District , Palisades School DistrictSalisbury Township School DistrictSouthern Lehigh School DistrictBucks County IU, and Carbon Lehigh IU, which are all located in northern Bucks county and southern Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Teachers in other neighboring districts are welcome to attend as well! The purpose of the EduSummit is to collaborate, connect, share, and learn together for the benefit of our kids. Focus areas include: Educational Technology, PA Core, Social Media, Best Practices, etc.

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.

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