Friday, July 4, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 4: Spectacular victory for Philly schools - pretty depressing

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 4, 2014:
Spectacular victory for Philly schools - pretty depressing

Corbett still mulling over Pa. budget
AMY WORDEN, INQUIRER HARRISBURG BUREAU LAST UPDATED: Friday, July 4, 2014, 1:08 AM POSTED: Thursday, July 3, 2014, 6:35 PM
HARRISBURG - A day after the climactic end to the budget marathon in the state House - with a cigarette tax for Philadelphia and a pension bill ready to be voted on - Gov. Corbett was still mum about when, or if, he will sign the budget delivered to him Monday by the legislature.  Corbett, his perfect on-time budget deadline streak broken, has 10 days to sign the $29.1 billion spending plan.  "He's still reviewing it," said Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni, offering no additional details.

Spectacular victory for Philly schools - pretty depressing
In a stunning, come-from-behind legislative win in Harrisburg, Mayor Michael Nutter and backers of the beleaguered Philadelphia school system managed to get a key vote last night authorizing a cigarette tax in the city to fund the schools.  Without it, there was the prospect of 1300 layoffs and schools not opening on time in September.  But honestly, this is awful. The alternative, I admit, was worse than awful. It was catastrophic. But consider where we are in funding schools for Philadelphia kids:  The city now has the right to levy the fifth straight tax increase on its citizens for schools in recent years, and that leaves us $40 million or so short of being able to open schools this fall with an educational product pretty much everybody believes in unacceptable.

The budget debate - and the weird week that was: John L. Micek
By John L. Micek | on July 03, 2014 at 8:37 AM, updated July 03, 2014 at 10:18 AM
And this is why they call it "Lazarus Week."
Just when it looked like pension reform was dead forever and always (and that may yet happen), the Republican-controlled state House staged a minor miracle this week, as it sprung legislation favored by Gov. Tom Corbett from a committee chaired by one of his most vocal critics.
Weird stuff happens in the hothouse environment of the Capitol during the final push to approve a state budget.

NE PA Educators: Corbett budget is not enough
Scranton Times Tribune BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL Published: July 4, 2014
As area educators wait for the governor to sign the 2014-15 state budget, they wonder how this spending plan will allow them to afford pensions, salaries and textbooks.  Though the budget on Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk contains a slight increase in total education funding, the boost will not cover additional costs for pensions that districts must pay this year.  “It certainly does not address the serious fiscal problems we’re facing,” said Abington Heights Superintendent Michael Mahon, Ph.D.  Basic education funding, the largest line item for districts, remains flat for 2014-15, and still does not equal the level of funding districts received four years ago. In Mr. Corbett’s first three budgets, school districts in Northeast Pennsylvania saw their funding slashed by $143.8 million. His first budget, the 2011-12 budget, cut almost $1 billion from education statewide, and those cuts were not restored for 2012-13. The 37 districts in Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties saw an additional $12.3 million in basic education funding in 2013-14. The governor’s administration has claimed he did not cut funding because former Gov. Ed Rendell chose to use federal stimulus dollars for education, and when stimulus money ran out, so did the education funding.

‘Guesswork' on state budget puts Pottstown short of budget mark
By Evan Brandt, The Mercury POSTED: 07/03/14, 3:15 PM EDT |
POTTSTOWN — When all the state budget dust settles, Linda Adams anticipates the $55.9 million Pottstown Schools budget will be as much as $170,000 short of the mark.
That’s because when the Pottstown Business Manager built the budget for the new fiscal year, she had little choice but to plug in the numbers from Gov. Tom Corebett’s budget address in February, which would have increased Pottstown’s state aid by nearly $550,000.
She didn’t have much else to go on.  Unlike in previous years, when the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials issued regular updates on budget negotiations in Harrisburg as the end of the fiscal year approached, in recent years there has been nothing.  “The governor’s budget comes out in February, and then it’s like a silent pit until the last minute,” Adams said. “I’ve been doing budgets for 30 years and I’ve never had to use so much guesswork as I have in the last five years.”
Prior to her life in the public education, Adams worked in business.  “In my former life, I oversaw a billion-dollar budget and we would never have been allowed to have this much uncertainty so close to the end of the fiscal year,” she said. “At this point in time, most businesses would have their plans for the next fiscal year well in place.”  But this is Pennsylvania.

"This is not a way to run a high-performing school system," Pritchett wrote in his resignation letter to Mayor Nutter. "And these challenges will not change until our citizens recognize the fundamental need for a quality education for EVERY child and demand that our governments at the local, state, and federal level all participate in the creation of a fully funded educational program."
A frustrated Pritchett resigns from SRC
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Friday, July 4, 2014, 1:08 AM POSTED: Thursday, July 3, 2014, 8:05 PM
In a surprise move, Wendell Pritchett resigned Thursday from the School Reform Commission, citing frustration with and fear for the state of public education in Philadelphia.
He will be replaced by Marjorie Neff, who until June was principal of Masterman, the city's top magnet school. Neff spent 38 years as a teacher and principal and was the first Philadelphia School District educator to ever serve on the SRC.  Pritchett, a well-regarded academic who was the longest-serving member of the commission, said the SRC's job had essentially become figuring out which from a menu of bad options will cause the least damage to city students.

Tradeoff in the cigarette tax bill: Potential for more new charters, more appeals
WHYY Newsworks By Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks on Jul 3, 2014 07:15 PM
Very probable, optimistic, off the table, never happening, dead, passed.
Such was a week in the life of the Philadelphia cigarette tax.
On Wednesday night, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved the measureby a 119-80 vote.  The Senate, which passed similar language earlier in the week, will likely vote on it Tuesday. If approved, it will head to Gov. Corbett's desk.
The Philadelphia School District has been counting on the tax – $2 per pack on cigarettes sold within city limits – to help close its $93 million budget gap. The tax is expected to generate $40 million to $45 million in its first year and double that in years to come.
Even if the District completely closed that budget gap, it says that would only provide enough resources to maintain this past school year's admittedly "insufficient" levels of staffing and programs. To implement his vision for District growth, Superintendent William Hite has asked for $224 million above this figure.

Pritchett resigns from SRC; Nutter names retired principal Neff to replace him
The notebook By Paul Socolar on Jul 3, 2014 04:54 PM
The School Reform Commission has a new member, Marjorie Neff, a longtime District principal who just retired from her post at the Masterman School. Mayor Nutter named her Friday to the SRC to replace Wendell Pritchett, who has served as a mayoral appointee since September 2011.  Pritchett, whose term runs until January 2017, submitted his resignation today. He recently returned to the University of Pennsylvania law school as a professor and interim dean after serving as chancellor of Rutgers University - Camden.
Neff, a parent of two Philadelphia public school graduates who lives in Mount Airy, spent 38 years in the District, nine of them as the principal of Powel Elementary and eight years at Masterman.
Neff is the first current or former School District educator to serve on the SRC in the 12-year history of that body. As a principal, she was outspoken in addressing inadequate funding in the School District.

House approval of cigarette tax hailed as victory by officials and funding advocates
The notebook By David Limm on Jul 3, 2014 12:00 PM
After a seesaw week of negotiations in Harrisburg, House legislators late Wednesday night passed119-80, an amended bill that allows Philadelphia to add a $2 per-pack tax on cigarettes to help fund the city's schools. The entire Philadelphia delegation supported the bill.
If approved by the Senate and Gov. Corbett, who have both supported the tax, the School District stands to gain as much as $45 million in the first year and about $80 million the year after. The tax should narrow the District's substantial 2014-15 budget gap to less than $40 million. Its approval was hailed as a victory by both elected officials and advocates for more school funding. 

Right, Students First
Inquirer by Karen Heller POSTED: THURSDAY, JULY 3, 2014, 10:24 AM
Our quote of the day comes from none other than Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.
After a long contentious battle over school funding, where Philadelphia Democrats begged Harrisburg to enact a $2-a-pack tax that would be levied only against city smokers, a no-brainer in any other political climate, the House finally passed the measure late Wednesday. This came after Corbett said over the weekend, "I would encourage the delegation, the Democrat delegation, from the city of Philadelphia ... to give the votes to get a pension bill done so they can get a cigarette tax done so they can get additional funding for the school district of Philadelphia," adding "It's in their hands." The statement was met with outrage and derision by the Philadelphia delegation and Mayor Nutter.
So what did Corbett, who has yet to visit a district-run school as governor, say last night, July 2, after the cigarette tax passed?  Please don't read the following while drinking any hot beverage: "We have worked for over a year, above the partisan politics, to put the students of Philadelphia first."

Former PA Cyber chief seeks more time for trial
TribLive from Staff and Wire Reports Published: Thursday, July 3, 2014 1:15 pm | Updated: 8:18 pm, Thu Jul 3, 2014.
PITTSBURGH — Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta is still waiting for the government to provide an additional 288,000 documents.  He’s also waiting for a response to his legal team’s motion to dismiss the criminal case against him.  In a motion filed Wednesday, Trombetta’s lawyers said a federal judge should give them 60 more days to file pretrial motions.
A federal grand jury in August indicted Trombetta, of East Liverpool, Ohio, on 11 counts of mail fraud, bribery, tax conspiracy and filing false tax returns. Trombetta is accused of using his position as the head of the Midland-based PA Cyber and his control of several related entities to grab at least $1 million in taxes paid to the school, prosecutors say.


“In 2003, then-Gov. Ed Rendell tapped him to help lead the state education department as deputy secretary. He became the acting education secretary from 2004 to 2005, then was officially appointed to the role from 2005 to 2009”

Former ASD chief announces retirement

Gerald Zahorchak, who spent one year in Allentown, will step down as superintendent of Greater Johnstown next year.

Staff and wire reports 9:15 p.m. EDT, July 3, 2014
Gerald Zahorchak, whose one-year stint as Allentown School District's superintendent ended in turmoil, has announced his retirement as chief of the Greater Johnstown School District.
Zahorchak told the Greater Johnstown School Board last week that he will leave at the end of the 2014-15 school year, which began Tuesday.  Zahorchak is a product of Greater Johnstown, serving as president of the Class of 1975 and co-captain of the Trojan football squad. After college, he re-entered the classroom as faculty before a years-long furlough. He moved on to North Star, then became a principal in the Shanksville-Stonycreek School District, then returned to North Star as an elementary and middle school principal and strategic planning coordinator.
Pileggi bill would freeze property taxes for senior citizens
Proposed legislation sponsored by state Sen. Dominic Pileggi to freeze school property taxes for senior citizens will be one of the first bills to be debated when state lawmakers return from summer recess later this year.  Pileggi, R-9th of Chester, the state Senate majority leader, wants to freeze property taxes for homeowners age 65 and older. His bill, Senate Bill 299, is known as the Taxpayer Relief Act, but it does not specifically address ways to pay for the freeze. One possibility mentioned by Pileggi is legalizing keno-style lottery games. Keno is an electronic numbers game.  “There has been a concern recently about the impact of increasing property taxes on senior citizens,” Pileggi said. “This (SB 299) presents an alternative that is achievable and the concept is sound. It simply comes down to finding the necessary revenue.”
According to Pileggi’s estimates, it will cost the state $76.1 million to implement a senior citizen property tax freeze in the first year, and $347.2 million by the fifth year.



Jean Jacques Crawb's Blog Posted on by jeanjacquescrawb
For those of you who are not aware of Pennsylvania’s budget dilemma, here is a good way to find out. The revenue picture is very dim for us here in the Commonwealth. There are a number of estimates that run from 1.2 billion to 2.0 billion shortfalls in our tax collections. That has caused a minor earthquake in the process of creating a new budget.
The governor laid out a budget in February that appeared to be reasonable (by current standards). However, what he and his staff did not know was that they would be shy a bunch of revenue. The Governor’s no tax increase pledge makes raising any kind of new revenue almost impossible. So, as the months went by, there were hints that we might get a Marcellus Shale (natural gas) severance tax and that the Governor might actually sign onto the Affordable Care Act.  Those two things might not have filled the hole in the budget, but it would have gone a long way. As the months rolled on, it was apparent that the members of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives were going an entirely different way. 

Richard Scaife, conservative champion, newsman and philanthropist, dies at 82
By The Tribune-Review Published: Friday, July 4, 2014, 3:03 a.m.
Tribune-Review owner and philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife, whose vision and funding reinvigorated conservative politics in America, died Friday, July 4, in his home.  His death came just one day after his 82nd birthday.  Many of the nation's leading conservatives considered him to be the man who sustained the Republican Party after its crushing defeat in the 1964 presidential election and the Watergate scandal in 1972.
His support for and promotion of a conservative agenda led to Ronald Reagan's election as president in 1980 and the nation's turn toward the principles those two men shared.
He and Reagan remained friends and admirers until the latter's death in 2004.
Politics, however, was just one aspect of his many-faceted life.
“Dick Scaife was the epitome of a libertarian,” said attorney H. Yale Gutnick, who represented his close friend for more than three decades. “He resented government intrusion into our lives while vigorously defending free speech, freedom of the press, the separation of church and state, a woman's right to choose, and other individual liberties.

Richard Mellon Scaife, Influential U.S. Conservative, Dies at 82
New York Times By ROBERT D. McFADDEN JULY 4, 2014
Richard Mellon Scaife, the Pittsburgh philanthropist and reclusive heir to the Mellon banking fortune, whose support for right-wing causes laid the foundations for America’s modern conservative movement and fueled the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton, died on Friday. He was 82.  Mr. Scaife’s death was reported by the The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a newspaper he owned. No cause of death was given.  Decades before David and Charles Koch bankrolled right-wing causes, Mr. Scaife and Joseph Coors, the beer magnate, were the leading financiers of the conservative crusade of the 1970s and ’80s, seeking to reverse the liberal traditions of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.

First look: StudentsFirst opens its books - NEA’s losses are slowing - The Common Core’s testing collapse
Politico By CAITLIN EMMA | 07/03/14 10:05 AM EDT
With help from Allie Grasgreen, Stephanie Simon and Seth Zweifler
FIRST LOOK: STUDENTSFIRST OPENS ITS BOOKS Former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee directed hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last election cycle to conservative candidates and organizations through her ed reform group StudentsFirst, according to the group’s latest tax filings. The 990 forms cover the fiscal year from August 2012 through July of 2013. They show that StudentsFirst and its sister organization, StudentsFirst Institute, raised a combined total of $26.7 million, down slightly from $28.6 million the previous year. The haul includes a huge bequest of stock, worth $2.6 million, from an unnamed donor. (Rhee will not disclose her funders.) On the expense side, Rhee’s group spent $2 million for consulting services from the Democratic firm SKDKnickerbocker. It also spent $1.7 million on membership fees paid to the grassroots activist site The site hosted a number of StudentsFirst petitions that gathered tens of thousands of signatures — and provided Rhee’s organization with a trove of email addresses — until protests from organized labor prompted to cut ties with StudentsFirst.
— Rhee, who earns nearly $350,000 a year, also spent heavily on political activism in the year covered by the tax forms.

Good Riddance to the Common Core Tests!
A few years ago, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, David Coleman, and a merry band of policy wonks had a grand plan. The non-governmental groups like Achieve, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Coleman’s own Student Achievement Partners would write the Common Core standards (paid for by the Gates Foundation); Duncan would require states to agree to adopt them as a condition of eligibility for a share of the billions of Race to the Top funds at a time when states were broke; the Feds would spend $370 million to develop tests for the standards; and within a few short years the U.S. would have a seamless system of standards and assessments that could be used to evaluate students, teachers, and schools.
The reason that the Gates Foundation had to pay for the standards is that federal law prohibits the government from controlling, directing, or supervising curriculum or instruction. Of course, it is ludicrous to imagine that the federally-funded tests do not have any direct influence on curriculum or instruction. Many years ago, I interviewed a professor at MIT about his role in the new science programs of the 1960s, and he said something I never forgot: “Let me write a nation’s tests, and I care not who writes its songs or poetry.”
So how fares the seamless system? Not so well. Critics of the standards and tests seem to gathering strength and growing bolder. The lack of any democratic process for writing, reviewing, and revising the standards is coming back to bite the architects and generals who assumed they could engineer a swift and silent coup. 

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 9, 5-7 PM
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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