Monday, July 7, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 7: PA lawmakers miss opportunity to address school funding crisis

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 7, 2014:
PA lawmakers miss opportunity to address school funding crisis

“We cannot continue to rely, year after year, on political horse-trading and last-minute budgeting contortions that, ultimately, leave our schools lacking basic resources and leave our communities struggling to make up the difference with local revenues,” said Brownstein. “Our public schools require, and deserve, a thorough and efficient system — an actual system — of education funding as mandated by our state’s constitution"
ELC Statement on State Budget: Lawmakers miss opportunity to address school funding crisis
Education Law Center July 5, 2014
The current state budget proposal approved by the General Assembly and awaiting Governor Corbett’s signature does little to address Pennsylvania’s systemic public education funding crisis.
“This budget was a missed opportunity for the legislature and a loss for public school students,” said Rhonda Brownstein, Executive Director of the Education Law Center.  “There were several options for legislators to not only provide adequate funding to our schools, but to also enact cost-saving measures.”  The General Assembly pursued a fix to the state’s special education funding system that would have addressed the flawed approach to providing funding to students with disabilities in public schools — both charter-operated and district-run. The fix would have more accurately calculated costs and aligned resources to those costs, providing a significant savings to school districts throughout the state and ensuring that children with disabilities receive the services they need. Instead, the whims of political insiders thwarted that effort — resulting in a job half done that does not fix the admitted problem.

“I think pensions are the single largest driver of property tax increases,” Himes said. “Our (districts' pension) costs will go up at least $250 million next year (2014-15), possibly as high as $300 million.”
Districts look for pension solution
TribLive By Tom Yerace Sunday, July 6, 2014, 12:06 a.m.
Last year at this time, nine of the Alle-Kiski Valley's 15 school districts raised taxes.  This year, it's 10.  Next year and beyond, all 15 will conceivably hit up taxpayers for more cash to run their school districts, and the biggest reason is an acronym: PSERS.
It stands for Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System, the umbrella under which all school employees are covered by pensions.  But the umbrella has some serious financial holes, 36.2 percent of it, in fact. That's how much state officials say it is underfunded. Patching those holes and getting it back to 100 percent is the task faced mainly by the school districts. It is something they are required to do by law, and it could result in more tax increases over the next 10 years.
"What this budget does is it fails to deal with what is the No. 1 cost-driver that we have that's undermining our budget, that is undermining local school district budgets and, frankly, is undermining household budgets," Zogby said. "It's very difficult to get the budget under control and on a sustainable basis if you continue to ignore the pension crisis."
Is Tom Corbett going to sign the Pennsylvania budget plan?
By The Associated Press  on July 05, 2014 at 12:17 PM, updated July 06, 2014 at 12:29 AM
With lawmakers' rocky spring session bleeding deeper into summer, nobody knows what Gov. Tom Corbett will do with the no-new-taxes budget plan sitting on his desk.
He is being asked by his fellow Republicans to sign the bill they wrote and passed. Declare victory, they say. Your top-priority legislation to curb public pension benefits and costs can pass in the fall, they say.

PA braces for credit downgrade after budget & pensions soufflé
WITF State House Sound Bites Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief Jul 4, 2014
While the state budget still awaits the governor's signature, state lawmakers have largely wrapped up their work without addressing the major problems that stand to threaten the commonwealth's borrowing capability.  This spring, the three big credit rating agencies gave Pennsylvania fair warning to reduce its $50-billion-and-growing pension debt, rein in long-term pension costs, and stop using one-time moves to balance your budget.  But all those problems remain, even after the frenzy of legislative activity that marks every June at the state Capitol.

Pa. tax collections dropped in 2013-14 budget year for third time in six years
By Charles Thompson | on July 06, 2014 at 8:00 AM
State revenue collections in June did perk up a little bit, exceeding monthly projections for the first time since November.  But it wasn't nearly enough to prevent Pennsylvania from experiencing its third year-over-year revenue decline in the past six in the just-completed 2013-14 fiscal year, which closed June 30.

"Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center, said while it's encouraging to see the increase in special education funding after six years of flat funding, it's important to note that special education costs to districts have risen more than $400 million during that time."
Proposed budget has few increases for education in Pennsylvania
By Mary Niederberger and Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette July 5, 2014 9:21 PM
Modest increases in special education and block grant funding in the state budget that the Legislature approved will not be enough to overcome the challenge of flat funding in the $5.526 billion basic education subsidy for school districts, according to school officials.
"Anything more than you anticipate is good, but it's still basically flat-funded. It really doesn't make a big impact on your entire budget," said Dennis Cmar, business manager of the West Mifflin Area School District.

Pa. budget is a roll of the dice for local schools and taxpayers
Pottstown Mercury Editorial POSTED: 07/03/14, 2:42 PM EDT
The $29 billion budget passed by the state General Assembly delivers some good news and some bad news to area schools.  But mostly it delivers the same uncertainty that always comes from a budget built by politicians rolling the dice in back rooms.
The budget process in Pennsylvania is misguided at its very core, creating hardship for local schools which gets passed on as hardship to local taxpayers. The lack of a fair funding formula in Pennsylvania means that schools cannot predict the state support that will be coming their way. The lack of a formula also means that school funding is based on the whims of legislators instead of on the basic educational needs of students.  A system based on a formula provides stability and predictability in school funding. Instead, the current system forces school districts to guess at the level of funding they will get from the state. The local guessing game has to be resolved by mid-June for a fiscal year that starts July 1. But the state, which plays by its own rules, typically waits until the last few days of the fiscal year to craft its budget. Schools are in the dark as to how much they’re getting, thus finalizing budgets with guesstimates on the state share.

The winners and losers in Pa.'s budget battle
HARRISBURG - As the first week of a new fiscal year came to a close Friday, Gov. Corbett still had a decision to make: whether or not to sign the $29.1 billion spending plan that doesn't include one of his top policy priorities - overhauling the state pension system.  Corbett could sign or veto the plan - or do nothing and let it automatically take effect. For the governor, facing a difficult reelection in the fall, every option carries risk.  But few emerged unscathed from the annual budget tussle, one that ended with some extra dollars flowing to public education and a new per-pack cigarette tax in Philadelphia to help the city's ailing schools.  From Republicans in the House to their colleagues in the Senate, most left Harrisburg with items on their wish list not checked off.

"In fairness, we don't know exactly what the governor means by putting the students of Philadelphia first.  We do know they were first in line when it came to reductions in state aid to public education.  In the last year of the Rendell administration, the school district of Philadelphia had a $2.8 billion budget with 62 percent of its revenue came from the state. This year, the district will have a $2.4 billion budget with 52 percent coming from the state.
To make up for the loss of state aid, the district has had to shed 5,000 jobs, close more than two dozen schools, eliminate school libraries, cut back on counselors and in-school staff and slash spending from the central office down to the smallest elementary-school classroom. Is that what Corbett means by putting students first?"
DN Editorial: Smoke and Mirrors
Philly Daily News Editorial POSTED: Monday, July 7, 2014, 3:01 AM
AFTER THE Legislature passed a bill last week giving Philadelphia the right to impose a $2-a-pack cigarette tax to raise money for the city's schools, Gov. Corbett took a moment to congratulate himself.  "We have worked for over a year, above the partisan politics, to put the students of Philadelphia first," Corbett told reporters.
We don't know whether to laugh or to cry.
In fairness, we don't know exactly what the governor means by putting the students of Philadelphia first.  We do know they were first in line when it came to reductions in state aid to public education.  In the last year of the Rendell administration, the school district of Philadelphia had a $2.8 billion budget with 62 percent of its revenue came from the state. This year, the district will have a $2.4 billion budget with 52 percent coming from the state.
To make up for the loss of state aid, the district has had to shed 5,000 jobs, close more than two dozen schools, eliminate school libraries, cut back on counselors and in-school staff and slash spending from the central office down to the smallest elementary-school classroom. Is that what Corbett means by putting students first?

Inquirer Editorial: Passes for progress

POSTED: Sunday, July 6, 2014, 1:09 AM
During another great education debate, George W. Bush blamed the "soft bigotry of low expectations" for the underachievement of many of the nation's students. Given the low expectations with which Pennsylvanians are forced to regard their government, lawmakers' vote last week to fund Philadelphia schools with a new cigarette tax, along with a tentative move toward pension reform, qualifies as a victory.
Taking place two days into the new fiscal year with no budget in place, the breakthrough didn't come at the 11th hour so much as the 59th. The state House approved a city-only, $2-a-pack cigarette tax advocated by local officials that is expected to produce about $80 million a year for schools. Meanwhile, thanks to a compromise among Republicans, legislation to move new public employees toward 401(k)-style retirement benefits was positioned for a vote in the fall.
These measures address a pair of serious policy problems - unsustainable pensions and underfunded schools - as far as they go, which is not far enough. The tobacco tax would cover only half of the Philadelphia School District's current deficit, and the budget largely fails to deal with statewide education funding. The pension measure, meanwhile - even if it does eventually pass - wouldn't begin to address a mountain of already accumulated obligations.

Schools wait on millions in Medicaid funding from state
Lancaster Online By GIL SMART | Staff Writer Posted: Sunday, July 6, 2014 6:00 am | Updated: 4:40 am, Mon Jul 7, 2014.
Earlier this year, Sherry Zubeck vowed to visit all 22 school districts in Lancaster and Lebanon counties. She was on a crusade.  Zubeck, early childhood and special education services director for Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, wanted to talk about kids with disabilities — students and preschoolers who need physical or speech therapy or similar services. The services are expensive; often a family’s insurance company picks up the tab, but if the family is eligible for Medical Assistance — Medicaid — government money pays the bill.
The problem, Zubeck told school officials, is that there’s been a lot less money to go around.
Due to new federal regulations and snafus at the state level, as much as $28 million is owed to school districts, private and charter schools and intermediate units. Some local school districts are out six-figure sums; the IU itself is out nearly $1 million over the past few years.

Not your typical valedictorian speech
2014 Penn Wood High School Valedictorian Speech
YouTube video Published on Jul 2, 2014 runtime 5:32
Alexander Yurcaba Valedictorian Speech at Temple University, Liacouras Center, June 2014

Some schools slow in making superintendent performance standards public
When David Weitzel became the Central Bucks School District superintendent in October, a relatively new state law required his $215,000-a-year contract to include performance goals based on test scores, his handling of the district's budget, and other criteria.  The goals are supposed to be posted online. And after his annual review, the district's website must show whether he has met them.  Eight months into his contract, the Central Bucks website lacks the performance standards for the county's highest-paid superintendent.
The same is true in Chester Upland, Interboro, Garnet Valley, and Radnor, all Delaware County school districts with new superintendents in the last 18 months, as well as in Morrisville in Bucks and Coatesville in Chester County, where top administrators started in recent weeks.
The law covers new assistant superintendents as well. And in Philadelphia, performance goals and reviews for people recently hired in those positions are missing from the district's website.

York City School District looks to make finances work for charters
Officials would negotiate with outside operators for certain services
York Daily Record By Angie Mason @angiemason1 on Twitter UPDATED:   07/06/2014 06:58:23 AM EDT0 COMMENTS
If the York City School District brings in charter operators to take over one or more schools, the district plans to negotiate with them on rent and other services in order to make the arrangement work with the limited funds available.  The district is following a financial recovery plan that focuses on internal reform, but includes a path for bringing in outside operators to run district schools, if internal reform doesn't work. Since the district hasn't as of yet been able to negotiate employee wage and benefit concessions that officials say are necessary to make the internal plan work, the district has issued a request for proposals from charter operators interested in taking over one or more schools starting in 2015-16.
Local school districts pay charter schools for each district student that attends. The high number of students who have left York City's district schools for charter schools in recent years, along with the state formula for paying those schools, has often been cited as one of the causes of the district's financial problems.  But district officials say that by negotiating with charter operators on items like building rent and other services, they'll be able to pay charter operators to run district schools based on the money the district has available.

Chester Upland receiver expected to pass budget
Delco TImes POSTED: 07/06/14, 10:42 PM EDT |
CHESTER — A special meeting of the Chester Upland School District Receiver with the public is scheduled for Monday evening to approve the district’s 2014-2015 fiscal year budget, according to a district spokesperson.  The meeting will convene at 6 p.m. in the district administration building and Receiver Joe Watkins is expected to approve a final budget for the fiscal year, which began on June 30. The preliminary budget approved by Watkins in May called for $123 million in spending, necessitating a 3.4 percent tax increase in the three municipalities served by the Chester Upland School District. Watkins said at the time that the district began planning the budget with a $23 million structural deficit, which he hopes can be pared down significantly, perhaps as much as 50 percent.

Moon schools eager to talk merger with Cornell
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Moon Area School board voted recently to reach out to its much smaller neighbor, the Cornell School District, to discuss a possible merger, it resurrected an issue that had been explored at least twice before.  In 1992 and 1998, the districts studied the idea of a merger or of Cornell students attending Moon on a tuition basis. It died both times because of opposition in the communities and the lack of state financial incentives, but the voluntary merger of the Center Area and Monaca districts, to form Central Valley School District, in recent years has some Moon board members taking a new look at the prospect of sharing resources.

Easton Area High School graduate to intern for U.S. senator
Lehigh Valley Live By Adrienne Nenow on July 06, 2014 at 7:30 PM
A former Easton Area High School student is interning this summer for a U.S. senator with Valley connections.  Nina Boscia is an intern for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania. Toomey lives in Upper Milford Township in Lehigh County and Boscia is from Forks Township.  The rising senior at the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University is working with the senator's communications and press team.

"Parents also are increasingly aware of what has happened in Detroit and New Orleans and even parts of Washington D.C.:  Once the local public schools are gone, there is no way to get them back.  Consequently, the children who do not conform to the "no excuses" charter models end up with no place to turn."
Charters School Networks and Shady Political Dealings: The Camden, N. J. Story
Education Weel Living in Dialogue Blog By Anthony Cody on July 5, 2014 9:27 PM Guest post by Julia Sass Rubin.
Last week, while many of us were busy making plans for the summer, something much more sinister was happening in the halls of the State Capital in Trenton, N. J..
At 11 p.m., on Tuesday, June 24th, legislation was discussed and voted on by the New Jersey Senate and Assembly Budget Committees, without all the legislators understanding what they were approving.  "We didn't have the bills in advance," complained one of the Senators, "I didn't know what the hell the bills were." This legislation was then quickly pushed through the full New Jersey Senate and Assembly.  The legislation revised a 2012 law known as Urban Hope in order to enable two charter chains - Mastery and Uncommon Schools - to claim a large share of Camden's public education dollars.  The charters' efforts had been imperiled by the grassroots group Save Our Schools NJ, which had sent a series of letters in May to New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe.  The letters detailed how the two charter chains and the Camden state-appointed Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard were violating various aspects of the Urban Hope law in their efforts to open new renaissance charter schools in Camden next fall.  The violations included using temporary facilities instead of building new schools; failing to provide key information required by the application; and not giving Camden residents the opportunity to review and comment on their applications.

A watershed moment for technology in education
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog BY VALERIE STRAUSS July 7 at 4:00 AM  
It is more than likely that many of you don’t know much, if anything, about the “E-Rate,” which is formally the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund administered  under the auspices of the Federal Communications Commission.  The E-Rate offers discounts for schools and libraries to get Internet access and telecommunications. This week, the FCC will vote on modernizing the E-Rate in a move that would first redirect a few billion dollars in E-Rate funds to the benefit of millions of students this year alone. In this post, Julius Genachowski and Jim Coulter explain why they think the FCC should approve the modernization. Genachowski is managing director of The Carlyle Group and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Jim Coulter is a commissioner of the bi-partisan Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission, and co-founder and chief executive officer of TPG Holdings.

"The “boomerang kids” are not poorly educated, but miseducated. They were prepared to look for jobs, but not to create jobs. They were prepared to solve problems, but not to identify problems or ask questions. They were prepared to follow instructions, but machines can follow instructions more precisely and more important, with less cost."
College Ready vs. Out-of-Basement Ready: Shifting the Education Paradigm
Yong Zhao's Blog 2 JULY 2014 3,398 5 COMMENTS
Last year when my son graduated from college, I asked the question “can you stay out of my basement?” as I believe an important outcome of education is the ability to live out of one’s parent’s basement, that is, the ability to be an independent and contributing member of a society.
The Common Core and most education reforms around the world define the outcome of schooling as readiness for college and career readiness. But as recent statistics suggest, college-readiness, even college-graduation-readiness, does not lead to out-basement-readiness. Over 50% of recent college graduates in the US are unemployed or underemployed. The numbers are not much better in other parts of the world.
They are the “boomerang kids,” writes a New York Times magazine article last week. These were good students. They were ready for college. They paid for college (many with borrowed money). They completed all college requirements. They did not drop out. And they graduated from college. But they are back in their parents’ basement for there is no career for them, ready or not.

Arne Duncan Unveils 50-State Teacher-Equity Strategy
Education Week Politics K-12 Blog By Alyson Klein on July 7, 2014 6:00 AM
The U.S. Department of Education Monday detailed its long-awaited "50-state" strategy for putting some teeth into a requirement  of the 12-year-old No Child Left Behind Act that has gone largely unenforced up until now: ensuring that poor and minority students get access to as many great teachers as their more advantaged peers.   States will be required to submit new plans to address teacher distribution by April of 2015, or just a few months before the department likely will begin to consider states' requests to renew their waivers from the NCLB law. 
This isn't the first time that the feds have asked states to outline their plans on teacher distribution, but the results so far haven't exactly been a stunning success.

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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