Monday, December 1, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec 1: Delco Times Editorial: A clear message on education funding

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3500 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Superintendents, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for December 1, 2014:
Delco Times Editorial: A clear message on education funding

Upcoming PA Basic Education Funding Commission Public Hearings
Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 10 AM East Stroudsburg; Carl T. Secor Administration Bldg., 50 Vine Street, East Stroudsburg Area School District
Wednesday, December 10, 2014, 10 AM - 12:00 PM Lancaster; location TBA
* meeting times and locations subject to change

Delco Times Editorial: A clear message on education funding
Delco Times POSTED: 11/30/14, 12:05 AM EST |
If there is one clear message from this year’s race for governor in Pennsylvania, it’s this: The way the state funds K-12 schools is neither fair nor adequate.  It is the reason Tom Corbett will be shown the door after just one term as governor.  It is the topic that hounded him for four years. It is the topic that was on the minds of voters in every race in Delaware County, from William Penn to Garnet Valley.  And it was not just Delco.
From the Delaware River to Lake Erie, voters saw class sizes swelling, school programs being slashed, and teachers getting pink slips, while school districts imposed painful property tax increases. Education was the main issue in the race and it cost Corbett his job — all in a year when his party romped to victories nationwide by running against President Obama and a disappointing economy.
While the state underfunds schools in general, some districts suffer a lot worse than others. It is part of the fundamentally unfair, unbalanced playing field that for too long has substituted for a sound education funding formula in Pennsylvania.
The key variable driving Pennsylvania’s school funding decisions is not what students need to get a good education — it’s politics. Communities with a friend in the Legislature or governor’s office do better. Pennsylvania is one of only three states that has no set formula for sending money to schools.

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup Nov 29: Campaign for Fair Education Funding draws broad support statewide

ISSUE | PA. SCHOOLS - Study up on funding
Inquirer Letter to the Editor by William H. Kerr, superintendent, Norwin School District, North Huntingdon POSTED: Sunday, November 30, 2014, 1:09 AM
Pennsylvania is one of only three states without a consistently applied school funding formula, which creates unfairness for students and disparities among school districts. State officials must find an equitable method to distribute funds so that all students can have access to a high-quality education.  Recently, more than 850 educators met via video conference at 29 locations to discuss the need for a fair funding formula. Discussions focused on how the state legislature determines the amount and method of Basic Education Funding by using inconsistent criteria. The last true funding formula, eliminated in 2011, calculated aid based on a district's costs, which created a more level playing field.  The newly appointed Basic Education Funding Commission is working to create a funding formula that is fair, adequate, and equitable for rural, suburban, and urban districts - especially addressing Pittsburgh and Philadelphia schools' long-term needs. A new formula must consider changing school district demographics, such as population and income. Also, the state must consider student poverty levels and district size to close the achievement gap for minority students and low-income students.

State needs to ensure cyber charter schools are up to task
Lancaster Online by The LNP Editorial Board Posted: Sunday, November 30, 2014 6:00 am
Cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania scored an average of 48.7 on the 100-point School Performance Profiles, which are primarily based on student scores on state tests. Traditional public schools across the state got an average of 76.9, and regular charter schools got an average of 65.1. Pennsylvania Acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq has said that schools should aim for a score of 70 or better.  Scores for the 12 cyber charters that enrolled Lancaster County students last year ranged from 37.5 at Achievement House Charter School to 66 at 21st Century Cyber Charter School.  Statewide enrollment in cyber charters increased 5.5 percent between 2012-13 and 2013-14, reaching a total of about 36,500 students, according to Research for Action, an independent research organization in Philadelphia.
Cyber charter schools are not making the grade.   And it’s a shame, because they could — and should — be meeting the needs of students for whom traditional schooling isn’t the best fit.

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf will need to make quick decisions on budget, personnel, more
Penn Live By Mark Scolforo | The Associated Press on November 29, 2014 at 3:39 PM
Democrat Tom Wolf had to make high-pressure decisions while running a business, serving as state revenue secretary and successfully campaigning for governor. But nothing compares to what awaits him in January after he is sworn in as Pennsylvania's chief executive.
There won't be much time to break in — the 2015-16 budget address must be delivered in February or March, and he'll need to find a way to work with strong Republican majorities in the Legislature to plug yet another budget deficit projected by the Independent Fiscal Office to be almost $2 billion.  Wolf will have to determine a strategy to fill two vacancies on the Supreme Court, what to make of the ongoing work of a school funding commission, how to pursue a death penalty moratorium he has advocated and even whether some of his top aides should be voting members of the Penn State board.  Wolf's aides say no one should be surprised at his main priorities — Medicaid expansion, education funding and a tax on natural gas extraction.

Dear Tom Wolf: Advice on Your New Secretary of Education
Caucus of Working Educators POSTED BY THE CAUCUS BLOG 5SC ON NOVEMBER 30, 2014
Dear Mr. Wolf,
The members of PFT's Caucus of WE congratulate you on your election as Governor of Pennsylvania. It was our pleasure to help Get Out the Vote for your election. We look forward to working with you to repair the harm done by the current administration in the last four years and since the economic recession began in 2008.  We hope that you keep a few key criteria in mind when making all of your political appointments. Diversity in terms of geography, race, gender, religion and political leanings should be a priority.  Your cabinet should look like Pennsylvania.  Appointees should be Pennsylvanians with a track record of public service and notable achievements.  They should be highly qualified and bold thinkers. They should be brave enough to advise you from their experience and conscience.  Leaders can only do their best when they surround themselves with people they respect enough to listen to their dissenting opinions.

PhillyDeals: Report: Pa. and N.J. near the bottom in pension funding
Inquirer by JOSEPH N. DISTEFANO LAST UPDATED: Sunday, November 30, 2014, 1:09 AM
There are a couple of reasons the pension funds that pay retired teachers, police, elected officials, and other public servants have become more expensive for taxpayers - eating up $1 of every $6 in Philadelphia's city budget, for example.  It's easy to blame the exotic, sometimes politically connected, investments in unprofitable projects and secretive far-off funds that the pensions' trustees - many of them political appointments - have too often approved.
But it's probably more costly that politicians years ago fattened pension benefits but didn't set aside enough money to pay for them along the way. And they still don't.
Especially in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Moody's Investors Service says in a new report New Jersey kicked in just 28 cents for every dollar needed to balance spending liabilities with income in 2013.

Cyber Charter school center to open in January
Scranton Times-Triune BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL Published: November 29, 2014
DICKSON CITY — Where people once purchased pet supplies, charter school students will learn.  Commonwealth Connections Academy will soon open the region’s first family service center for cyberschool students — a visible reminder of the growing presence of cyber charter schools.  In Lackawanna County, 303 students are enrolled in Commonwealth Connections Academy. When the rest of Northeast Pennsylvania is included — Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties — that number grows to 1,222 students. School officials say they hope the new center also helps increase enrollment.
Last year, the charter school purchased the former Petco building on Business Route 6 in Dickson City for $1.3 million. Officials plan to open the center in January, after workers complete the $1 million face-lift.  “It’s going to be something like they’ve never seen before,” said Reese Flurie, Ed.D., the school’s CEO.  The center will not be a typical school or office, and will have a lobby designed somewhere between a hotel lobby and a Cabela’s store, he said.  “It will be like a really friendly, warm student union building,” Dr. Flurie said.  There will be public areas for group meetings, space for tutoring and a living room with a fireplace where students can meet with the teachers — who they usually see only on their computer screens. Students can also form clubs and meet at the center for activities.

Analyzing enrollment trends in Philly schools – district, charter and Catholic
Between this school year and last, K-12 enrollment in the Philadelphia School District fell from roughly 132,000 students to 128,000.  District officials could not provide statistics for students in its alternative schools. In past years, the district educated roughly 4,000 in these schools.
In the same time, enrollment in the city's brick-and-mortar charter schools grew from roughly 60,500 to 62,500.  About 7,000 Philadelphia children now attend one of the state's cyber charters.
Over 10 years, district enrollment has declined by roughly 60,000 students, while the charter sector, including cybers, has grown by roughly 47,000.
"It speaks loudly to the choices that are available within the city of Philadelphia. The School District of Philadelphia itself has created many of these choices when it [authorized] charter schools and renaissance charter schools," said district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

Pittsburgh program pushes black students to take advanced high school courses
By Clarece Polke / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette November 28, 2014 12:00 AM
Mathew Johnson could barely read or write when he entered the third grade in public school.
Having started out being homeschooled with his six siblings, he got every question wrong on a class quiz on his first day at Pittsburgh Whittier K-5 on Mount Washington. That day was a turning point in his academic career, he said.  "I didn't know anyone. I didn't know how to do anything,” he said. “I promised myself I would never fall behind again.”  Fast-forward nine years and Mathew, 17, of Knoxville, is a model of the highly sought-after students the College Board is championing in a nationwide effort to identify and enroll more academically capable minority students in Advanced Placement courses.

PA Axes Reading Specialist Programs
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Friday, November 28, 2014
Turns out there is more than one way to reduce the job requirements for teaching.
Pennsylvania's Department of Education has apparently announced its intention to cut Reading Specialists off at the knees. In an email dated November 5, the department apparently indicatedthat they would add the Reading Specialist Certificate to the Added By Test list. In other words, it will no longer be necessary to go out and do a Master's Degree's worth of college coursework to become a reading specialist. Instead, aspiring reading specialists would just take a test.  The Keystone State Reading Association is not delighted. Neither are the colleges and universities that make money by training reading specialists. And neither should the rest of us be.  I find the whole concept a little bizarre. I've been an English teacher for 35-ish years and while I know a thing or two about reading, I wouldn't call myself a specialist.

School districts wade into legalities with commercial advertisements on websites
Trib Live By Megan Guza Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Some Western Pennsylvania school districts — and any other governmental bodies that allow commercial advertisements on their websites — could open the door to First Amendment issues if they allow some cause- or organization-based advertisements and not others, legal experts warn.
Adoption Connection PA, a Christian adoption agency in Beaver County, is running ads on dozens of local school district websites through a company called EDGEclick. A division of Thought Process Enterprises, EDGEclick specializes in soliciting and placing banner ads on public school websites and represents nearly 30 school districts in Allegheny, Beaver and Butler counties.  While the districts running the advertisement have had school officials sign off on it, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union said the ad could open the door to legal issues should the officials choose not to run ads from other nonprofits or groups that represent a specific cause.
How Public Education Dollars Are Flowing Into For-Profit Companies
Huffington Post ProPublica By Marian Wang Posted: 10/15/2014 12:11 pm EDT Updated: 10/15/2014 12:59 pm EDT
Versions of this story were co-published with The Daily Beast, Raleigh News & Observer and Charlotte Observer.
In late February, the North Carolina chapter of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation — a group co-founded by the libertarian billionaire Koch brothers — embarked on what it billed as a statewide tour of charter schools, a cornerstone of the group's education agenda. The first — and it turns out, only — stop was Douglass Academy, a new charter school in downtown Wilmington.
Douglass Academy was an unusual choice. A few weeks before, the school had been warned by the state about low enrollment. It had just 35 students, roughly half the state's minimum. And a month earlier, a local newspaper had reported that federal regulators were investigating the school's operations.
But the school has other attributes that may have appealed to the Koch group. The school's founder, a politically active North Carolina businessman named Baker Mitchell, shares the Kochs' free-market ideals.  His model for success embraces decreased government regulation, increased privatization and, if all goes well, healthy corporate profits.
In that regard, Mitchell, 74, appears to be thriving. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell's chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.

Discipline, Disabilities, School to Prison, Disproportionality
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia
Saturday, December 13, 2014 from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM
United Way Building 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, 19103
Presenters include Sonja Kerr; Howard Jordan, ACLU; Dr. Karolyn Tyson; Michael Raffaele, Frankel & Kershenbaum, LLC
This session is designed to assist participants to understand the specifics of the federal IDEA disciplinary protections, 20 U.S.C. §1415(k) as they apply to children with disabilities. Topics will include functional behavioral assessment, development of positive behavioral support programs for children with disabilities, manifestation reviews and avoiding juvenile court involvement. 
Questions? Email or call 267.546.1317.

January 23rd–25th, 2015 at The Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia
EduCon is both a conversation and a conference.
It is an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas — from the very practical to the big dreams.

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