Friday, December 12, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec 12: Pennsylvania: An eye-opening description of one state’s failed school funding system

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for December 12, 2014:
Pennsylvania: An eye-opening description of one state’s failed school funding system

Is Philly charter wait list make believe?
Citypaper By Daniel Denvir Published: 12/11/2014
Philadelphia's most influential charter-school advocates are making a big push to open more schools and keep insisting that the demand is enormous: 40,000 city students, they say, are on waiting lists for seats.  But it's not clear that this number has any basis at all.  "We are not aware what comprises this 40,000," says School District spokesperson Fernando Gallard. "It would be important to get more detail about this number. It would be important for us, and I think it would be important for the general public, to drill down."  That has, so far, proven impossible. The Philadelphia School Partnership, PennCAN and Educational Opportunities for Families have all touted the same 40,000 number. The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools says there is a statewide wait list of 44,000. None of the groups responded to requests by City Paper to explain where those numbers came from.

"And with future retirement system contribution rates, even after the new savings, projected to hover around 30 percent of payroll through 2035, "these next 20 years will be very stressful on school districts if we don't do something."
Pennsylvania pension system sees relief through high investment returns, slower payroll growth
PennLive By Charles Thompson | on December 11, 2014 at 10:00 AM, updated December 11, 2014 at 10:05 AM
Did Pennsylvania just get some pension relief without the reform?  In a sense, the answer is yes.
A 14.9 percent gain on investments last year and a rare drop in school district payroll expenditures stands to provide some modest long-term relief to the statewide pension plan for public school employees, officials said Wednesday.  But the operative word is relief; not cure.
The glimmer of hope on a bleak public pension landscape came as the Public School Employees Retirement System board announced its taxpayer-funded payroll contribution rates for 2015-16.  The new rate of 25.84 percent will cost the state and public school districts a collective $3.46 billion in the budget year starting July 1, which is up $571 million from the $2.89 billion being paid this year.  The stepladder of fiscal pain - brought on in part by a set of lucrative retirement benefit increases passed by the Legislature and signed by former Gov. Tom Ridge in 2001 - will still continue for years to come.

PSERS sets employer contribution rate for 2015-16
PSBA website December 11, 2014
This week the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) Board of Trustees certified an annual employer contribution rate of 25.84% for fiscal year 2015-16, which begins on July 1, 2015.  This marks the fifth year of planned increases in the employer contribution rate under Act 120 of 2010 which are needed to raise the rate to the actuarially required level.
The 25.84% employer contribution rate is composed of 0.84% for health insurance premium assistance and a pension rate of 25.00%. The pension component of the rate was capped at a 4.50% increase from the previous year. The rate caps established under Act 120 of 2010 remain in effect for the next fiscal year and continue to suppress the pension rate and underfund the System. Based on current projections, fiscal year 2015-16 would be the last fiscal year the rate collars will be in place. Total employer contributions of $3.45 billion are estimated in 2015-16. The commonwealth reimburses school employers for not less than 50% of the total employer contribution rate.

Pennsylvania: An eye-opening description of one state’s failed school funding system
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss December 11 at 1:06 PM  
Many school reformers today like to say that “money doesn’t matter” in making schools work and that holding students and teachers more “accountable”   — largely through standardized test scores — is what is needed. Certainly a great deal of money can be used poorly but that is not the same thing as money doesn’t matter. It is, however, a good mantra for people who want to ignore the severe and consequential funding inequitiesthat persist in the U.S. public education system across the United States.  According to this 2013 report on school funding by the Education Law Center:
In fiscal year 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, state governments, on average, funded 43.5 percent, or $259.8 billion, of the total amount spent on public education. School districts and other local sources were responsible, on average, for almost 44 percent of all public school spending or $261.6 billion. The federal government, on average, provided almost 13 percent of the total revenue received by public schools, or $75.9 billion.
With most of the money coming from state and local sources, disparities are inevitable, especially because in most places local sources are dependent on property taxes, meaning that poor areas have less money to spend on schools. Federal money given to low-income areas doesn’t close the gap.  So how inequitable can school funding be within a single state? Let’s look at one of the most troubled in this respect, Pennsylvania.

Here's how Gov.-elect Wolf can tackle the budget he's inherited: Josh Shapiro
PennLive Op-Ed  By Josh Shapiro on December 11, 2014 at 2:00 PM
Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, is the chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and the Vice Chairman of the Budget Deficit and Fiscal Stabilization Task Force for the Wolf Transition. He served in the state House of Representatives from 2005-2012.
Recent reports have begun to unveil the extent of the structural financial hole that will be left behind by the Corbett administration.  According a report by the Independent Fiscal Office, Pennsylvania is facing a budget deficit of at least of $2 billion.   This has been confirmed by administration Budget Secretary Charles Zogby, who said, he "never have guessed that our Year Four budget would be more difficult than what we faced in Year One. But that's where we are today."  Though we do not yet know the full scope and depth of the fiscal situation Governor-elect Tom Wolf will inherit once he takes office next month, one thing is clear: the extent of the budget deficit will be massive and will pose a significant challenge for the Wolf Administration.
How did we get here?

Madonna and Young: Tom Wolf faces witches' brew of crises on day one
Morning Call Opinion by Terry Madonna and Michael Young December 11, 2014
G. Terry Madonna is professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College; Michael Young is managing partner of Michael Young Strategic Research.
It's not often that someone's greatest wish and worst nightmare occur at the same time, but for Gov.-elect Tom Wolf both are fated to occur the same day, hour and minute. Jan. 20 will witness the swearing in of the state's new governor. For Wolf, the day not only will mark the culmination of a decadeslong quest for the office but also the beginning of a series of seemingly insuperable challenges greater than faced by any new governor in modern times.
Pennsylvania, as the age of Wolf begins, faces a witches' brew of political, cultural and fiscal crises that will test Wolf from his first day in office. Any one of them might occupy a new governor's agenda for most of his term. Wolf has to deal with all of them — and as the short, sad tenure of Tom Corbett showed — the clock is ticking for him even as he prepares to be inaugurated. It will only tick louder as time goes on.
Here is a short, but hardly sweet, compilation of Wolf's early to-do list.

York City School District hearings on recovery plan and charter school proposal: What you need to know
PennLive By Candy Woodall | on December 10, 2014 at 9:13 AM, updated December 10, 2014 at 10:55 AM
The fight to save York City School District continues Thursday when a judge hears testimony from those who say it should be spared from receivership and a potential charter school takeover.
York County President Judge Stephen Linebaugh at 10:30 a.m. will hear statements from parties asking to intervene and be part of the case, including the district's union employees and the Pennsylvania School Board Association. The hearing will be held at the York County Judicial Center, 45 N. George St. in York City.   At 10:30 a.m. Monday the court will hear York City School District's motion for a stay in the case.  A stay is opposed by the state Department of Education, which on Dec. 1 filed a petition in York County court to grant receivership to Spring Garden Twp. resident David Meckley.

Judge will decide York schools' fate
Keystone Crossroads/Newsworks BY EMILY PREVITI, WITF DECEMBER 11, 2014
A judge is scheduled to rule on the state's petition for a receivership Monday.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has filed a petition for a receivership of York City School District with the York County Court of Common Pleas.  If Judge Stephen Linebaugh rules in the state's favor, the district could be Commonwealth’s first to be forced to charterize and among just a few nationally to undergo the process on a wide scale.  Outside the courthouse earlier this week during an intervention hearing for the case, about 40 high school students protested against the potential takeover of their school district as snow fell outside the courthouse.

Charter conversion: York, NOLA comparisons might not be apt (letter)
York Daily Record LTE By Mark Duffy and John Sludden 12/10/2014 04:13:49 PM EST
Mark Duffy and John Sludden are education policy researchers at Research for Action, an independent nonprofit based in Philadelphia.
In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education placed the majority of New Orleans' public schools under the oversight of the Recovery School District. Over the past several years, charter schools have taken on a significant role in the delivery of education within the city. During the 2013-14 school year, over 90 percent of New Orleans' public school children attended charter schools — one of the highest rates anywhere in the country.  The possible complete conversion of York city's public schools to charters has drawn understandable comparisons to New Orleans — which is notable for the French Quarter, jazz, and the turnover of nearly all its public schools to charter management organizations.
However, the potential parallels between the charter reforms in the two cities may not be as clear as they seem. 

Pennsylvania loses in competition for federal preschool grants
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December 10, 2014
Early childhood education advocates in Pittsburgh remain committed to finding a way to ensure high-quality preschool for all despite losing a federal competition that could have brought as much as $20 million a year statewide to Pennsylvania.  The U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday announced that 18 states will share more than $226 million in Preschool Development Grants. Pennsylvania was one of 18 applicants that didn’t make the list.
The announcement came the same day the White House hosted a summit on early childhood education. Speakers included Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

"Pedro Rivera, superintendent of the School District of Lancaster, and John J. "Ski" Sygielski, Harrisburg Area Community College president, were selected as co-chairs to review education."
Lancaster mayor, HACC president among transition review heads selected by Gov-elect Tom Wolf
PennLive By Christian Alexandersen |  on December 11, 2014 at 12:15 PM, updated December 11, 2014 at 12:19 PM
The mayor of Lancaster, president of Harrisburg Community College and general manager of the York Revolution are among the people tapped by Gov-elect Tom Wolf to review state agencies, commissions and various issue areas.  Wolf announced Thursday his selection of more than 30 individuals for transition review heads. The list included a number of people from York, Lancaster and Dauphin Counties.   "It is important that I understand the issues and challenges my administration will face," Wolf said in a prepared statement.  "Today I am pleased to announce this outstanding group of individuals who will review state agencies and provide insight into issues that will allow me to have the knowledge necessary to hit the ground running on January 20."

Wolf names chairs of state agency review committees Commonwealth Confidential Blog THURSDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2014, 2:19 PM
Gov.-elect Tom Wolf today announced his team of leaders in various fields - among them former cabinet secretaries in the Rendell administration and former lawmakers -  to review state agencies, commissions, and various issue areas. He said they work with the outgoing administration to better understand the issues and challenges that face the executive branch.

Wolf appoints 7 from Western Pennsylvania to his transition team
Trib Live By Melissa Daniels Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014, 3:51 p.m.
Gov.-elect Tom Wolf on Thursday announced 34 people he appointed to catch him up on the state of state agencies.  At least seven hail from Western Pennsylvania.
The members of Wolf's transition team will act as review heads for state agencies and issue areas, identifying challenges in each area and reporting them to Wolf before his Jan. 20 inauguration. Spokesman Jeff Sheridan said they are experts in their subject matter and show “competence and high level of integrity.”  Sheridan said Wolf's goal was “to choose the best group of people to work with his transition team and these agencies and figure out how those agencies operate and what can be improved, what's working, and have that knowledge so he can hit the ground running.”
"The 2001 law that increased pension benefits by 25 percent for state and public school employees included a 50 percent boost to lawmakers’ pensions.
Being leaders, they should, of course, take whatever medicine they’re prescribing for others. But that extra-generous increase provides another reason for lawmakers to go first.  And, since most of their constituents have 401(k) retirement plans if they have any at all, lawmakers should accept a 401(k) plan even if that’s not the reform they propose for others.  That would be leadership."
Editorial: Pa. lawmakers must take on pension reform, their own 401(k)
Lancaster Online Editorial Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2014 6:00 am
The LNP Editorial Board
The Issue: Pennsylvania faces a $52 billion combined shortfall in the two funds that cover pension benefits for state employees (including lawmakers) and for public school employees. The state’s municipalities also face challenges in keeping up to date in funding more than 3,200 pension plans — half of which are underfunded.
Players in the pension reform debate broached two particularly interesting points in an online chat Tuesday on an issue of importance to all Pennsylvania taxpayers.  On pension reform at the state level, Republican state Reps. Seth Grove, of York County, and Keith Greiner, of Leola, both said they’d accept a switch to 401(k) plans for lawmakers as a first step.
That’s a great idea.

Philadelphia City Council Unanimously Passes Standardized Testing Resolution
City Council Website
Calling upon the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission to analyze the financial and human impact of standardized testing, to identify strategies to minimize its use, and to request a waiver of the Keystone Exams from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to adopt assessments that better serve local needs and priorities.  Resolution No. 14099700.pdf

Philadelphia’s shift in discipline policy
The zero-tolerance approach emphasized punishment. Now understanding the student’s behavior is seen as key to changing it.
the notebook By Dan Hardy  on Dec 9, 2014 12:21 PM
In the wake of the catastrophic Columbine school shooting in 1999, many school district leaders, politicians, and police summed up their response to school violence with two words: zero tolerance.  Infractions that once might have prompted a discussion of motive and intention instead often led to immediate, automatic suspensions, expulsions, and calls to police.
From 2002 to 2011 in Philadelphia, that view held the upper hand; both Paul Vallas and Arlene Ackerman favored a zero-tolerance approach to school discipline.
In 2012, however, dissatisfaction with the results led to a tectonic shift in policy.
The School District adopted a new discipline code that has more of a case-by-case, individualized approach, with some discretion about consequences for students. Since then, out-of-school suspensions have declined, as have expulsions.  One of the authors of the policy change says that the District is increasingly attuned to the fact that thousands of Philadelphia students have been deeply affected by traumatic childhood events, and these events can play a big role in their behavior.

U.S. labor secretary praises Philly apprentice program, announces $100M grant competition
But the local program, Urban Technology Project, has suffered due to budget cuts
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on Dec 11, 2014 04:01 PM
Tyler Buck skillfully dismantled the screen of an iMac computer and showed U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez how to put it back together.  "You're on the education superhighway," Perez said, telling Buck he has the skills for the future. "The sky's the limit."
Said Buck, "I still have a lot to learn."  Buck, 19, a graduate of School of the Future, is a computer support specialist, the second level of apprentice in a longstanding Philadelphia program called the Urban Technology Project.  Perez came to Philadelphia on Thursday to announce a $100 million grant competition to create apprenticeship programs like Philadelphia's across the country.

Cheltenham monitor to get $900 per day by Kathy Bocella LAST UPDATED: Friday, December 12, 2014, 1:08 AM POSTED: Thursday, December 11, 2014, 6:23 PM
CHELTENHAM The former superintendent hired to "monitor" embattled Cheltenham School District Superintendent Natalie Thomas will be paid $900 per day, the school district said Thursday.  It was unclear how long William Kiefer, who retired in 2010 after four years as Cheltenham superintendent, would serve or how many days he would work.  Thomas, whose annual salary is $180,000, has come under fire for feuding with teachers and administrators, many of whom have left the district since her arrival about 18 months ago.

Garnet Valley School Board, teachers union remain at odds on contract
Delco Times By Susan L. Serbin, Times Correspondent POSTED: 12/11/14, 11:47 PM EST |
CONCORD >> Garnet Valley School Board and members of the Garnet Valley Education Association split their votes on the recommendations of fact finder William Lowe. With acceptance from the board and GVEA’s rejection, the contract is on temporary hold.
The GVEA has an additional 10-day reconsideration period and must, by law, take another vote not later than Dec. 21. If the second vote rejects the report, the fact-finding process ends and both sides will return to the bargaining table.  The board’s brief meeting resulted in an 8-1 vote with Director Bob Anderson opposed.  “I came onto the board to vote my conscience,” said Anderson, noting he had concerns about some of the number and other issues not directly connected to money issues.  “The report’s recommendations will assure cost savings for benefits and long-term affordability for the community with salary increases for bargaining unit members,” said board President Rosemary Fiumara. “We feel confident the report meets the board’s goal of balancing needs of the taxpayers while, at the same time, offering a fair and equitable contract to teachers.”

Delco school district converts some school buses to compressed natural gas LAST UPDATED: Friday, December 12, 2014, 1:08 AM
DELAWARE County - Rose Tree Media converts school buses to natural gas
MEDIA The Rose Tree Media School District has scheduled a ribbon-cutting for 10 a.m. Friday at the district buidling, 172 Barren Rd., to unveil its new fill-up station and the buses it has converted to compressed natural gas.  The district built a compressed natural gas station at the site and converted eight of its 74 buses from diesel to compressed natural gas at a projected cost savings of approximately $1 million over 12 years.

Moody's boosts Haverford public-school credit rating
Inquirer Philly Deals Blog by Joseph N. DiStefano THURSDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2014, 2:19 PM
After three years of "improving" finances at Haverford Township School District, Moody's Investors Service has boosted the district's credit rating to Aa3 from A1, just in time for two pending bond issues totalling $18.6 million,  The boost partly reverses a two notch Moody's downgrade in January 2012, when the agency warned Haverford had collected too much: budget deficit; debt; and risky interest-rate swaps.    Haverford has since showed "growth in fund balance and cash reserves" as managers and the school board are no longer spending more than they collect from property taxpayers and other income, Moody's reports. The debt is still "above average," and the township's share of Pennsylvania's underfunded school employee pension obligations are still a fiscal threat. But Haverford is "stable and affluent," so Moody's isn't so worried it will stiff its bondholders.

"The entire test-based accountability movement has paid little attention to evidence. In fact, in 2011, the National Research Council reviewed research on high-stakes accountability and found few benefits."
Accountability for the Top 95 Percent
Huffington Post by Robert E. Slavin  Director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University Posted: 12/11/2014 11:48 am EST Updated: 12/11/2014 12:59 pm EST
Perhaps the most controversial issue in education policy is test-based accountability. Since the 1980s, most states have had tests in reading and math (at least), and have used average school test scores for purposes ranging from praising or embarrassing school staffs to providing financial incentives or closing down low-scoring schools. Test-based accountability became national with NCLB, which required annual testing from grades 3-8, and prescribed sanctions for low-achieving schools. The Obama administration added to this an emphasis on using student test scores as part of teacher evaluations.

Heinz Endowments gives $9M to US early-ed program
Education Week  by AP Published Online: December 10, 2014
PITTSBURGH (AP) — One of Pittsburgh's biggest charities is donating $9 million toward Invest in US, a national campaign announced by President Barack Obama to fund and promote early education programs.  The Heinz Endowments gift was announced Wednesday, as Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was scheduled to address a White House meeting on early education.
The Heinz Endowments is one of nearly 40 charitable foundations, nonprofits and corporations to donate to the cause.

FCC Approves Major E-Rate Funding Increase on Party-Line Vote
Education Week Digital Education Blog By Sean Cavanagh on December 11, 2014 12:43 PM
The Federal Communications Commission today approved a major increase in funding for the E-rate program, a decision that supporters predict will greatly expand schools' and libraries' access to high-speed Web connectivity after years of neglect.  The commission approved the change in a 3-2 vote that broke down along partisan lines and was at times sown with discord.
The plan, overseen by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, will lift the overall spending cap for the E-rate program from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion a year, after years of stagnant funding.

FairTest Testing Resistance & Reform News: December 3 - 9, 2014
Submitted by fairtest on December 9, 2014 - 2:14pm 
FairTest provides these weekly summaries of news clips and other resources as a tool to build the national assessment reform movement. We encourage parents, educators, students, administrators, community organizers, researchers and other allies to draw on the positive initiatives described in these links as models for their own local campaigns.  If you have similar materials to share, please send them to us for possible inclusion in future editions.

EPLC "Focus on Education" TV Program on PCN - Sunday, December 14 at 3:00 p.m. 
Guest 1: Michael Churchill, Of Counsel with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, who will discuss the new school funding lawsuit against Pennsylvania state government
Guest 2: James M. Vaughan, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Historical and Museums Commission, who will discuss the work of the PHMC
All EPLC "Focus on Education" TV shows are hosted by EPLC President Ron Cowell.
Visit the EPLC and the Pennsylvania School Funding Project web sites for various resources related to school funding and arts education issues.

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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