Thursday, December 18, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec 18, 2014: Pennsylvania town poised to make all public schools for-profit charters

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for December 18, 2014:
Pennsylvania town poised to make all public schools for-profit charters

Everything you ever wanted to know about PA education funding/school finance but were afraid to ask
Basic Education Funding Commission School Finance Briefing
By Jim Buckheit, Executive Director, PA Association of School Administrators and Jay Himes, Executive Director, PA Association of School Business Officials August 20, 2014

Pennsylvania town poised to make all public schools for-profit charters
Aljazeera by Peter Moskowitz   @ptrmsk December 15, 2014
York, Pennsylvania, could become the second school district in the country to offer only charter schools to the area’s residents if a court ruling likely to come this week turns over control of public schools to the state.  In what appears to be a last-ditch effort to carry out a two-year-old plan to turn all of York’s schools over to for-profit charter corporation Charter Schools USA, Pennsylvania’s Department of Education filed a petition in a York County court earlier this month to take away almost all local control from the school board, and put the district in the “receivership” of state-appointed York education official David Meckley.
Meckley, a local businessman who once served on the board of a nearby school district, was appointed in 2012 to oversee York’s financially beleaguered school system under a 2012 law that allowed the state to appoint “recovery officers” for any school districts with significant debt. His plan for York [PDF] involves a slew of concessions from the district, from teacher layoffs to extracurricular cutbacks. But the most controversial part is the handing over of the entire operation of the district to Charter Schools USA.

 An Urban Myth? New Evidence on Equity, Adequacy, and the Efficiency of Educational Resources in Pennsylvania
Center for Policy Research in Education November 2014
Authors: Matthew P. Steinberg, Rand Quinn
How and in what ways money matters in education is a long-standing question among policymakers and education researchers. This issue is particularly salient to large, urban school districts, where debates on the organization of school often gravitate toward issues of financial resources and academic performance. Large urban districts, the story goes, spend more money per pupil but generate lower than expected results. In this policy brief, University of Pennsylvania researchers Matthew P. Steinberg and Rand Quinn present evidence that addresses the oft-told story that large urban districts, such as the School District of Philadelphia (SDP), are inefficient.

Letter to the Editor: Pa. needs a school funding formula to promote fairness
Delco Times LTE by William H. Kerr POSTED: 12/17/14, 10:35 PM EST |
WILLIAM H. KERR, Ed.D, Superintendent of Schools, Norwin School District, North Huntington, PA
To the Times:
The effectiveness of public education – the cornerstone of our democracy – is essential to graduating productive and responsible citizens in a knowledge and technology-based economy.
Pennsylvania is one of only three states without a consistently applied school funding formula, which creates unfairness for students and disparities among school districts across the state.
State officials must find an equitable method to distribute state funds for public education so that all students can be better served and have access to high-quality educational programs and services.  Recently, more than 850 educators across Pennsylvania met via video conference at 29 locations on the same night to discuss the need for a fair public school funding formula. Discussions focused on how the Pennsylvania legislature, each budget year, determines the amount and method of Basic Education Funding by using inconsistent criteria and multiple factors. The last true school funding formula, eliminated in 2011, calculated state aid based on a district’s actual costs. This created a more level playing field and provided a state commitment to the total cost of educating our students.

Politically Uncorrected: 2015: Challenge Amid Change in the Keystone State
PoliticsPA Written by G. Terry Madonna and Michael L. Young December 17, 2014
In 2014, Pennsylvania selected a new governor, rejected an old governor, and voted decisively to be indecisive about which party should control state government – overwhelmingly handing the executive branch to Democrats while just as overwhelmingly turning the legislature over to Republicans – thus installing divided government in the Keystone State.  As a new year begins, it’s an auspicious time to assess where we have been the past 12 months, where we are going the next 12 months, and what challenges and change might confront us along the way.
Approaching 2015, five unfolding political themes deeply rooted in 2014 seem likely to dominate state politics in the New Year.

Wolf presents dire financial picture for Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Tom Wolf is continuing to sound the alarm about the state's fiscal woes.
At a press conference in Philadelphia, Wolf said the state is facing a budget gap that could be more than $2 billion. He is not saying how he plans to close the gap. Wolf said he wants to first determine the exact size of the problem, and then work with the legislature to come up with solutions.  "We need to think about solutions on the spending side. We need to think about solutions on the revenue side," he said. "Just hoping for growth doesn't seem to be enough."

Harrisburg thinktank: State budget outlook bleak
state budget: Analysts see growth ahead for Pennsylvania's budget woes.
York Dispatch By GREG GROSS 505-5433/@ydpolitics  12/17/2014 01:14:18 PM EST
The projected nearly $2 billion budget deficit Pennsylvania lawmakers and Gov.-elect Tom Wolf are facing next year is just the start of what's to come, according to two Harrisburg thinktanks.
At current revenue levels and while maintaining the same level of services, the $1.9 billion budget deficit will balloon to $2.2 billion come 2016, said Mike Wood, research director with the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, citing data from the state's Independent Fiscal Office.
"And that gap grows every year as revenues fail to keep up with expenditures," he said.
By 2017, the gap is projected to grow to $2.5 billion; by 2019, it'll hit $2.7 billion, the data shows.
Wood was part of a trio of experts from the nonpartisan budget and policy center and the Keystone Research Center who gave their outlooks on the state of the state's finances during a presentation in Harrisburg on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh schools directors OK budget with no change in property tax rate
Clarece Polke / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December 18, 2014 12:00 AM
Pittsburgh Public Schools’ board of directors unanimously approved a final budget Wednesday night of $556.8 million for 2015.  The approved budget has a 5 percent increase of about $27 million but holds the line on the property tax rate of 9.84 mills. One mill equals a tax of $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The board also unanimously voted to levy realty transfer and earned income taxes, all of which remained the same from this year.

Pittsburgh students deliver wish list to school board. There’s one item on it.
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss December 17 at 3:00 PM  
Actress Kerry Washington spends an afternoon with the Savoy Players, dancers comprised of boys and girls at at Savoy Elementary School in Washington, DC on January 22, 2013. Washington was part of a “Turnaround Arts Initiative” to improve low-performing schools by emphasizing the arts. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Some unusual speakers appeared at the final Pittsburgh school board meeting of the year — students, and they were asking for something. Arts education. In the following post,  Jessie B. Ramey,  a parent of two children in Pittsburgh public schools and a historian of working families, gender, race and U.S. social policy who teaches women’s studies and history at the University of Pittsburgh, describes the scene at the board meeting. In the original post,  which first appeared  on her Yinzercation blog, she  wrotethat seniors William Grimm and Margaret Booth, co-chairs of their school’s chapter of the National Art Honor Society, approached Yinzercation, a collective of volunteer parents, students, teachers, and community members in Southwest Pennsylvania that advocates for public education, for help in learning how to make a presentation to the school board. Steering committee member Kathy Newman assisted. Here is a version of the original piece, which I am publishing with Ramey’s permission.

The men who run Chester Upland
Delco Times Heron's Nest Blog by Editor Phil Heron Thursday, December 18, 2014
There is nothing wrong with the Chester Upland School District that $20 million wouldn't cure.
That's the word from the man who should know. Joe Watkins is the embattled state-appointed receiver of the struggling district. He managed to survive an attempt by his boss at the state Department of Education to boot him from his job. But he's not out of the woods yet. Neither is the district.  Chester Upland continues to face fiscal calamity, staring at a $20 million deficit. Watkins says that shortfall could be wiped out if the state went back to disbursing money as it did after a costing-out study done in 2011 that delivered more state aid to those districts in the greatest need.  He's hopeful that a new administration taking over in Harrisburg - namely Democratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf - will restore the Act 88 funds nixed by the Corbett Administration.  In the meantime, he maintains the district is making progress, both in luring students back to the public schools from charters, in maintaining a safe atmosphere, and increasing test scores.

Missed Chester Upland's Joe Watkins and Gregory Shannon on Live from the Newsroom? Here is the replay
Delco Times Video POSTED: 12/17/14, 9:54 AM EST 
Chester Upland School District receiver Joe Watkins stood his ground and refused to be pulled away by the state powers.  Watkins and Chester Upland Superintendent Gregory Shannon made a visit to Live from the Newsroom Wednesday night to talk about the district and the improvements that have and will be made.

Saucon Valley teachers say old contract offers unacceptable to members
By Sara K. Satullo | The Express-Times  on December 17, 2014 at 8:06 PM
Saucon Valley teachers say their prior negotiating team submitted a contract proposal that was unacceptable to the majority of its union members.  Officials with the education association and theschool district spent their second day in Harrisburg on Wednesday before Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board Hearing Examiner Jack Marino. A November hearing before Marino on the district's unfair labor practice charge had been continued until this week.

Coatesville school board approves release of internal investigation
By Kristina Scala, Daily Local News POSTED: 12/17/14, 2:44 PM EST 
Caln >> The Coatesville Area School Board Tuesday night unanimously approved releasing contents of an internal investigation containing additional details connected to the Chester County District Attorney’s criminal probe of two former school district administrators.
After a lengthy executive session Tuesday night, the board made an unexpected approval to release the contents of the report, performed by the school district’s special legal counsel Conrad O’Brien, following sufficient redaction.  “I am extremely pleased that our Board has voted to do this as I believe it is an important step in our process to move forward from the scandal that has caused so much havoc in our school district,” school district superintendent Cathy Taschner said in a message to parents Tuesday night.

Moody’s upgrades Haverford School District’s bond rating to Aa3
Delco Times By Lois Puglionesi, Times Correspondent POSTED: 12/17/14, 8:50 PM EST
HAVERFORD >> Moody’s last week upgraded the school district’s bond rating from A1 to Aa3.
The upgrade reflects the district’s “improved financial position following several years of growth in fund balance and cash reserves, and also takes into account the district’s stable and affluent tax base, and above-average but manageable debt burden,” according to a Rating Action notice.
Moody’s had downgraded the rating from Aa2 to A1 in 2012 after the fund balance hit a low of $97,000.  School directors recently approved a parameters resolution authorizing the refinancing of outstanding School Revenue Bonds, Series of 2006, and General Obligation Bonds, Series AA of 2010. Financial adviser Jamie Schlessinger estimated the district would see a net savings of about $1 million, or 6 percent, over the next few years, with $400,000 less in interest costs this year.

Restorative Practices: An Alternative To Suspension And Expulsion: 'Circle Up!'
One by one, in a room just off the gym floor at Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, Calif., seventh-graders go on the interview hot seat.  Some 80 students have applied to be "peer leaders" in the school's new, alternative discipline program called "restorative justice."  Kyle McClerkins, the program's director, grills them on aspects of adolescent life: "What is the biggest challenge for middle school girls? What has changed about you from sixth grade to now?"
This school and the Oakland Unified School District are at the forefront of a new approach to school misconduct and discipline. Instead of suspending or expelling students who get into fights or act out, restorative justice seeks to resolve conflicts and build school community through talking and group dialogue.

"By eliminating funding for Race to the Top and adding a little bit of extra funding to each of the huge civil rights formula programs, Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Congress made a statement, though its action is symbolic rather than substantive."
Congress Deletes ‘Race to the Top’ Competition
Jan Resseger's Blog Posted on December 17, 2014 by janresseger
As you know, over last weekend Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill to get us through the fiscal year to the end of next September.  This was all very theatrical as the ideologues postured and threatened to stop the government.  Despite the atmosphere of crisis, however, a bill was passed, and if you look at how the money was appropriated in particular areas, it is possible to observe some trends.  Let’s look at the federal appropriations for public education as an example.  Remember that the federal investment in education is relatively small at $70.5 billion.  While federal policy affects what happens in public schools across the states, the federal government isn’t really a big financial player in education. According to the New America Foundation, “States and local governments typically provide about 44 percent each of all elementary and secondary education funding. The federal government contributes about 12 percent of all direct expenditures.”  But spending trends in federal policy set an important direction, and in its spending bill for Fiscal Year 2015 (October 2014–end of September 2015) Congress did not appropriate any money for the competitive Race to the Top program.  Another competitive grant program, Investing in Innovation, was cut by $21.6 million. School Improvement Grants, the other big competition for money for so called “failing” schools did survive, though the entire program is flat-funded at $506 million.

New York City Teachers Score Highly Under New Evaluation System
New York Times By KATE TAYLOR DEC. 16, 2014
Nine out of 10 New York City teachers received one of the top two rankings in the first year of a new evaluation system that was hailed as a better way of assessing how they perform, according to figures released on Tuesday.  The system, enacted into state law in 2010, was created, in part, to make it easier to identify which teachers performed the best so their methods could be replicated, and which performed the worst, so they could be fired. Although very few teachers in the city were deemed not to be up to standards, state officials and education experts said the city appeared to be doing a better job of evaluating its teachers than the rest of New York State.
In the city, only 9 percent of teachers received the highest rating, “highly effective,” compared with 58 percent in the rest of the state. Seven percent of teachers in the city received the second-lowest rating — “developing” — while 1.2 percent received the lowest rating, “ineffective.” In the rest of the state, the comparable figures were 2 percent and 0.4 percent.

Pillars of Reform Collapsing, Reformers Contemplate Defeat
Living In Dialogue Blog By Anthony Cody. December 17, 2014
There is growing evidence that the corporate-sponsored education reform project is on its last legs. The crazy patchwork of half-assed solutions on offer for the past decade have one by one failed to deliver, and one by one they are falling. Can the edifice survive once its pillars of support have crumbled?

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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