Tuesday, December 2, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec 2: State moves to take control of York City School District; York City charter opponents decry perceived political influence

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for December 2, 2014:
State moves to take control of York City School District; York City charter opponents decry perceived political influence

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

State moves to take control of York City School District
If court OKs, he could bring in charters without school board approval
York Daily Record By ANGIE MASON Daily Record/Sunday News  12/01/2014 07:55:31 PM EST
York City School District teachers, parents and students stand in line for public comment at a York City School Board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, to speak against a proposed alternative that would convert some York City School District schools to charters. (File - Daily Record/Sunday News)  The state education department wants to make David Meckley receiver for the York City School District, a move that would allow him to bring in a charter operator for district schools without the school board's consent.
On Monday, acting state education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq filed a petition in York County court, requesting the appointment. As receiver, Meckley would assume all of the powers of the school board except for levying taxes, so he would be able to implement a contract with a charter operator to run district schools, a move the York City School Board has resisted.
Meckley, who has led the state-mandated recovery process for city schools since 2012, said he's had several conversations with Dumaresq since the board's November meeting, when the board tabled a decision on a proposed contract with Charter Schools USA.  "The conclusion was the school board is not acting within the recovery plan and therefore a petition for receivership is necessary," he said.
But Margie Orr, school board president, predicted "horrible fallout" if Meckley is appointed receiver and the schools are turned into charters.  "I'm hoping the court will let us retain control of our own school district," she said.
The court is required by law to have a hearing within seven days and then to make a decision within 10 days of the hearing.

York City charter opponents decry perceived political influence
York Dispatch By ERIN JAMES 505-5439/@ydcity POSTED:   12/01/2014 07:49:19 PM EST
A petition filed in York County court Monday asking that a receiver be appointed to the York City School District "seems very premature action on the part of the state," according to the president of the York NAACP.  "Considering the timing of everything ... this is not for the best interest of the kids," said Sandra Thompson, also a local attorney.
Thompson is one of many community members, parents, teachers and students who have voiced passionate concern for the past several months about a proposal to convert York City schools to charter schools.  In August, Thompson floated the possibility of filing a lawsuit on behalf of district parents and students based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Thompson said she was still fielding phone calls and gathering information about that possibility Monday, when the state Department of Education secretary filed a petition for receivership.
If the judge agrees, the locally elected school board would retain only the ability to set the property-tax rate.  "I just hope that we get a neutral judge," Thompson said.
Political factors: Some, including Thompson, have questioned the political motivations of the state's timing.  Gov. Tom Corbett, a charter-school supporter, lost his re-election bid last month. Days after the election, the district's state-appointed chief recovery officer proposed the conversion plan and directed the school board to vote on it 10 days later.
Corbett's successor, York County businessman Tom Wolf, has publicly expressed opposition to the all-charter conversion plan.

Pennsylvania seeks receivership for York schools
Penn Live By The Associated Press on December 01, 2014 at 5:09 PM
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania's acting education secretary is asking a court to place the York City School District in receivership status.
Carolyn Dumaresq filed the petition Monday in York County court, saying the school board has failed to implement a state appointee's plan designed improve academic performance and restore financial stability.  A hearing must be held within seven days.
State-appointed recovery officer Dave Meckley drafted the plan in June 2013. He asked the board last month to activate a provision making York City's public schools the state's first to be turned into privately run charter schools.  But the school board postponed action on it amid protests by teachers, parents and students.  Dumaresq proposed making Meckley the receiver if the court makes York the third Pennsylvania school district to be placed into receivership.

Exiting Corbett Administration seeks receivership for York City Schools. Could Harrisburg be next?
Penn Live By Charles Thompson | cthompson@pennlive.com on December 01, 2014 at 6:26 PM, updated December 01, 2014 at 7:30 PM
Acting Pennsylvania Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq filed a petition in York County Monday to place York City School District into receivership,effectively moving control of the district from a locally-elected school board to the state.  Could Harrisburg's struggling city schools - which like York's, have been working since late 2012 under the guidance of a state-appointed chief recovery officer - be next?  It's not likely, according to Harrisburg's Chief Recovery Officer Gene Veno, who noted that - unlike the reports from York - Harrisburg school officials have been working in a very cooperative fashion with his team.  "Are we getting it 100 percent right? Absolutely not," Veno said in an interview Monday. "But we're working on it... We are continuing to move forward, and we are addressing all of our issues."  According to Corbett Administration officials, that's a stark contrast to York, where Dumaresq said "the board has consistently failed to follow the recovery plan and the directives of the chief recovery officer."

Wolf transition team scrambles to prepare new Pa. government
By James P. O'Toole / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December 2, 2014 12:00 AM
Tom Wolf spent years and millions planning for the election that made him the state’s governor-elect. Now the Democrat has only weeks to prepare to actually govern.  Since he chose former rival Katie McGinty as his chief of staff last month, he has named the leaders of the transition team that’s confronting the time-pressured challenges of structuring his governing team, recruiting Cabinet officials and other senior administration aides and laying the groundwork for the budget proposal due in early March.  “The time pressures are intense and you only have 10 weeks or so — two of which are Thanksgiving week and Christmas week,” said David Sweet, who was one of the leaders of the transition team of the state’s last Democratic governor, Ed Rendell.

Pragmatic personality key to new Pennsylvania House GOP leader's appeal
TribLive By Kari Andren Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
One thing's for sure about Pennsylvania's new House majority leader: He has a knack for keeping members of both parties guessing.  When Dave Reed stepped into politics 12 years ago, he was a registered Democrat.  But when he assumed his role as majority leader on Monday, he did so as a Republican, anointed by his party as the youngest lawmaker to hold the post in nearly 70 years.  And last year, he perplexed lawmakers when he led a statewide tour to draw attention to poverty.  “I had folks on the far left questioning, ‘How can a Republican care about people in poverty?' ” said Reed, 36, of White Township, Indiana County. “And folks on the far right saying, ‘How can you be a Republican and talk about poverty?' ”  Yet among all his colleagues, Reed is known for his work ethic and methodical, practical approach to just about everything.
"Chester Upland. School officials say the district will never be out of debt as long as it has to pay charter-school fees. … Less than half of Chester students, about 3,500, attend traditional schools, with the rest at charters. Of the district's $118 million budget for next year, $54 million goes toward paying charter-school fees."
State calls for removal of Chester Upland receiver
KATHY BOCCELLA, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Tuesday, December 2, 2014, 1:08 AM POSTED: Monday, December 1, 2014, 4:29 PM
Pennsylvania's top education official asked a court Monday to remove Chester Upland School District receiver Joe Watkins, saying he had failed to implement a recovery plan aimed at digging the struggling district out of debt and improving its academic performance.  Acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq asked Delaware County Court to replace Watkins with Francis V. Barnes, a former state secretary of education. It would be the first time a state receiver has been replaced under the current law, said Education Department spokesman Tim Eller.
Watkins said Monday that he felt "really good about what's happening in the district," citing less violence, higher test scores, and improved enrollment during his tenure. He said he was confident the court would do what was best for Chester Upland students.

Watkins on way out in Chester Upland?
Delco Times Heron's Nest Editor's Blog by Phil Heron Tuesday, December 2, 2014
It doesn't look like Joe Watkins is going to get the chance to take that trip to China after all.
The embattled receiver of the perennially troubled Chester Upland School District raised a few eyebrows recently when he announced plans for a jaunt to China, where he hoped to lure investors willing to pour as much as a billion dollars into the district, building several brand new facilities in the process.  That trip likely got scuttled yesterday when the acting state education secretary filed a petition in Delaware County Common Pleas Court seeking to have Watkins removed from the post he's held since 2012

Cyber school scores lag behind York schools, cite challenges
York Dispatch By NIKELLE SNADER 505-5431/@ydschools 12/01/2014 09:06:54 AM EST
The scores of cyber charter schools across the state are "very concerning" to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, according to Tim Eller, spokesman for the department.  Cyber charter scores for schools that teach York students followed that trend, with every one of them dropping in their school performance profiles compared to last year.  This year, 72 percent of public schools statewide scored a 70 or higher on the profiles, which is considered satisfactory, said Eller said.  In York County, 88 percent of the schools scored a 70 or higher.
Cyber schools lag: But the same is not true for cyber charter schools, he said.  "When you dig down a little bit into that information, you see our cyber charter schools are not performing that well," he said.

How high could school property taxes go next year?
Lancaster Online By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer Posted: Monday, December 1, 2014 1:54 pm | Updated: 2:47 pm, Mon Dec 1, 2014.
While most people are racking up holiday shopping receipts, school business managers are busy mulling 2015-16 financial plans.  One number is already determined for them: how high they can raise taxes.  The Taxpayer Relief Act of 2006 sets an annual cap on districts' property tax increases. That limit is called the Act 1 index.  For the 2015-16 school year, the indexes are slightly lower than for this year, but it won't affect districts' revenue-raising abilities too much, according to some school business officials.

Bethlehem Area teachers face fingerprinting under child abuse policy
By Daryl Nerl,Special to The Morning Call December 1, 2014
See what Bethlehem Area will be doing in effort to keep child abusers out of schools.
Teachers in the Bethlehem Area School District will be fingerprinted every three years as part of a new policy requiring them to submit to periodic criminal background checks.
District officials say the policy under consideration by the school board is meant to bring the district into compliance with new Pennsylvania guidelines aimed at keeping child abusers out of schools statewide.  Changes to the state's Child Protective Services Law and Educator Discipline Act are at the heart of the overhauled policy, which the board discussed at a committee meeting Monday and plans to adopt on third reading at its next meeting Dec. 15.
New statewide policies go into effect at the end of the year. They require teachers and other school employees to obtain clearances through the Department of Public Welfare to ensure they are not "named in the statewide database as the alleged perpetrator in a pending child abuse investigation or as the perpetrator of a founded report."
School employees must submit a new application every three years for a "child abuse history clearance" through the state Department of Human Services, as well as obtain a state police criminal history report and an FBI criminal history. The new set of fingerprints is part of the FBI background check.

In Philly, frustrations mount as budget crisis wears on
The School Reform Commission is getting blowback from both teachers and advocates for charter expansion.
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa December 1, 2014
UPDATE A hearing in Commonwealth Court on the PFT's challenge to the cancellation of its contract and the imposition of the health care changes will be held in Harrisburg on Dec. 10. The District is arguing to have a stay of the changes lifted. 
For students, parents, and teachers, as well as the leadership of Philadelphia public schools, this fall has been a time of heightened uncertainty and bitter conflict.  After two years of drama about whether there is enough money to operate schools safely, the District is still not on sound financial footing. Its leaders have expended energy and political capital on extracting new revenue streams, but its victories have been hollow.  Newly enacted cigarette and sales taxes burden only Philadelphians, and they are still not enough.  The District is looking at another shortfall next year. Its best hope is that Gov.-elect Tom Wolf can make good his promise to increase state education spending and create a fairer way to distribute aid.

22 members-elect in the @PAHouseGOP started their new jobs yesterday. Meet them here:
PA House GOP tweet December 2, 2014

E-Learning on Snow Days in Pennsylvania, Kentucky Raises Concerns
Education Week Digital Education Blog By Benjamin Herold on December 1, 2014 12:40 PM
Kentucky and Pennsylvania are among the states creating opportunities for districts to deliver online instruction to students who are homebound due to inclement weather, but some are concerned about the plans, according to two stories published today.
The Associated Press reports that Kentucky's plan to let 13 districts replace snow days with a set-up in which students receive instruction at home, mostly via the Internet, has "caused a new set of challenges."    "Some students don't have computers or home Internet access," the AP story reads, and "districts that opt to use the home-school option would lose state transportation dollars and federal money for free and reduced lunches."

Education Law Center website December 1, 2014
Lawsuits brought by students in New York’s small cities school districts and New Jersey’s rural districts challenging unfair funding are poised to advance in early 2015. The lawsuits raise the failure of Governors Andrew Cuomo and Christopher Christie to adequately fund school funding formulas in the Empire and Garden States, respectively.  Education Law Center is serving as co-counsel in both lawsuits.  Below are brief summaries of the cases and court schedules.

Arizona court: Charters can’t demand same funding as traditional public schools
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss December 1 at 3:23 PM  
An appellate court in Arizona has ruled that there is a “rational basis” for funding charter schools and public charter schools differently and that it is not against the state constitution to do so.
The decision late last month is the latest in a number of court rulings across the country that have rejected equal protection challenges advanced by charter school students and their parents, and that have said that charter school parents have every right to return their children to traditional schools that they believe are better funded.  The case was Craven V. Huppenthal, in which some parents of students in Arizona public charter schools sued the state government, claiming that it was not funding charters as well as traditional public schools and that this violated the state constitution. A lower court ruled against the parents, who appealed, and lost again.
Here’s part of a write-up on the case from  the New Jersey-based Education Law Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for equal educational opportunity and education justice in the United States:

Sam Walton's Granddaughter Has Plans To Fix Public Education In America
This story appears in the December 15, 2014 issue of Forbes.
Forbes by Luisa Krull 12/01/2014
A vision for the future of education sits within a converted church in the heart of a working-class neighborhood in northern Houston, abutted by auto parts stores and a heat treatment plant. At Yes Prep North Central, homogeneity reigns: Of the 953 middle and high schoolers at the 11-year-old charter school, 96% are Hispanic, and a similarly large majority live at or below the poverty line. The kids are dressed the same–blue or khaki pants with school-issued polo shirts. But most important, their outcomes are uniform, too: 100% of graduates get into a four-year college, as the university pennants lining the hallways suggest.
Gliding into the school, 44-year-old Carrie Walton Penner sticks out from the students–older, blonder and, in jeans and a black wrap jacket, more polished than the young collegiate uniforms she weaves through. She’s also the granddaughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, the daughter of current company chairman Rob Walton, an heir to the largest family fortune, to the tune of $165 billion, in the entire world. And as the family’s point person on education issues, she’s arguably the most powerful force in the charter school movement. “How long is the longest-serving teacher?” she asks the school director, amid a flurry of questions. “Is there step-up pay and pay for performance?”

Partners Named for ‘Community Schools’ in New York
Social-Service Groups Matched With 45 High-Poverty Schools
Wall Street Journal By LESLIE BRODY December 1, 2014 (paywall)
New York City Department of Education officials said Sunday they had matched 45 high-poverty schools with 25 social service partners to create “community schools” in an effort to boost attendance, prevent dropouts and improve achievement.

Republicans Push To Update The No Child Left Behind Education Law
Huffington Post By KIMBERLY HEFLING Posted: 12/01/2014 3:24 am EST
WASHINGTON (AP) — The No Child Left Behind education law could be making a political comeback.  Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who is the incoming chairman of the Senate committee overseeing education, says his top education priority is fixing the landmark Bush-era law. His goal? Get a bill signed by President Barack Obama early next year.
Doing so will require bipartisanship that's been elusive since the law, primarily designed to help minority and poor children, came up for renewal in 2007.  The law requires schools to show annual growth in student achievement or face consequences, with all students expected to be proficient in reading and math this year. It has been credited with shining a light on how schools handle minority, low-income, English learners and special needs students, but led to complaints that teachers were teaching to standardized tests and that mandates were unrealistic and penalties ineffective.

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 cbenton@pilcop.org 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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