Wednesday, December 31, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec 31: Beaver County Solicitor, linked to Federal Proceedings of Former PA Cyber Founder Trombetta, Resigning

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for December 31, 2014:
Beaver County Solicitor, linked to Federal Proceedings of Former PA Cyber Founder Trombetta, Resigning

Happy New Year!

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York City School District ruling: what it means
Keystone Crossroads/Newsworks BY EMILY PREVITI, WITF DECEMBER 30, 2014
A judge has ruled the state can take over York City School District. The ruling comes after months of debate about the status of the district, and a couple days of hearings. WITF's Ben Allen discussed what the ruling means and what's next in the city of York with Keystone Crossroads reporter Emily Previti:

York City parents sign petition against charters
York Dispatch By ERIN JAMES 505-5439/@ydcity POSTED:   12/30/2014 10:39:26 PM EST
With one son in college and another on the same track, Carmelo Casiano said he's satisfied with the education his boys received through the York City School District.  A William Penn Senior High School graduate himself, Casiano said he's the type of father who considers it his duty to be involved.  "I think you'll get out of York City schools what you put into it," he said.  A proposal to convert the district's schools to charter schools operated by a for-profit company is "the worst idea," Casiano said.  "They're basically going to have a vanilla education," he said. "They're going to try to maximize the profits by taking away a lot of other things that schools offer."

"Trombetta was indicted on 11 charges, including mail fraud, theft or bribery concerning a federal program, tax conspiracy and filing a false tax return.  In November, the state Supreme Court’s disciplinary board received complaints about Askar's professional conduct. A recording played in court showed Askar once said to Trombetta, “I’m supposed to be representing the county, and I’m representing you.”  But the resignation didn’t have anything to do with the controversy, Amadio said."
Beaver County solicitor Askar resigning
Beaver County Times Onlline By David Taube Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2014 7:30 pm
BEAVER -- Beaver County solicitor Joe Askar submitted a resignation letter earlier this month, commissioners Chairman Tony Amadio confirmed Tuesday.  Askar said he submitted the letter more than a week ago so he could pursue work as a corporate lawyer. He said he believed his last day is Jan. 8, leaving him with 17 years of service with the county.
…..But also earlier this year, he was linked to the federal court proceedings of former Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta. Trombetta created a series of connected for-profit and not-for-profit entities to siphon taxpayer funds out of PA Cyber and to avoid federal income tax liabilities, a U.S. attorney said after a 2013 indictment.  Askar has represented the National Network of Digital Schools, a Rochester-based Trombetta offshoot. In his defense, Trombetta argued Askar also was representing him. And in October, Askar took the Fifth Amendment, refusing to testify.  But Askar said if there was any reason for him to resign under duress, it would have been from NNDS, a job he said he still holds. 

"But the cost isn't the main issue," Bedford Area School District Superintendent Allen Sell said. It's the quality of the charter schools where tax money is sent.  "Although our legislators are well-meaning ... they have been convinced by a very powerful corporate for-profit charter school lobby that charter schools are the answer to all of education's problems and that they are high-performing schools. This is just not the case."
Schools compare funding, success
Educators discuss if sharing money between charters, districts works
By Russ O’Reilly ( , The Altoona Mirror December 28, 2014
Taxpayers fund two public education systems in Pennsylvania - the traditional public school system and the charter school system.  But are they getting their money's worth?
The way it works is public school districts receive a combination of local and state tax money, and charter schools take their per-student share from the school district where the student would otherwise attend.  The amount is about 70 percent of what the district would spend to educate the student.  Paying bills to charter schools can be a drain on districts, unless charters draw enough students for districts to cut back on major expenses including personnel. But that seldom happens. District officials say charters draw a student here and there, so while the bill adds up, the costs of educating students who remain in their schools doesn't get any lower.

Pa. may consider borrowing funds to help pay down pension debt
Pennsylvania lawmakers are just in the early stages of negotiating with Gov.-elect Tom Wolf over how to deal with the state's spiking public pension payments.  But Senate Republican leaders say they are willing to consider a move conservatives have ruled out in the past.  Some have suggested borrowing a few billion dollars to help pay down part of that debt – a gamble that counts on favorable interest rates staying favorable.  While many conservatives say that's too risky, Drew Crompton, chief counsel and spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, said the Senate GOP is still considering it.  Any borrowing should be paired with changing pension benefits, he cautioned.

Philadelphia teachers want schools to look elsewhere for financial relief
By Evan Grossman | December 29, 2014 | By Eric Boehm
The Philadelphia teachers union says making teachers pay for part of their health benefits isn’t the way to plug the city’s hemorrhaging public school budget, and the district should look elsewhere for relief.  In October, the district terminated an expired contract with teachers after two years of failed negotiations and is asking them to pay part of their health insurance.
Philadelphia schools are facing an $80 million deficit if teachers don’t pay for part of their benefits.
“What the district was attempting to do was to save a lot of money on the backs of some employees,” Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said.
Most Philadelphia teachers haven’t had to contribute to their benefits. Philadelphia, Ephrata and Warwick are the only three districts in Pennsylvania that don’t pay for health care.
On average, U.S. citizens are paying $328 per month for middle-tier plans under the Affordable Care Act, and the School Reform Commission, which governs the School District of Philadelphia, is asking teachers to pay a portion of their benefits as a way to save more than $200 million over the next five years.

Kansas School Funding Falls Short of Legal Standard, Court Rules
Education Week State Ed Watch Blog By Andrew Ujifusa on December 30, 2014 2:04 PM
A Kansas court has ruled that the state's current system for funding public schools does not meet the required legal standard.  In a decision released Dec. 30, a three-judge panel of the 3rd Judicial District Court in Shawnee County said that the system is "inadequate from any rational perspective."  It's the latest development in a long-running legal battle over state K-12 spending in Kansas, which is facing one of the more severe budget  crises in the country. (More on that later.)
In the ruling, the judges wrote that while they were not ordering the state to spend a specific per-pupil amount on education in order to comply with their decision, the state's funding system has deteriorated since 2009 to the point where it no longer complies with the Kansas Constitution. 

School Cash Insufficient in Kansas, Court Finds
New York Times By JOHN ELIGON DEC. 30, 2014
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A state court panel in Kansas ruled on Tuesday that public schools were being unconstitutionally underfunded, though it stopped short of ordering a specific increase in education dollars.  The ruling comes as the Republican-controlled Legislature, which championed deep tax cuts in recent years, now finds the state facing projected budget deficits of hundreds of millions of dollars. “K-12 school funding in Kansas is still proceeding by political choice to use otherwise available state financial resources elsewhere or not at all,” the decision said.
The court also ruled that a provision allowing localities to provide funding to equalize the gap between rich and poor districts was insufficient because it did not guarantee that the playing field would be leveled.  But the decision of the court, in Shawnee County, is unlikely to have an immediate impact because the state is expected to appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court.

Testing under fire

Republicans may consider slashing the number of federally required tests.
Republicans on the Hill are finding unusual common ground with teachers unions about an overthrow of the annual testing mandate embedded in No Child Left Behind.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is making reauthorization of the law one of his biggest priorities — and testing is expected to take center stage. He plans to tackle the issue during a hearing early in the new year. Under serious consideration: slashing the number of federally required tests or even doing away with them all together.  This political alliance is part of a larger nationwide movement, buoyed by a grass-roots crusade led by parents and teachers who reject the testing regimes that they say have come to dominate public schools for the past decade.  “We are actively exploring the question of whether the federal mandate on annual tests is warranted,” one GOP aide said. The goal is to give states more flexibility in how they track student progress, report those results to the public and hold schools accountable for all kids.

Testing Resistance & Reform News: December 24 - 30, 2014
Fairtest website December 30, 2014 - 1:29pm
FairTest doesn't just report the assessment reform news -- we often help make it to support the movement. Check out this week's stories.  Please support an expansion of our crucial public education campaigns in 2015, FairTest's 30th Anniversary Year, with a contribution at or by mailing a check to P.O. Box 300204, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130.  With best wishes for a Happy New Year filled with testing resistance victories!

Education’s Newsmaker Of The Year: Charter School Scandals
Education Opportunity Network website December 2014
Since it’s the time of the year when newspapers, websites, and television talk shows scan their archives to pick the person, place, or thing that sums up the year in entertainment, business, sports, or every other venue, why not do that for education too?
In 2014 education news, lots of personalities came and went.
Michelle Rhee gave way to Campbell Brown as a torchbearer for “reform.” The comedian Louis C. K. had a turn at becoming an education wonk with his commentary on the Common Core standards. Numerous “Chiefs for Change” toppled from the ranks of chiefdom. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett went down in defeat due in part to his gutting of public schools, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker remained resilient while spreading the cancerous voucher program from Milwaukee to the rest of the state. New York Mayor Bill De Blasio rose to turn back the failed education reforms of ex-mayor Bloomberg, only to have his populist agenda blocked by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo who insisted on imposing policies favored by Wall Street. Progressives formed Democrats for Public Education to counter the neoliberal, big money clout of Democrats for Education Reform. And Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush emerged as rival voices in the ongoing debate about the Common Core among potential Republican presidential candidates.
But hogging the camera throughout the year was another notable character: charter school scandals.

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.

PSBA Master School Board Director Recognition: Applications begin in January
PSBA website December 23, 2014
The Master School Board Director (MSBD) Recognition is for individuals who have demonstrated significant contributions as members of their governance teams. It is one way PSBA salutes your hard work and exceptional dedication to ethics and standards, student success and achievement, professional development, community engagement, communications, stewardship of resources, and advocacy for public education.
School directors who are consistently dedicated to the aforementioned characteristics should apply or be encouraged to apply by fellow school directors. The MSBD Recognition demonstrates your commitment to excellence and serves to encourage best practices by all school directors.
The application will be posted Jan. 15, 2015, with a deadline to apply of June 30. Recipients will be notified by the MSBD Recognition Committee by Aug. 31 and will be honored at the PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference in October.
If you are interested in learning more about the MSBD Recognition, contact Janel Biery, conference/events coordinator, at (800) 932-0588, ext. 3332.

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