Friday, January 2, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Jan 2: To York, PA: What 92 Charter Schools USA Employees Think of Charter Schools USA

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for January 2, 2015:
To York, PA: What 92 Charter Schools USA Employees Think of Charter Schools USA

Happy New Year!

State fights appeal in York schools receivership THE ASSOCIATED PRESS POSTED: Wed., December 31, 2014, 4:03 PM
YORK, Pa. (AP) - Gov. Tom Corbett's administration is contesting the York City School District's appeal of a judge's decision to authorize a state takeover and place it in receivership.  The state's filing Wednesday in York County court said the district didn't have the authority to appeal Judge Stephen Linebaugh's decision and the receivership shouldn't be held up  Corbett's administration also argued that the school board didn't properly authorize its solicitor to file an appeal.  If it stands, Linebaugh's decision last Friday would give more authority to a state appointee to make York City's public schools Pennsylvania's first to be turned into privately run charter schools.

State moves to strike York City School District appeal
ERIN JAMES / The York Dispatch 505-5439 / @ydcity 12/31/2014 12:48:20 PM EST
Arguing that David Meckley "immediately" assumed nearly all responsibilities of the York City School District's school board last week, the state Department of Education has filed a motion in York County Court to strike an appeal of Meckley's appointment as receiver filed by school district attorneys last week.  Meckley did not authorize and does not support the filing of the appeal, the latest document claims.  "Consequently, at the time that he filed the notice of appeal, the (school district) solicitor had no lawful authority to appeal the order on behalf of the district," the state argues.  Attorneys for the school district and two employees' unions filed appeals Friday, just hours after York County President Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh issued an order granting the state's petition for receivership of the district.  Linebaugh's decision gives all but taxing power to Meckley, a state-appointed Spring Garden Township man who steered the district's financial recovery process for two years as its chief recovery officer.  In its filing Wednesday, the state also argues that the school board violated the Sunshine Act by "never properly" taking action to authorize the district's appeal.  According to the state's motion, the district's attorney told the state's attorneys that he had been authorized to appeal Linebaugh's order for receivership at an executive session in early December.

State, receiver argue York City district appeal isn't valid
York Daily Record UPDATED:   12/31/2014 11:22:59 AM EST
The state education department and York City School District's newly-appointed receiver have filed documents asking that the court strike an appeal of the receivership decision filed on behalf of the district, arguing that the school board didn't have the power to authorize it.
The documents argue that with Judge Stephen Linebaugh's Dec. 26 order, Meckley was granted all of the school board's powers except taxing. But on the same date, after the court's order, the district's notice of appeal was filed.  Meckley didn't authorize that appeal, the documents argue, so the solicitor didn't have the authority to do so on behalf of the district. Meckley doesn't support the appeal, the documents say.  Even though the district solicitor said he was authorized to file the appeal prior to the order, the documents argue, the board's power to authorize the appeal ceased with the court's order.  The state also requests that the court declare there is no automatic stay in effect of the receivership order.

To York, PA: What 92 Charter Schools USA Employees Think of Charter Schools USA
Deutsch29 Blog by Mercedes Schneider December 30, 2014
York, Pennsylvania, schools are facing being handed over to a for-profit charter school company, Charter Schools USA, via court order.  The York schools are broke, and one man, David Meckley, has been chosen by the state to fix York’s money problems.  For some reason, Meckley believes that handing over York’s schools to a profit-driven company will solve York’s educational finance crisis.  The judgment is being appealed by the local school board.
Meanwhile, Meckley says that he will “fine tune” the plan to convert all York schools to charters operated by Charter Schools USA.  It seems that both Meckley and the judge hearing the appeal would do well to consider some Charter Schools USA teacher and admin reviews before deciding to “solve” York’s school “problems” by exchanging them for a fresh batch of crazy.
Fortunately in our internet-saturated world, reviews on Charter Schools USA are readily and abundantly available.  The employment search and review site, Glassdoor, has 92 employee reviews for Charter Schools USA dated from February 2012 to December 2014.
One must sign up for the site in order to access these comments.
For the convenience of my readers, in this post I offer a glimpse of the Glassdoor-Charter-Schools-USA contents. Still, it is worth signing up for to read in its entirety what these 92 individuals have written about Charter Schools USA.  Respondents were asked to consider “pros,” cons,” and “advice to management” when responding.  Some summary stats:
On a five-point scale (five being highest), the overall review that employees gave Charter Schools USA was 2.3.  Forty-seven of the 92 reviews (51 percent) were the lowest rating: a one. The remaining 49 percent ratings were roughly evenly divided among the remaining categories (two to five).  And now, for some specifics.  Read them and take heed.

"The AP study found that in the current school year, schools in the top half of the ranking of average resident income are spending nearly $1,800 more per student than those in the bottom half.  That’s an astounding figure. Even more disconcerting is that the size of that gap has grown by 140 percent, or more than $1,000 per student, since the 2010-11 school year."
Study further illustrates Pa.’s education failings
Observer-Reporter published dec 31, 2014 at 7:13 pm
In November, we reported on a lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court by six school districts and other interested parties who are challenging the way in which the state finances education, a system that creates a clear and depressing delineation between Pennsylvania’s haves and have-nots.  A new study shows just how dire the situation is, and that it was allowed to worsen during the four years Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has been in office.
The Associated Press analyzed state figures on education spending, income and attendance, and found plenty of evidence to corroborate the findings of other studies that place our state among the worst in the nation in support for its schools.  The AP wrote that Pennsylvania “already plays one of the smallest roles in school funding of any state, leaving poorer school districts too reliant on inadequate and often-shrinking local tax bases. … Bringing the poorer districts into parity with their wealthier counterparts could easily require an additional $1 billion or more.”

"There's no easy way to redistribute funding. The AP estimates it would take $1 billion to achieve even a semblance of parity. Yet Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom of all states in  funding fairness. The share of state funding for total costs of basic education has shrunk in the last 15 years from 39 to 33 percent."
Express-Times EDITORIAL: The uphill road to equitable school funding in Pennsylvania
By Express-Times opinion staff on December 31, 2014 at 6:30 AM
Pennsylvania needs a fairer, more equitable way to distribute public school funding.  Homeowners need relief from relentless property taxes increases.  Both demands found an ally in a recent Associated Press analysis that confirmed that "richer" school districts -- those with solid real estate tax bases -- have been weathering the Corbett-era storm of education budget cuts without serious damage. Districts in the middle and on the low end of tax resources, on other hand, are losing ground, forcing them to raise property taxes and lay off teachers.
This isn't surprising news to anyone, but as the disparity grows, the possibility of rebalancing Pennsylvania's politically driven education funding system has become even more remote.

"The quality of a child’s education shouldn’t depend on his ZIP code.  We hope the Basic Education Funding Commission produces real alternatives to property taxes for strapped city school districts — and we hope the Legislature enacts real reform."
Lancaster Online Our wish list for 2015 by The LNP Editorial Board
Posted: Thursday, January 1, 2015 6:00 am
The LNP Editorial Board recently asked local leaders what they hoped to accomplish or see accomplished in 2015. We believe turnabout is fair play, so here are our hopes for the new year — first among them is the wish that our readers will be well. Happy New Year!
1. Our city needs it. Other cities need it. Our school districts need it. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to resolve to make 2015 the year that public pension reform — both state and municipal — finally gets done in PennsylvaniaPennsylvania 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 more than 3,200 municipal pension funds have unfunded liabilities totaling more than $119 million.  No more kicking the can down the road.
2. We also want to see education funding reform become a reality in the commonwealth.
As The Associated Press reported earlier this week, the gap between what wealthy school districts and poor districts spend to educate students has doubled during the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett.  It’s a cliche but it’s also a fundamental truth: The quality of a child’s education shouldn’t depend on his ZIP code.  We hope the Basic Education Funding Commission produces real alternatives to property taxes for strapped city school districts — and we hope the Legislature enacts real reform.

PA's Education Spending Gap
Curmudgication Blog by Peter Greene Tuesday, December 30, 2014
The AP has put research and specific numbers to something that those of us in the Pennsylvania ed biz had already figured out-- the gap between rich schools and poor schools has opened up tremendously over the four years of Tom Corbett as governor.
Pennsylvania has had school funding issues for a while. We are tops in the state when it comes to local contributions; the state contributes a hair over 36% of the funding for secondary and elementary spending, which puts us well below the national average of 45.5%. We rank 45th out of 50 in state education financial support in K-12. Our state universities are likewise outstanding-- Pitt and Penn State boast the two most expensive in-state tuition costs in the country.
Local school districts carry a big part of the burden for funding their schools, which means, of course, that how much money a district can spend on its students is hugely affected by how much money the local district can gather through real estate taxes because, yeah, that's still how we do it here. A 2008 bill tried to make the funding formula compensate more equitably for local tax base weakness, but Corbett scrapped that and went back to an earlier formula, giving poor districts a double (at least) whammy.

‘Hold harmless’ harmful to some schools
PA Independent December 31, 2014 | By Eric Boehm  By Evan Grossman │
UNFAIR? All Pennsylvania schools get a minimum dollar amount that varies little from year to year, despite fluctuations in enrollment.   The flawed formula Pennsylvania uses to fund its school districts forces some of its best and brightest to do more with less.  “We have one of the best districts in Pennsylvania, and we traditionally have one of the lowest costs,” John Bell, superintendent of the prudent Delaware Valley School District, said in a public hearing on funding issues related to enrollment and growth. “We do things right, and we don’t want that to come back to bite us.”  Pennsylvania school districts with dwindling enrollment numbers are, in some cases, taking more taxpayer money than some of the state’s most robust districts, according to testimony to the Basic Education Funding Reform Commission.  Funds are allocated disproportionately in part because of a policy that locks the districts into a system, which, some say, isn’t fair.
All schools get a minimum dollar amount that varies little from year to year, despite fluctuations in enrollment. Certain districts remain fat while the money could be better used in districts with greater needs.

Could the Next State Budget Include a New Funding Formula for PA Schools?
WESA 90.5 By JESSICA NATH December 24, 2014
For as long as property taxes have been used to locally funded schools, there has been a debate over fairness and it might come to head this year in Pennsylvania.  State Senator Matt Smith (D – Allegheny) is hopeful the 2015-16 budget will incorporate a funding formula for Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts.  He is a member of the Basic Education Funding Commission, which is tasked with crafting the formula.  Created in June, the 15-member commission has about six months to go until it must submit a proposal to the legislature.
The commission has held several public hearings throughout the state and has heard from superintendents, parents, and officials from other states with formulas.
“This isn’t anything definite by any means, but I’m very hopeful that we can incorporate our work into governor elect (Tom) Wolf’s budget proposal in March, and we have to do the budget by the end of June,” Smith said. “So I think we should try as hard as possible to come to a consensus, so it’s part of the new governor’s budget.”

Pennsylvania's Gov.-elect Wolf faces big challenges
Post Gazette By Peter Jackson / Associated Press January 1, 2015 12:26 PM
HARRISBURG (AP) — Gov.-elect Tom Wolf pledged throughout his campaign to provide “a fresh start” for Pennsylvania.  He vowed to increase funding for public schools, make the state’s tax system fairer, increase the minimum wage, impose tough new ethical rules for public officials, limit political campaign contributions, liberalize the state’s voting laws and preserve public employees’ pensions.  It’s a crowded agenda — a full plate even for a seasoned government hand. And Wolf, despite his decades of running his family’s business, is a rookie whose only previous state government service is the less than two years he served as revenue secretary in Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration.  These are some of the challenges the Democrat faces as he prepares to take his oath on Jan. 20:

Canon-McMillan administrators join governor-elect’s education team
 By Emily Petsko Staff Writer  published jan 1, 2015 at 7:34 pm
Tom Wolf already toured the halls of Canonsburg Middle School, and now he is asking Canon-McMillan administrators to step into his world. The incoming governor of Pennsylvania extended an invitation to district Superintendent Michael Daniels and middle school Principal Greg Taranto to join his “transition team” for education as he prepares to take office Jan. 20.
“I said ‘absolutely,’” Taranto said of his response to the invitation he and Daniels received this month. “I was quite surprised, and we’re happy to help out in any way. Any time someone at that level asks for local input, you can’t turn that opportunity down.”

Pennsylvania lawmakers float business tax hikes to close budget gap
By Steve Esack Morning Call Harrisburg Bureau December 31, 2014
contact the reporter Elections Tom Wolf  Energy Resources Jake Corman G. Terry Madonna
How to deal with $2 billion deficit? Some Pennsylvania lawmakers look at business tax hikes
$2 billion deficit awaits Pennsylvania lawmakers and Gov.-elect Tom Wolf
No Christmas miracle for Pennsylvania as state still facing $2B deficit.
HARRISBURG — Santa Claus apparently missed a stop in his travels around Pennsylvania.
He failed to bring the Revenue Department stockings filled with tax money to close an estimated $2 billion budget deficit.  While tax collections have been above estimates for the year, December's sales tax collections appear on target or slightly weaker than projected, said Matthew Knittel, executive director of the Legislature's Independent Fiscal Office.  "No Christmas miracle," Knittel said.  The Revenue Department will release its December tax collection data Friday, giving lawmakers and Democratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf a clearer picture of the state's finances when they are sworn into office.

SRC's Green: Next Philly teachers contract will include longer school day
Philadelphia School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green says the district's next contract with the teachers union will include a longer school day.  "Longer school days and longer school years are some of the things that are going to make improvements in high-poverty urban districts," said Green in a telephone interview Wednesday.  Green said state law mandates that the Philadelphia School District extend its teachers contracted workday.  On Oct. 4, the School Reform Commission unilaterally terminated the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union contract in a move that's now under review by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.  That contract called for a seven-hour, four-minute school day for teachers, Green said.  Pennsylvania law requires Philadelphia teachers to have a work day no less than the state average, which the Department of Education said is currently seven hours and 30 minutes.  "The district has just never enforced that provision of state law," said Green. "We have no choice but to follow state law ... so any new contract with teachers will have to be seven hours and 30 minutes."

"However, PSERS will have an even greater impact, a net $1.26 million increase, Henderson said.  Board president Denis Gray emphasized that the district has no control over PSERS. Gray also noted that the increase in pension payments was almost equal to the Act 1 Index.  “It’s a recipe for disaster,” Gray said."
Haverford officials begin 2015--16 school budget process
News of Delaware County By Lois Puglionesi CORRESPONDENT Published: Wednesday, December 31, 2014
HAVERFORD >> School district officials began the annual budgeting process with a review of budget assumptions for 2015-16, presented by business manager Rick Henderson.  While it’s still early in a game fraught with uncertainties, Henderson could say for sure that the Act 1 Index, which is the state’s measure for determining property tax increases, will be 1.9 percent, yielding an additional $1.7 million in revenues.  Henderson also anticipated receiving exceptions for special education and the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) that would yield an additional $1.4 million, and allow a 3.57 percent property tax increase.
When combined with anticipated state and federal funding, district revenues would total $107.6 million, an approximately $4 million increase over 2013-14.  Turning to expenditures, Henderson anticipated medical premiums to increase $70,000, while cost of prescription drugs is expected to rise $120,000 due to increased enrollment.    Contractual wage obligations will require an additional $1.1 million, for a total $50.5 million.

Education Funding Inequality: Who to Take the Money From and How To Take It
Keystone Politics Blog Posted on December 31, 2014 by Jon Geeting #
Marcy Levy at the AP reported Sunday that what KP readers probably suspected was happening was indeed happening, and the funding gap between rich schools and poor schools doubled during Corbett’s four years in office.  Infuriatingly, Corbett ends the article asking “so who do I take it away from” – a smirking dare to liberals to spell out an unpopular re-redistribution plan.  To my knowledge, none of our elected Democrats in Harrisburg have really offered a satisfying answer to this question yet, so I’ll bite. Here’s who I would take it away from, and how.

Overhauled Pa. child abuse law demands more professionals report suspected cases
In the wake of failures highlighted by Jerry Sandusky's sexual abuse of children, Pennsylvania reviewed and overhauled its child-abuse reporting law.  The new rules start today.
Teachers, doctors, nurses and even firefighters are among the professionals in Pennsylvania who are required to report suspected child abuse.  Pediatrician Benjamin Levi says it used to be enough for so-called "mandated reporters" to simply tell a supervisor about their concerns.
"It is now required by law that they report directly to the state to ChildLine with a phone call, or through an online reporting tool," he said.  The hotline number is 800-932-0313.
Levi leads the Center for the Protection of Children at the PennState Hershey Children's Hospital. The medical center developed a Website tool called iLook Out for Child Abuse to help child-care workers meet their responsibility.  Mandated reporters don't have to provide evidence of abuse, Levi said. Instead Pennsylvania wants professionals to speak up if there is "reasonable cause" to suspect that a child is being harmed.  Under the law, the duty to report abuse extends beyond anything that comes to light on-the-job. Doctors, teachers and others who suspect abuse when they are working in volunteer roles are required to make a report, too.

Exposing the charter school lie: Michelle Rhee, Louis C.K. and the year phony education reform revealed its true colors
Charter schools promised new education innovations. Instead, they produced scam after new scam by JEFF BRYANT THURSDAY, JAN 1, 2015 07:00 AM EST
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 Gov. Tom Corbett went down in defeat due in part to his gutting of public schools, as Wisconsin Gov. 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 Michael Bloomberg, only to have his populist agenda blocked by New York Gov. 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 Sen. Rand Paul and former Florida Gov. 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.  In 2014, charter schools, which had always been marketed for a legendary ability to deliver promising new innovations for education, became known primarily for their ability to concoct innovative new scams.

Inside a Chinese Test-Prep Factory
New York Times By BROOK LARMER DEC. 31, 2014
The main street of Maotanchang, a secluded town in the furrowed hills of eastern China’s Anhui province, was nearly deserted. A man dozed on a motorized rickshaw, while two old women with hoes shuffled toward the rice paddies outside town. It was 11:44 on a Sunday morning last spring, and the row of shops selling food, tea and books by the pound stood empty. Even the town’s sacred tree lured no supplicants; beneath its broad limbs, a single bundle of incense smoldered on a pile of ash.
One minute later, at precisely 11:45, the stillness was shattered. Thousands of teenagers swarmed out of the towering front gate of Maotanchang High School. Many of them wore identical black-and-white Windbreakers emblazoned with the slogan, in English, “I believe it, I can do it.” It was lunchtime at one of China’s most secretive “cram schools” — a memorization factory where 20,000 students, or four times the town’s official population, train round the clock for China’s national college-entrance examination, known as the gaokao. The grueling test, which is administered every June over two or three days (depending on the province), is the lone criterion for admission to Chinese universities. For the students at Maotanchang, most of whom come from rural areas, it offers the promise of a life beyond the fields and the factories, of families’ fortunes transformed by hard work and high scores.

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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