Monday, February 9, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 9: Funding, charters, pensions drive school debates

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for February 9, 2015:
Funding, charters, pensions drive school debates

Upcoming Basic Education Funding Commission hearing scheduled in Dauphin County
PA Basic Education Funding Commission website
Thursday, February 26, 2015, 11 am Dauphin County, location TBA

Pa. schools need fair funding: Pam Lenz
GoErie letter by Pam Lenz February 8, 2015 12:01 AM
PAM LENZ, a "circuit rider" for the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, is the recently retired curriculum director and former acting superintendent of the Iroquois School District. She currently teaches graduate courses in education for Gannon University (
…..Now let's imagine it's your job to take a given amount of money and divide it equitably among Pennsylvania's 500 school districts as part of their yearly operating budgets. You'll just pull up your formula, plug the numbers in and be done, right? Wrong. Pennsylvania has no formula for distributing funds that have been allocated to schools. It's more like listening to the relatives, doing what Cousin Bess says, and including bits and pieces of others' suggestions to make everyone happy.  Pennsylvania is one of only three states that does not use a formula to distribute funds to its school districts (Delaware and North Carolina are the other two). Instead of looking at things such as local tax effort, enrollment and poverty, to name a few, Pennsylvania largely goes by what a district has received in years past. Over time, this has resulted in a difference of $17,000-plus in what is being spent per pupil among districts throughout the state. It goes without saying that this creates a disparity in the opportunities available for students.

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 7: Listen to Mark Gleason and Donna Cooper debate charter expansion on 'Radio Times' on the web

PA Cyber School enrollment down 2,000 since 2013 peak
Beaver County TImes By J.D. Prose | Posted: Sunday, February 8, 2015 4:00 am
Enrollment at the Midland-based Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School fell to a three-year low of 9,585 in October 2014.
MIDLAND — Enrollment at the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School has declined by nearly 2,000 students in less than two years, and the school is down more than 1,300 students from this time last year.  “Of course, I’m concerned,” said PA Cyber Chief Executive Officer Michael Conti. “We don’t like to see drops like that.”  According to figures provided by PA Cyber, its peak enrollment occurred in March 2013 when it reached 11,531 students. Since then, however, the Midland-based cyber school saw enrollment fall by almost 17 percent to a three-year low of 9,585 in October 2014.  PA Cyber started this school year with 9,886, but that fell by 301 students in October before creeping up to 9,632 in November. In December, there were 9,711 students, but then that dipped in January to 9,640, which is 1,335 — or 12 percent — less than the school’s January 2014 enrollment.  Enrollment fluctuations occur monthly, but the overall pattern reflects a precipitous decline from the school’s peak in March 2013.  Conti attributed the decrease to several factors, including a “softening of the market,” students returning to their traditional brick-and-mortar schools, stricter curriculum requirements and increased competition from cyber schools as well as school districts pursuing their own online education initiatives to stem the flow of students toward cyber schools.

"These three problems are inter-related and require a comprehensive solution. We need to stop viewing this crisis in terms of charters, unions, management, and school boards as being good or bad, or deluding ourselves into thinking that corporations and partnerships will solve the problem. We must focus instead on a cost-based, fair funding formula, charter funding reform, and pensions.  The children of Philadelphia deserve it."
Funding, charters, pensions drive school debates Opinion By Marjorie Neff POSTED: Monday, February 9, 2015, 1:07 AM
Marjorie Neff is a member of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission
While the vigorous debate over Philadelphia's public schools is vitally important, it relies heavily on the same old saws that have allowed the funding crisis to go on for so long. We must shift the discussion.  First, the debate about whether charters are good or bad is a red herring. The real issue is how to fund charter and public schools in a fair and equitable way. Many advocate a marketplace where charters and public schools compete and parents are informed about their options. That only works if funding one does not disadvantage the other. Such is not the case in Philadelphia.

"Private money going to public schools is a good thing. More of it should be encouraged. After all, we all have a stake in the quality of education offered to our children and clearly, the state has been starving the schools for years.  But such deals need transparency and coordination with the District and other stakeholders. PSP's announcement of its offer, which came as a surprise to many in the district, could be a poison pill: if the district turns it down, it will incur the wrath of Harrisburg; if it accepts the money under PSP's terms, it could undermine its finances even worse than they are now, by expanding charter enrollment without the ability to pay for it in the future."
DN Editorial: The gift that keeps on taking
PSP's charter incentive has so many strings attached, it looks like a noose.
Daily News Editorial POSTED: Monday, February 9, 2015, 3:01 AM
WE'RE GUESSING that "no good deed goes unpunished" was a refrain heard around the offices of the Philadelphia School Partnership last week, following the mixed reaction to PSP's announcement that it was offering a $35 million gift to encourage the school district to approve up to 15,000 new charter-school seats.  PSP is an alliance of businesses, charities and educators that raises funds for public, charter and private schools. So far, it has given $20 million to charters, $11 million to district schools and $3 million to private schools.
Given the details of the latest offer, it's fair to wonder just how good a deed it was.

"When a student moves to a charter, the district loses a chunk of state aid that doesn't get offset by savings.  Why?  Because, when a class shrinks from 35 to 34 students, no has yet figured out how to lay off 1/35th of a teacher.   When a couple of kids leave a school, the building still needs to be heated, the office staffed and the buses run.  (Another problem, one that was fixed by Harrisburg for a while until Tom Corbett un-fixed it:  Even when a new charter student is moving from a Catholic or private school, not a public one, the home school district still gets docked to pay for the student.  Real logical, huh?)"
Charters falter in Philly mostly because of a bad state law
WHYY Newsworks FEBRUARY 9, 2015 CENTRE SQUARE BLOG by Chris Satullo
The Philadelphia school system has received one of those Godfather-style "offers you can't refuse."  A private group called the Philadelphia School Partnership is dangling a $25 million gift before the school district.  The money comes, of course, with a catch: To get it, the district must approve a surge of new charter schools around the city.  Why $25 million? Well, the PSP concedes – as every intellectually honest party with access to a calculator must – that the bizarre way Pennsylvania funds charters creates a financial penalty for the home district.
The details are messy. But the formula operates on the wacky assumption that every time a student leaves for a charter, his old school can trim costs equal to the state aid that travels with the student to the charter.  That does not work in the real world. 

Kenney to school district: Don't take $25M from PSP
Mayoral candidate Jim Kenney just released a statement regarding the highly debated Philadelphia School Partnership's $25 million offer to "the Philadelphia school district to help offset the stranded costs of charter expansion over three years." He's against it. To wit:
"Our school district should not accept PSP's $25 million. Not only does that offer cover a fraction of the nearly $500 million required to enroll just 15,000 more students in charters, but the donations come from unnamed millionaires who already have far too great an influence in our upcoming mayoral election. These millionaires are far more concerned with the financial stake they have to gain from public dollars flowing into pro-voucher programs and privately run charters than they are with 'school choice.' As mayor, I will work with Governor Wolf to stand up to those who would seek to profit off our children by privatizing our education system."
We'll keep our eyes peeled for reaction from the other campaigns and update this post accordingly. In the meantime, here's where several candidates stand on the charter issue.

"On Monday, another outspoken opponent of unfettered charter growth, longtime activist Helen Gym, will announce her candidacy for an at-large City Council seat, with one Democrat slot now wide open because of Kenney's resignation. So there is some good news about the election here: Voters will have a choice when it comes to "school choice," the closest we will come to a referendum of whether there's still a place for traditional public schools.  The bad news is that this referendum will pit regular people saying the right things against rich anonymous people willing to spend millions to get their way. Never bet against the money."
Why Philly's cash-strapped schools must say 'no' to the cash
Daily News Attytood Blog by Will Bunch POSTED: SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2015, 8:21 PM
The Philadelphia 2015 mayor's race is starting to remind me of Yogi Berra's famous observation about the left field shadows in the old (i.e., real) Yankee Stadium, that "it gets late early out there." No doubt it's technically early -- the filing deadline for candidates won't come for a month, and maybe somebody else wonderful will jump in (although the fact that no name even occurs to me is telling.) And yet it feels late out there -- that the candidates, the issues, and maybe the fate of the city's zeitgeist for the rest of the 2010s is locked in.
There's a lot this election could be about -- Philadelphia's rate of deep poverty, said to be highest in the land, how to move policing out of the stop-and-frisk era, or how to bring make the city's comeback touch all neighborhoods and not just the ones with hipster coffee hangouts. But, no, they -- not me or you, but they -- decided that the race is going to be about charter schools.

School official runs PAC once associated with Williams
How weird is this? The political committee formed early in 2013 to support the exploratory effort of mayoral candidate State Sen. Anthony Williams is now headed by a full-time employee of the Philadelphia school district.  The Philadelphia Daily News' Solomon Leach reported Saturday that the Believe Again PAC is headed by the district's government affairs director, Rodney Oglesby.
When Williams formally announced his candidacy for mayor in November, he designated a different PAC, the one used for his past State Senate campaigns as his mayoral campaign committee (city law requires municipal candidates to have a single committee).
So Believe Again is, by definition, no longer a Williams vehicle. But it's interesting to note that it paid $25,000 to Dawn Chavous, now a Williams campaign staffer between January and July of last year, and donated $10,000 to Williams campaign in December.
The school district is okay with Oglesby's role, according the piece. But it's strange.

Meet Mayoral Front-Runner Anthony Williams
The longtime state senator says “I have never been bought, never been rented” and promises policy proposals soon.
Philly Mag Citified BY HOLLY OTTERBEIN  |  FEBRUARY 8, 2015 AT 5:58 AM
In the Philadelphia mayor’s race, everything’s coming up Anthony Williams.
When past city solicitor Ken Trujillo dropped out of the race, it was good news for Williams. When former City Councilman Jim Kenney got in, it was good news for Williams. When Council President Darrell Clarke decided not to enter it at all, it was good news for Williams.  Williams, a state senator for the past 16 years, has the backing of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the boss of the city's Democratic Party. He's the only viable black mayoral candidate in a city that tends to vote along racial lines. He had the most cash on hand of anyone in the race at the end of 2014. He's been christened the front-runner by countless political insiders and journalists.  The man clearly has a good shot at winning. But who is Williams and what does he stand for? His campaign has been relatively quiet, and his positions on issues not involving education are something of mystery.

School superintendent for four years, Linda Lane focuses on children
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 9, 2015 12:00 AM
Near the end of an annual interview on her superintendency, Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Linda Lane picked up a list of 21 names from her desk.  They were city school students who had died unnatural deaths since she was named superintendent more than four years ago. 
“We have lost children,” she said as she read the names and the causes of death — house fire, suicide, homicide, car accident, accidental shooting. She has paid her respects to most at funeral homes.  The moment was a reminder that Mrs. Lane tries to keep children in the front of her mind. She shows pictures of the three children she has mentored — one at a time — at Pittsburgh Weil PreK-5 in the Hill District. At a Pittsburgh Promise scholarship event last month, she gave a big hug to a student who had just told her he was accepted at college. She had written him a recommendation.

AIU board spends freely as reserve fund dwindles
Serving local school districts, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit depends on public money
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 8, 2015 12:00 AM
The Allegheny Intermediate Unit has hit hard times lately— drawing down $12.4 million from its reserve fund over the last three years — but its top administrators are getting raises, eating well and hitting luxury resorts as they preach austerity and reduce pay of some of their employees. 
The AIU, which provides specialized services to school districts, spent $104,621 over those three years on food served to employees, board members and visitors.
During the same three-year period, top administrators and a handful of board members spent $260,592 to go to national and state conferences ranging from Las Vegas to Orlando to Ponte Verde Beach, Fla., to Hershey. The finance staff expensed $400 in maid, porter and valet tips.

In Spring City, hybrid learning sends test scores soaring
With lagging student test scores and only about 120 students in grades K-4, Spring City Elementary School three years ago looked more like a candidate for closure than for an extreme makeover.  But with the boldness of a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, the Spring-Ford Area School District gambled on a radically different approach to fixing the struggling school near the border of Montgomery and Chester Counties.

Poll: Is there too much testing in schools?
Lancaster Online By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer Posted: Sunday, February 8, 2015 6:30 am | Updated: 9:06 am, Sun Feb 8, 2015.
Standardized tests are aimed at providing data on how well schools are educating our children.
Proponents of the assessments say the data keep schools accountable for improving overall achievement, as well as gaps between white and minority students and between wealthy and poor children.  But the increased emphasis on testing in public schools since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has created frustration among many invested in education.

L-S teacher quits over standardized testing, says leaving breaks her heart
By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer Posted: Sunday, February 8, 2015 8:00 am | Updated: 8:37 am, Sun Feb 8, 2015.
Gina de Vitry didn't expect to change careers at age 42.  She considers herself a natural teacher and loved working on the sixth-grade math team at Martin Meylin Middle School.
But in early January, she quit to pursue a medical career. The decision, she said, broke her heart.
In her resignation letter, de Vitry cited increasing pressure and time spent on standardized tests in public schools as her reason for leaving. A copy of the letter can be seen here.
"I can't watch these kids struggle and work as hard as they can and still, they start to feel like failures. They give up," de Vitry said in an interview at the end of January.
De Vitry, who worked at Lampeter-Strasburg School District for 20 years, isn't the only one feeling the strain. Nearly half of teachers surveyed by the National Education Association last November said they'd considered quitting because of standardized testing.

Lani Guinier on our Ivy League meritocracy lie: “You don’t want only those people who do well on the SAT”
EXCLUSIVE: The civil rights authority tells Salon why teaching to the test hurts kids -- and favors the elite by Jeff Bryant WEDNESDAY, FEB 4, 2015 08:30 AM EST
If you were a fan of the HBO series “The Wire,” you likely remember the scene in the fourth season focused on Baltimore public schools where the term “juking the stats” defined how corporate-driven reengineering of the public sphere has distorted public institutions so they no longer serve ordinary people.  The scene that really crystalized how these systems are transmogrifying our public institutions occurred in an episode in which disgraced police officer Roland “Prezbo” Pryzbylewski, who is now employed as a Baltimore public school teacher, learns how his school will teach test questions in order to increase student scores on standardized exams. “Juking the stats,” he confides to a fellow teacher, “Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels. I’ve been here before.”
It’s good for us to remind ourselves about this scene as Congress deliberates on rewriting No Child Left Behind legislation that made juking the stats an imperative in public education. Senators and House members are pouring over the law and questioning the use of testing and how student scores on those tests are being used to evaluate teachers and schools.

George F. Will: Education is the business of states, not federal government
Post Gazette Opinion By George F. Will February 9, 2015 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- In 1981, Tennessee’s 41-year-old governor proposed to President Ronald Reagan a swap: Washington would fully fund Medicaid and the states would have complete responsibility for primary and secondary education. Mr. Reagan, a former governor, was receptive. But Democrats, who controlled the House and were beginning to be controlled by teachers unions (the largest, the National Education Association, had bartered its first presidential endorsement, of Jimmy Carter, for creation of the Department of Education) balked.
In 1992, the former Tennessee governor was President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of education. He urged Mr. Bush to veto proposed legislation to expand federal involvement in K-through-12 education. He said it would create “at least the beginnings of a national school board that could make day-to-day school decisions on curriculum, discipline, teacher training, textbooks and classroom materials.” The veto threat derailed the legislation.
Today this former governor and former secretary (and former president of the University of Tennessee), Sen. Lamar Alexander, is chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. He is seeking 60 Senate votes to, he says, “reverse the trend toward a national school board,” which the Education Department has become.

From Capital Associates, Inc.:
Feb    17, 18, 23, 24, 25
Mar    2, 3, 4
Apr    13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22
May    4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13
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Feb    9, 10, 11, 23, 24, 25
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Apr    1, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22
May    4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13
Jun    1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 18, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30

PSBA 2015 Advocacy Forum
APR 19, 2015 • 8:00 AM - APR 20, 2015 • 5:00 PM
Join PSBA for the second annual Advocacy Forum on April 19-20, 2015. Hear from legislative experts on hot topics and issues regarding public education on Sunday, April 19, at PSBA headquarters in Mechanicsburg. The next day you and fellow advocates will meet with legislators at the state capitol. This is your chance to learn how to successfully advocate on behalf of public education and make your voice heard on the Hill.
·         Schedule of Events
·         Day One –PSBA headquarters
·         10 a.m. — Early Bird Arrival and Registration
·         10:30-12 p.m. — The State Education Agenda
The chairman of the Senate and House Education Committees will share their perspectives on the education agenda for the 2015-16 session of the General Assembly. Speakers: Senator Smucker, chairman, Senate Education Committee; and Representative Saylor, chairman, House Education Committee
·         Noon-1:15 p.m. — Welcome Lunch
·         1:00-12:15 p.m. — Special Welcome and Introduction: Nathan Mains, PSBA Executive Director and William LaCoff, PSBA President
·         12:30-1 p.m. — Speaker: Diane Ravitchnationally known education historian, policy analyst and author of Reign of Error.
·         1:15-2:00 p.m. — Education Priorities will be discussed with the Education Secretary Pedro Rivera
This session provides the latest information on the governor’s proposed state funding plans, the pension crisis and the latest on special education.
·         2:00-2:30 p.m. — Federal Education Update: NSBA
Director of National Advocacy Services Kathleen Branch will join Director of Federal Programs Lucy Gettman from NSBA, to speak about federal advocacy.
·         2:30-3 p.m. — Social Media Training (Speakers to be announced)
·         3-3:15 p.m. — Break
·         3:15-3:45 p.m. — Grassroots Advocacy: How to be an Effective Advocate
Hear from former Allwein Advocacy Award winners Shauna D’Alessandro, school director from West Jefferson Hills SD and PSBA Allegheny Region 14 director, and Mark B. Miller, board vice president of Centennial SD and PSBA BuxMont Region 11 director.
·         3:45-4:15 p.m. — Legislative Update and Lobby Day Coordination
PSBA’s Senior Director of Government Affairs John Callahan will walk you through legislative issues and priorities that might be addressed the next day during legislative visits by members.
·         4:15-5 p.m. — Roundtable Discussion
Network with your fellow board members before visiting your legislator
·         5:00-5:15 p.m. — Break
·         5:15-6:30 p.m. — Dinner Buffet
Enjoy a legislative discussion on the 2015-16 budget and appropriations with Senator Browne
·         6:30 p.m. — Adjourn

EPLC "Focus on Education" TV Program on PCN - Sunday, February 8 at 3:00 p.m. 
Panel 1: Curriculum, Assessment and Academic Opportunities for All Students
Dr. Richard D. Nilsen, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development
Panel 2: Career and Technical Education
Jackie Cullen, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association of Career and Technical Administrators
Dr. Clyde Hornberger, Educational Consultant and Former Director, Lehigh Career & Technical Institute
All EPLC "Focus on Education" TV shows are hosted by 
EPLC President Ron Cowell. 

Campaign for Fair Education Funding Seeks Campaign Manager
Campaign for Fair Education Funding February 2, 2015
The Campaign for Fair Education Funding seeks a campaign manager who is a strategic thinker and an operational leader. This position could be filled by an individual or firm. The manager will lead the day-to-day operations of the campaign and its government relations, communications, mobilization and research committees and work in partnership with the campaign governing board to set and implement the campaign’s strategic direction.

Sign-up for weekly email updates from the Campaign
The Campaign for Fair Education Funding website

PA Basic Education Funding Commission website

Thorough and Efficient: Pennsylvania Education Funding Lawsuit website
Arguing that our state has failed to ensure that essential resources are available for all of our public school students to meet state academic standards.

Sign up for National School Boards Association’s Advocacy Network
Friends of Public Education

Register Now! EPLC 2015 Regional Workshops for School Board Candidates and Others
The Education Policy and Leadership Center, with the Cooperation of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO), will conduct A Series of Regional Full-Day Workshops for 2015 Pennsylvania School Board Candidates.  Incumbents, non-incumbents, campaign supporters and all interested voters are invited to participate in these workshops.
Pittsburgh Region Saturday, February 21, 2015 – 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Allegheny Intermediate Unit, 475 East Waterfront Drive, Homestead, PA  15120
Harrisburg Region Saturday, March 7, 2015– 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Pennsylvania School Boards Association Headquarters, 400 Bent Creek Boulevard, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
Philadelphia Region Saturday, March 14, 2015 – 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, 2 W. Lafayette Street, Norristown, PA 19401

PILCOP: Children with Emotional Problems: Avoiding the Juvenile Justice System, and What Does Real Help Look Like?
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia Tuesday, February 17, 2015 1:00 -- 4:00 P.M.
This session will help you navigate special education in order to assist children at home not receiving services, those in the foster care system or those in the juvenile court system. CLE and Act 48 credit is available.  This session is co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania School of Policy and Practice, a Pre-approved Provider of Continuing Education for Pennsylvania licensed social workers.  Click here to purchase tickets  

NPE 2015 Annual Conference – Chicago April 24 - 26 – Early Bird Special Registration Open!
Early-bird discounted Registration for the Network for Public Education’s Second Annual Conference is now available at this address:
These low rates will last for the month of January.
The event is being held at the Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago, and there is a link on the registration page for special hotel registration rates. Here are some of the event details.
There will be a welcoming social event  7 pm Friday night, at or near the Drake Hotel — details coming soon.   Featured speakers will be:
§         Jitu Brown, National Director – Journey for Justice, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Network for Public Education Board of Directors
§         Tanaisa Brown, High School Senior, with the Newark Student Union
§         Yong Zhao, Author, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?
§         Diane Ravitch in conversation with
§         Lily Eskelsen Garcia, NEA President and
§         Randi Weingarten, AFT President
§         Karen Lewis, President, Chicago Teachers Union

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