Monday, March 16, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup March 16: Schwank introduces bill proposing 25-person Public Pensions Review Commission to study PA’s retirement systems

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for March 16, 2015:
Schwank introduces bill proposing 25-person Public Pensions Review Commission to study PA’s retirement systems

Education Voters of PA will hold a forum about public school funding in Lancaster County Tuesday, March 17, at 7:00 pm at Millersville University

"State Sen. Judith Schwank, R-Berks, introduced a bill this week proposing a 25-person Public Pensions Review Commission to study the Commonwealth’s retirement systems for judges, police, firefighters, public school teachers and other state and municipal officials and employees."
Capitol recap: million-dollar fix for (multi)billion-dollar pension problem?
Keystone Crossroads BY EMILY PREVITI, WITF MARCH 13, 2015
Pennsylvania’s multibillion-dollar pensions obligation has been spurring hand-wringing and bickering at the Capitol and city halls across the Commonwealth for yearsIts two statewide retirement systems for teachers and state workers are the second-worst funded in the country.   And that doesn’t even get into the nearly $8 billion collective liability faced at the local level in Pennsylvania, home to no less than one quarter of the nation’s municipal pension funds – more than half of which are tracked at the state level using a paper-based reporting system.  Despite all this, state legislators haven’t studied the issue closely, at least not formally.

"So when you see the billboards go up and the television ads begin in opposition to this bill, remember the facts. This is not a "tuition-free public education" as claimed; your tax dollars are being spent on an education that is underperforming. After all, the marketing and lobbying budget for cyber-charters is pretty hefty, so one is sure to know by what means those billboards and television ads will be paid, but it will be by you and by me."
SB128 - How to change cyber-charters in Pa.: Sen. Sean Wiley
Sen. Sean Wiley, of Millcreek Township, a Democrat, represents the 49th District in the Pennsylvania Senate (
ERIE TIMES-NEWS March 15, 2015 12:01 AM
Schools that teach. That is one of the themes in Gov. Tom Wolf's budget. It's a very basic concept, yet one that has more complicated layers than the average person may imagine, with one layer costing about $407 million annually.  In early March, the governor unveiled a $1 billion investment in early, basic and higher education funding as well as a four-year commitment to invest $2 billion in new money in basic education, special education and pre-K. The governor focused on schools that teach "because for our children to succeed tomorrow, every child must have access to a great education, and teachers must have the resources they need to deliver a great education."  Students and families have the choice of the type of education they want to pursue: traditional public school, tuition-based school, charter school, cyber-charter school or a hybrid. Let's be clear. I am absolutely an avid supporter of public education and mechanisms to educate each student in the way that is best for that child; I am not proposing the abolition of any of these methods, rather holding all educational providers to the standards of accountability and equity. I feel that's only fair as taxpayers' dollars are at issue.

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup March 14: PA school districts have the most inequitable spending for poor students in the nation, according to US Dept of Education.

If you’re concerned about school funding, join the conversation
Lancaster Online Opinion by Martin J. Hudacs Posted: Sunday, March 15, 2015 6:00 am
Martin J. Hudacs, Ed.D, is the former superintendent of the Solanco School district. He is one of 10 former school administrators serving as a circuit rider, traveling the state to mobilize local officials for efforts to revamp K-12 education funding.
There is a conversation occurring that should be of great interest to all taxpayers because the outcome could easily impact public education for decades.  The conversation focuses on a broken school funding system that, in its present form, wreaks havoc on school districts every year. The system —or lack thereof — and the total level of funding available for our public schools are jeopardizing the overall quality of education that all public school students receive in our county and state.  It is vital that every taxpayer and every parent understand that they have a stake in this debate and they all have an opportunity to be heard.

Rev. Gregory Edwards: Gov. Tom Wolf's education budget still falls short of what's needed
Allentown Morning Call Opinion by Rev. Gregory Edwards March 14, 2015
The Rev. Gregory Edwards is senior pastor at Resurrected Life Community Church, Allentown.
A week out from Gov. Wolf's budget address, we're seeing reactions from all sides to the governor's proposal — some celebratory and some critical.  As people of faith committed to a prophetic critique of the world as it is, we must speak truth about what is being left unsaid — that when it comes to the funding of our schools, economic inequality and educational inequality in Pennsylvania are inextricably intertwined and we are not moving fast enough to fix it.
Gov. Wolf has taken an important first step toward prioritizing public education by asking for a dramatic increase in school funding. But his proposal is far from the Promised Land.
While we applaud any boost to education, the $400 million increase he wants for basic education spending is not nearly enough for districts statewide to restore reasonable class sizes, art, music, nurses, libraries and other essentials for our children that many districts have either cut back or done away with completely. The recommendations for spending in individual districts, publicly available on the state government's website, also do little to correct racial inequities in how funds are distributed. Fifty years since Brown v. Board of Education, this is unacceptable.

First Lady Frances Wolf leads school funding discussion in East Norriton
Times-Herald By Carl Rotenberg, The Times Herald POSTED: 03/13/15, 2:44 PM EDT |
EAST NORRITON >> Pennsylvania first lady Frances Wolf came to the Paul V. Fly Elementary School Friday to participate in a roundtable discussion with Norristown Area School District principals and educators about Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to boost state education funding by $400 million in the new school year.  More than two dozen district teachers and administrators gathered in the school library for the one-hour discussion led by Superintendent Janet Samuels and Principal Jason Smith.  After the discussion, Wolf went to teacher Claire Hawkins’ first-grade classroom to read “Are you my Mother?” to the children, Smith said.

To kill or to cut? Wolf's property tax plan has competition by MARC LEVY, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Saturday, March 14, 2015, 8:44 AM
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The success of Gov. Tom Wolf's plan to make Pennsylvania's school funding system fairer could hinge on this: Whether he can convince enough lawmakers that his plan would end the days of rising school property taxes.  Wolf, a Democrat, has proposed a $3.2 billion plan to cut school property taxes dollar-for-dollar by raising state income and sales taxes. His goal is to boost the state's share of public school costs to 50 percent, up from one-third, primarily to cut property taxes for homeowners in Pennsylvania's poorest and most heavily taxed districts.  The plan has a lot in common with concepts that House Majority Leader Dave Reed and other members of the Republican-controlled Legislature have floated in recent years, without success.

How you can take Gov. Wolf with you this weekend: Keystone Q&A
By Wallace McKelvey |  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on March 14, 2015 at 8:30 AM, updated March 14, 2015 at 9:06 AM
Gov. Tom Wolf will probably do some quiet reading at home this weekend, but there's no reason you can't take him out for a spin.  If you're like most Harrisburg-area denizens, including us, you'll probably be hiking wooded trails, running on treadmills and, yes, driving with the windows down.
While you're out and about, give our Keystone Q&A podcast a listen. Each week, we'll deliver unique views on the news and compelling stories straight to your computer or mobile device.
This week, we sat down for a half-hour interview with Gov. Tom Wolf. He talked education, property taxes and even gave a few book recommendations, if you're so inclined.
How do you listen to PostScript, you ask?

US Education Secretary: Pa. has largest spending gap between rich and poor school districts nationwide.
Allentown Morning Call March 14, 2015
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says Pennsylvania has the largest spending gap between rich and poor school districts — and that must change.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that high-poverty school districts spent 15.6 percent less than those in the group with the least poverty.
In Pennsylvania, that difference was 33 percent — much larger than the next-closest state, Vermont, which had a spending difference of 18 percent between the top and bottom groups. Three others — Illinois, Missouri and Virginia — had gaps of 17 percent.
"The children who need the most seem to be getting less and less, and the children who need the least are getting more and more," Duncan said on a conference call with reporters Friday as he urged lawmakers to see that schools in poor districts get more resources as Congress weighs reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Centre County school districts cautiously optimistic about Gov. Wolf’s budget proposal
Centre Daily Times BY BRITNEY MILAZZO March 15, 2015 
Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2015-16 state budget proposal includes millions of dollars more in education funding, of which some could come from a tax imposed on natural gas drilling.  Local school district officials said the public school system will benefit — as long as the governor sticks to his vow to boost education funding.  “The governor’s budget is a very positive sign for education, but it has a long way to go until a budget is approved,” said Ken Bean, director of fiscal affairs at the Bellefonte Area School District. “It is hard to say what the final outcome will be at this stage. Hopefully, the district will see some funding increases from the state when all is said and done. Obviously, any kind of increase would be welcome especially to assist in offsetting the PSERS (Public School Employees’ Retirement System) increase.”

York city schools' recovery officer Meckley's departure meets with approval and disappointment
Some say it's about time, but others defend the 'outstanding' job he did trying to plan for city schools' future
York Daily Record By Angie Mason and Dylan Segelbaum Daily Record/Sunday News UPDATED:   03/14/2015 06:05:09 PM EDT
Even those with differing opinions on the departure of the York City School District's chief recovery officer seem to agree on one thing: it's time for change in the district.  "We cannot continue to go on with the status quo and business as usual," said York City School Board member Michael Breeland.  David Meckley resigned as the state-appointed chief recovery officer for the district on Friday, citing opposition from Gov. Tom Wolf's administration to converting any schools to charters, the path Meckley believes is necessary to move the district forward.

York City school leaders hope for new vision in next recovery officer
By ERIN JAMES and SEAN PHILIP COTTER The York Dispatch POSTED:   03/15/2015 09:50:32 PM EDT
After the resignation of York City schools' state-appointed chief recovery officer, school board president Margie Orr is optimistic that the district's future will be more in line with the vision the district's administration and board have in mind.  "The difference I'm hoping for is that we'd be able to work with them," she said of a future CRO, who would be appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf.  The governor's office confirmed Friday that David Meckley, who had been pushing for the district to convert to all charter schools, had resigned from his recovery officer position.  Orr, who opposed the conversion, was glad to see the change.  "David Meckley was a businessman, but a school district is not a business," Orr said.

How area schools fare under Gov. Tom Wolf budget plan
By Evan Brandt, The Mercury POSTED: 03/15/15, 8:53 AM EDT |
Pottstown school officials have long lamented how the absence of a funding formula for education has left the district holding the short end of the stick every year when the state budget gets put together.  But in the wake of a gubernatorial election which saw education funding as a major issue and resulted in the first one-term governor in modern memory, the tables have turned.  The first budget proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf gives Pottstown an additional $1 million in state funding in the coming year and a property tax cut of more than 55 percent in the year that follows.  A Mercury analysis of information posted on the Pennsylvania Department of Education web site shows that among area districts Pottstown would receive the greatest benefit from Wolf’s proposals were they to be adopted by the Pennsylvania House and Senate.  Pottstown would receive an additional $1,112,538 in basic and special education funding, plus a savings of $712,280 in tuition to cyber charter schools, as well as a projected property tax cut of 56.46 percent, the most of any area district.

Gov. Tom Wolf budget proposal sounds good to Pottsgrove School Board
By Evan Brandt, The Mercury POSTED: 03/15/15, 12:01 AM EDT | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
LOWER POTTSGROVE >> It’s not too often that you see a school district administrator smiling when explaining a governor’s budget proposal.  For the last few years, public discussions of Harrisburg’s education funding scenarios have been pretty grim.  But Gov. Tom Wolf’s first budget proposal contains a big hike in education funding, property tax relief and even charter reform measures that are welcome news to public school officials.  “If this were enacted, school business officials would be doing hand-springs across the state,” Pottsgrove Business Manager David Nester told the school board during Tuesday’s meeting.

Teacher strike threats remain in Western Pennsylvania
TribLive By Bobby Kerlik Saturday, March 14, 2015, 5:32 p.m.
The threat of a teachers' strike in Steel Valley is over, but several school districts in Western Pennsylvania do not have contracts in place.  Teachers in Sto-Rox, Derry Area, Belle Vernon, South Butler, California Area, Chartiers-Houston, Monessen, Beth-Center, Butler County Vo-Tech and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit are all working with expired contracts, but the most heated battle may be in East Allegheny.  Teachers there have been without a contract since June 2012 and went on strike for 16 days in September. Union officials left open the possibility of another strike before the end of the school year.
Guest Column: Charter schools are not the answer
Delco Times By David W. Hornbeck, Delco Times Guest Columnist  03/13/15, 10:06 PM EDT |
David W. Hornbeck was Maryland State Superintendent of Schools from 1976 to 1988 and Philadelphia Superintendent from 1994 to 2000
As Philadelphia’s Superintendent of Schools, I recommended the approval of more than 30 charter schools because I thought it would improve educational opportunity for our 215,000 students.  The last 20 years make it clear, I was wrong.
Those advocating change in Maryland’s charter law through proposed legislation are equally committed to educational improvement. They are equally wrong. New policy should not build on current inequities and flawed assumptions, as the proposed charter law changes would do.  Mixed academic results: Charters, on the whole, do not result in significant improvement in student performance. It’s mixed at best. In some evaluations, charter schools overall actually underperform regular public schools.  Funding and unequal opportunity: Charter funding is also negatively affecting regular public schools. Charter advocates rely on the premise that as money flows from a regular school to a charter school, the costs of the regular school go down proportionately. Sounds good; it’s just not true. Costs in schools sending students to charters cannot shift as fast as students and revenue leave.

"Exactly how many New Jersey students are opting out of the tests -- known as PARCC tests, short for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- is not clear. Officials say they'll know for sure when this spring's testing is complete.  But reports suggest that opting out is widespread, taking place in districts of every economic and political description. In Cherry Hill, more than 2,000 students refused to take the tests. Similar stories have been reported in Newark, Delran, and Princeton."
As students refuse to take NJ exams, school leaders argue against opting out
By Bill Hangley Jr. for NewsWorks on Mar 13, 2015 12:40 PM
Nearly 1,000 students opted out of PAARC testing at Cherry Hill High School East. Hundreds more refused to take the tests at Cherry Hill High School West.   New Jersey education officials are pushing back against a growing wave of opposition to the state's new standardized tests, telling lawmakers that the "opt out" movement could cost the state millions and deprive schools of essential data.  "Parents are being misled that there are no consequences to schools for their non-participation," said Bari Erlichson, chief performance officer for the New Jersey Department of Education, at a Senate Education Committee hearing Thursday in Trenton.
Among the issues she cited is a provision of the No Child Left Behind law that allows the government to withhold federal aid from schools that don't get 95 percent participation in the assessment tests. State Education Commissioner David Hespe told the committee that at least $300 million in Title I funds and as much as a billion dollars of federal aid could be at stake.  But critics of the high-stakes tests say that's just a scare tactic, and they want to make opting out even easier.  "The federal government, the U.S. Department of Education, has never, ever taken money away from a school for falling under 95 percent participation," said Julia Rubin of the volunteer parent group Save Our Schools.

Delaware County and West Philly Dentists to provide FREE dental care to children 0 – 18 years old during spring break the week of March 30 – April 3 for “Give Kids a Smile Day.” 
For this event, sponsored by Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), local dentists will provide free screenings and cleanings for children.  Give Kids a Smile Day is especially for children who do not have health insurance or who have not had a dental exam in the last six months. Appointments are necessary, so please call PCCY at 215-563-5848 x32 to schedule one starting Monday, March 16th.  Volunteers will be on hand to answer calls. Smile Day information can also be found on the school district website and on PCCY’s website -

PCCY Spring Training:  Hit a School Funding Home Run for Kids  Advocacy Training Workshop March 18 or 21
This year we have an unprecedented opportunity to make public education funding more fair and to get more of it for schools across Pennsylvania. Voters spoke in November when an incumbent governor—widely perceived to be responsible for drastic education cuts, was unseated while his opponent ran on the promise to increase school funding. A funding commission has been established to research and develop recommendations for a new funding formula. Now is our time to let our elected officials know we take investment in education seriously.
Please join Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) for our annual advocacy training to learn how you can win fair and increased funding for our students.
By participating, you’ll be joining a statewide movement. PCCY is a part of a statewide coalition of 50 (and growing) organizations committed to getting a fair funding formula passed by 2016.
Attend our training to:
·         Learn
o        Why education funding in PA is broken and how a funding formula can fix it
o        Best practices for amplifying your voice for PA kids
o        How to develop an advocacy plan tailored to fit your schedule and strengths
·         Connect with
·         Others throughout our region who are as passionate about public education as you are
·         Leave
·         Inspired and ready to take action for PA
Workshop Details:
When: The same workshop will be offered on two different days for your convenience.
Wednesday, March 18th, 6:00-8:00pm or Saturday, March 21st, 9 am - Noon
Where: United Way Building, 1709 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., Philadelphia, 19103
For additional information, email
This event is free and open to the public. Registration is requested. Children are welcome.
Click here to sign up:

Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia offering two special education seminars in March
Leaving Gifted Kids Behind Tuesday, March 24, 2015 1:00 -- 4:00 P.M.
In this session, participants will learn how Pennsylvania law affects and supports gifted children, as well as practical tips for ensuring gifted services. We will also discuss race and gifted services.
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.  

This session will focus on giving you the tools you need to support children with emotional problems, including those in the foster care system or those in the juvenile court system.
Note: This session was originally scheduled for February 17, but had to be rescheduled due to inclement weather. Tickets purchased for the original date still apply. 

United Way Building 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, 19103
Tickets: Attorneys $200       General Public $100      Webinar $50   
Pay What You Can" tickets are also available

2015 Pennsylvania Budget Summit
Wednesday, March 25, 2015 Hilton Hotel, Harrisburg Pennsylvania
PA Budget and Policy Center
The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will host its Annual Budget Summit on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 at the Hilton Harrisburg. Join us for an in-depth look at the Governor's 2015-16 budget proposal, including what it means for education, health and human services, and local communities. The Summit will focus on the leading issues facing the commonwealth in 2015, with workshops, lunch, a legislative panel discussion, and a keynote speech.
Space is limited, so fill out the form below to reserve your spot at the Budget Summit.

The State of Public Education Funding in Pennsylvania
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia Tuesday, March 17, 2015 8:30 AM to 10:00 AM
United Way Building, 1709 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA
Join Law Center attorneys for a briefing on the basics of education funding, a recap of the March 11th oral arguments in the school funding lawsuit, information on the new administration’s budget proposal and more.  There are limited spots available for this free event. 1.5 CLE credits will be offered to participating attorneys.

Education Voters of PA will hold a forum about public school funding in York: Wednesday, March 25th, 6:30pm to 8pm at the York Learning Center, 300 E. 7th Avenue, York.
More info/registration:

Education Voters of PA will hold a forum about public school funding in Cumberland County: Wednesday, April 1, 7:00 pm at the Grace Milliman Pollock Performing Arts Center, 340 North 21st Street, Camp Hill.
More info/registration:

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.

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.

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