Monday, March 2, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup March 2: Wolf Budget Previews/Green out, Neff in as SRC Chair

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for March 2, 2015:
Wolf Budget Previews/Green out, Neff in as SRC Chair

PCN to carry Governor Wolf's budget address live starting at 11:00 am on Tuesday March 3rd.

"Wolf and our lawmakers in Harrisburg need to make education a top priority.
The future of Pennsylvania depends on increased and fairer funding for our public schools. And the state should provide a larger share of school funding to reduce local property taxes."
Editorial: Governor must chart a bold path for Pa. starting Tuesday
Lancaster Online Editorial by The LNP Editorial Board  Posted: Sunday, March 1, 2015 6:00 am
THE ISSUE: Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will deliver his first budget address Tuesday before a General Assembly in which Republicans have a 20-seat advantage in the Senate and a 35-seat edge in the House (both numbers exclude vacancies). Pennsylvania government faces a $2.3 billion revenue shortfall and a $53 billion gap between assets and benefits in its two large pension funds.  The election of Gov. Wolf  was a clear call by the people of our state seeking a new vision and path for Pennsylvania.   Given all the issues facing our state, problems kicked down the road that should have been addressed long ago, and the deep-seated partisanship in Harrisburg, there is no way the new governor can produce a spending plan that meets all the commonwealth's needs.  But now is the time for Wolf to be bold and jump-start the state down the path of prosperity and growth.  

Wolf's budget looks to be big, bold - and controversial
LAST UPDATED: Sunday, March 1, 2015, 1:08 AM
HARRISBURG - The details have been kept under lock and key, but when Gov. Wolf unveils his first budget early this week, all signs point to its being big, bold - and highly controversial.
For days now, there has been chatter in political circles in the Capitol that Wolf's spending plan will propose aggressive increases in public education even while facing a $2 billion structural deficit and more than $1 billion in rising costs for pensions, corrections, and health care for the poor.  To pay for it all, the Democratic governor is eyeing a package of tax increases and new taxes at levels that haven't been seen in years, according to legislative and other sources who have been able to glean some of the budget's details.

Income and sales tax rates, education spending, property tax cuts all poised to grow in Wolf¹s first budget
Penn Live By Charles Thompson | Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on February 28, 2015 at 11:09 AM, updated March 01, 2015 at 7:04 AM
Expectations - or, depending upon your political vantage point, anxieties - are running high for what goodies might be included when Gov. Tom Wolf unveils his first budget Tuesday.
It is expected to include double-digit increases in the state's personal income tax and sales tax rates; large cuts in school property taxes and a key business tax rate; and significant new boosts in state aid for public schools and colleges.  Add it all up, and it's safe to say Pennsylvanians haven't seen a plan this bold in scope for years - and certainly not since the 2007-08 recession.

Sales, income taxes increases expected in Gov. Tom Wolf's budget
Trib Live By Brad Bumsted Sunday, March 1, 2015, 10:40 p.m.
HARRISBURG — State lawmakers and political analysts predict Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday will propose slashing property taxes and paying for it with higher broad-based taxes, such as income or sales taxes.  Republican leaders are ready to sharply contest what they believe will be an excessive proposal.  Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County said he expects a “radical tax-and-spend proposal” from Wolf when he presents his budget to lawmakers. If there's a tax-shifting plan, “people follow it with their pencils,” in terms of how they are impacted, Scarnati said.  Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman of Centre County said he believes Wolf's tax plan “will make Gov. Casey and Gov. Ed Rendell look like pikers.”
Wolf's big ideas - a history lesson
Give Tom Wolf credit – he's not thinking small.
Undaunted by a yawning budget deficit and a legislature run by men ready to take him apart, Pennsylvania's new Democratic governor has apparently decided he'll be asking for big changes in his first budget address tomorrow..  If the early reporting is accurate, Wolf plans to try to do a lot of things at once: fund schools, make the tax system fairer, and give companies incentives to create more jobs.  To do that, he reportedly wants to impose a new tax (on shale gas) and move the rates of a bunch of others – the corporate profits tax drops dramatically as loopholes disappear; state income and sales taxes rise; and local property taxes fall across the Commonwealth, except in Philadelphia, where wage tax relief is the game.  If you're going to do something big and bold, he probably reasons, there's no better time than after you've just won a big election and before you start taking the bruises that come with holding executive office.
And in theory, if you've crafted a plan that solves a bunch of problems, you should have support from all the constituencies that stand to benefit.
Maybe. But I have to say I've seen it work exactly the opposite way before.

A look at the key things to watch in Gov. Tom Wolf's budget
On Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf will unveil his spending plans for the 2015-16 fiscal year that starts July 1. Wolf, a Democrat, is expected to propose perhaps the biggest shake-up in the state tax system in over 40 years, although little is known thus far about the precise details of his plans. All of it would require approval by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Here is a summary of what Wolf has revealed in the six weeks since he became governor, as well as the positions he took during his campaign.

Green out, Neff in as SRC chair
Inquirer Philly School Files Blog by Kristen Graham SUNDAY, MARCH 1, 2015, 7:56 PM
Gov. Wolf, in a stunning move, is stripping Bill Green of his chairmanship of the School Reform Commission, Green said on Sunday night.  Marjorie Neff will be the new chairwoman of the five-member governing body of the Philadelphia School District. Wolf will announce the move on Monday.  Green will fight the move in court.  The move comes less than two weeks after a controversial SRC vote to approve five new charter schools. Citing district finances, Wolf had ordered Green to approve no new charters. Harrisburg Republicans had wanted up to 27 charters approved.  Both sides threatened consequences if their orders were not followed.

PA-Gov: Wolf Officially Names Neff SRC Chair
PoliticsPA Written by Nick Field, Managing Editor March 1, 2015
Governor Wolf didn’t waste any time.  Within an hour after Green revealedhe was being replaced as SRC Chair, the Governor’s office announced Marjorie Neff as his replacement.  Wolf’s statement solely concerned Neff’s qualifications and background and did not address Green or his plans to contest his demotion in court.

Gov. Wolf names Marjorie Neff chair of SRC; Green says he'll fight move in court
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 1, 2015 08:23 PM
Gov. Wolf has asked Marjorie Neff to assume the Chair of the School Reform Commission, ousting Bill Green.   Green says he plans to fight the move in court, saying that while he respects Neff, "There is no legal basis for another Commissioner to be named Chair."
Green, who gave up his City Council seat when he was appointed by former Gov. Tom Corbett, said he was "concerned by the Governor’s belief that he can influence this body.  The School Reform Commission is a governing body that has taken hard decisions and is built to stand apart from political influence."  Neff, who was appointed by Mayor Nutter, was the only one of the five commissioners to vote against approving any new charter schools last week. With 39 applications, the SRC approved five. The SRC was under pressure from Wolf on the one hand who said that the District couldn't afford more charter schools, and Republican legislative leaders on the other who wanted all "qualified" applicants approved.  
Neff, a 38-year veteran of the District, retired last year as principal of Julia R. Masterman Demonstration School, the city's premier special admission school. 

Statement from SRC Chairman Green (Video)
School District of Philadelphia Facebook page March 1, 2015  video runtime 5:33

Equitable school funding forum held in William Penn School District
By Kathleen Carey, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 02/28/15, 11:16 PM EST
YEADON >> As the date nears for Commonwealth Court to begin hearing a case on equitable school funding, a forum took place Saturday in one of the districts that brought the matter to the forefront.  About two dozen community members attended the “Workshop in Support of Fair Funding and Other Common Sense Reforms for Public Education” at the Evans Elementary School as the William Penn School District prepares to present its suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Education on March 11 in Harrisburg.  The forum was hosted by the school district and the Coalition for the Residents of Yeadon.  Filed last year, the suit’s plaintiffs have maintained that the state abandoned its responsibility to provide and maintain a thorough and efficient public education system when it reduced funding to districts by more than $860 million since 2011.
It also questions the equity in per-pupil spending in districts with high property values at $28,400 per student compared to that in districts with low property value at $9,800 per student.

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 28: Hey Pennsylvania - Maine bill would have state fund charter schools directly

"Currently, PSERS has projected data out to the 2024-25 school year. The contribution rate is expected to rise from 25.84 percent of payroll for 2015-16 to roughly 32 percent in 2020-21, before decreasing slightly."
No closer to a solution
School districts forced to make tough decisions as pension costs, crisis grow
Observer-Reporter By Francesca Sacco Staff writer Published: February 28, 2015 - Updated: March 1, 2015 9:42 pm
Another year, another real estate tax increase.  Rapidly escalating pension costs are once again causing concern and wreaking havoc on local school districts as they prepare their 2015-16 budgets. Many, including Chartiers-Houston and Bentworth, have increased taxes or slashed budget line items to keep their districts afloat.  Debra Babirad, Bentworth business manager, said the district eliminated items like new textbooks, supplies and technology to combat the growing pension contribution costs.

Blogger's note: Reading this piece by Tim Eller, formerly Governor Corbett's spokesperson, there seems to be tacit acknowledgement that cyber charter schools are not providing high quality educational programs.  I would appreciate hearing from anyone who might know who is providing funding for this new charter advocacy organization.
Another View: High-quality charter schools meet the needs of families
Delco Times Opinion By Tim Eller, Times Guest Columnist  POSTED: 03/01/15, 8:37 PM EST
Tim Eller is executive director of the Harrisburg-based Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Over the last several years, I have witnessed first-hand the contentious debate regarding charter schools across Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, there remains a complete lack of comprehensive and accurate information available to the public about the great strides being made by brick-and-mortar charter schools across the state.  Created by state law in 1997, the number of brick-and-mortar charter schools has grown to 160, which are educating more than 92,000 students.
The growing movement of charter schools is a result of the demand of parents who desire their child to attend a high-quality school that will provide excellent educational programs. Oftentimes, parents feel that their local school district has failed their child and search for alternatives to provide their child with a quality education.

"According to a PennLive analysis of donations on Follow The Money, a campaign donation database, charter school advocates have donated more than $10 million to Pennsylvania politicians over the past nine years.  To be sure, charter-school advocacy groups aren’t the only ones spending big to influence education policy in the Keystone State. The Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents 170,000 teachers and related professionals, has spent about $8.3 million over the same time period according to Follow The Money.
But what perhaps makes the influx of money from charter-school groups unique in Pennsylvania is the magnitude of spending by only a handful of donors and, in recent years, some of their high-profile successes in moving and blocking legislation."
Charter schools’ influence on Pennsylvania politics
Pottstown Mercury By DANIEL SIMMONS-RITCHIE - Associated Press - February 28, 2015
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - It’s no secret that Harrisburg is a hive of lobbyists, each representing industries and interests that spend millions to persuade state lawmakers to bend laws in their favor.  But perhaps what makes the charter-school lobby unique among the pack, says State Rep. Bernie O’Neill, a Republican from Bucks County, is its ability to deploy children to its cause.
In 2014, O’Neill experienced that first hand after proposing changes to a funding formula that would affect charter schools. Parents and children stormed his office and barraged him with calls and emails.  “They were calling me the anti-Christ of everything,” O’Neill said. “Everybody was coming after me.”  In recent years, as charter schools have proliferated - particularly those run by for-profit management companies - so too has their influence on legislators. In few other places has that been more true than Pennsylvania, which is one of only 11 states that has no limits on campaign contributions from PACs or individuals.

Fighting for the rights of the Allentown School District's homeless students
By Edward Sieger | The Express-Times Email the author on March 01, 2015 at 3:20 PM, updated March 01, 2015 at 3:25 PM
Russell Valentini is as much part-time detective as he is champion for the Allentown School District's homeless population. He often finds himself using the network of resources he's developed over more than 20 years to track down a homeless student.  "I'll go to a shelter checking on something else, and I'll say, 'By the way, have you seen or heard from so-and-so,'" Valentini said.  Known simply as "Rooster," the nickname he shares with his grandfather, Valentini has spent the last 25 years working to assure homeless students remain in the classroom even while their home lives are in flux.

Lucid Witness Blog SEPTEMBER 25, 2014 DAUN KAUFFMAN
 Education Reform” discussions often revolve around: 1) a “Common Core”, or “national standards”, plus,  2) Standardized Testing and,  3)  a  “Value Added Measurement” of teachers.
Clearly, something is missing in the  “Reform” discussions.

Philadelphia district nets $42 million from selling former schools
The George W. Childs Elementary School at 17th and Tasker in South Philadelphia once resonated with the sounds of more than 500 students traipsing its halls and reciting their lessons. 
The school relocated in 2010, leaving behind a century-old building that's now slated to become a mixed-income housing complex.  Childs is one of 12 former schools the district has sold since 2013. Sales are pending for another 14 properties. These empty buildings have been cast alternately as neighborhood eyesores, reminders of upheaval in the city's education landscape and sources of revenue for a cash-strapped district.

Opt-out: Parents push back against kids' many standardized tests (special project)
Penn Live By Candy Woodall |  Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on February 28, 2015 at 7:45 AM, updated March 01, 2015 at 7:33 AM
Millions of students across the country start taking more rigorous exams aligned withCommon Core standards this spring. There's a good reason for that, according to officials, who say the high-stakes assessments are crucial to evaluating student progress and competitiveness.
But a growing number of parents disagree with the plan, and they have displayed that unhappiness by opting out, or deciding not to have their children take the tests. Rapidly, the protest is spreading across the country and just beginning to roil parents in Pennsylvania

Where to get information for opting out of standardized tests in Pa.
Opt Out is a national movement in which participating parents, students and teachers rally against a federal education policy they say has distorted public education and corrupted the examination process.
Penn Live By Candy Woodall |  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on February 26, 2015 at 11:45 AM, updated February 26, 2015 at 11:47 AM
To learn more about the Opt Out movement and the fight for education equality, visit the following websites:

As Common Core Testing Is Ushered In, Parents and Students Opt Out
New York Times By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS MARCH 1, 2015
BLOOMFIELD, N.J. — On Monday morning, a few hundred students will file into classrooms at Bloomfield Middle School, open laptops and begin a new standardized test, one mandated across New Jersey and several other states for the first time this year.  About a dozen of their classmates, however, will be elsewhere. They will sit in a nearby art room, where they will read books, do a little drawing and maybe paint.  What they will not do is take the test, because they and their parents have flatly refused.  A new wave of standardized exams, designed to assess whether students are learning in step with the Common Core standards, is sweeping the country, arriving in classrooms and entering the cross hairs of various political movements. In New Jersey and elsewhere, the arrival has been marked with well-organized opposition, a spate of television attack ads and a cascade of parental anxiety.

Separating fact from fiction in 21 claims about charter schools
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss February 28  
On Aug. 13, 2012, math teacher Robert Biemesderfer asks students questions during the opening of a BASIS charter school in Washington D.C., a charter network that has been called one of the most challenging high schools in the country. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/For The Washington Post)
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools  released a report last year titled “Separating Fact & Fiction: What You Need to Know About Charter Schools,” which takes 21 statements that it calls “myths” about charters and attempts to debunk them, one by one. Now three education researchers have completed a fact-checking analysis of the charter report, coming to some difference conclusions about each myth.  Following is part of the new analysis, which was published by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, and which you can find in full, complete with extensive footnotes on the NEPC website. (I have removed the footnotes and endnotes from the text in this post but you can see them,as well other parts of the report, here.)  This analysis was written by Gary Miron, William J. Mathis and Kevin G. Welner. Miron is a professor of evaluation, measurement, and research at Western Michigan University. Mathis is the managing director of the NEPC and a former Vermont superintendent. Welner is the director of the NEPC as well as an attorney and a UC Boulder professor of education policy.  Here are the first two parts of the seven-part fact-checking analysis of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools report:

Bucks County Forum on how to run for school board March 2, 7 pm at Northampton library
Courier Times By Chris English Staff Writer Posted: Tuesday, February 24, 2015 1:00 am | Updated: 7:17 am, Tue Feb 24, 2015.
How to run for school board and what to do if you get elected are two issues that will be explored during a forum at 7 p.m. March 2 at the Free Library of Northampton Township. The event is free and open to the public.  "Anyone in Bucks County who is interested in school board elections is encouraged to attend," said event organizer and Newtown Township resident Amy McIntyre.
A panel of present and former school board members from throughout the county will lead a discussion and answer questions about the process and requirements of running for school board, the time commitment, responsibilities of board members and the resources available to teach new board members about the job.  Centennial school board member and Pennsylvania School Board Association Vice President Mark Miller will moderate.

PSBA Members Only: Annual Pennsylvania Education Budget Briefing
MAR 4, 2015 • 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
Join us for a special complimentary members-only Annual Pennsylvania Education Budget Briefing webinar, Wednesday, March 4 at noon.  The webinar features Acting Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and PSBA Senior Director of Government Affairs, John Callahan, who will discuss Gov. Wolf’s 2015-16 proposed budget. You will have the option to attend live at PSBA’s Headquarters in Mechanicsburg or join us online through your computer. Both options will allow you to ask questions during the webinar.

Lawsuit asks the Court to ensure that all students -- including those living in low-wealth districts -- have the basic resources they need to meet state academic standards.
Meet Us in Court on March 11th
Education Law Center
On Wednesday, March 11th at 9:30 a.m., the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania will hear oral arguments in our school funding lawsuit which challenges the legislature's failure to adequately support and maintain Pennsylvania's public school system. This historic case, which the Education Law Center filed with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and pro bono counsel O'Melveny & Meyers, asks the Court to ensure that all students -- including those living in low-wealth districts -- have the basic resources they need to meet state academic standards. We ask the court to hear this case and enforce the rights of our children to a "thorough and efficient" system of public education as guaranteed to them by our state constitution.
Please come and support us as we fight for vulnerable students and all public school students across the state. The hearing will be held at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center, 601 Commonwealth Avenue, Courtroom 5001 in Harrisburg, PA.  If you plan to attend or have questions, contact Spencer Malloy at (The courtroom is walking distance from the Harrisburg Amtrak Station.) 

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 Lancaster County Tuesday, March 17, at 7:00 pm at Millersville University

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.

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.
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

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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