Monday, March 23, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup March 23: Budget sparring, pension reform, charter reform, "test-in", background checks

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for March 23, 2015:
Budget sparring, pension reform, charter reform, "test-in", background checks

Education Voters of PA will hold a forum about public school funding in York: Wed., March 25th, 6:30pm to 8pm at York Learning Center

GOP lawmakers chafe at Wolf's plan to award school tax cuts by MARC LEVY, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS POSTED: March 21, 2015, 9:47 AM
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Raising taxes will be a battle among Pennsylvania state lawmakers as they face Gov. Tom Wolf's call to correct a persistent budget deficit and a school funding system riven by huge spending disparities between rich and poor districts. And, should lawmakers agree to raise taxes, deciding how the money is spent will be quite another battle.  Wolf's administration pledges that every homeowner across Pennsylvania will get a property tax cut under the Democrat's plan to make school funding fairer. But Republicans who control the Legislature are deciding that Wolf's plan is less than fair to many of their districts.

Tom Wolf's Rendellian moves
Trib Live By Brad Bumsted Saturday, March 21, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
HARRISBURG: During the 2014 campaign, Republicans insisted if Democrat Tom Wolf won the governor's race, Pennsylvanians would be looking at Rendell II — meaning a repeat of eight years under Gov. Ed Rendell.  Policy similarities? Sure. Wolf wanted, as Rendell did, to dump as much money as possible into secondary education. Many of Wolf's tax-hike proposals sound familiar.  But Wolf promised to be a different kind of governor. He stressed bipartisanship and working together.  He is working with one of the largest Republican majorities in the General Assembly in recent history. It's not so much his progressive agenda, which you'd expect, but the way Wolf is dealing with the Legislature.  He's playing hardball.
Pa. lawmakers try to pinpoint Wolf budget's winners, losers
WHYY Newsworks BY MARY WILSON MARCH 22, 2015
For weeks, Pennsylvania lawmakers have been asking for more details about how Gov. Tom Wolf's tax proposals will affect their constituents. This week they got an answer from the state House GOP.  The caucus has unveiled, a site estimating how each school district will be affected by higher state sales and income taxes and accompanying property tax relief proposed by Wolf.  The website is a response to, the Wolf administration's effort to break down the per-district effect of the Wolf budget.  The governor's page emphasizes what each school district could expect in education funding and property tax relief.  The House GOP's site emphasizes each school district's estimated tax burden under Wolf's plan. It organizes districts into the very categories lawmakers have requested for several weeks -- winners and losers.

This week's sparring over school funding a test of leadership for Wolf, Senate GOP: John L. Micek
Penn Live By John L. Micek | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on March 18, 2015 at 12:15 PM, updated March 18, 2015 at 12:28 PM
A note to Pennsylvania political junkies - this is what actual divided government looks like.
In case you missed it, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and majority Senate Republicans have spent much of the past week sparring over education funding.  But here's the rub, the handbags-at-20-paces hostilities aren't over whether Pennsylvania's 500 districts will get a bump in funding in the fiscal year that starts July 1.  Rather, it's over how much they'll receive and how they might spend whatever manna falls from Harrisburg's skies.

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup March 21: Duncan visits Philly to press for Gov. Wolf's education plan

Here's why any public pension fix has to include a 401(k) plan, Charlie Gerow
PennLive Op-Ed  By Charlie Gerow on March 22, 2015 at 11:30 AM
When he was running for governor, Tom Wolf consistently denied there is a pension crisis. 
As the rhetoric of the campaign has given way to the realities of governing, he's slowly beginning  to acknowledge that we do, in fact, have a huge problem--one that has every Pennsylvania taxpayer on the hook.  Like most states, Pennsylvania provides lifetime pensions to public employees.  Those pensions are funded by the public sector workers themselves, who have a portion of their pay withheld each pay period, by taxpayers who pay the "employers" share, and by fund gains in the invested monies from public employees and taxpayers.  Unfortunately for taxpayers, through years of hefty benefit increases, fund losses and negligent underfunding, the state's two large pension funds--covering teachers and  other state workers--are more than $50 billion short.  

Preserving existing pensions has to be part of reform: Tony May
PennLive Op-Ed   By Tony May on March 22, 2015 at 10:30 AM, updated March 22, 2015 at 10:31 AM
Switch Pennsylvania teachers and public employees from traditional "defined benefit" pension plans to 401(k)-style "defined contribution" plans, say conservatives, "because no one in the private sector has old fashioned pensions anymore."   This, they add, will solve Pennsylvania's pension problems once a for all - at least for government, because they will have unloaded their potential liability for pension solvency.  This is the ugly little secret hidden inside the debate over the "pension problem"  -- or, if you'd rather, the "pension crisis" or "pension conundrum."  Liberals and conservatives seem to be able to agree that the root causes of pension underfunding include the tanking of the U.S. stock market almost a decade ago, the habitual underfunding of the state's share of pension costs under four governors and the ongoing costs of the "pension grab" of 1999.   That was the year that rank and file legislators were persuaded to believe that the teacher and state employee pension systems were such money machines that they could pay out pensions equal to 100 percent of annual salary for legislators with 30 years state service and to teachers and average state workers for 40 years of service.  Best estimates are that the two state pension systems are about $50 billion shy in funding the total eventual cost of meeting pension obligations.

Pension reform hearing coming this week
The PLS Reporter March 23, 2015
The House State Government Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on pension reform issues on Tuesday, beginning at 9:00 a.m. in Room 205 of the Ryan Office Building.   Rep. Warren Kampf's (R-Chester) defined contribution pension reform plan was referred to the committee earlier this month.  For more on that bill CLICK HERE.

"Killion’s “Town Hall on Pension Reform” will be held at Penn State Brandywine campus on at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in room 101 of the main building. The campus is located at 25 Yearsley Mill Road, Middletown.  Space is limited to the first 120 people. Reserve a spot by calling 610-325-1541 or visit"
Killion to host meeting on pension reform conundrum
By Kristina Scala, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 03/23/15, 12:07 AM EDT
Media>> As legislators face the looming pension debt issue, GOP leaders are breaking out previously proposed pension reform plans that failed to hold any weight under former Gov. Tom Corbett.  Lawmakers can’t dodge the gaping hole in the state’s public employee pension system. State Rep. Tom Killion, R-168, of Middletown, will present a potential solution at a town hall meeting Thursday. He called it a “starting point” for pension reform.
“The intent is to try to find a way to save the system and protect the folks who are currently in it,” Killion said, adding that discussion needs to begin with a bill on the table. “There are so many ideas floating around the Capitol. There’s a mishmash of a lot of different ideas, but you need a bill to start.”  Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf started at his end of the bargaining table by laying out a pension reform plan that requires a $3 billion bond issue, cuts management fees by $200 million per year for the state’s pension systems, and uses revenue from the state liquor stores to help end the $50 billion debt in unfunded liability.  The GOP-controlled legislation favors the 401(k) approach brought up under Corbett.

Wolf, legislators push for charter school reform
By Erica Erwin  814-870-1846 Erie Times-News March 22, 2015 12:08 AM
Legislators on both sides of the aisle are working on common cause: charter school reform.
Bills working their way through both the House and the Senate would change the way charters operate and are funded, including one by state Sen. Sean Wiley aimed at decreasing the cost of charters and increasing their academic performance.
And Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a budget that includes his own set of charter reforms, including the establishment of a uniform tuition rate and the elimination of fund balances.
Voices demanding charter reform aren't new, but they are reaching new levels in Harrisburg.  "We've been essentially trying an experiment with the advent of charter schools, and in Pennsylvania it has been over a 15-year experiment," said Erie schools Superintendent Jay Badams, who has been a vocal opponent of current charter school law. "As with any experiment, you should check your results and adjust accordingly.

Bill would allow charters first refusal on school buildings
By Erica Erwin 814-870-1846 Erie Times-News Published: March 22. 2015 12:01AM
Charter schools might soon get first crack at buying school districts' unused buildings.
New legislation proposed by state Rep. Mike Reese would grant charter schools a right of first refusal on the purchase or lease of unused school district buildings -- a move that could affect Millcreek Township School District's planned sale of Ridgefield Elementary School should current plans fall through.  Montessori Regional Charter School has been persistent in its ongoing efforts to buy Ridgefield, despite the district's repeated refusal to enter into an agreement with a school it considers to be a competitor.  Millcreek schools Superintendent William Hall has said such a sale would be a bad business decision, and the Millcreek School Board passed a resolution stating it would not sell the building to Montessori.

"Greg Taranto, principal of Canonsburg Middle School — where more than 80 percent of students were proficient on each of the most recent state tests — said, “I strongly believe in educating the whole child.”  He said his school is unwilling to give up art, music, physical education and wellness classes to concentrate on the tests. He thinks there is an overreliance on the results of the tests and is concerned about data tracking of students.  He also is concerned about the amount of time and money spent on standardized tests. This fiscal year, the state is spending more than $58 million on assessments, not counting the costs in individual school districts."
‘Test-in’ for parents, teachers finds they’re testy about tests
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette March 22, 2015 12:00 AM
The sticky notes told the story of what some parents and teachers think of standardized tests:  Students and teachers are too stressed. Children aren’t seen as a whole. Test preparation takes the place of classes, activities and field trips. Labels based on test performance damage students’ sense of self-worth and limit their opportunities. Money is spent on testing that could go to other needs.  The sticky notes came from about three dozen parents and teachers who attended a “test-in” on high-stakes K-12 testing hosted by Yinzercation and co-sponsored by Great Public Schools Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Mellon University Center for the Arts and Society. 

"Board members and other district officials are concerned that the requirement could result in the loss of volunteers in areas ranging from band parents to sports booster to many other extracurricular activities."
Mechanicsburg Area School Board considers child abuse protection policy for volunteers
Penn Live By Roger Quigley | Special to PennLive Email the author on March 03, 2015 at 9:00 AM, updated March 03, 2015 at 9:04 AM
MECHANICSBURG -- A wide range of new state laws designed to prevent child abuse in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky case is forcing school boards like Mechanicsburg to make painful decisions on how to pay the costs of background checks to comply with those laws.
The new laws include significant changes to the background check requirements for new and current employees, contractors with direct contact with children and volunteers, including band and sports booster organizations.  Under the law, employees having contact with children must obtain the following three clearances:
_ Report of criminal history from the Pennsylvania State Police.
_ Child abuse history clearance from the Department of Human Services.
_ FBI background check.
And they must be renewed every three years.  Combined those clearances can cost about $50.
The Mechanicsburg Area School Board has decided that paid employees will have to incur those costs.  The issue is what to do about volunteers.

Frequent background checks are worth the cost to protect children: PennLive letters
By Letters to the Editor on March 21, 2015 at 10:57 AM by ANGELA LIDDLE, President and CEO, Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, Susquehanna Twp.  
I read with interest the March 10PennLive story on Mechanicsburg Area School Board's struggle with how to pay for background clearances now required of new and current employees, contractors and volunteers who have direct contact with children.  The charges for all three of the mandated clearances can run as much as $47.50 per individual, every three years. These new requirements clearly have bottom-line consequences for districts, staff and volunteers engaged in children's extracurricular sports, activities and programs.  It is important to remember, however, that the number-one priority, and the reason for these changes, is the health, safety and well-being of our children.

Commonwealth Court grants injunction to Pennsylvania teachers union
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette March 19, 2015 12:00 AM
The home addresses of public school employees are private, at least until a state Supreme Court decision.  Commonwealth Court this week issued an order in the case which began in 2009 when the Pennsylvania State Education Association filed a court petition after the state Right to Know Law was passed. The PSEA has been seeking a declaration that the addresses of school employees are exempt from disclosure under the state Constitution and state law.   The most recent order provides an injunction preventing the release of addresses until the state Supreme Court decides whether to issue its own injunction. So it remains to be seen whether the injunction will last until the top court resolves the case itself.

Virtual Choices: Opportunities and Challenges for Online Schools
For students looking for greater flexibility in their learning environment, virtual schools can be a better option than a traditional bricks-and-mortar K-12 campus. But some online programs operating in more than two dozen states have come under scrutiny for reaping profits while yielding poor academic academic outcomes.  Three education experts talked about the accountability challenges facing the virtual charter school sector during a panel at the Education Writers Associations’ Charters & Choice Seminar in Denver in February. They also discussed trends in online education more broadly, including state-run programs such as the Florida Virtual School and a growing number of district-sponsored online offerings.

9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York's Public Schools—Here's Their Story
The Nation by George Joseph on March 19, 2015 - 5:07AM ET
Hedge-fund manager Whitney Tilson stands at a Harvard club podium in midtown Manhattan, facing a room full of investors eating eggs and bacon, and eager to learn more about charter schools. The walls of the wood-paneled room are lined with the portraits of Tilson's Harvard forefathers. Above the podium where Tilson stands hangs an ornamental gold ship, swaying. In the corner of the room is a large screen, on which the logos of the day's sponsors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, float like guardian angels. Two large stone fireplaces dominate the west end of the room. Their exaggerated mantelpieces are each decorated with two empty crests and a laurel—symbols of power drained of any purpose.
Tilson begins an enormous PowerPoint presentation, speaking of the inequities black and Latino children face in the public school system. "Your entire prison population is in these red bars," he explains, showing red bars indicating the high percentage of poor black and Latino children who could not read at a fourth-grade level. No such children, nor their parents, seemed to have been invited to this presentation.  Despite the role poverty plays in determining whose kids gets stuck in those red bars, Tilson declares to the room of Ivy League investors, "This is not rocket science. Notice on my list there's no #5, no Spend More Money. You get new facilities and smaller classrooms but nothing changes. Nobody believes anymore that if you give us more money we'll solve all the problems."

Join NPE in Chicago APril 25-26
Curmuducation Blog Saturday, March 21, 2015
I don't get out much. I'm a high school English teacher in a small town, and kind of homebody by nature. When I leave town, it's for family or work. But in just over a month, on the weekend of April 25-26, I am taking a trip to Chicago for neither.   The Network for Public Education is the closest thing to an actual formal organization of the many and varied people standing up for public education in this modern era of privatizing test-driven corporate education reform. NPE held a conference last year, and they're doing it again this year-- a gathering of many of the strongest voices for public education in America today. Last year I followed along on line-- this year I will be there.

Register Now for EPLC Forum on the State Education Budget –  Philadelphia on April 1
Education Policy and Leadership Center Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum
You are invited to attend one of EPLC’s Regional Education Policy Forums on Governor Wolf’s Proposed Education Budget for 2015-2016    Space is limited. There is no cost, but an RSVP is required.  The program will include a state budget overview presented by Ron Cowell of EPLC and a representative of the PA Budget and Policy Center. The presentations are followed by comments from panelists representing statewide and regional education and advocacy organizations. Comments from those in the audience and a question and answer session will conclude the forum.  Wednesday, April 1, 2015– EPLC Education Policy Forum on the Governor’s State Budget Proposal for Education – 10 a.m.-12 Noon – Penn Center for Educational Leadership, University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, PARSVP by clicking here.

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 -

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.

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.

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