Wednesday, March 25, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup March 25: State needs a comprehensive solution to public pension crisis

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for March 25, 2015:
State needs a comprehensive solution to public pension crisis

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

Who will be at the PSBA Advocacy Forum April 19-20 in Mechanicsburg and Harrisburg?
  • Acting Ed Sec'y Pedro Rivera
  • Senate Ed Committee Majority Chairman Lloyd Smucker
  • House Ed Committee Majority Chairman Stan Saylor
  • Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Browne
  • Diane Ravitch
  • House Majority Leader Dave Reed
  • House Minority Leader Frank Dermody
  • 2014 PSBA Tim Allwein Advocacy Award winners Shauna D'Alessandro and Mark Miller
How about You?
Details and Registration for PSBA members (only $25.00)

"I have proposed Senate Bill 564 to authorize this process by creating a Public Pensions Review Commission. The commission, armed with the resources to hire expert guidance, would have six months to sit down in open forums and fully consider the problems and solutions to our public pensions. Representatives would be named by each branch of state government, state-system schools, state-related schools, the separate state organizations of county governments,municipal governments and school districts, major public employee unions and private pension experts. Taxpayers would be represented as well."
Another View: State needs a comprehensive solution to public pension crisis
By Judy Schwank, Delco Times Guest Columnist POSTED: 03/24/15, 10:33 PM EDT |
State Sen. Judy Schwank of Reading is a Democrat who represents the 11th Senatorial District.
Between the Public School Employees Retirement System the State Employees Retirement System and the hundreds of smaller plans maintained by municipal governments for their workers, public pension plans in Pennsylvania are underfunded by more than $70 billion.
The underfunding and precarious status of the state pension system is one of the most pressing problems facing us in Pennsylvania. It impacts every citizen in the commonwealth – not just state or municipal workers. As long as we are saddled with the crushing debt load from this unfunded liability, each of us is paying more and getting less in terms of government services and public education.  Restoring Pennsylvania’s pension systems to solvency is a clear and unquestioned necessity.  Why are we not addressing this? To date we have not had a full discussion on the pension problem, how we got to this point and how we are going to resolve it. None of the proposed legislative pension fixes have been able to muster enough votes to get to a governor’s desk.  Most of the bills introduced have purported to resolve the pension funding problem going forward by switching new employees and school personnel to new pension plans. They would do nothing to resolve the $50 billion unfunded liability. Furthermore, all of these legislative initiatives only addressed state and school employees.

Fixing pensions: varied opinions with common threads
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, March 24, 2015
A House hearing Tuesday brought together experts from academia, actuarial firms, public sector employee unions, and pension management firms to discuss what needs to be done to fix the Commonwealth’s looming—if not present—pension problem.  While all the different testifiers brought their unique perspectives to the issue—especially as to whether a change in pension benefit plan design is needed—one common thread was found among all who spoke on the issue: the Commonwealth’s unfunded pension liability will not disappear without more money being thrown at the problem.  “A plan design change is not enough to deal with the unfunded liability,” said House State Government Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), whose committee convened Tuesday’s hearing.  “We have to bite the bullet and deal with the current underfunding. There’s no easy answer,” he told The PLS Reporter.
“We have to find the funds to deal with the unfunded liability and that either comes from cuts in spending, reductions in spending, reappropriations to other areas that deal with the pension systems, or tax rates would need to be adjusted for that.”

"Most of prefer to see public education not as a "monopoly," a term dripping with malevolent connotation, but as the most important stepladder to kids to escape poverty and rise to great heights -- as it was once for many of the successful business people funding "school choice," including folks like Greenberg and Yass who attended the public schools in Queens, N.Y."
Attytood: It's the libertarianism, stupid
Daily News Attytood Blog by Will Bunch POSTED: TUESDAY, MARCH 24, 2015, 6:43 PM
My long-awaited (not really) newspaper opus -- on the three multi-millionaires (probably billionaires...after a certain point, who can count?) from Montgomery Country who plan to invest some of their fortune in an independent effort to boost state Sen. Anthony Williams in the mayoral race -- dropped today.  In a matter of days, you'll be seeing a blitz of pro-Williams TV ads funded by these principals of Bala Cynwyd's Susquehanna International Group, whose political interests are tied to one issue, and one issue alone: "School choice," led by the rise of charters as an alternative to traditional neighborhood schools.

"Today, as multimillionaire founders of the Susquehanna International Group in their adopted home of Montgomery County, Greenberg, Yass and Dantchik are hoping to parlay one large losing political bet - more than $6 million plunked down on the failed 2010 gubernatorial bid of state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams - into a big win. And the stakes couldn't be higher: the mayor's office in America's fifth-largest city for the next four years."
Students First PAC: Upping the ante for City Hall
IT STARTED exactly 40 years ago in cramped dorm rooms at the State University of New York-Binghamton, a half-dozen guys staying up late to play poker on a drab, rain-soaked campus that didn't even have fraternities.  But what started as a poker game morphed into a wider obsession for the card-dealing buddies that included the future Philadelphia suburbanites Joel Greenberg, Jeff Yass and Arthur Dantchik. Its wide, colorful playing field grew to include timeworn horse tracks, the gaming tables of Las Vegas, jai-alai frontons in Florida and finally, improbably, the floor of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange.  They lost many more nights than they won - 110 times out of 140, according to a 1980s lawsuit, as later reported by Philadelphia magazine - but their system meant that when they did win, they won big, even in the high-stakes world of trading options in the financial markets.

Democratic Phila. mayoral hopefuls battle over education
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 9:51 PM
Five Democratic mayoral hopefuls agree on one thing: City schools badly need fixing.  On Tuesday night, they offered up ideas - and occasional sharp words - at a forum focused on education issues, the dominant issue in the campaign.  State Sen. Anthony H. Williams, viewed as the strongest supporter of charter schools, said he was "exhausted" by the debate of charter vs. traditional public schools.  "We need to stop beating up on one type," said Williams, who has the backing and the financing of three wealthy charter-school proponents, the founders of the trading firm Susquehanna International Group. "We need to fix them all and fund them all."

"CFEF’s proposed formula would begin by setting the baseline per pupil cost at $7,266. Districts would receive more money according to their numbers of English language learners, homeless and foster care children, and percentages of students living in poverty and deep poverty. Rural districts and those with a high tax effort would also receive additional money."
Campaign for education funding proposes formula for state aid
the notebook By Allison Welton  on Mar 24, 2015 02:36 PM
The Campaign for Fair Education Funding (CFEF), a statewide coalition of 46 organizations seeking predictability and fairness in how Pennsylvania allocates revenue to school districts, has proposed its own version of a formula for basic education funding.  Basic education, at $5.7 billion this year, is the largest chunk of the state’s K-12 funding. Unlike most states, the commonwealth has no formula for distributing it based on actual enrollment and student need. Instead, districts receive money according to the previous year’s allocations and grants that legislators sometimes arrange for individual districts.  This system has proved a headache for school administrators. It has also resulted in what U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the most inequitable education system in the country.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, wealthy districts in Pennsylvania spend on average 33 percent more per student than poorer ones – $12,529 compared to $9,387.

Pa. Gov. Wolf says school ratings should be less tied to tests
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf intends to steer the state away from school accountability measures that he says place too great an emphasis on standardized test scores.   Details of the new plan have not yet been released. Wolf says the state's existing accountability tool — the School Performance Profile — doesn't provide parents with a comprehensive view of school performance.  "Education is a full and holistic process. We've reduced it to a bunch of high-stakes tests that don't seem to me to be tied to the specific, comprehensive skills that we want students to have," said Wolf at a recent interview in the governor's Philadelphia office.  The School Performance Profile system was unveiled by former Gov. Tom Corbett's administration in October 2013, replacing the Adequate Yearly Progress measuring stick created by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

West Chester Area School District school board backs Pa. bill to eliminate the Keystone Exams by Justine McDaniel LAST UPDATED: Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 1:08 AM
WEST CHESTER The West Chester Area School District school board showed its support Monday for a state bill that would eliminate the Keystone Exams.  The board unanimously approved a resolution supporting House Bill 168, said a district statement.

Court hears oral arguments in Pa. school funding lawsuit
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa  on Mar 24, 2015 02:53 PM
Pennsylvania’s school funding system is so unfair and inadequate that Commonwealth Court must intervene, advocacy groups told a panel of judges in March.  Six school districts, several parents, a coalition representing rural schools, and the state NAACP are suing the governor and the legislature, charging that too many students are being denied their constitutional right to a “thorough and efficient” education.  The plaintiffs contend that by setting statewide academic standards and requiring that students pass Keystone exams in several subjects to graduate, the state has established the benchmarks for a “thorough and efficient” education.  Previous court rulings had determined that the legislature was responsible for deciding appropriate levels of funding.

Area school officials must report funding use
The Bradford Era By COLIN DEPPEN and ALEX DAVIS Era Reporters Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 10:00 am
Area school districts are being forced to report to the state how a bump in funding would be earmarked next academic year — even though increased dollars may not materialize as expected.  By May 15, school leaders are required to submit spending plans for a portion of suggested basic education funding increases under Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2015-16 budget proposal. His plan calls for a $400 million increase for basic education funding — the biggest in Pennsylvania history — and a $100 million boost in special education funding.  But one local superintendent is hoping the Wolf administration delays the reporting requirement until a budget is passed. Another indicated the move is adding paperwork to already swamped districts, and a third school official said districts are stuck in the middle of political wrangling.   And, state Republican leaders are saying the administration’s efforts are an executive overreach — all following a letter that had been sent to school superintendents across the state earlier this month requiring officials to report financial plans.

Less-costly Chromebooks offer entry point to technology
The devices use web-based storage and apps. In some District schools, they are turning outdated classrooms into modern hubs of learning.
the notebook By Shannon Nolan and Camden Copeland  on Mar 24, 2015 12:53 PM
Are they glorified workbooks, just a substitute for paper and pencils? Or are Chromebooks shaping the way a new generation learns?  In a district catching up to 21st-century learning on a tight budget, these lightweight netbooks could be a catalyst for bridging the educational-technology gap.  They run through Chrome OS and store information on the web, known as the “cloud” – as opposed to school servers.  In some Philadelphia schools, Chromebooks are changing outdated classrooms into modern hubs of learning through user-friendly applications and tools that promote collaboration between teachers and students, educators say.  “Putting a device in everyone’s hands has changed the way we look at education,” said Chris Lehmann, principal at Science Leadership Academy in Center City.  Such devices are “important, but not enough,” he said, reaching their potential only if teachers and students think differently about how learning takes place.

Teachers aren't the problem - politicians need a tenure review: Jill Sunday Bartoli
PennLive Op-Ed  By Jill Sunday Bartoli on March 24, 2015 at 1:00 PM, updated March 24, 2015 at 1:01 PM
In the midst of the worst attacks on our teachers that I have ever witnessed, I have two special requests.  First, tell all of the teachers you know just how much you respect and appreciate all that they have done for you, your children and your grandchildren.   And let them know that you believe more in their ability to teach and to evaluate student learning than in the bogus, high stakes, standardized tests that are costing us $16 billion each year.  By comparison, the NFL took in $9 billion last year; the box office movies-- $11 billion.

"School districts are looking down the barrel of million-plus-dollar deficits. The two deficits for which I have now been a power point audience can both be entirely explained by the formula:
Charter Payments + Pension Payments + Other Tiny Obscure Cuts = District Deficit
In other words, a district that had a fiscally responsible year last year, that didn't do anything crazy or odd or unusual and just left everything alone when planning for this year-- that district is still facing huge deficits in their current budgeting cycle, unrelated to any choices that they made in managing their own local district."
How Reformers Win in PA
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Monday, March 23, 2015
Over the past few months I have attended two public hearings in two separate school districts about the closing of two separate rural elementary schools, and they show pretty clearly the giant disconnect that allows the assault on public education to continue unchecked.  The closing of schools is rampant in my part of PA, and we aren't alone. We're a region of not-very-wealthy rural districts, but not-very-wealthy urban districts like Philly and York have also cut schools like a machete in a bamboo forest.  It is not a matter of declining student population, and it is not a matter of districts falling on tough times. It's a widespread financial crisis, and it's manufactured.
How to manufacture a statewide financial crisis.
Cut state funding. This puts the making-up-the-difference pressure on local taxpayers.
Take a ton of money away from public schools and give it to charters.
Create a huge pension funding crisis. This is its own kind of challenge, but the quick explanation is this-- pre-2008, invest in really awesome stuff, and when that all tanks and districts suddenly have huge payments to make up, tell the districts they can just wait till later and hope for magic financial fairies to fix it. It is now later, there are no fairies, and a small district with an $18 million budget is looking at pension payments that go up $500K every year.
Oh, and pass a law that says districts can't raise taxes more than a smidge in any given year. 

Testing Resistance & Reform News: March 21 - 24, 2015
Fairtest Submitted by fairtest on March 24, 2015 - 3:13pm 
The testing resistance continues to expand rapidly across the U.S. with assessment reform news updates from two dozen states in just the past four days. 

Hillary Clinton Caught Between Dueling Forces on Education: Teachers and Wealthy Donors
New York Times By MAGGIE HABERMAN MARCH 24, 2015
The last time she ran for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton did not have to take a position on the Common Core, Race to the Top or teacher evaluations in tenure decisions.
She won the endorsement of one of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions in 2007 after deploring the use of standardized tests and the underfunding of the No Child Left Behind law by President George W. Bush’s administration.  Now, as she prepares for a likely second run at the White House, Mrs. Clinton is re-entering the fray like a Rip Van Winkle for whom the terrain on education standards has shifted markedly, with deep new fissures in the Democratic Party.
Already, she is being pulled in opposite directions on education. The pressure is from not only the teachers who supported her once and are widely expected to back her again, but also from a group of wealthy and influential Democratic financiers who staunchly support many of the same policies — charter schools and changes to teacher tenure and testing — that the teachers’ unions have resisted throughout President Obama’s two terms in office.

INVITATION: Join next Twitter chat on PA education March 31, 8:00 pm
PSBA's website March 23, 2015
The next monthly Twitter chat with Pennsylvania’s major education leadership organizations is set for Tuesday, March 31 at 8 p.m. Use hashtag #FairFundingPA to participate and follow the conversation.

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 Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, PA –RSVP 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 -

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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