Sunday, March 29, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup March 29: PA HB752 would divert additional $100 million in tax dollars to unaccountable private and religious schools

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for March 29, 2015:
PA HB752 would divert additional $100 million in tax dollars to unaccountable private and religious schools

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:

"Basic education funding is the top issue for policymakers in Harrisburg and it is an issue that affects every single Pennsylvanian," said Susan Spicka of Education Voters of Pa. and Education Matters in the Cumberland Valley, a co-sponsor of the forum. "The bottom line is that we have an obligation as a commonwealth to make sure that every student has access to a quality education no matter where they live."
State education funding focus of Wednesday community forum in Camp Hill
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on March 27, 2015 at 10:35 AM
Statewide education funding will be the topic of a community forum set for Wednesday in Camp Hill.  The forum begins at 7 p.m. at the Grace Milliman Pollock Performing Arts Center at 340 N. 21st St.  Panelists will address the need for a student-driven, sustainable and predictable system for funding public schools that the state has lacked for more than two decades. Pennsylvania is one of only three states in the nation that lacks a formula, which some attribute to the reason school property taxes have risen.  In a Franklin & Marshall College poll released this week, voters put increased school funding and reforming the state's tax system to lower property taxes as the top two priorities facing Pennsylvania.

Spring-Ford Area School Board lobbies Harrisburg for fair funding formula
Pottstown Mercury By Eric Devlin @Eric_Devlin on Twitter UPDATED:   03/25/2015 07:52:01 AM EDT
ROYERSFORD >> Local school officials are urging lawmakers in Harrisburg to find a way to fund public education more fairly.  In a 7-1 decision Monday, the Spring-Ford Area School Board approved a resolution urging the Pennsylvania Legislature to establish a new funding formula for basic education.  Board President Mark Dehnert dissented, while board member Joe Ciresi was absent.  The goal of the formula, board member Tom DiBello said, is to have state money be equally distributed to every school district.  "The fair and equitable funding (movement) is to move the legislature in a direction to actually put something in place," board member Tom DiBello said, "so that there is more of a fair and equitable funding formula across the state."

Uncertainty over Pa. state budget trickles down to school districts
Trib Live By Rick Wills Saturday, March 28, 2015, 6:02 p.m.
There's nothing unusual about planning, or even approving, school budgets before the state passes its budget. Many years, there's been no choice.  This year could be trickier, school officials said, because of the uncertainty surrounding Gov. Tom Wolf's plans to pay for increases in education spending.  Acting Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, a Wolf nominee, sent a letter March 17 to school districts across Pennsylvania asking superintendents to submit plans to the state by May 15 explaining how they would spend state money. Wolf wants to increase basic education funding by $400 million and funding to special-education programs by $100 million.
"Corman used the occasion to draw a line in the sand, focusing on another P-word that is plaguing the state.  Not potholes. Corman wanted to talk about pensions. Specifically, he stressed that the state’s public employee pension crisis was now at the top of the list of Republican concerns.  Corman could not have been more blunt. Without pension reform, there would be no budget, he stated matter-of-factly."
Editorial: Huge pothole on road to Pa. budget
Delco Times Editorial POSTED: 03/29/15, 2:04 AM EDT | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
The road to a new spending plan for Pennsylvania just hit a massive pothole.
Probably not a surprise given the pock-marked, crater-strewn lunar surfaces that pass for roads in the commonwealth these days.  But this impediment to the first fiscal blueprint in the Wolf administration stems not from the condition of the road, but who’s driving the car.

Senate GOP pulls from Corbett pension plan for ideas
WHYY Newsworks BY MARY WILSON MARCH 28, 2015
Pennsylvania Senate Republicans, seeking a way to cut public pension costs immediately, think they might scale back retirement benefits to pre-2001 levels. But, like most old ideas, this one comes with baggage.  GOP Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) explained his vision on Monday: to cut pension costs in the short-term, revert to past retirement benefits for state workers, before the Legislature passed lavish increases in pensions (and simultaneously let the state take a holiday on paying for them).  This wouldn't be a claw-back, Corman said: The change would only count for state and school employees going forward. The new calculation for pension benefits would be applied to future, not-yet-earned retirement pay.

"A bill in the House would increase the combined budget for the programs from $150 million in tax credits annually to $250 million annually."
HB752: School choice tax credit expansion bill touted
Trib Live By Bobby Kerlik Thursday, March 26, 2015, 11:29 p.m.
State leaders from both political parties threw their support behind a bill Thursday that would expand tax credit programs providing public dollars for those who qualify to attend schools, including private ones, outside of their regular public school.  Legislators, including House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, and Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, attended a luncheon at LeMont restaurant hosted by Pittsburgh Catholic Bishop David Zubik to thank lawmakers who are supportive of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program.
"We need to make a choice: do we fully fund our public schools that serve all students?  Or do we continue to support private school options for a few, at the cost of underfunded public schools?"
Vouchers and Tax Credit Scholarships in the US
Southern Education Foundation Video runtime 2:58
2015 - The future of public education in the United States is at a critical crossroads.  Watch this video to learn how the growing trend of sending public money to private schools through vouchers and tax credit scholarships threatens public education.  We need to make a choice: do we fully fund our public schools that serve all students?  Or do we continue to support private school options for a few, at the cost of underfunded public schools?

HB752: Increased Tax Credit for EITC & OSTC Programs; Read the Bill

Subject:        Increased Tax Credit for EITC & OSTC Programs
COSPONSORSHIP MEMORANDUM Posted:     March 3, 2015 05:25 PM
From:   Representative Jim Christiana and Rep. Mike Turzai, Rep. Stan Saylor, Rep. Thomas Quigley
To:        All House members
In the near future, I plan to introduce legislation that will increase the amount of available tax credits for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program from $100 million to $170 million, and the amount of available tax credits for the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) program from $50 million to $80 million.
The EITC program provides tax credits to businesses which make contributions to scholarship organizations (SOs) offering scholarships to children in Kindergarten through grade 12, educational improvement organizations (EIOs) providing funding for innovative educational programs in public schools, and pre-kindergarten scholarship organizations (PKSOs) offering scholarships to children enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs.  The amount of available tax credits for the EITC program is currently set at $100 million, with $60 million allocated to SOs, $30 million allocated to EIOs and $10 million allocated to PKSOs.  My bill will increase available tax credits for the EITC program to $170 million, which will be allocated in the same proportions as currently provided in statute as follows:  $102 million to SOs; $51 million to EIOs; and $17 million to PKSOs.
The OSTC program, which was established in 2012 based on the model of the EITC program, provides tax credits to businesses which make contributions to opportunity scholarship organizations (OSOs) offering scholarships to children in Kindergarten through grade 12 who reside within the attendance boundaries of “low-achieving schools” (those schools in the lowest 15% of their designation as an elementary or secondary school).  This program also directs scholarships towards low income families by requiring OSOs to give preference to applicants whose household income is within 185% of the Federal poverty level.  The amount of available tax credits for the OSTC program is currently set at $50 million.  My bill will increase available tax credits for the OSTC program to $80 million.

Who Is Closing PA Schools?
Huffington Post by Peter Greene Teacher and writer; blogger, Posted: 03/27/2015 8:45 am EDT Updated: 03/27/2015 8:59 am EDT
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.  People pay a lot of attention to the marquee school financial crises in PA like York and Philadelphia, but the same plague of budget-driven school closings is spreading across Pennsylvania's small districts as well.  It is not simply a matter of declining student population, and it is not a matter of district tax bases falling on tough times. School districts across PA did not mysteriously simultaneously elect budgetary nincompoops. It's a widespread financial crisis, and it's manufactured.
How to manufacture a statewide financial crisis.
Like every other state in the U.S., we face certain financial challenges. But it takes some extra steps to turn a challenge into a crisis.

"All this grows out of a law, which took effect Dec. 31, that requires employees and volunteers who have direct supervision of children to obtain child abuse clearances and criminal background checks."
Child abuse clearance backlog has state employees working massive OT
Penn Live By Jan Murphy |  Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on March 27, 2015 at 6:45 AM, updated March 27, 2015 at 10:12 AM
A backlog of child abuse clearance applications caused one state employee to work 53 or more hours of overtime in almost every two-week pay period from July through February.
Another employee at ChildLine, the agency that processes the clearances, worked 67 hours overtime in one pay period -- beyond the regular 37.5 hours per week -- sitting at a computer processing application after application.  They weren't the only ones. In that 32-week period between July and February, the 33 permanent ChildLine employees who did that work logged more than 12,000 overtime hours, costing taxpayers in excess of $327,000. 

Phiily District makes testing opt-out information more prominent
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 27, 2015 05:43 PM
School officials have responded to demands that they be more explicit in letting parents know that they have a right to opt out their children from taking standardized tests.  The steps are small, yet opt-out activists say that they are significant.  For instance, when parents go to the District's website and click on a prominent box that says "PSSA and Keystone Parent Information," they are taken to a page on which it says in two places that they can find information on opting out at the next link.  In addition, said Christopher Shaffer, principals and test coordinators in 174 District schools and five charters this year were given "explicit instructions on documents that schools are required to send home to parents."    Shaffer is the deputy chief for curriculum, instruction and assessment. He said the training "augmented our section on opt-out procedures so building test coordinators are familiar with that process and expectations."
The state Department of Education does not allow the District to disseminate any information on opting out other than a flyer with frequently asked questions that has been approved by the state, Shaffer said. So the web page that links to the state-approved flyer explains exactly where they can find opt-out information in the flyer. And, unlike the flyer itself, it uses the terminology "opt out."  The flyer has also been translated into eight languages other than English, and some schools have sent paper copies home with students.

"A WITF analysis of state Department of Education data found between 2012 and 2014, the number of opt-outs quadrupled in the midstate, from 47 to 261."
In three years, a quadrupling of PA standardized tests opt-outs
WITF Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Mar 27, 2015 4:21 AM
 (Harrisburg) -- Starting in third grade, public school students in Pennsylvania face hours of standardized tests, with scores used to measure progress.  But a growing number of parents are getting exemptions for the tests.  The movement has a name - opt out - and in Pennsyvlania, parents simply need to use a form letter that's easily found on websites run by advocacy groups. 
The form letter allows parents to ask for a religious exemption from the tests.  A school district isn't allowed to ask how one's religious beliefs conflict with the test.  Renee Heller has four children, and is the co-founder of Lancaster County's Opt-Out chapter.

The test-taking culture in schools is having a negative impact
Post Gazette Letter by Lisa McDade March 29, 2015 12:00 AM
I had the opportunity to attend the “Test-In on High Stakes Testing” event organized by the grass-roots group Yinzercation (“ ‘Test-In’ for Parents, Teachers Finds They’re Testy About Tests,” March 22). I am the mother of an 8-year-old Pittsburgh Public Schools second-grader and a 3-year-old. I have been a supporter of Yinzercation’s work since its first rally in February 2012.  My son entered kindergarten the year that the Pittsburgh Public Schools felt the impact of Gov. Tom Corbett’s cuts to education. My son’s school lost numerous support staff and continues to operate under a strained budget.  The “Test-In” event left me feeling emotional as I heard firsthand from teachers the impact that high-stakes testing is having on students and even teachers themselves. I was glad to hear teachers’ (and principals’) voices — teachers who have more than 20 years of experience in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. These teachers are burned out, discouraged and heartbroken over the impact that these tests have on struggling students. The tests are taking the autonomy out of teaching, and curriculum is now being shaped to “teach to the test.”

“Music, art, drama and sports – these are what kept me involved when I was in school. And these very things, that make a teacher’s (and student’s) job easier and more rewarding, are what’s been cut from curriculums across the country.”
‘You don’t need to know what is not on the test.’ A song.
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss March 29 at 6:00 AM  
Go on to sleep now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you’ll do just fine.
It’s reading and math, forget all the rest.
You don’t need to know what is not on the test.
Not On The Test
by John Forster & Tom Chapin
© 2008 Limousine Music Co. & The Last Music Co. (ASCAP)
That’s the first stanza to a song that Tom Chapin and John Forster wrote for NPR’s Morning Edition in 2008, when No Child Left Behind had been the law for half a dozen years, but it has equal, if not more resonance, today, seven years later, with standardized tests being all-important in many school accountability systems.

"The 72-0 vote marked a rare show of bipartisan support for what has become one of the state’s most contentious topics, with thousands -- if not tens of thousands -- so far opting out of the tests."
FAQ's on New Jersey's testing opt-out bill
What it is: The bill (A-4165) sets a statewide policy for schools to follow for kids who are sitting out the new online PARCC testing. It includes standards for schools to provide alternative programs for those students and also sets a procedure for families to notify the schools in advance.  What it means: The 72-0 vote marked a rare show of bipartisan support for what has become one of the state’s most contentious topics, with thousands -- if not tens of thousands -- so far opting out of the tests. With Republicans jumping on board, some wondered if it signaled that Gov. Chris Christie might go along, even if he has publicly continued to back the tests.

Wolf faces early test on helping city schools
Lancaster Online Editorial by The LNP Editorial Board Posted: Friday, March 27, 2015 6:00 am
The Wolf administration is looking to reverse a state takeover of the York City School District. The district — one of  four in Pennsylvania operating under a chief recovery officer — was $5 million in debt with all eight of its schools scoring well below the state benchmark of 70 on standardized tests. A judge late last year approved a plan to turn the city’s schools over to Charter Schools USA, a for-profit company based in Florida. The district had been operating under a recovery officer since 2012; he resigned March 13, citing the governor’s opposition to his recovery plan.  Gov. Tom Wolf said during his budget address that he wants “schools that teach” and that he was ready to fight for the resources they need to do so.  The situation in York gives him an earlier challenge than he might have wanted. The 7,500-student city school district has been struggling for years to meet state benchmarks on standardized tests. It was in debt. And its funding was being cut.

"The Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools says the governor's budget would "shut down charter schools across Pennsylvania." Because the House and the governor seem to be heading in opposite directions, maybe this is a good time to wonder whether and why we need charter schools at all."
Does Pa. really need charter schools?: Joseph Rogan
ERIE TIMES-NEWS Opinion by Joseph Rogan March 28, 2015 06:19 AM
Joseph Rogan is a professor of education at Misericordia University in Dallas, in Luzerne County
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives recently voted to "improve" charter schools. House Bill 530 requires academic performance measures and expects charter schools to implement truancy regulations. It also reduces lunch money payments by $27 million because cyber charter schools do not provide lunches.  Gov. Tom Wolf moved in a different direction. He axed the Philadelphia School Reform Commission chairman who approved new charters and installed a commissioner who opposed them. He proposed changes that would save districts $162 million, primarily by establishing a $5,950 base tuition rate, eliminating double dipping that allowed charter schools to receive reimbursements for pension costs already funded by districts, partially resuming the state's tuition reimbursements to districts, requiring annual audits, and requiring charter schools to return money they do not spend on students.

Bethlehem school district senior tax rebate looks unlikely
By Sara K. Satullo | The Express-Times Email the author | Follow on Twitter on March 27, 2015 at 5:00 PM, updated March 27, 2015 at 6:00 PM
It's unlikely the Bethlehem Area School District is going to enact a senior citizen tax rebate due to the cost.  School Director Basilio A. Bonilla Jr. has pushed for such a rebate for some time. Bonilla was absent from a Wednesday budget hearing where the idea was discussed.
Business manager Stacy M. Gober said if the district tried to match the state's senior citizen tax break, it would cost the district $1 million.  This year, 2,788 senior citizens received $1 million in state property tax rebates. If Bethlehem Area matched that at 50 percent, it would cost $500,000, Gober explained. A flat $250 rebate would add up to $697,000, Gober explained.  The seniors that received the rebate represent 7 percent of district taxpayers.
Board members agreed it would be nice to offer a rebate like other school districts but Bethlehem Area is looking at raising takes from 3 percent to 3.5 percent. Even with that tax hike, the district still would need to cut another $1.1 million.  Adding on a senior citizen rebate would double the budget deficit and necessitate further cuts.

Upper Dublin School Board, teachers' union reach tentative agreement
Montgomery News By Linda Finarelli Published: Thursday, March 26, 2015
Upper Dublin >> The Upper Dublin School Board and the Upper Dublin Education Association announced Wednesday night that a tentative agreement has been reached for a new contract.  “We are pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative agreement,” a press release stated. “The language of the contract still needs to be finalized. We look forward to releasing the details once both parties vote on and approve the contract.” 
The agreement was reached following a negotiation session around 7 p.m.  March 25, according to board President Art Levinowitz, who said he was unable to provide any details until the language is finalized and the contract voted on.

Is Improving Schools All About Money?
New York Times Room for Debate March 26, 2015
Opponents of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to improve struggling schools in New York by closely tying teacher evaluations to student test scores say what’s needed is more funding, not more reliance on testing.  But in his State of the State speech in January, Governor Andrew Cuomo disagreed: “Don’t tell me that if we only had more money, it would change,” he said. “We have been putting more money into this system every year for a decade and it hasn’t.”  Is spending more on education the best way to improve schools and teaching?

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?
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.
Details and Registration for PSBA members (only $25.00)

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:

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