Friday, April 3, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup April 3: Mayoral hopeful Williams' hallmark education tax credit law was most widely used by his supporters

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for April 3, 2015:
Mayoral hopeful Williams' hallmark education tax credit law was most widely used by his supporters

"Despite a growing deficit in state educational funding, legislation introduced earlier this month in the state House would increase the annual pool of educational tax credits from $150 million to $250 million.  … Herzenberg found state oversight lacking, with little to no available data documenting how the charities and schools spent the money or how the children who received their support fared. His research was hamstrung by a law passed in 2005 that expressly limits what information educational charities are required to report.
"When it comes to how the money from public schools is used, there's enormous amounts of accountability and scrutiny, and people want to make sure taxpayers are getting a good return for their investment in education," Herzenberg said. "Well, we have exactly as much reason for being concerned that we're getting a good return on these tax credits that go toward education."
Mayoral hopeful Williams' hallmark education tax credit law was most widely used by his supporters by RYAN BRIGGS & ALEX WIGGLESWORTH, THE NEXT MAYOR POSTED: Friday, April 3, 2015, 12:16 AM
STATE SEN. Anthony Hardy Williams' legislative capstone - the state's educational tax credits program - has generated scholarships for tens of thousands of children across the state in the past 14 years, including 53,000 in 2013-14.  Yet it remains a controversial program. School-choice proponents - like Williams and his political backers - say it gives generous corporations an incentive to donate to charities that help children escape struggling public schools through scholarships and other financial aid.  Critics say the credits divert tax money away from public schools. Gov. Wolf has described the credits as "a backdoor voucher system" that "diverts public tax dollars from our public schools" - even though his own company has donated through it and received tax credits.  The program has also created some interesting relationships among Williams, his staff and the billionaire partners at the Susquehanna International Group, strong school-choice advocates who collectively are the biggest users of the program and have bankrolled Williams' political ambitions.

Educational tax credit claims on the rise April 3, 2015
Tax credit claims have been rising statewide in Pennsylvania since legislation co-sponsored by state Sen. Anthony Williams in 2012 loosened restrictions on the programs. The biggest users of the program since have been Williams' political backers three partners from the trading firm Susquehanna International Group, whose claims have gone from $135,000 in 2011 to over $12 million in 2014.

Susquehanna International Group partners major donors to scholarship credit program April 3, 2015
The state's tax credits are split into two pools of money, one that can fund schools through charities and another, estimated to total $50 million this year, that funds scholarship organizations. The SIG partners were responsible for almost a quarter of all claims statewide through the second pool.

Charity and politics April 3, 2015
A chart showing relationships between Anthony Hardy Williams, his political backers, and charities that are involved with Pennsylvania's education tax credit program.

All in the family by RYAN BRIGGS & ALEX WIGGLESWORTH, THE NEXT MAYOR POSTED: Friday, April 3, 2015, 12:16 AM
IT SEEMS ODD at first glance - a fluff piece touting educational tax credits in a trade magazine produced by fracking companies called Marcellus Quarterly.  The essay was penned by Shari Williams, the wife of state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams and an outreach coordinator for oil and gas advocacy group Marcellus Shale Coalition.  And it came with a kicker.  "Sky Community Partners Inc. is a Philadelphia-based 501c3 organization and one of the program's first state-approved scholarship organizations," she wrote below the column in the publication's spring 2013 edition.  But Sky Community Partners isn't just any scholarship organization. It's run by Dawn Chavous, one of Williams' most trusted political advisers and his mayoral campaign manager, and nearly all its funding has come from Williams' political backers. Chavous is also married to Williams' protege, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.

The Brief: $1 Million Reasons Why Tony Williams’ Star Is About to Rise
Philly Mag Citified BY PATRICK KERKSTRA  |  APRIL 2, 2015 AT 6:00 AM
Pro-Williams super PAC ups ad buy to a cool $1 million.
The gist: Dave Davies reports for Newsworks that the American Cities Super PAC—that’s the one supporting Anthony Williams and funded mostly by those three super rich suburban traders—is upping its television ad buy to $1 million.
Why it matters: Well, that’s an awful lot of money, and it’ll buy a lot of TV time. It’s a particularly big figure in a campaign where the candidates themselves seem to have struggled raising cash. Some people wonder why Tony Williams is seen by many political pros as the favorite in this race, even if he’s not the current frontrunner. This is a big chunk of the reason why.
Davies breaks down the troubling transparency issues that Super PACs present. Citified has an additional worry (or 40): candidates can suffer politically when they go too far with attack ads or underhanded tactics. But Super PACs have no reputation to protect. They can hit below the belt freely. They’re also free to get weird. Imagine it’s two weeks from election day, and Williams is neck-and-neck with a surging Jim Kenney. What’s to prevent a pro-Williams Super PAC from airing ads in support of … Lynne Abraham (on the theory that a vote for Abraham is a vote stolen from Kenney)? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Wolf's property tax plan has potential
Lancaster Online By KAREN SHUEY | Staff Writer Posted: Thursday, April 2, 2015 7:00 pm
Reducing property taxes.
After four weeks of hearings, hundreds of hours of testimony and more than a few heated exchanges, local Republican lawmakers say that is the most attainable piece of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal.  But nothing is a done deal.  Sen. Lloyd Smucker and Rep. Keith Greiner said Wolf’s property tax plan is going to need some changes before they agree to sign off on anything.   “Property tax relief is an idea that folks like, especially around here, so that’s something I give the governor credit for addressing in this budget,” said Smucker, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  “I do think this is one big area of the budget where there could be some real compromises,” added Greiner, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Pa. first lady Frances Wolf launches One Book, Every Young Child reading program
Pennsylvania First Lady Frances Wolf visits Enders-Fisherville Elementary School in Halifax, Pa.,
By Mark Pynes | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on April 02, 2015 at 5:52 PM, updated April 02, 2015 at 11:22 PM
Pennsylvania's first lady Frances Wolf visited Enders-Fisherville Elementary School in Halifax on Thursday as a stop in her Schools that Teach tour.  Wolf read "Number One Sam" to preschoolers at the rural school as part of launching Pennsylvania's One Book, Every Young Child program to bring attention to the importance of early literacy development in children age 3 to 6.

Education Trust Report: Pennsylvania Suffers from a ‘Devastatingly Large’ Education Funding Gap
WESA 90.5 Pittsburgh NPR By JESSICA NATH   April 2, 2015
Pennsylvania tied with Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Illinois for the fourth lowest percentage of state funds that are provided per student.
Pennsylvania has the third largest education funding gap in the nation between districts with the highest and lowest poverty rates.  That’s according to a new report from the Education Trust, an education policy organization, which called this gap “devastatingly large.”  “It’s another piece of evidence to indicate that we have a real problem with the school funding system here in Pennsylvania,” Patrick Dowd, executive director of Allies for Children, said.  Allies for Children is one of more than 50 organizations that have united for the Campaign for Fair Education Funding.
According to the Education Trust’s report, the state contributes about 38 percent of the total dollars spent per student for public education.  Pennsylvania’s 2014-15 budget included more than $5 billion for basic education.

The ABC's of Basic Education Funding in Pennsylvania (video)
The Campaign for Fair Education Funding December 18, 2014 Video Runtime 3:31
The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials provides a short, easy to follow tutorial on how funding works and the challenges lawmakers confront.
PASBO answers the question: What is Basic Education Funding?

Overview of 50 States' Funding Formulas
By Mike Griffith, Education Commission of the States
Presented to PA Basic Education Funding Commission October 2014

Callahan Letter: ‘Last in, first out’ bad for school districts
The Sentinel April 2, 2015 Letter by John Callahan
John Callahan is senior director of government affairs, Pennsylvania School Boards Association
Dear Editor: Imagine a business owner in times of economic hardship being forced by law to let his best employee go in favor of another employee with more seniority on staff, with no discretion or consideration of the job performance of either.  This is the case in school districts across the state as Pennsylvania law mandates that teachers be furloughed by tenure and not merit or effectiveness. This “last in, first out” process would put any business under — furloughing the best workers while keeping the underperformers. Under a seniority-based layoff system, the more effective teacher can be dismissed simply, and solely, because of the date of hire. An example of this occurred in 2012 in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, when 16 teachers with the highest performance rating of “distinguished” were furloughed because of this outdated state law. Many schools have been faced with this backward business practice.

Lynne Abraham would sue Harrisburg to adequately fund city schools
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Friday, April 3, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Thursday, April 2, 2015, 4:19 PM
If elected mayor, Lynne M. Abraham says, she would take Harrisburg to federal court if necessary to force lawmakers to adequately fund Philadelphia schools.  She wants to end the School Reform Commission and replace it with a board of elected and appointed members.
And she wants to add city caseworkers to deal with chronic school absenteeism, institute mandatory prekindergarten, and prioritize fixing or replacing the School District's stock of old, crumbling buildings.  Abraham articulated her ideas in an education plan released Thursday. The former district attorney is one of six candidates vying to win the May 19 Democratic mayoral primary.  As her opponents have, Abraham promised that she would raise more money for the Philadelphia School District without increasing property taxes, as Mayor Nutter has proposed. She pledged to work with Harrisburg politicians for a fair education-funding formula and charter school reimbursements.

Grassroots group sees vast potential for Kensington school
The Media Mobilizing Project featured Willard Elementary School in the final segment of its "Revival From the Roots" film series
BY JOHN KOPP  PhillyVoice Staff APRIL 02, 2015
Ron Reilly has spent seven years as the principal of Francis E. Willard Elementary School, a tenure that overlaps with some of the biggest changes in the school’s 108-year history.
Willard, a K-4 school located in one of the roughest sections of Kensington, opened a new facility in 2011. That same year, massive education cuts rocked the School District of Philadelphia, forcing schools to lay off teachers, aides, nurses and guidance counselors. 
Budget constraints continue to hamper Philly schools. Willard is no exception.
But Reilly and the Media Mobilizing Project — a grassroots organization that gives voice to the poor through media platforms  — see a vast potential for Willard.  The organization released a 10-minute film Tuesday featuring Willard’s triumphs, struggles and potential. 

There is an alternative to opting out
Foundation for Excellence in Education March 30, 2015 • The EdFly Blog Guest posted by Wendy Rivera, Florida parent
I’m a mom. And the happiness of my children, now and in the future as they go on to start careers and families of their own, is on my mind all the time. That is the American Dream. We all want a better life for our children and do everything in our power to make that happen.  This desire led me to become president & CEO of the Multicultural Education Alliance. After working with policy experts, teachers, principals and parents, I have come to the belief that measuring what students know and holding our system accountable to meeting high standards is one of the most critical levers to improving the quality of education our children receive.  And I am not the only one.
There is a reason why the National Council of La Raza, America’s largest Latino advocacy organization, supports annual testing in schools.  And why it is joined by the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and more than a dozen other civil rights groups.

Testing Resistance & Reform News: March 25 - 31, 2015
FairTest Submitted by fairtest on March 31, 2015 - 1:04pm 
The U.S. assessment reform movement is growing so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. This week's clips include stories from 30 states as well as updates from the fight to rollback federal testing mandates

Workshop: Fair Funding and other Commons Sense Reforms for Public Education - Saturday April 11, 9:30 am
The William Penn School District presents another public workshop in its series on school funding in Pennsylvania.  Topics to be covered include:
  • A discussion with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia about the ABC's of public education funding and school funding lawsuit filed by the William Penn School District and others. 
  • An in-depth look at Governor Tom Wolf's proposed budget and its impact on property taxes and developing a more equitable funding formula.
LOCATION: Evans Elementary School Auditorium, 900 Baily Rd Yeadon, PA 19050
Questions: Please email

SCHOOL PLAY – It’s a tough subject
PCCY website March 2015
A live theatre collaboration between playwrights Arden Kass and Seth Bauer and Public Citizens for Children and Youth.  Directed by Edward Sobel.
School Play explores our attitudes toward public education using the real voices of Pennsylvanians from across the Commonwealth. 
Invited Dress Preview: April 8th @ 7:30pm
Philadelphia Premier: April 9th @ 7:30pm (only a few seats left!)
National Constitution Center 6th & Arch Streets, Philadelphia
RSVP to to reserve your seat - April 9th is almost sold out and only a few seats remain for April 8th!

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)

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.

Beyond a New School Funding Formula: Lifting Student Achievement to Grow PA's Economy
Wednesday, May 6, 2015 from 7:30 AM to 10:00 AM (EDT) Harrisburg, PA
7:30 am: Light breakfast fare and registration; 8:00 am: Program
Harrisburg University Auditorium, Strawberry Square 326 Market Street Harrisburg, PA 17101 
Opening Remarks by Neil D. Theobald, President, Temple University

SESSION I: THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF ACHIEVEMENT GAPS IN PENNSYLVANIA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS with introduction by Rob Wonderling, President, Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and Member, Center on Regional Politics Executive Committee.            
Presentation by Lynn A. Karoly, Senior Economist, RAND Corporation 

SESSION II: WHAT CAN PENNSYLVANIA LEARN FROM THE WORLD’S LEADING SCHOOL SYSTEMS? with introduction by David H. Monk, Dean, Pennsylvania State University College of Education
Presentation by Marc S. Tucker, President and CEO, National Center on Education and the Economy 
Sessions to be followed by a response panel moderated by Francine Schertzer, Director of Programming, Pennsylvania Cable Network 
Program presented by the University Consortium to Improve Public School Finance and Promote Economic Growth

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