Wednesday, April 1, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup for April 1, 2015: Three guys who may pick Philly's next mayor

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3525 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Wolf education transition team members, Superintendents, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, faith-based organizations, labor organizations, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for April 1, 2015:
Three guys who may pick Philly's next mayor

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:

PA-Gov: Wolf Answers Budget Questions in Facebook Town Hall
PoliticsPA Written by Abby Smith, Contributing Writer March 31, 2015
Gov. Tom Wolf took to social mediaagain Tuesday for another Town Hall with constituents — this time to field questions about his first proposed budget.  The 20-minute Town Hall was live streamed on the governor’s Facebook page, and he answered a number of questions that had been posed by Pennsylvanians in comments the previous day.  Wolf continued to come back to two portions of his budget: property tax relief and investment in education — measures he said Pennsylvanians have repeatedly called for. According to the Governor, his proposed budget strikes the right balance between these two constituent concerns, unlike the budget plan drafted by the Republican-controlled legislature.

Governor Tom Wolf uses Facebook to field questions on budget
By James P. O'Toole / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette April 1, 2015 12:00 AM
Gov. Tom Wolf argued the case for his budget proposals in a virtual town hall Tuesday, answering questions about the plan in a live-streamed presentation on his Facebook page.
The Democrat brought his bully pulpit to the social media venue just as the debates in a more traditional forum — the annual department-by-department budget hearings — were wrapping up in the House and Senate. Mr. Wolf renewed his contention that a severance tax on natural gas and a broadening of the sales tax would allow the state to address recurring deficits, increase aid to education and allow school districts to enact substantial cuts in their property taxes. In a 20-minute session, he faced a series of mostly friendly questions. To one parent, concerned at how his budget would treat cyber charter schools, he defended his plan to tighten funding oversight but insisted that it would adequately support the alternative schools while saving the state $160 million.

Public session altered by Wolf
Trib Live By The Associated Press Tuesday, March 31, 2015, 8:42 p.m.
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf made his second official appearance on social media Tuesday at what was billed as a Facebook Town Hall but looked more like him being interviewed by an aide.  Hundreds of written questions expressing viewpoints about tax reform and other issues were posted on Facebook before the event, but they were distilled into about a dozen questions that Wolf answered while sitting at a table with deputy press secretary Megan Healey, a former local TV journalist.
Twitter town hall on education funding in Pa. Tuesday night
Penn Live By Therese Umerlik | Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on March 31, 2015 at 7:24 PM, updated March 31, 2015 at 9:16 PM
UPDATE: The town hall is now over, but you can view the tweets below.
This evening Policy and Planning Secretary John Hanger and Acting Education Secretary Pedro Rivera will chat on Twitter about the need for an equitable, accountable basic education funding formula.   Twitter users and followers can follow the state Department of Education below from 8 to 9 p.m. to see responses from Hanger and Rivera. During the chat, Hanger's tweets will be signed JH and Rivera's tweets PR.  The hashtag is #FairFundingPA.  The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools will be posting questions via its Twitter account.
Other groups participating in the chat include the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials and Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals.

"Lawrence Feinberg of the Keystone State Education Coalition said the problem is that the tax credit program essentially substitutes state funds for what should be private support of private and parochial schools.  "You know, that's millions of dollars that never gets into the general fund and therefore is not available in the budget when the legislature and the governor are sitting down to figure out how they're going to fund basic education," Feinberg said.
The Susquehanna donors get that. Indeed, that's their policy goal. They favor using tax dollars to support alternatives to failing public schools.
Feinberg said there's another problem with what the Susquehanna principals are up to. Politicians who back school choice programs, he says, are often supported by a handful of wealthy donors, both here and elsewhere.  Letting rich contributors use their money to tip the scales of educational policy, he says, is not healthy for democracy. "It would seem that with recent national court decisions, you know, money talks and everybody else walks," Feinberg said."
Three guys who may pick your next mayor
The three men who will probably be the most influential players in the Philadelphia mayor's race are so media-shy that I don't even have photos of them.  The principals in a Bala Cynwyd-based securities trading firm called Susquehanna Group International are funding an independent effort to support state Sen. Anthony Williams for mayor, and they've begun with a TV ad buy worth over a half-million dollars. (You can see the ad here.)  For some perspective on the scale of that buy, the $500,000 cost is more than any of the six mayoral campaigns, including Williams, had in total in their last campaign finance filing in January.  Who are the Susquehanna boys? As best I can tell, they're three very rich guys who are driven not by financial self-interest, but by an ideological commitment to school choice -- charter schools and taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers for private and parochial schools.

Here's a 2014 KEYSEC posting on the Students First PAC…
Follow the Money: Who gave/received school privatization contributions inPennsylvania in 2014
Keystone State Education Coalition Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Six millionaires/billionaires contributed $1,482,604 to privatize democratically-governed Pennsylvania public education.

Here are some other prior Keystone State Education Coalition postings on the Students First PAC money trail:

"Pennsylvania and many other states have seen aggressive growth of charter schools, but too often the data on their effectiveness is confusing or contradictory. That may always be the case, since even if students of similar demographic backgrounds are compared, there are significant enough differences between traditional public schools and charters to make comparison hard.
Two such areas, according to Kate Shaw, of Philadelphia-based Research for Action, which has undertaken many education studies, are in special education and students who live in poverty. Traditional public schools typically have more students with high needs in special education and more students experiencing extreme poverty with far more risk factors than charter counterparts. That, Shaw says, can make direct comparisons between traditional and charter schools problematic."
DN Editorial: The charter news is mixed
Comparing them with traditional schools is tricky, and more needs to be known
Daily News Editorial POSTED: Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 12:16 AM
TAKEN at face value, two recent developments on the charter-school front - at the national and state level - might be considered positive ammunition for those championing alternatives to traditional public schools.  Last week, Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes released a new report that studied charter-school performance in 41 urban areas, including Philadelphia. It found that such charters provide higher levels of growth in math and reading compared to traditional public schools.

Philly mayoral candidates talk public education, movies and weed with Central High students
Plenty of tough, wonky, policy-driven questions were lobbed at the Philadelphia mayoral candidates at a forum hosted by students at Central High School Tuesday.  Among them were carefully worded queries about the city's unfunded pension liability, City Hall's perceived pay-to-play political culture, and – especially relevant to the social sciences students who organized the event – the future of Philadelphia public education.  But unlike the multitude of other mayoral forums organized this campaign season, this one also allowed the candidates to shake loose and dish one-word answers on the students' pet issues.

"The Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania will host the candidate forum May 4. It will be televised from School District headquarters and viewed in elementary, middle, and high schools across the city.  Rendell said teachers will collect questions from students. The best queries will be posed to the candidates by the students who came up with them."
Rendell announces mayoral education forum
Former Gov. Ed Rendell on Tuesday announced an education-focused forum for Democratic candidates for mayor, with questions drawn up by fourth and fifth graders from the Philadelphia School District.  Could Rendell, who also served two terms as mayor, eventually endorse one of those candidates?  "Not likely," was Rendell's reply, despite an encouraging tweet he sent Doug Oliver's way.

Philly District receives $1.5 million grant for innovations in early literacy
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 31, 2015 06:27 PM
The Philadelphia School District and the Free Library have received a $1.5 million federal grant for a program called "Building Bridges with Books" that will benefit students from 10 elementary schools.   The program is designed to "build bridges" between families and schools through early literacy activities, including monthly parent training sessions on the importance of reading and talking to children and regular visits to the library.  Students in kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades will make biweekly trips to their local Free Library branch. In addition, the 10 schools will receive 30 new iPads each, allowing them to access more than 1,000 children's books in the library's collection. Students will also receive four books each to take home over the summer.

Fewer state dollars shifts Centennial's budget burden to locals
Bucks County Courier Times By Gary Weckselblatt Staff Writer Posted: Monday, March 30, 2015 4:30 am | Updated: 2:26 pm, Mon Mar 30, 2015. (paywall)
As the Centennial School Board wrestles with developing its budget for 2015-16, one director put the blame for a likely tax increase squarely on the shrinking share of state and federal dollars.
“Basically, elected officials who get paid look good and school district officials who don’t get paid have the burden of raising your taxes,” Steven Adams said. “That’s the card dealt to us.”

More teaching, less testing a good move for Pa. schools
Lancaster Online Editorial Posted: Monday, March 30, 2015 6:00 am | Updated: 2:08 pm, Mon Mar 30, 2015. by The LNP Editorial Board
THE ISSUE: Gov. Tom Wolf said he is looking to replace, with input from teachers, Pennsylvania’s School Performance Profile, the public school-accountability system put in place by his predecessor in 2013. The state’s largest teachers union supports moving away from an “emphasis on toxic testing” and looks forward to hearing Wolf’s plan. A spokesman for House Republicans said they are “miffed” because tests provide accountability. State Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-West Lampeter Township, who  chairs the Senate Education Committee, was more measured,  with a defense of testing and an openness to improving the state’s accountability system.  Concerns that Pennsylvania students are spending too much classroom time taking and preparing for standardized tests is not limited to teachers.
With parents and teachers both concerned, it’s good that the governor has spoken up.

Pennsylvania: The Hoax of “Tax Credits” (aka Vouchers)
Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch March 31, 2015 //
Blogger Yinzercation has an excellent article explaining the negative effects of “tax credits” on public education.  “While our legislators are busy looking under their sofa cushions for spare change to fund the state budget, they might want to consider the $75 million that just walked out the front door. That’s how much the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program costs us taxpayers every year.  “The misnamed EITC program has nothing to do with educational improvement and everything to do with funneling what would have been state budget dollars into private schools, while increasing profits for corporations. Here’s how it works: corporations can get an EITC tax credit by contributing to a Scholarship Organization, which channels the money to private schools. The companies receive up to 90% of their contributions as a tax credit, worth up to $300,000 per year, and can get a federal tax write-off as well, making the program highly attractive.

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  FairTest is a hub for the national testing resistance -- every day dozens of activists, journalists and policy-makers contact us for information and advice.

Academic vs. play-based preschool debate fading in favor of intellectual discovery
By Jill Harkins / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette April 1, 2015 12:00 AM
Lilian Katz views the debate about whether preschool should be play-oriented or academically oriented from her own but an increasingly embraced perspective.
“You don’t say to preschoolers, ‘What do you know?’ because then they think there’s supposed to be something already in their heads. You say, ‘What do you want to find out?’ ” said the co-director of the Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting at the University of Illinois.
“What do you know?” emphasizes academics, including the rote memorization of the alphabet, where a teacher provides a sole correct answer. “What do you want to find out?” requires a child to find his own path to one of many answers through investigation or play.
How preschoolers will be taught becomes an increasingly critical question in the wake of President Barack Obama’s recently announced Preschool for All Initiative and Gov. Tom Wolf’s allocation of an additional $120 million, an 88 percent increase, to early childhood programs in his proposed state budget.

4 takeaways to note from Education Trust's school funding report
Education Dive By Allie Gross | March 30, 2015
Last week, Education Trust published "Funding Gaps 2015," a report that looks specifically at how states and cities are contributing to education budgets. While talking heads typically zero in on federal funding of schools — like how Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind impact budgets — the reality is that the bulk of a district's cash flow comes from more local sources. In fact, according to Education Trust, an estimated 87% of a district's funding comes from states and cities. With many districts currently suffering from tightened budgets, the report calls out the states failing to properly fund their schools, highlighting those that have particularly held out on districts with large low-income populations. 
For a closer look at the report's findings, here are four key takeaways to note.

Why More Education Won’t Fix Economic Inequality
New York Times by Neil Irwin MARCH 31, 2015
Suppose you accept the persuasive data that inequality has been rising in the United States and most advanced nations in recent decades. But suppose you don’t want to fight inequality through politically polarizing steps like higher taxes on the wealthy or a more generous social welfare system.  There remains a plausible solution to rising inequality that avoids those polarizing ideas: strengthening education so that more Americans can benefit from the advances of the 21st-century economy. This is a solution that conservativescentrists and liberals alike can comfortably get behind. After all, who doesn’t favor a stronger educational system? But a new papershows why the math just doesn’t add up, at least if the goal is addressing the gap between the very rich and everyone else.

Private school success due to better students, not better schools, StatsCan says
School resources and practices differ slightly between public and private schools, agency finds
CBC News Posted: Mar 31, 2015 10:27 AM ET Last Updated: Mar 31, 2015 4:38 PM ET
Students at Canadian private schools have more educational success than their public school peers because of their backgrounds and classmates, not the schools themselves, Statistics Canada says in a new report.  The study followed 7,142 Grade 10 students, focusing on standardized test scores in reading, math and science at age 15, as well as the educational qualifications they had earned by age 23.  Private school students had better test scores (about nine per cent higher on average) and more educational success after high school.
None of the differences, however, could be attributed to school resources and practices, Statistics Canada says.  "Two factors consistently account for these differences," the report released on Tuesday said. "Students who attended private high schools were more likely to have socio-economic characteristics positively associated with academic success and to have school peers with university-educated parents." 

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

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 -

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