Saturday, May 23, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 23, 2015: Put down that crappy beach novel; today's Roundup is hot…..

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3600 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 May 23, 2015:
Put down that crappy beach novel; today's Roundup is hot…..

Northwestern PA School Funding Forum
May 28, 2015 7:00 PM Jefferson Educational Society 3207 State St. Erie, PA 16508

PSBA Special Report: The Need for a New Basic Education Funding Formula
This week PSBA released a special report on its priority legislative issue calling for a new statewide basic education funding formula with distribution in a manner that is adequate, consistent, fair and equitable and that provides districts with the greatest flexibility to use their resources. The report is being sent to all members of the General Assembly. Click here to read the full report.

"Last year, close to $1.3 billion left traditional public schools to go to charters, and that's tax dollars," said Steve Robinson, senior director of communications for the school boards association, "and taxpayers have every right to know how that money is being spent."
School board group seeks charters' data
For the group representing Pennsylvania school board members, when it comes to the state's billion-dollar charter-school industry, there's no such thing as too much information.
But frivolous is the word charter-school operators are using to describe the blizzard of Right-to-Know requests submitted by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
They were lodged with about 180 publicly funded charters in every corner of the state, seeking data on how those schools spend millions of dollars on such items as salaries, consultants, rent, ad campaigns, and a long list of other expenditures.

Charter Schools: Tracking PSBA's May 15th Right-to-Know Requests
PSBA filed a Right-to-Know request with Pennsylvania charter and cyber charter schools on May 15, 2015. PSBA is tracking the response from each charter in the table below and updating it on a weekly basis. According to Right-to-Know Law, public entities have five days from receipt of an open records request by the agency’s open records officer to either 1) provide the requested records (indicated by a green check); 2) deny the request and give reasons for the denial (indicated by a red X); or 3) invoke a 30-day extension for specific legal reasons (indicated by an (E)).

Parents tired of being told to wait for better schools Letter By Toya Algarin, Renee Brown, Nadiyah Bryant, and Keisha Dandy POSTED: Friday, May 22, 2015, 1:08 AM
The authors are all Philadelphia public school parents.
As parents, nothing is more important to us than great schools for our kids. We want schools that are safe; schools that value our children as individuals; schools with caring teachers who believe that every one of their students can and will be successful.  That shouldn't be too much to ask.  
Yet year after year, tens of thousands of Philadelphia families are forced to send their kids to schools that are, by any measure, failing students. And year after year, families in our communities are told to just wait for the next "fix" that will - no kidding, this time for real - make these schools great. Wait until we have funding. Wait until we fix this law or that law. Wait until we have a new plan.

Blogger note: Are tax credit programs the new WAMs in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, Rep. Christiana’s House Bill 752 would increase the amount of available tax credits for the EITC program from $100 million to $170 million, and the amount of available tax credits for the OSTC program from $50 million to $80 million.  That would be $250 million in diverted tax dollars being sent to private and religious schools that have little or no fiscal transparency or student performance accountability to the public.  The following NY Times LTE is right on target.

"Let there be no mistake: The New York Civil Liberties Union does not oppose private schools. We do not oppose charter schools. And we defend the right of religious groups to educate their children in accordance with their faith, instead of in the public schools.
But subsidizing private and parochial schools at the expense of public education is fundamentally at odds with our democratic values, and using public funds for religious education breaches the separation of church and state."
Private School Tax Credits
New York Times Letter To the Editor: by DONNA LIEBERMAN, Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union MAY 22, 2015
The right to a meaningful public education is at the core of our democracy, and educational opportunity must be available to all children on a fair and equitable basis, no matter how poor they are, no matter what their educational needs are, and no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation.  Unfortunately, the proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York to divert money from public schools to private and religious schools is not about improving public education for all children. It is not about choice.  It is about allowing hedge funds and millionaires to siphon money away from public schools to support their narrow idea of what education should look like.
This includes private schools for the 1 percent, religious schools that can throw children out and dismiss teachers for having the wrong faith — or no faith — and privately owned and operated charter schools that operate without accountability and would turn our underfunded public schools into a dumping ground for New York’s neediest and most challenging students.

"Alterations he has in mind for the law, often referred to as Act 153, could shrink the pool of people who must obtain criminal history and child abuse clearances; waive the fee for volunteers to obtain those credentials; and could lessen the frequency of the need to obtain federal criminal history checks."
Lawmaker pushing to waive background check fees for volunteers
Penn Live By Jan Murphy |  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on May 22, 2015 at 7:45 AM, updated May 22, 2015 at 9:42 AM
The state's new background checks law that was part of the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal has caused so much angst that a rush is on to change it before it is fully in effect.  Rep. Dan Moul, R-Gettysburg, said on Thursday he is pushing hard for the Legislature to act in the first or second week of June to amend the law to address complaints that have been raised about it.  In particular, Moul, who sponsored the original law, said people complain about the cost associated with obtaining the criminal background checks and child abuse clearance. They also fear that its application to volunteers will diminish the supply of this unpaid help.

"On Tuesday, May 19th voters in Philadelphia sent a message to billionaire venture philanthropists who were trying to buy the office of mayor of Philadelphia to promote their privatization of public schools agenda. By the day of the primary election for mayor and other offices  they had invested $7 million in advertising for the candidate they thought would carry out their agenda, State Senator Anthony Williams.  Former Councilman Jim Kenney defeated Williams by a 2-to-1 margin winning a plurality in all wards in the city."
Common Sense in Philadelphia
Defend Public Education Blog By Ken Derstine  May 21, 2015
This sacrifice of common sense is the certain badge which distinguishes slavery from freedom; for when men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.
Thomas Paine
On Tuesday, May 19th voters in Philadelphia sent a message to billionaire venture philanthropists who were trying to buy the office of mayor of Philadelphia to promote their privatization of public schools agenda. By the day of the primary election for mayor and other offices  they had invested $7 million in advertising for the candidate they thought would carry out their agenda, State Senator Anthony Williams.  Former Councilman Jim Kenney defeated Williams by a 2-to-1 margin winning a plurality in all wards in the city.

Exactly How Wasteful Was the Tony Williams Campaign?
Very. And who got the biggest bang for his campaign buck? Doug Oliver.
Philly Mag Citified BY PATRICK KERKSTRA  |  MAY 21, 2015 AT 4:19 PM
The only metric that really matters in an election is the vote count. But it’s interesting to look at which candidates got the most value with their campaign spending. One blunt way to look at that is to see how many votes the candidates get per dollar spent.
Jim Kenney fared pretty well, as you would expect. His victory cost him about $12 per vote, and $30 per vote if you factor in his super PAC support, and you definitely should. Anthony Williams and his super PAC? A gobstopping $149 per vote won. Wow.

"You have to go back to the late 1990s. The economy was booming. The state was running a surplus, and the public employee pension funds were flush with cash.
By the summer of 2001, state lawmakers voted to boost pension benefits, bumping up the pay-out rate and cutting in half the amount of time it took to become eligible for a pension.
But, then, the bottom fell out."
Why are teachers pension plans in trouble?
The state runs two public employee pension plans that share a parallel narrative. One plan is for teachers and school employees, called PSERS. The other is for other state workers, called SERS — which, in addition to rank-and-file state employees, covers state troopers, lawmakers, judges, top executive branch officials and state university staff members.
Collectively these pension plans currently have a $53 billion dollar unfunded liability that's causing major headaches at both the state and local school district level.

Pittsburgh teacher stands alone by refusing to give tests
ESL educator says state exams hurt kids
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette May 23, 2015 12:00 AM
As the state mandatory testing season winds down, the number of students opting out of taking the Pennsylvania System of State Assessment tests in Pittsburgh Public Schools stands at 40.  And there is one teacher.  Mary King, who teaches English as a second language at Pittsburgh Colfax K-8, became the first and only teacher in Pittsburgh to refuse to give the PSSA tests to her students, a decision that drew national attention this month on the blog of a New York University professor.  Under state requirements, ESL students — also known as English language learners — who have been in the U.S. less than a year don’t have to take the PSSA in English language arts, but they do have to take the PSSA in math and science. They can have certain accommodations, such as use of word-to-word translation dictionaries without definitions and pictures on some of the exams.  Ms. King, who is in her 26th year and is retiring this school year, said not all students get upset, but she recalled one student who had to take the math test her first week. “All she knew was ‘hello,’ ‘good-bye,’ ‘thank you.’ She cried the whole time.”
Ms. King recalled another girl who had never been to school before. “Her own language was an oral language. She didn’t understand the concept.”

SRC approves another charter school
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Friday, May 22, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Thursday, May 21, 2015, 8:59 PM
The School Reform Commission approved a new charter school Thursday, bringing to six the number it has signed off on this year.  The SRC had denied KIPP West Philadelphia Charter's application in February, but the organization tweaked the proposal, making changes to proposed school governance, academic certification, location, and opening date.  On second pass, the SRC approved the school's charter, 3-1. But it was not a ringing endorsement. Chairwoman Marjorie Neff voted against the charter, and Commissioner Feather Houstoun said she felt it did not rise to the level of other applications, but was approving it because leaving the board deadlocked put the SRC on shaky ground legally.

Philly school budget hearings resume
WHYY Newsworks BY TOM MACDONALD MAY 23, 2015
Now that the primary elections are over, Philadelphia City Council is poised to resume its budget hearings.  And that means the fight for more school funding also resumes.  After announcing the good news of an improving graduation rate in the city, Mayor Michael Nutter urged City Council to provide the necessary funding for the schools to continue that trend.  "I'm glad the election is over, let's all kind of get re-engaged, if you will, in the No. 1 issue and challenge in the city, which is educating young people," said Nutter.  City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, an advocate for education, said Nutter's plan to achieve that goal --  a property tax hike of more than 9 percent to raise revenue for the schools -- just isn't possible.

Will Philly ballot question help get rid of School Reform Commission?
WHYY Newsworks BY TOM MACDONALD MAY 22, 2015
Now that Philadelphia voters have approved a referendum to abolish the school reform commission, What happens now?    Even though the ballot question was approved overwhelmingly, the School Reform Commission cannot be abolished without help from the commission members or the legislature.  Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell says with the will of the people in hand it's time to go to Harrisburg and ask for that to happen.  "It legitimizes our contact with the mayor the superintendent and the governor and says you've got to do things differently and that's what this question does," she said.  Blackwell says local control of the city school district is key to an education partnership with an elected school board.

"Why are we laying the groundwork for a new prison—a prison that could cost up to $500 million—when Philadelphia's public schools are forecasting an $85 million deficit?  The answer seemed obvious. The prison was being given priority over the schools. And while there seemed to be a rational explanation—that the prison would be built with capital dollars that could be borrowed, while the schools needed operating dollars that had to be raised—the schools and the prisons are not separate issues. In fact, the schools and the prisons are locked in an intimate embrace.  Failing schools feed what's come to be known as the school to prison pipeline. Poor and minority children who fail to graduate are statistically more likely to land in prison. Once they are funneled into prison cells, they fuel a system that churns out broken lives with frightening efficiency."
The school to prison pipeline must end here
Late last week, as the mayoral primary barreled toward its anticlimactic conclusion, PlanPhilly published a story about a bill that would allow the city to buy land in order to lay the groundwork for a new prison.  It initially seemed to be the tale of a sweetheart land deal, in which a company that paid $100 for the plot would walk away with nearly $7.3 million in taxpayer dollars. Of course, it was much more nuanced than it seemed. The land had been foreclosed upon after a multimillion-dollar loan went bad, and the city was paying fair market value to a company seeking to recoup its investment.  But even as that part of the story was clarified, another question gnawed at me incessantly.

Can Jim Kenney bring community schools to Philadelphia?
By Laura Benshoff for NewsWorks on May 22, 2015 12:31 PM
On a small plot of land wedged between South Philadelphia High School's parking lot and the sidewalk, Arielle Narva works with a 17-year-old named Kahlil to turn over soil in raised garden beds.  "This bed that Kahlil is working on right now, he's kind of prepping it so we can plant tomatoes, hot peppers, all that summery stuff," said Narva.  Narva said the garden has become a place for kids to congregate and learn during and after school. She described a biology and English language learner teacher taking his students to learn about the "life of a seed" in the garden, while also improving their English. Thanks to a partnership with the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, it will also give jobs to some students this summer.
Narva works for Sunrise of Philadelphia Inc., a nonprofit that runs afterschool programing at two sites in the Philadelphia School District. It's one of a menu of partners at South Philly High, which include a health center and groups offering mental health services, night classes for adults, and credit recovery programs, among others.

Here's how Pennsylvania school districts would spend extra money promised by Gov. Tom Wolf
By Jacqueline Palochko Of The Morning Call May 23, 2015
What would PA school districts use Gov. Tom Wolf's money for?
Full-day kindergarten. More teachers. Textbooks aligned with the Pennsylvania Core Standards.
And the list goes on.  In March, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed hundreds of millions of dollars more for public education, and his education chief, Pedro Rivera, gave superintendents until May 15 to say how they'd use the money to improve student learning.  In a letter supporting Wolf's plan, Rivera wrote: "The 2015-16 budget [proposal] sets Pennsylvania on a path to fully meet the state's responsibility for education funding while requiring schools to demonstrate that students are developing the skill set needed for success in the workforce and that state funds are used appropriately."  Not everybody was on board. Republican lawmakers and fiscal hawks found the letter controversial and advised superintendents not to count on the money. The state has until July 1 to produce a budget, and Wolf, a Democrat, proposed an ambitious blend of tax increases and decreases to produce money for education while reducing property taxes at a time of red ink statewide.

Blogger's note: When is the last time you recall reading an article about a charter school's  budget?  Those are your tax dollars too.
Haverford School Board eyes tax increase in proposed final budget
News of Delaware County By Lois Puglionesi  Wednesday, May 20, 2015
HAVERFORD >> School directors voted unanimously at a recent meeting to adopt a $107 million proposed final budget for 2015-16 that raises millage 2.8 percent, to 29.4719 mills.  The proposed increase will add $132 to annual taxes on the average residential property assessed at $164,121, for a total $4,837.  This year’s Act 1 Index allows a 1.9 percent increase. However, the district obtained a PSERS (Public School Employees Retirement System) exception, which raised the ceiling to 2.95 percent, business manager Rick Henderson said.  Preliminary budget drafts called for a 3.57 percent millage increase, based on obtaining a referendum exception for special education as well as PSERS.  However, the district did not qualify.  Really good cost control and changes in special education services reduced our special education spending in 2013-14 versus the prior year,” Henderson said.  Major increases in expenditures include the $1 million net impact of PSERS, $1.1 million added labor costs, and a $258,000 prescription drug increase. The beginning and ending fund balance is $7.47 million.

Pollster Terry Madonna Joins the Next #FairFundingPA chat on Twitter
Terry Madonna will join the next monthly Twitter chat with Pennsylvania’s major education leadership organizations on Tuesday, May 26 at 8 p.m. Madonna is Professor of Public Affairs and Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. He is also the Director of the Franklin and Marshall College Poll.
Topics will include, but not be limited to: Property tax reform, Governor Wolf’s budget proposal, and of course the need for a fair, predictable basic education funding formula. Use hashtag #FairFundingPA to participate and follow the conversation.
On the last Tuesday of each month at 8 p.m., the following organizations go to Twitter to discuss timely topics, ask questions and listen to the public’s responses:
  • The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA);
  • The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA);
  • The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO);
  • The Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals (PAESSP)
  • The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS)
Join the conversation. Share your ideas, lurk, learn and let us know what you think about the state’s support for public schools. It’s a simple, free and fast-paced way to communicate and share information. If you’ve never tweeted before, here are directions and a few tips:

Saturday, May 30, 2015 9:00 am
St. Bernard Hall, Friendship Circle Senior Center - First Floor
1515 Lansdowne Avenue DarbyPA 19023.
East Campus of Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital
Please RSVP to by May 25

Northwestern PA School Funding Forum
May 28, 2015 7:00 PM Jefferson Educational Society 3207 State St. Erie, PA 16508
Conneaut School District
Mr. Jarrin Sperry, Superintendent, Ms. Jody Sperry, Board President
Corry School District
Mr. William Nichols, Superintendent
Fort LeBoeuf School District
Mr. Richard Emerick, Assistant Superintendent
Girard School District
Dr. James Tracy, Superintendent
Harbor Creek School District
Ms. Christine Mitchell, Board President
Millcreek School District
Mr. William Hall, Superintendent Mr. Aaron O'Toole, Director of Finance and Accounting
Keynote Speaker
Mr. Jay Himes, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials

PILCOP: Adequately and Fairly Funding Pennsylvania Schools: What are the Needs and Where Does the Money Come From? (Live Webinar)
June 8, 2015, 12:00 — 2:00 P.M.
Staff attorney Michael Churchill will speak about what schools need and where the money comes from in this Pennsylvania Bar Institute (PBI) webinar on June 8. Click here to register.
Governor Wolf has proposed $500 million in new funding for public schools starting this July. He has proposed as shale extraction tax and increases in personal income and sales taxes to pay for this.  This Philadelphia Bar Association Education Law Section and PBI are hosting a webinar that will focus on how much public schools need and differing proposals on how state funds should be distributed this year and in the future. Other focuses will include the current local tax burdens for public schools and issues concerning how the state should raise revenues to pay for these programs.  The program will also provide information about the components of a good funding formula and look at the work of the Basic Education Funding Commission and the state-wide Campaign for Fair Education Funding, of which we are a leading member.

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