Friday, May 1, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 1: Waiting for fair-funding formula, school leaders assess Pa. funding disparities

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 1, 2015:
Waiting for fair-funding formula, school leaders assess Pa. funding disparities

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

"Acting superintendent of Lower Merion School District, Wagner Marseille, said his district is frequently used as the comparison to struggling districts.  "When you hear the national and local discourse around school funding, Lower Merion has the unfortunate, dubious distinction as the school that has everything," he said. "We are very fortunate in Lower Merion for a number of reasons, but our ZIP code does us very, very well."
He said wealthier districts need to be part of the conversation.
"Districts like ours, who are very fortunate, need to stand up alongside and argue for not just an economic reason but for a moral reason," he said. "We need to be, not in the background, but in the foreground, standing next to our colleagues because what happens outside these borders impacts what happens inside."
Waiting for fair-funding formula, school leaders assess Pa. funding disparities
WHYY Newsworks BY SARA HOOVER MAY 1, 2015
When it comes to disparities in school funding, Pennsylvania is leading the country.
Community members gathered Wednesday in the Springfield High School auditorium in Delaware County to hear about the imbalance that has wealthier districts getting more state funds than poorer ones.  The panel reflected the disparity, with representatives of districts such as Lower Merion and Phoenixville sitting alongside educators from less wealthy William Penn and Upper Darby.

“The overall expenses of the budget are going up 2.9 percent of the entire budget,” Scanlon said. “Of the $8 million increase, $3.9 million of that is going to pay for the mandated pension. $1 million is going toward the increased charter school tuition — also state mandated. Then special education costs, which is a federal mandate, continues to rise. Of the increase, $5.9 million is those three items, all mandated. The rest of the operating budget — salaries, benefits, cost of fuel, cost of materials — is $2.1 million. That is less than 1 percent increase.”
"….According to Scanlon there is an expectation of a pension spike increase for next year. He said that the rate this year is 25 percent and 25.8 percent to 30 percent next year."
Editorial: Crafting school budgets: Always a struggle
Delco Times Editorial POSTED: 04/30/15, 10:42 PM EDT |
It’s not just here in Delaware County that school boards are torn between providing adequate funding for schools and not taxing residents out of their homes.  While it is especially acute in fiscally challenged areas in eastern Delaware County, more well-to-do districts also are struggling. Consider the recent budget deal hammered out just to our west in the West Chester School District.  The West Chester Area School District School Board recently voted to approve its preliminary 2015-2016 budget, which includes a tax increase of 1.9 percent.  The budget negotiations were marked by the same passion that has inflamed meetings across Delaware County, with the board trying to be fiscally prudent, while not hurting the education offered students.

'Close to a zero tax increase' if Harrisburg fixed funding, Bethlehem superintendent says
By Sara K. Satullo | For Email the author | Follow on Twitter on April 29, 2015 at 6:30 PM, updated April 29, 2015 at 6:31 PM
The average Bethlehem Area School District homeowner would see their annual school property tax bill rise by less than $100 under the proposed tentative final budget.
Wednesday night the administration presented an updated 2015-16 spending plan proposal to the school board. School directors have expressed support for a tax hike ranging from 3 percent to 3.5 percent.   The tentative budget brought forward Wednesday relies on a 2.9 percent tax increase and tapping $2 million from district savings to balance the budget. The district began the budget process with an $11.6 million deficit.

Local school districts look at Wolf proposals for education funding
Johnstown Tribune Democrat By Dave Sutor  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 12:26 am
The 50-percent line is a key target in two important points of Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2015-16 budget.  He has called for increasing the state’s share of public school funding to 50 percent, up from 35 percent. At the same time, the Democrat wants to implement cuts that, according to his projections, would provide homeowners an average property tax reduction of more than 50 percent, totaling $3.8 billion across the commonwealth.  On Tuesday, more than a half-dozen Democrat members of the state House, including Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johns-town, and Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor, held a hearing to discuss the plan at Greater Johnstown High School.

After three years, ASPIRA's Olney Charter High School says 'yes' to union
Decked out in blue for the school's colors, teachers and staff at ASPIRA Olney Charter High School linked arms in the school's empty cafeteria Thursday evening as a government agent tallied votes.  In a decision culminating three years, teachers at the high school voted 104 to 38 to form a union. The staff also decided to form one union for professional staff, which includes teachers, nurses and librarians among others, and non-professional staff. The latter category comprises truancy liaisons, mentor coordinators, transition assistants, administrative assistants.
"I'm blown away," said Hannah Myers, who teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages and says she was  a "mover and shaker" in getting the union off the ground. "I'm really proud ... We've had such perseverance over the last three years organizing."

Olney Charter teachers vote to unionize
TEACHERS and other staffers at Olney Charter High School voted yesterday to form a union, becoming Philadelphia's largest charter school to unionize.  The final tally was 104-38 in favor of the union, which will be under the umbrella of the Alliance of Charter School Employees, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

Gov. Wolf at 100 days
TOM WOLF is now in office 100 days, just a mini-milestone to be sure, but enough to suggest what to expect from the business guy turned governor.  I sat with Wolf this week in Harrisburg, in the ornate reception room outside his office.  He was, as usual, soft-spoken, direct, focused on broad themes; pushing his agenda despite significant resistance from the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Governor Wolf Visits Erie Looking For Support for Plan to Boost Education Funding
Erie TV News By Paul Wagner Posted: Apr 30, 2015 4:51 PM EDT
Governor Tom Wolf continues to criss cross the state looking for support for his plan to boost funding for education. This afternoon, he visited Erie's Central Tech High School to focus on how education can help the economy.   Governor Wolf wants to increase aid to basic and special education by $500 million. It is the key to his proposed budget, now being debated in the state legislature.   He said schools like Central Tech do a good job, but they need more funding for growth and improvements. He says his budget plan will help all Erie schools, and give homeowners a tax break.

Wolf's budget: Inconvenient truth
Editorial By The Tribune-Review Thursday, April 30, 2015, 8:55 p.m.
The truth is that all Pennsylvanians, even those with the lowest incomes, would pay more under Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed budget. Yet so set are he and his supporters on taxing more and spending more that they'll distort and deny that truth — even when it comes from the state's nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office.  That agency reports all income groups, including the under-$25,000 category, would pay more in taxes under Mr. Wolf's plan. House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware County, says that “directly contradicts” administration claims about its budget, which he calls “a huge tax grab that increases state spending by 16 percent.”
Pennsylvania bill would put failing schools under state control
By Evan Grossman  /   April 29,
If failing schools don’t clean up their act, one Pennsylvania lawmaker wants the state to step in and do it for them.  Legislation proposed by Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, chairman of the education committee, hits notes that appeal to education reformers, with ideas that could open the door to charter school expansion and more acute oversight of all public schools.  Pennsylvania spends nearly $1.3 billion of taxpayer dollars on schools that consistently produce dismal results,” Smucker said. “We need to support these schools and their students, to ensure that they can turn themselves around, before these children fall further and further behind.”  Smucker’s Educational Opportunity and Accountability Act would lead turnaround efforts in Pennsylvania’s worst schools with the help of outside contractors. A state-run Achievement School District would operate similar to turnaround efforts in Louisiana and Tennessee, where there is strong collaboration with charter school operators.

Pa. pension plans unlikely to keep promises to workers Think Tank Blog By Erick M. Elder and Gary A. Wagner April 30, 2015
Erick M. Elder and Gary A. Wagner are coauthors of a new study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, “Can Public Pensions Fulfill Their Promises? An Examination of Pennsylvania’s Two Largest Public Pensions.” Read the report at
The Pennsylvania legislature is again debating reforms to avert a potential pension funding crisis. Every taxpayer should be concerned, but the people who bear the most risk are current and future retirees.  More than 325,000 retired Pennsylvanians and 370,000 active workers rely on the commonwealth’s two largest pension plans, the Public Schools Employee Retirement System (PSERS) and State Employee Retirement System (SERS). According to our new research, it’s statistically unlikely those plans will be able to keep their promises to these workers over the long term if changes aren’t made.

Eighth-graders don't know much about U.S. history, civics; do you?
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on April 30, 2015 at 8:00 AM, updated April 30, 2015 at 11:51 AM
Less than a third of American eighth-graders demonstrated at least a solid understanding of U.S. history, geography or civics on 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress tests.  Those results released on Wednesday nearly mirrors the 2010 results, when students were last tested in these subjects.  That lack of progress raises concern for those in the social studies field, who feel that the emphasis on these subjects has taken a backseat to English, math and science.  "How do we, as a nation, maintain our status in the world if future generations of Americans do not understand our nation's history, world geography or civics principles or practices?" asked Michelle Herczog, president of the National Council for the Social Studies.

Final proposed budget for CASD calls for a 2.4 percent tax hike
West Chester Daily Local By Lucas Rodgers, on Twitter POSTED: 04/29/15, 7:39 PM EDT |
Coatesville >> Business Manager Ron Kabonick presented the Coatesville Area School District’s final proposed budget for the 2015-2016 school year to residents at Tuesday night’s board meeting.  The budget is now set at $149,420,401, which is $2,185,886 less than the preliminary proposed budget.  The millage for the proposed budget would increase from 32.0036 to 32.7717, which means there is an anticipated tax increase of 2.4 percent for residents of the district. The average taxpayer in the district would see an increase of about $82.27 in school taxes next school year, based on the average assessed residential property value of $107,109.  In order to close a $2.2 million budget gap, the district needs not only the revenue from a tax increase, but it will need to make $1.2 million in reductions, the district said in a statement. Those reductions are expected to come from the district outsourcing its custodial and groundskeeping services to Tennessee-based company, ServiceMaster. The proposed agreement with ServiceMaster would allow about 60 custodians and six groundskeepers to maintain their jobs in the district, at market wages, and to receive benefits including a 401K package, the district said.

Saucon Valley taxpayers may see first tax hike in six years
By Sara K. Satullo | For Email the author | Follow on Twitter on April 30, 2015 at 4:10 PM
Saucon Valley School District taxpayers may be facing their first tax hike in six years.
The district is trying to bridge an $850,000 deficit and the school board is considering raising taxes for the first time in years. The district's Act 1 Index is 1.9 percent.  If the school board hiked taxes to the maximum allowed it would result in a tax increase of $98 for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $100,000.   Business Manager David Bonenberger explained Tuesday night that raising taxes to the district's 1.9 percent cap on annual property tax increases won't close the budget gap. It only generates $551,000 in revenue.  The school board has voted to stay under the cap. So, Saucon must make cuts, find more funding or tap its rainy day fund.

Lancaster County: Tell us about your favorite teachers
LNP Editorial Board Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 6:23 pm
In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 4-8, the LNP Editorial Board invites residents of all ages to share memories (recent stories included) about their favorite teachers.  Tell us about how the teacher inspired you and/or your classmates, what grade the teacher taught and share a specific memory that illustrates why that teacher's influence remains with you, or will remain with you.

School Progress Reports released for Philly District
Reports include data for most charter schools.
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on Apr 30, 2015 02:33 PM
The School District has released its School Progress Reports for 2013-14, which quantify a number of indicators to evaluate achievement, climate, and equity. The reports, which replaced the troubled School Performance Index, are in their second year.  The School Progress Reports put more weight on student growth than on absolute levels of achievement and factor in other school attributes. The School Performance Index scores relied more heavily on test scores and ran into problems when officials acknowledged that they were tainted by faulty data.  SPI reduced data to a single number for each school ranging from 1 to 10 and made crucial decisions based on them, including which schools should be closed or undergo a "turnaround," including conversion to a charter school.   

Candidate Williams Concentrates on Union Support, Sidesteps Questions About School Funding
CBS Philly By Paul Kurtz April 30, 2015 3:49 PM
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Williams today was brushing off a report that details his ties to three local financial managers who support charter schools and school vouchers.  The report, released by progressive groups and supporters of public education, says three wealthy Main Line hedge fund partners are spending millions on advertisements for Williams in the waning weeks of the campaign.  Joel Greenberg, Jeff Yass, and Arthur Dantchik are staunch supporters of school choice, as is Williams.   And that doesn’t make him much of a Democrat in the eyes of Mike Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress.

Helen Gym Slams Susquehanna Billionaires for Trying to Buy Philly Municipal Elections
Helen Gym Campaign website April 30, 2015
PHILADELPHIA (April 30, 2015) – Today, Helen Gym mother of three children in the Philadelphia Public Schools and candidate for City Council At-Large, joined Keystone Progress and Action United to denounce the influx of millions of dollars being pumped into a SuperPAC attempting to influence the Philadelphia municipal elections.  The report released by Hedgeclippers, details the long track record of Susquehanna founders Joel Greenberg, Jeff Yass, and Arthur Danchick donating vast sums of money to far right-wing politicians and organizations ranging from Gov. Scott Walker, to the arch-conservative Cato Institute and Freedom Works SuperPAC. Now, they are funneling millions of dollars into a SuperPAC benefiting the mayoral candidate they believe will best help them enact their rightwing privatization scheme for Philadelphia schools.

Here's the report mentioned in the two items above….
Anthony H. Williams enjoys a long history of support from the founders of Susquehanna Investment Group (SIG), a dark pool “high-frequency trading” firm based in the wealthy suburbs of Philadelphia.  The ultra-conservative 1%’ers who founded SIG were the major bankrollers of Williams’ ill-fated campaign for Governor. They have now already lavished his mayoral ambitions with a down payment of $250,000 and more in television ads, signaling that they are ready to spend millions more[1]. Beyond Anthony Hardy Williams they are also funding the employer of Williams’ campaign manager[2].

"The feedback I got was that only when an educated group of parents takes a stand against this colossal waste of time will anything change," says Kovach, who kept her son home in March and will do so again next week and in May, and says many other parents at her Boulder, Colo., elementary school are doing the same.
Standardized test backlash: More parents pull kids from exams as protest
For parents fed up with the growing numbers of tests and the increasingly high stakes, 'opting out' is now the popular form of protest. Critics say it aims at the wrong target and ignores importance of data gleaned.
Christian Science Monitor By Amanda Paulson, Staff writer APRIL 30, 2015
BOULDER, COLO. — It had never really occurred to Chantal Kovach to keep her fifth-grade son from taking Colorado's new annual assessments, until an e-mail started circulating among parents.  Ms. Kovach became concerned that the test would be measuring material her son's class hadn't covered yet, that the results wouldn't be available to his teacher until the fall. She also was worried that the class would have to devote significant hours to taking the test, and then more hours later in the spring taking other tests on the material they had studied.  But it wasn't until she went to the teacher, wondering if it might still be useful to her son as practice, that she made up her mind.

Judge Slashes Sentences of Three Convicted in Atlanta Test-Cheating Scandal
Education Week Distric t Dossier Blog By Corey Mitchell on April 30, 2015 2:39 PM
The judge in the Atlanta schools test-cheating scandal reduced the sentences of three convicted administrators Thursday, making the case that he wanted his ruling to be considered "fair."  Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter sentenced former school administrators Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis-Williams, and Michael Pitts, to 10 years in prison, three to be served behind bars and seven on probation, and ordered each to pay a $10,000 fine.  The three were originally each given 20-year sentences—seven to serve in prison and 13 on probation, and $25,000 fines. 

Judge Reduces 3 Sentences in Atlanta School Testing Scandal
New York Times By RICHARD FAUSSET APRIL 30, 2015
ATLANTA — Admitting that he was “not comfortable” with the seven-year prison terms he had handed down two weeks earlier, the judge in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating case on Thursday called three former administrators back to his courtroom to cut their prison terms to three years each.  “When a judge goes home and he keeps thinking over and over that something’s wrong, something is usually wrong,” said Judge Jerry W. Baxter of Fulton County Superior Court. “And anyway, I want to modify the sentence so that I can live with it.”

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

Common Core Forum: A Closer Look at the PA Core Standards
Thursday, May 7, 6:30 - 8:00 pm Radnor Middle School
150 Louella Avenue, Wayne, 3rd floor
Presented by the Leagues of Women Voters of Chester County, Haverford,  Lower Merion, Narberth and Radnor.  Supported by the Radnor School District
Panelists Include:
Fred Brown, K-12 Math Supervisor, School District of Haverford Township
Jon Cetel, Education Reform Agent, PennCAN
Mary Beth Hegeman, Middle School Teacher, Lower Merion School District
Cynthia Kruse, Delaware County Intermediate Unit
Susan Newitt, Retired Elementary Teacher, Lower Merion School District
Wendy Towle, Supervisor of Language Arts & Staff Development, T/E School District
Larry Wittig, Chairman of the State Board of Education

PHILADELPHIA—The School District of Philadelphia, in partnership with local organizations, will host community budget meetings. District officials will share information about budget projections and request input on school resources and investments.  Partnering groups include the Philadelphia Education Fund, POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower & Rebuild), Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), local clergy and community advocates. All meetings will be held 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The dates and locations are as follows:
 Wednesday, May 6
Dobbins High School2150 W. Lehigh Ave.
 Tuesday, May 12
South Philadelphia High School2101 S. Broad St.
 Thursday, May 14
Congreso, 216 West Somerset St.
 Wednesday, May 20

Martin Luther King High School6100 Stenton Ave.

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