Thursday, May 14, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 14: Wolf praises Pa. House property tax vote as 'remarkable'

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 14, 2015:
Wolf praises Pa. House property tax vote as 'remarkable'

Education Voters PA: Join our Call to Action Today, Thursday, May 14th
Join others across Pennsylvania and take 5-10 minutes on May 14th to call our state legislators to tell them that Harrisburg’s top priority this year must be enacting a new system that provides adequate and fair funding for public schools.

School directors, superintendents and administrators are encouraged to register and attend this event.
Bucks / Lehigh / Northampton Legislative Council
Wednesday, May 20, 2015 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM Quakertown Community School District, 100 Commerce Drive  Quakertown, PA 18951

Guest Editorial: We must have funding for education
The Sentinel Guest Column by John Hanger May 13, 2015
John Hanger is the Secretary of Planning and Policy on Gov. Tom Wolf’s staff.
In order to rebuild Pennsylvania’s middle class and re-establish Pennsylvania as an economic leader, we must work to secure the best education possible for Pennsylvania students.  But after the massive cuts that gutted districts over the last four years, forcing teacher layoffs and increased class sizes, we have a duty to restore and reinvest in our education system. It’s a topic that is not up for debate — because it’s just too important.  Gov. Wolf is committed to not only restoring the full $1 billion in cuts, with a goal of providing $2 billion over four years, but this year his budget invests an additional $400 million into basic education.

Pennsylvania lawmakers forward pension, tax overhauls
Items put on table for budget discussions
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau May 13, 2015 11:10 PM
HARRISBURG — Legislators on Wednesday passed two major bills — pension overhaul from the Senate, property-tax overhaul from the House — that are expected to become part of negotiations on the annual state budget.  “We needed to figure out this week whether two particular items were going to be on the table for budget discussions: pension reform and property tax reform,” said House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana. “If either one of those would have failed, they were going to be off the table for the next six weeks and we were going to get the budget done without them.”

Wolf praises Pa. House property tax vote as 'remarkable'
WHYY Newsworks BY MARY WILSON MAY 14, 2015
Gov. Tom Wolf is heaping praise on Pennsylvania's House, after the GOP-controlled chamber passed a property tax-overhaul plan with bipartisan support. Wolf called it "the first substantive property tax reform bill" in his lifetime.  It anticipates raising more than $4 billion in higher sales and personal income taxes in order to force property tax bills down. Opponents said Wednesday they doubt the plan would bring about lasting tax relief. Others said they were holding out for property tax elimination. Some voiced concerns that the proposed tax shift would fall more heavily on individuals than on large businesses.

House vote shows determination to tackle property tax reform
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on May 13, 2015 at 6:52 PM
After decades of tinkering around the edges on school property tax reform, the state House on Wednesday showed its determination to find a way to deliver substantive relief to property owners this year.  In a bi-partisan vote of 105-86 (see below how individual lawmakers voted), the chamber sent over to the Senate a tax-shifting plan that when fully implemented would raise state income and sales taxes to lower school property tax bills by $4.2 billion in the first year of full implementation.  Adding in the $600 million from slots tax revenue already available for property relief, the plan is estimated to provide between 37 and 70 percent reduction in residential school property tax bills. Commercial property owners would see some tax relief as well.  The bill by no means is viewed even by legislators who supported it as a finished product, but as many of them said it's a state to a long overdue conversation.

Pennsylvania property tax relief bill passes House; raises sales, income taxes
Lehigh Valley Live By Associated Press Follow on Twitter on May 13, 2015 at 10:23 PM, updated May 14, 2015 at 1:52 AM
Pennsylvanians would see billions in lower school property taxes under a proposal that made it out of the state House on Wednesday and into the hands of the Senate.  The House voted 105-86 for what supporters called the most significant action in decades on relief from the state's widely reviled property taxes.  "Today we begin a journey that has come 1,000 miles, and we hope to conclude that journey over the next six weeks," said Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana. He said the vote keeps the issue in the mix during the Legislature's most intense period of the year, ahead of the June 30 budget deadline.

It's on to the Pennsylvania House for pension reform; hearings set for June
Penn Live By Charles Thompson | Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on May 13, 2015 at 9:30 PM, updated May 13, 2015 at 9:35 PM
Sweeping aside decades of legal precedent and policy-making tradition, Senate Republicans passed a pension reform bill Wednesday that, as written, would change benefit formulas mid-career for more than 360,000 current state workers and school employees.  The 28-19 vote was a ringing endorsement for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman's insistence that killing Pennsylvania's tax-eating pension tapeworm is a must-have for the 30-member Senate GOP caucus in this spring's state budget talks.

Pa. Senate Republicans stand together, pass pension reform bill
By Charles Thompson |  Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on May 13, 2015 at 3:28 PM, updated May 13, 2015 at 5:18 PM
On a 28-19 vote, the Senate's Republican majority carried a major public employee pension reform measure to passage Wednesday afternoon.  All Republicans present voted for the bill except one, Sen. Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery County. All Democrats present voted against it.  The bill, as passed, would for the first time in more than 30 years attempt to roll back future pension benefit formulas for current state employees and school teachers, albeit only for their work after its enactment.  Supporters say it is needed to rid the state budget of a fiscal tapeworm that is crowding out other needed investments.  Opponents, including the state's major public sector unions, have vowed a court challenge if that kind of language is passed into law.

Senate pension bill savings of $18 billion iffy
By Steve Esack Morning Call Harrisburg Bureau May 13, 2015
HARRISBURG — A Senate bill to overhaul the state's two debt-ridden pension systems could save taxpayers $18.2 billion over 30 years by reducing benefits for current and future state workers and school employees.  Or maybe not.
Under Pennsylvania law, legislation that alters public pensions must receive an independent mathematical review to determine potential taxpayer costs and savings.  But the actuarial firm hired by the Pennsylvania Employee Retirement Commission to review Senate Bill 1 said it was not given enough time to read the 410-page legislation, which was unveiled Friday. The alleged savings may not be accurate, the firm cautioned in a report released Tuesday.  "We are disclosing that the time available for preparing this letter was insufficient to perform a complete review and thus this letter should be considered preliminary in nature," Chester County firm Milliman wrote.

Details of public pension benefits in Pennsylvania
Lancaster Online By The Associated Press Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 12:30 pm
Legislation being advanced by Pennsylvania Senate Republicans would seek pension concessions from state government and public school employees hired before 2011. It would ask them to pay a bigger portion of their paycheck to keep a pension enhancement authorized in 2001. Those who elect not to pay more would see the pension benefit calculated on their future earnings reduced to the pre-2001 benefit level. Also, the traditional pension would end for future employees. Instead, they would get a 401(k)-style plan — with an approximately 2.6 percent employer contribution for school employees and a 4 percent contribution for state government employees — and a cash balance plan that would earn up to 4 percent interest.  Here's how most pensions are now calculated, what some typical employees are getting and how much they contributed toward their pensions:

PSBA applauds approval of PlanCon reform bill
PSBA website POSTED ON MAY 13, 2015
PSBA is encouraged to see House Bill 210 pass the full House and move onto the Senate. The bill would create a simplified new process known as the Accountability and Reducing Costs in Construction Process, or ARCCon. The association applauds Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) for his work to move this bill forward.  House Bill 210 will add much needed transparency into the process of school construction. While PSBA recognizes more needs to be done, including providing proper funding for districts to be reimbursed for construction expenses, this is an important step to reform the current archaic PlanCon process.

Hold harmless: funding protection or red herring?
 Seventh in an occasional series of podcasts and web "explainers." To listen to the podcast, click the audio player above.
 What does "hold harmless" mean?  It's a policy underlying the distribution of state education aid in Pennsylvania. "Hold harmless" provides that no district will get less money in the new funding year than it got in the previous year.
What's the effect?  It means school districts that lose enrollment do not lose state aid as a result. Do the basic arithmetic and you realize that this results in such districts getting more aid per student than before.  So, in a sense, "hold harmless" works for a city like Pittsburgh, where enrollment is down about 12 percent over the last five years and nearly 60 percent from its peak. As a result, Pittsburgh's per-student spending is around $20,000, well above those figures for other cities such as Philadelphia ($12,570).  "Hold harmless" is sort of good for affluent suburban districts, which may not get a lot of state aid but are guaranteed by another state rule to always get some. "Hold harmless" guarantees that their allotment will never shrink, no matter how tough the overall state education budget gets and how far state aid falls short of what less affluent districts might need.

Village View: Pa. tagged as most inequitable in school funding
By Bonnie Squires For Main Line Times Published: Wednesday, May 13, 2015
The more things change, the more they remain the same! In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was the associate director of PSEA, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, in charge of media and communications. One of my initiatives was to create a video which I called, “Equity: The Case for Fairness,” to demonstrate the unfairness of the state’s funding of public education. Each school district is left to its own devices, forced to depend on local real estate taxes.  So I took a video crew out, starting at Harriton High School, showing how Lower Merion, with an affluent tax base, offers high quality education. Then we traveled to Harrisburg, where the city cannot tax most of the buildings because they are state offices, leaving the Harrisburg School District always behind in funding. And we ended up in a former coal mining town, where almost every single citizen there was on welfare because the mines were all closed and unemployment was the rule. The school we visited and taped was 100 years old, wood-framed, with the “emergency exit” on the basement level, through the cafeteria and behind the food cases.

Saucon Valley contract dispute headed to nonbinding arbitration
By Christina Tatu Of The Morning Call May 13, 2015
The Saucon Valley School Board has rejected the latest contract proposal by the teachers union, meaning the two sides will now enter nonbinding arbitration, according to district labor attorney Jeffrey Sultanik.  The school board met in executive session before Tuesday's regular meeting and reviewed the union's proposal, which was offered during a negotiation session last Thursday.  Details of that proposal are confidential, but Sultanik said it is based on the union's March 23 offer, which was summarily rejected by the board.

"On accountability, Hite said that although demanding more results from Philadelphia in return for more funding is appropriate, the lack of resources has curbed the District's ability to do more turnaround work.  "The current funding structure is a zero-sum game -- in a period of scarcity, every additional dollar allocated to turnaround is a dollar pulled out of other schools," he said.
He urged the legislators to provide more funds for the District's turnaround efforts already underway."
'Achievement school district' bill is an unfunded mandate, says Hite
the notebook By David Limm and Dale Mezzacappa on May 13, 2015 01:12 PM
Superintendent William Hite sought Wednesday to dissuade legislators from passing a bill that would create an "achievement school district" to turn around the state's struggling schools.  Testifying in front of the Senate's education committee, Hite called the draft of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Lloyd Smucker, a blow to Philadelphia.  "Senate Bill 6 would create an unfunded turnaround mandate, resulting in the stripping out of supports and programs from schools left under local district control," he said.  The creation of such a district, similar to ones in Lawrence, Mass., and Tennessee, would have an outsize impact on Philadelphia, where most of the state's underperforming schools are located. 

Hite: Philly would suffer if state runs low-performing schools
Legislation that would create a state-run system for low-performing Pennsylvania schools could devastate the Philadelphia School District, its superintendent told the Senate Education Committee in Harrisburg on Wednesday.  William R. Hite Jr. said he favors accountability for additional funds he seeks for Philadelphia.  But as written, a bill that would compel struggling schools across the state to improve rapidly or face relegation to a new state-administered system would "create an unfunded turnaround mandate, resulting in the stripping out of supports and programs from schools left under district control," he said.  Senate Bill 6, introduced by Education Committee Chairman Lloyd Smucker (R., Lancaster), is modeled after state-run districts created with mixed success in places like Tennessee, Massachusetts, and Louisiana. But, Hite noted, additional resources bolstered those efforts.

Philadelphia schools may replace union nurses with private ones
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Thursday, May 14, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Wednesday, May 13, 2015, 5:50 PM
The Philadelphia School District is considering outsourcing its health services, officials said Wednesday - a move that might mean privatizing jobs held by unionized school nurses.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the district, rocked by years of brutal budgets, has to find a way to expand medical services and was exploring bringing in private providers to do so.  "With the significant cuts that we've made, it's impacted our ability to deliver health services to all children that need those services," Hite said.  Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which represents nurses, called any effort to privatize nurses "a shortsighted, Band-Aid solution."

Some Phila. students opt out of Keystone exams
KATHY BOCCELLA, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Thursday, May 14, 2015, 1:09 AM POSTED: Wednesday, May 13, 2015, 4:19 PM
On the first day of the spring Keystone exams, some Philadelphia high school students walked out while others "opted out" of the tests that soon will be required to graduate.  "It's important to fight against standardized tests," said Gian Carlos Rodriguez, 16, a sophomore at Penn Treaty High School in Fishtown, who identified himself as an organizer of the Wednesday protest. "Some people are bad test-takers."  About a dozen students showed up at Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, then left the building while the test was being administered first thing in the morning, principal Lisette Agosto said. Others didn't take the exams, submitting paperwork from parents excusing them from the tests.

Poll's overall breakdown of likely voters: 42 percent for Kenney, 15 percent for Abraham, 15 percent for Williams…
"Daniel Meier, 45, a public-school teacher from West Mount Airy, said he was voting for Kenney over Williams because of Williams' association with Susquehanna International Group, the billionaire charter-school supporters who are backing his mayoral run and who pumped millions into his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2010.
"They're essentially creating a two-tier system," Meier said. "Public schools have to educate all children; charters can get rid of the behavior problems and the special-needs kids. They go back to the public schools, and we're the ones that are left to deal with it with fewer funds because the funds have been sent to charters.""
A Kenney tsunami coming next week?
IS THE 2015 Philadelphia mayor's race effectively over?
An independent poll released yesterday contains a staggering amount of good news for former City Councilman Jim Kenney - he's leading the pack by a whopping 27 points - and a mountain of migraine-inducing numbers for state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams.  The poll of 600 likely Democratic primary voters - commissioned by the Daily News, the Inquirer, and NBC10 - shoots to hell most of Williams' strategies for getting into City Hall and points to a potential landslide for Kenney on Tuesday.

Education Voters Action Fund endorses Helen Gym for City Council At Large.
Education Voters Action Fund - PA May 13, 2015
By electing Helen to City Council, we will have someone who has been on the front lines fighting for our students, fighting for equity and access and resources. Having that same person leading the charge for funding, accountability, and improvement for our schools inside government will be a huge step forward for the students of Philadelphia,

Media Branch NAACP hosts Conference on the State of Education in Pennsylvania Saturday at Cheyney
Delco Times POSTED: 05/14/15, 5:23 AM EDT |
THORNBURY >> The 2015 Media Branch NAACP Conference on the State of Education in Pennsylvania will be held 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday in the second floor auditorium of the Marcus Foster Student Union at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.  This year’s theme is, “Adequate and Equitable School Funding for the Children of Pennsylvania.”  “Pennsylvania has the largest funding gap in the United States between well-funded schools and underfunded schools,” sidd Dr. Joan Duvall-Flynn, president of the Media Area Unit NAACP. “Some children must attend schools that have no libraries, no guidance counselors, no art, music or physical education teachers, and inadequate access to technology, yet they are required to perform as well on state mandated tests as children who attend schools that offer every advantage.”  Pennsylvania is one of only a few states that does not use a formula for the distribution of state funds to its public schools. As a result, the distribution of funds across the districts has been arbitrary.

State Capacity to Support School Turnaround
One objective of the U.S. Department of Education's (ED) School Improvement Grants (SIG) and Race to the Top (RTT) program is to help states enhance their capacity to support the turnaround of low-performing schools. This capacity may be important, given how difficult it is to produce substantial and sustained achievement gains in low-performing schools. There is limited existing research on the extent to which states have the capacity to support school turnaround and are pursuing strategies to enhance that capacity. This brief documents states' capacity to support school turnaround as of spring 2012 and spring 2013. It examines capacity issues for all states and for those that reported both prioritizing turnaround and having significant gaps in expertise to support it. Key findings, based on interviews with administrators from 49 states and the District of Columbia, include the following:
  • More than 80 percent of states made turning around low-performing schools a high priority, but at least 50 percent found it very difficult to turn around low-performing schools.
  • 38 states (76 percent) reported significant gaps in expertise for supporting school turnaround in 2012, and that number increased to 40 (80 percent) in 2013.
  • More than 85 percent of states reported using strategies to enhance their capacity to support school turnaround, with the use of intermediaries decreasing over time and the use of organizational or administrative structures increasing over time.
  • States that reported both prioritizing school turnaround and having significant gaps in expertise to support it were no more likely to report using intermediaries than other states but all 21 of these states reported having at least one organizational or administrative structure compared with 86 percent (25 of 29) of all other states.

John Merrow: Good Stuff
Taking Note Blog; Thoughts on Education by JOHN MERROW on 13. MAY, 2015
When my wife and I moved recently, the process forced me to dig through piles of stuff and discard what I didn’t care enough about to pack and then unpack. In the process I came across some really good stuff, and that triggered this list of books, organizations, films, and websites that I value

Atlantic Monthly Now Funded by Walton
Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch May 13, 2015 //
Thanks to reader Chiara for this disturbing story:
She writes:
Atlantic Monthly now funded by Walton Family:
“All of which is important context for spotlighting a grant of $550,000 made last year by the leading philanthropic proponent of charter schools, the Walton Family Foundation, to the Atlantic Monthly, a storied magazine that’s been commanding attention from the nation’s educated elite for a century and a half. The grant was made as part of Walton’s effort’s to shape public policy, with the foundation describing its goal in this area as catalyzing a “national movement demanding choice and accountability.”  “That’s funny because we have been told repeatedly there IS a national movement “demanding” choice and accountability. Apparently it needs paid cheerleaders to “catalyze” the public. It’s called “creating demand”.

Let them eat cookies….
The top 25 hedge fund managers earn more than all kindergarten teachers in U.S. combined
Washington Post By Philip Bump May 12 at 1:58 PM  
During his remarks on poverty at Georgetown University on Tuesday, President Obama noted the discrepancy in pay between two very different sets of workers.  This comparison has been made before in different ways, but we figured it was worth checking.

High School Graduation Rates Hit Another All-Time High
The EDifier - Center for Public Education May 12, 2015
With over 81 percent of students graduating within four-years of entering high school, the Class of 2013 achieved the highest on-time graduation rate in U.S. history according to the 2015 Building a Grad Nation report. After graduation rates languished in the low 70s for nearly four decades, rates have accelerated dramatically over the past decade.  According to the report, if this rate of improvement continues the national graduation rate will reach 90 percent by 2020, a goal of the authors of Grad Nation.  While attainment gaps remain, the gap is narrowing between traditionally disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers. This is particularly true for the fastest growing group of students in our nation’s schools, Hispanics, whose graduation rate increased from 71 percent to 75 percent between 2011 and 2013. Black students made significant gains during this period as well, improving their graduation rate from 67 percent to 71 percent. Despite these gains the graduation rates for black and Hispanic students are still significantly lower than those of white students (87 percent).

Education Voters PA: Join our Call to Action on Thursday, May 14th
Join others across Pennsylvania and take 5-10 minutes on May 14th to call our state legislators to tell them that Harrisburg’s top priority this year must be enacting a new system that provides adequate and fair funding for public schools.
Our legislators must take politics out of school funding and distribute state funding to school districts using a formula that is based on real factors and the real costs of delivering services.
• Support sufficient funding for public schools that provides every student with the opportunity to learn, to meet state standards, and to be self-sufficient adults, ready for college and the workforce. Money matters when it comes to providing programs and services.
• Drive out state funding to districts using a formula that is based on real factors and the real costs of delivering services, including student factors such as the number of students who live in poverty, who are English language learners, and who are homeless. It should also take into account district factors such as the sparsity/size of the district, local tax effort, local wealth, and the number of students attending charter schools.
• Please support a long-term, student-driven, and equitable funding formula that provides adequate resources for every student to be able to meet academic standards.

School directors, superintendents and administrators are encouraged to register and attend this event.
Bucks / Lehigh / Northampton Legislative Council
Wednesday, May 20, 2015 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM Quakertown Community School District, 100 Commerce Drive  Quakertown, PA 18951
Welcome by Paul Stepanoff , Board President , QCSD
Introduction of Paul Clymer, State of State Education

Mr. Glenn Grell , PSERS Executive Director
Introduction by Dr. Bill Harner, Superintendent QCSD

Panel of Superintendents and Elected School Directors from Bucks / Lehigh / Northampton Counties
Introduction by Mark B. Miller, Board Vice President, Centennial SD

1) The status of 2015-16 budget in their district (including proposed tax increase)
2) PSERS impact on their budget
3) Proposed use of any new funding from Commonwealth

Larry Feinberg and Ron Williams
Benefit and need for County Wide Legislative Council in Delaware and Montgomery Counties respectively

Dr. Tom Seidenberger (Retired Superintendent ) - Circuit Rider Update

SAVE The DATE: 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

Sponsored by Coatesville and Media Area NAACPs
9:00 AM – 1:30 PM SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2015
Our children have to pass the state mandated tests in order to move on with life. SO - it is time for the PA Assembly to provide adequate and equitable funding to the public schools of Pennsylvania.
Pre-Registration is required for meals. Deadline for Pre-registration is May 12, 2015

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:
 Thursday, May 14
Congreso, 216 West Somerset St.
 Wednesday, May 20

Martin Luther King High School6100 Stenton Ave.

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