Monday, May 18, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 18: EPLC's Ron Cowell: “This is the most substantial (tax reform) proposal I’ve seen in 40 years’’

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 18, 2015:
EPLC's Ron Cowell: “This is the most substantial (tax reform) proposal I’ve seen in 40 years’’

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
Featured Guests: Former House Education Committee Chair Paul Clymer and New PSERS Chief (former Rep) Glenn Grell

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) filed a Right-to-Know request Friday with 180 charter schools across the state.
Capitolwire: Charter school group calls Right-to-Know request ‘a publicity stunt’
PSBA website Reprinted with permission:  Christen Smith, Staff Reporter, Capitolwire
HARRISBURG (May 15) – The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) filed a Right-to-Know request Friday with 180 charter schools across the state.
The organization wants to know how much the schools pay administrators and spend on advertising and real estate contracts, all for the sake of transparency and education.
PSBA represents the interests of 4,500 locally-elected school board directors across the state.  “Charter school proponents have criticized public schools claiming they don’t understand how charters operate or are financed,” said Steve Robinson, spokesman for PSBA. “Members have suggested the association might want to consider a right-to-know request, but this was not in response to any specific member directive. The response from member school entities so far has been very positive and many look forward to having a better picture of charter school operations as a result.”

Follow this link periodically to see the status of RTK requests.
Tracking PSBA's Charter Schools 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)).

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 16, 2015:
Pennsylvania School Boards Association files Right-to-Know requests on charter school spending

Tuesday's primary could help determine shape of state Supreme Court
James P. O'Toole / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette May 17, 2015 12:00 AM
Tuesday's primary balloting will kick off an election cycle that will determine the shape of the state Supreme Court for a generation, test the clout of a new cast of local leaders and the interest of voters who, recent turnout levels suggest, are increasingly estranged from the political process.  For the scandal-plagued high court, both parties feature primary races with six candidates vying for the three nominations at stake on each side.  Those nominations will set the stage for a November election that will determine the court’s partisan balance for years to come.

Five of twelve candidates participated in this PCN forum The question on the role of the court in evaluating the adequacy of a thorough and efficient public education is covered from minutes 31:55 to 37:58 of this PCN video
What do you believe the role of the Supreme Court should be in evaluating the adequacy of a thorough and efficient public education?
PCN: April 8th PA Supreme Court Candidates Forum
By Rob Krout on Apr 10, 2015
Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks election forum with PA Supreme Court candidates David Wecht (D), Dwayne Woodruff (D), Cheryl Lynn Allen (R), John Forodora (D) and Anne Lazurus (D).  .

"Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Center, figures the structural budget deficit, voters’ clear unhappiness with state education cuts and the bipartisan support for property tax cuts makes this tax swap possible. Not that it’s a lock.  “If there’s one thing that has the best chance of winning in Harrisburg, it’s inertia,’’ Mr. Cowell said.  He’s had a ringside seat. The Democrat from Wilkins was first elected to the state House in 1974, and the Legislature was talking about property reform then. He served 24 years, half of them as either minority or majority chair of the Education Committee. Now he’s in his 17th year as president of the education advocacy group.
“This is the most substantial proposal I’ve seen in 40 years,’’ Mr. Cowell said."
Brian O'Neill: Proposed tax swap adds up to complex, tantalizing effort
By Brian O'Neill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette May 17, 2015 12:00 AM
It’s not three-card monte. It’s three-tax monte. Keep your eye on it because this game has just begun in Harrisburg.  As in the classic con, the object is to find the money card. In this case, that would be the tax you’d most prefer to go down, or at least not go up.  I’m not saying this is a con, but it is confusing. The three movable parts are the sales tax, the income tax and school district property taxes. The first two would go up so the third can come tumbling down in a multibillion-dollar switcheroo.  Homeowners — who tend to vote more often than their renting brethren — are forever complaining about property taxes, so slashing them has both popular and political appeal. But we mustn’t take our eye off the other cards being played.

Yes, Pa., there is a pension crisis - now what are we going to do about it?: Charlie Gerow
PennLive Op-Ed  By Charlie Gerow on May 17, 2015 at 11:15 AM
Yes, Pennsylvania, there is a pension crisis.
No amount of political rhetoric can alter the fact that years of hefty benefit increases, fund losses and negligent underfunding have left the state's two largest pension funds--covering both teachers and other state workers--in a huge budget hole.  The $27 billion Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System and $51.7 billion Pennsylvania Pubic School Retirement System are more than $50 billion dollars in the red.  A curious footnote in the discussion is the actual amount of the unfunded liability.  Estimates  vary widely, in fact by billions of dollars.  A quick look at the week's newspapers showed estimates ranging from $47 billion to $60.12 billion. 

Now it's the House's turn on pensions - if they can pull it off: Tony May
PennLive Op-Ed  By Tony May on May 17, 2015 at 11:00 AM
In Italy, they would call the Senate GOP's version of pension reform a  "patate bollente" – or "hot potato."   The Republican-controlled chamber couldn't get rid of it fast enough last week.  Hard copies of the 400-page bill were delivered to senators on Friday, May 8  and by the following Wednesday (May 13), the pension reform legislation was on its way to the Speaker's desk in the House, approved by a near-party line vote after  few hours of desultory debate.  It was the Senate Republicans' response to Gov. Tom  Wolf's opening gambit on making the state's two employee pension systems more solvent (borrow several billion dollars through low interest bonds to be repaid through increasing state liquor store profits – thereby nullifying the debate over whether to sell the liquor monopoly). 

Corman defends pension bill, says Wolf's budget lacks votes
York Dispatch by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS POSTED:   05/17/2015 01:05:58 PM EDT
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf may not like a Senate GOP plan to overhaul pension benefits for public school and state government employees, but Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman warns that Wolf's budget plan has zero votes among the chamber's Republicans.  Corman made the comments Friday on WITF-FM's show "Smart Talk." The House has scheduled a June 4 hearing on the bill, which was fast-tracked through the Senate without a hearing. Senate Democrats opposed it.

PA Fact Finder: Would the average homeowner get a more than 50 percent property tax cut under Wolf’s plan?
Delco Times By Ed Mahon, on Twitter 05/16/15, 9:43 AM EDT |
Gov. Tom Wolf has promised big property tax cuts if lawmakers pass his budget.
In his March 3 budget address, Wolf said his plan would reduce the average homeowner’s “property taxes by 50 percent, putting more than $1,000 each year into their pockets.”
His administration and campaign committee have often repeated a version of that statement, sometimes promising a property tax cut of more than 50 percent for the average homeowner.  We are fact checking that statement, looking at the impact in York County and statewide.

Compensation disparities vast among Pennsylvania educators
Trib Live By Natasha Lindstrom Saturday, May 16, 2015, 10:50 p.m.
Schools in poorer, rural areas of Pennsylvania pay 30 to 60 percent less annually to teachers than schools in wealthy suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, a Trib Total Media analysis found.  
Teachers in Plum Borough, 20 miles east of Pittsburgh, have the highest average annual salary in 11 counties of Western Pennsylvania — $78,848.  At the opposite end of the scale, teachers in Somerset County's Turkeyfoot Valley Area make an average of $32,848 — or $46,000 less, the analysis shows.  “We know that Pennsylvania's teacher compensation, at least in many of the better-off districts, is quite high,” said Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. “But it's really a mess when you have such disparity in economic conditions.”   Trib Total Media has built a searchable database and interactive map that enables users to compare educators' salaries. The database uses 2013-14 data compiled by the state Department of Education.  The average teacher salary in Pennsylvania is $57,500, the data show. But zoom in on school districts and individuals, and stark geographic disparities in compensation become clear.
"According to the district, the PSERS employer contribution rate increases from 21.40 percent during the 2014-15 school year to 25.84 percent the following year. That’s a 20.75 percent increase or an extra $903,000 the district will need to pay, Fegley said."
Phoenixville Area School District calls for zero tax increase
By Eric Devlin, The Mercury POSTED: 05/17/15, 6:38 PM EDT |
Phoenixville >> Residents in the Phoenixville Area School District can rest easy. Property taxes are expected to stay right where they are.  Superintendent Alan Fegley made the announcement of a zero percent tax hike for the 2015-16 school year during Thursday’s school board meeting. With approximately $85.1 million in expenditures, and $84.2 million in revenue, the district will take from its reserves to cover the remaining cost. The budget is expected to be approved at this Thursday’s meeting.

Homeless students on the rise in Lancaster County
Lancaster Online By GIL SMART | Staff Writer Posted: Sunday, May 17, 2015 6:00 am
They live in hotels, they’re doubled up with families and friends, they sleep in shelters or their cars.  They’re the homeless students who attend Lancaster County school districts, and their numbers are rising.  Data submitted by school districts to the Pennsylvania Department of Education shows 1,292 homeless students in Lancaster County school districts in the 2013-14 school year, the latest year for which statewide figures are available.
That’s a 30 percent jump over the 992 students reported the previous year.

Background checks at schools may discourage parent volunteers
By Rudy Miller | For Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on May 18, 2015 at 6:00 AM, updated May 18, 2015 at 6:05 AM
Requiring criminal background checks of every parent volunteer will cripple the Easton Area School District Parent Teacher Association, according to the organization president.
The school board president, however, said you can't be too careful when it comes to children's safety.  New state laws require parent volunteers to obtain criminal background checks, child abuse clearances and an FBI fingerprinting check if they're around children on a routine basis, according to district solicitor John Freund.  The law isn't clear on what constitutes a volunteer as opposed to an occasional visitor, someone who handles sales at a book fair for instance.

The Challengers: Helen Gym’s Aim — To Be a Schools Watchdog With Teeth and Vigilant Eyes
A series of Citified Q&As with the top Democratic challengers in the at-large City Council race.
Philly Mag Citified BY PATRICK KERKSTRA  |  MAY 15, 2015 AT 12:38 PM
All week, Citified is featuring Q&As with leading at-large City Council Democratic challengers on topics of their choosing. The prompt was simple: if elected, what’s a problem you would you prioritize, and how would you address it? To keep the conversation substantive and on-point, we asked the candidates to focus on a relatively narrow question (i.e., not “schools,” or “crime.”)
Longtime schools activist Helen Gym is running an at-large campaign powered by an enthusiastic grassroots network of supporters, the backing of teacher unions and her own indomitable personality. Her presence on Council would surely shakeup a a legislative body that is, plainly, sick and tired of talking about the city’s struggling schools and how to fund them.  Gym would make schools her central focus if she is elected to Council. In particular, Gym wants to dramatically change Council's approach to schools oversight, and that's the subject she chose to discuss with Citified.

NAACP PA State of Education Conference 2015 - Video
Chester County Community TV Video 5-16-2015

Super donors give growing share of campaign cash
Trib Live By Tom Fontaine Sunday, May 17, 2015, 11:09 p.m.
A wealthy Indiana County woman's political action committee spent a quarter-million dollars to help one of her friends win a congressional race in Arizona.  “Everyone is in the game now. It's the cool thing to have your own super PAC,” said Christine T. Toretti, 58, noting the abundance of such groups made it more challenging for her Women Lead PAC to raise money for the hotly contested Arizona race.  Fortunately for the group's main beneficiary, freshman U.S. Rep. Martha McSally of Tucson, Toretti has deep pockets.  Toretti, a Republican National Committeewoman who formerly ran Indiana-based S.W. Jack Drilling Co., was Western Pennsylvania's top political donor during the 2014 election cycle, giving at least $205,633 to support Republican candidates, an analysis of data compiled by the Washington-based Sunlight Foundation and Center for Responsive Politics shows.
"This is concentrated disadvantage: the children who need the most are concentrated in schools least likely to have the resources to meet those needs."
The Stark Inequality of U.S. Public Schools, Mapped
Who attends America’s “high-poverty” public schools—and where.
From The Atlantic Citylab By TANVI MISRA @Tanvim May 14, 2015
U.S. public schools and the neighborhoods in which they’re located are inextricably tied togetherGrowing up in economically segregated, low-income neighborhoods comes with a host of disadvantages, one of which is that local schools tend to be underfunded. That means that kids who attend these schools don’t get the same kinds of opportunities and resources that students in other, better schools, do. As a result, their academic performance and, ultimately, their propensity for social and economic mobility suffers.  Earlier this year, the Southern Education Foundation released a report that revealed the full scale of just how many disadvantaged public school attendees there are in the United States. They calculated how many students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, and found that these pupils make up more than half of those attending public schools in the U.S. (Given changing enrollment and eligibility rules, school lunch eligibility isn’t perfectly demonstrative of poverty—but it’s still a pretty good indicator of it.)
The SEF study examined concentrated poverty in American public schools by state. Now, the Urban Institute has taken a deeper dive by mapping the data by county, illuminating how poverty and race are distributed in public schools across the country.

The Dawn of a New Era: China’s College Entrance Exam Transformation

Yong Zhao's Blog 9 MAY 2015
The year 2015 will be remembered as the beginning of a new era in Chinese education, according to some Chinese press[in Chinese]. It is the first year when a suite of policies aimed to transform the college entrance exam system or gaokao is to be implemented. The reforms are not a simple redesign of the exam, but rather a transformation of the entire college admission system. Because of the life-altering power of gaokao and the magnitude of the changes, this round of reform will likely bring transformative changes to education at all levels in China.
The Reform
“Very much applying for foreign universities,” a first year high school student said about college admissions outlined by the reform documents. He is right. In a nutshell, the reform aims to create an American style college admission system, but implemented in the Chinese way. The defining characteristics of the admission process used by most U.S. higher education institutions are multiple measures, multiple choices, and multiple opportunities, in contrast to the existing Chinese system characterized by limited measures,limited choices, and limited opportunities.

Pollster Terry Madonna Joins the Next #FairFundingPA chat on Twitter
PSBA website May 15, 2015
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:

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

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 20

Martin Luther King High School6100 Stenton Ave.

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