Thursday, May 7, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 7: $100 million more? Why do PA scholarship organizations get to keep 20% of EITC/OSTC money for administrative expenses; in Florida that figure is just 3%?

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 7, 2015:
$100 million more?  Why do PA scholarship organizations get to keep 20% of EITC/OSTC money for administrative expenses; in Florida that figure is just 3%?



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




Blogger's note:  No PA cyber charter school has achieved a passing SPP score for either 2013 or 2014.  No school district has authorized any PA cyber charter school.  Every school district in the state is required to send tax dollars to these underperforming schools.

In acknowledgement of Charter School Week, here is a proposed framework for a simple, straight-forward piece of cyber charter reform legislation.  I would appreciate hearing any suggestions to improve this proposal and to turn it into suitable legislative language.
1-2-3: PA Cyber Charter Reform for Dummies

1. If a school district has an existing cyber learning program available it is not required to pay for any student to attend a state-authorized cyber charter school.

2. Any advertising by cyber charter schools must clearly and prominently state "This advertisement paid for with your local property tax dollars".

3. Any advertising by cyber charter schools must clearly and prominently state the cyber charter's most recent PA School Performance Profile score and that the PA Department of Education considers a score of 70 to be a passing score.



Pension bill to move ahead despite Browne's absence
WITF Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | May 5, 2015 9:19 PM
Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) is expected to make a full recovery after a motorcycle accident last weekend landed him in the hospital -- and, potentially, in trouble with local authorities.
Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for the Senate GOP, said it's not clear if or when Browne could return to his duties as chairman of the Appropriations Committee after sustaining injuries to his lung, ribs, and foot.  "We haven't heard any prognosis at this point," said Kocher.  Browne's colleagues say his absence is significant, with just two months remaining until the state budget deadline. Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) noted Browne is one of the "more moderate" Republican leaders, and is known for taking on heavy policy lifts.  "He gets involved in some meaty stuff, and I think he's developed a level of respect for that by both sides," said Hughes.  The Lehigh County lawmaker had already briefed GOP colleagues on the budget as well as proposed state pension changes, an effort he was spearheading. Kocher said the measure is on track to be introduced within days and considered by the full Senate next week.

Senate Co-Sponsorship Memoranda SB1: Pension Reform Legislation
Posted:            May 6, 2015 12:49 PM
From:   Senator Jake Corman and Sen. Patrick Browne, Sen. Joseph Scarnati, Sen. John Gordner, Sen. John Eichelberger
To:                    All Senate members
Subject:            Pension Reform Legislation
This week, we plan to introduce Senate Bill 1, comprehensive legislation designed to modernize the Commonwealth’s retirement systems in order to bring significant updates to the funding, sustainability and fiscal responsibility of the two main pension funds. 
The pension reform debate is not new to Pennsylvania and has been discussed, researched and debated through many hearings in both Chambers of the General Assembly over the last two years.  Through these hearings and extensive research, we have developed a plan that will move the Commonwealth to a more stable future with regard to statewide pensions.
Senate Bill 1 is a historic plan that reflects the seriousness of the situation the Commonwealth faces with pensions. It’s a problem that demands aggressive actions.  Restructuring the public pension system in this manner will provide tangible, structural improvements for current and future employees. This proposal does not reduce in any way or makes changes whatsoever to benefits already earned by existing employees or retirees.]

GOP seeks end to Pennsylvania's traditional pension plans, employee concessions
Daily Journal By MARC LEVY  Associated Press First Posted: May 06, 2015 - 1:24 pm Last Updated: May 06, 2015 - 1:26 pm
HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Republican senators want to end Pennsylvania's debt-ridden pension plans for state and public school employees and require concessions from many current workers to provide immediate taxpayer savings, according to details provided Wednesday to The Associated Press.  The plan is the Senate Republican majority's top priority this legislative session and is designed to whittle down the estimated $50 billion pension debt that Republicans call Pennsylvania state government's biggest fiscal problem.  Senate Republican leaders have insisted that their plan be considered in the coming week's wide-ranging negotiations with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf over fixing state government's large projected operating deficit.  The affected would include rank-and-file state employees, teachers, state troopers, lawmakers, judges, top executive branch officials and state university staff members. Senate Republicans hope to introduce the long-awaited legislation, receive an actuarial analysis of the plan and pass the bill by the end of next week.  Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said Wednesday that the actuary's analysis will project how much money the plan would save taxpayers.

PA Senate Republican reform bill seeks to dial back costly 2001 public pension enhancements
Penn Live By Charles Thompson | cthompson@pennlive.com  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on May 06, 2015 at 8:36 PM, updated May 06, 2015 at 10:24 PM
A top Senate Republican leader Wednesday pledged action next week on a new pension reform plan that, in one major aspect, will attack one of Pennsylvania's policy sacred cows.  It would, as proposed, roll back lucrative retirement benefit increases granted to all state workers and school teachers who were on the job in 2001.  The plan is not an actual benefit cut per se:  In fact, as proposed by Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, it would lock in place retirement benefits employees earned over the 14 years that the enhanced pension formula has been in effect.  But if those workers want to apply the higher formula to their last years of employment – when they are most likely earning their highest salaries – they'd have to agree to a make a higher deduction on their current paychecks.

Senate GOP reform plan would offer pension options to current workers
By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter on May 06, 2015 at 2:44 PM, updated May 06, 2015 at 4:09 PM
The Senate's highly anticipated pension reform proposal to modernize the two public pension systems reflects a comprehensive approach to addressing the rising pension costs and the state's $50 billion-plus unfunded liability.  A memo about the plan, identified as Senate Bill 1, that began being circulated in the Senate on Wednesday emphasizes it would do nothing to change the benefits already earned by existing employees or retirees from the Public School Employees' Retirement System and the State Employees' Retirement System.  Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said the chamber would begin discussions of the legislation next week. He called it a plan that is fair to employees and taxpayers as well as one that he believes can withstand a legal challenge.

Polls show overwhelming support for more state money, new state funding formula for basic education
Campaign for Fair Education Funding May 2015

Better understand how Lehigh Valley school districts are funded
By Sara K. Satullo | For lehighvalleylive.com  Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on May 06, 2015 at 12:47 PM, updated May 06, 2015 at 2:11 PM
There are many things you can say about Pennsylvania's public education system but simple is not one of them.  The funding of the state's 500 school districts proved to be a major issue for voters in November's gubernatorial election. New Gov. Tom Wolf wants to increase funding for public education by $1 billion but his ambitious plans have been met with resistance.  While school funding is a major issue, it isn't intuitive or easy for the average person to understand.  Keystone Crossroads is trying to demystify public school funding in the state, delving into the "history, complexities and controversies" with its new Multiple Choices podcast. The podcast is a collaboration between Keystone Crossroads and the Public School Notebook.  In Wednesday's installment, senior education reporter Kevin McCorry shares a very cool interactive map that lets readers see which school districts get the highest percentage of state aid as a share of their total revenue. McCorry notes that the analysis is only looking at percentage of funding sources, not total dollars.  If you guessed Allentown and Philadelphia top the list, you guessed wrong. The answers underscores how wonky Pennsylvania's funding system really is.

Letter: Bipartisan effort could resolve school funding
Pocono Record LTE by  JANET K. WEIDENSAUL Posted May. 6, 2015 at 9:06 PM
I found it refreshing to read your article about our freshman representative, David Parker, and Gov. Wolf crossing the political lines to discuss the incredible challenges facing Monroe County taxpayers and school districts. The fact that they are talking about fair funding for all school districts and fixing 23 years of injustice tells me they understand priorities and have common sense.  We are among the most penalized property owners in the state. According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, all four Monroe County school districts are in the top 5 for percentage of income consumed by school property taxes. The negative impacts and terrible ripple effects of this have been devastating to our taxpayers, businesses and our local economy.

"Their candidate, Williams, is a longtime voucher and charter-school advocate. His record as a legislator in Harrisburg shows that the Susquehanna partners have good reason to invest in Williams' candidacy. In conjunction with the Corbett administration and Republicans, he was co-sponsor of the voucherlike bill that created generous tax credits for businesses who contributed to private-school scholarships, draining dollars for public schools. He was the sponsor of a bill that would circumvent local districts' control over charters. He supported legislation that would weaken teacher tenure and seniority rights. Indeed, Gov. Corbett, who slashed a billion dollars from the education budget, picked Williams for his transition team, praising Williams as a supporter of his policies."
Letters: This election, let's not hedge our bets
Philly Daily News LTE by KIA HINTON & DAWN HAWKINS Wednesday, May 6, 2015, 12:16 AM
AS African-Americans who advocate for students and parents in our communities, we find the notion that billionaire hedge-fund managers who live on the Main Line should decide who will be our next mayor and determine the shape of public education in our city troubling, to say the least.  The three partners of the Susquehanna International Group - Joel Greenberg, Jeff Yass and Arthur Dantchik - poured $6 million into the failed gubernatorial bid of Anthony Hardy Williams and now are spending more millions to make him mayor.  Portrayed in the media as disinterested philanthropists, the three are more accurately seen as a local version of the Koch brothers who not only favor charters and vouchers, but promote market-based privatization across the board. This policy agenda hurts working-class people generally and our communities especially.

Blogger's note: I am "puzzled" why scholarship organizations get to keep 20% of the EITC/OSTC money for administrative expenses with no fiscal transparency; in Florida that figure is just 3%.
Who needs vouchers when you EITC/OSTC diverted tax dollars flowing to private and religious schools that have no fiscal accountability or academic performance accountability?  Pennsylvania should fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide a thorough and efficient PUBLIC education, not divert an additional $100 million to tax credit programs.
Education tax-credit bill sponsored by Christiana clears committee, but he's 'puzzled' by partisan vote
Beaver County Times Online By Tom Davidson tdavidson@timesonline.com Posted: Tuesday, May 5, 2015 3:30 pm | Updated: 4:31 pm, Tue May 5, 2015.
HARRISBURG -- A bill that will provide for an additional $100 million in tax credits for two well-used state education programs cleared committee Monday.
But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jim Christiana, R-15, Beaver, said he was puzzled by the 18-8 vote along party lines by which the bill cleared the House Education Committee.
Even as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf settles into office and pushes for expanded education funding, the bill was opposed by eight of 11 Democrats on the committee, with one member not voting.  "What was puzzling is all this rhetoric wasn't met with reality," Christiana said. "These are expanding programs that are in high demand."  The proposal, House Bill 752, would increase the amount of available tax credits for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit programs.

Property-tax debate looms in Pa. House
ANGELA COULOUMBIS, INQUIRER HARRISBURG BUREAU LAST UPDATED: Thursday, May 7, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Wednesday, May 6, 2015, 6:39 PM
HARRISBURG - A ranking House Republican said Wednesday that party leaders were ready to put to a vote a hotly debated property-tax-relief proposal, shifting the spotlight to an issue certain to become a key point in this year's budget talks.  Majority Leader Dave Reed of Indiana County said he intended to call the GOP-sponsored plan for a floor vote next week, despite not knowing whether it had the support to pass the chamber - or even enough to win a majority among his own party.  "This is not a partisan issue," Reed told reporters. "It's not going to be just a straight party-line vote."  He added: "This discussion is core to getting a budget done. We need to find out whether we can move forward with this or not."

GOP leader vows vote next week on property tax reform
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter on May 06, 2015 at 6:52 PM
After four decades of tinkering around the edges of the issue, the state House is planning to vote next week on legislation to grant significant school property tax relief to homeowners.  House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, told reporters on Wednesday that he wants to see this issue be part of the upcoming budget negotiations. Moving a plan out of the House is a way to get that conversation started with the Senate and Gov. Tom Wolf.  While hopeful that a plan crafted by the House Republicans passes, he said if it doesn't, he is willing to put Wolf's property tax relief plan up for a vote.  Both plans, though different, call for shifting the bulk of the school funding burden off the property tax and on to an increased state personal income tax and sales tax rate.

Supreme Court to hear appeal on Bethlehem charter school expansion
By Peter Hall Of The Morning Call May 6, 2015
The state Supreme Court will hear Bethlehem's appeal of a charter school expansion.
The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear Bethlehem Area School District's arguments in a case that could determine how charter schools across Pennsylvania can expand.  Lehigh Valley Dual Language Charter School won a Commonwealth Court ruling in July overturning a decision by the state Charter School Appeal Board that blocked its expansion into a second building.  In a two-page order Wednesday, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the lower court's decision is properly supported by prior court decisions and the language of the charter school law.  Bethlehem Superintendent Joseph Roy said the court agreeing to hear the district's appeal is a significant win. As Pennsylvania's highest court, the Supreme Court hears only a small number of the appeals that come before it.

Blogger's note: It appears that former Corbett Press Secretary Tim Eller, now director of the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools, cuts cyber charters loose in this discussion on accountability.
Pennsylvania charter school reform hinges on ‘accountability’
By Evan Grossman  /   May 5, 2015  Watchdog.org
School choice advocates and charter school critics both want stronger laws for greater oversight and accountability in the charter sector. So why is it so difficult to effect any real change in Harrisburg?  It comes down to exactly what accountability means. The varying definitions of that word held by education reformers on all sides of the issue make overhauling Pennsylvania charter school regulations a challenge in perpetuity.  “Accountability is a word that everybody says, ‘Yeah, that sounds good.’ Nobody can really disagree with that in concept,” Bob Fayfich, director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, told Watchdog. “But let’s look at what you mean when you say that.”

"It notes that these figures only represent fraud and waste in the charter sector uncovered so far, and that the total that federal, state and local governments “stand to lose” in 2015 is probably more than $1.4 billion. It says, “The vast majority of the fraud perpetrated by charter officials will go undetected because the federal government, the states, and local charter authorizers lack the oversight necessary to detect the fraud.”
Report: Millions of dollars in fraud, waste found in charter school sector
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss April 28  
A new report released on Tuesday details fraud and waste totaling more than $200 million of uncovered fraud and waste of taxpayer funds in the charter school sector, but says the total is  impossible to know because there is not sufficient oversight over these schools. It calls on Congress to include safeguards in legislation being considered to succeed the federal No Child Left Behind law.  The report, titled “The Tip of the Iceberg: Charter School Vulnerabilities To Waste, Fraud, And Abuse,” was released jointly by the nonprofit organizations  Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and the Center for Popular Democracy. It follows a similar report released a year ago by the same groups that detailed $136 million in fraud and waste and mismanagement in 15 of the 42 states that operate charter schools. The 2015 report cites $203 million, including the 2014 total plus $23 million in new cases, and $44 million in earlier cases not included in last year’s report.

Report: “The Tip of the Iceberg: Charter School Vulnerabilities To Waste, Fraud, And Abuse"
Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and the Center for Popular Democracy. May 2015

New standardized tests bring technical challenges, concern
KIMBERLY HEFLING, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Wednesday, May 6, 2015, 11:46 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) - Call this the year of the test. Or, at least the year of standardized test mania.  Standardized test season in K-12 classrooms has been dominated in some states by widespread technical problems or by parents allowing their children to opt out. But testing officials say the rollout this spring of new standardized tests taken by computer in many U.S. public schools has been without major problems in much of the country.  The next step? Seeing how students did - and how parents and educators respond. Test scores don't just inform parents of their child's progress; they are used to judge schools and teacher performance, too. The new exams are expected to be harder in many states than the state assessments they replaced, but they've been billed as a more accurate testing of what students are actually learning.

"Mid Valley is also expected to pay an additional $285,000 for cyber and charter schools, a fee that comes straight from it’s state subsidy.  Director Donna Dixon, after looking up the state averages, estimated the district pays around $9,300 for a regular education and $19,000 for a special education student to attend cyber or charter schools.
Retirement obligations, another state mandated fee, are expected to go up 25.84 percent, Mr. Melone said.
He also removed an anticipated $137,000 in PlanCon funds from the working budget. Districts were able to apply for state reimbursements when they started a building project through a process called PlanCon, an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook. Mr. Melone does not believe the district will see those funds in 2015-16."
Mid Valley board reviews revised 2015 -16 budget
Scranton Times-Tribune KATHLEEN BOLUS, STAFF WRITER Published: May 7, 2015
THROOP — Mid Valley School Board directors reviewed a revised edition of the working 2015-16 budget Wednesday that included changes in state and local revenue.  “The largest contrast is what we want to do versus what we can do financially,” said Thomas Melone of Albert B. Melone Co., the district’s business office since 2013.  In the working budget presented to directors, the district is projected to lose $38,534 in state funding; but will receive $291,197 in property taxes with an increase past the Act 1 index, real estate taxes, delinquent tax revenue and earned income tax, he said.  Salaries are anticipated to go up $43,949 because of increases for detention, coverage and meetings; maintenance overtime and tax collectors fees; and benefits will increase by $13,698.

Baldwin-Whitehall School Board seeks .81-mill tax increase
By Margaret Smykla May 7, 2015 12:37 AM
In a straw vote at Wednesday night's Baldwin-Whitehall School Board meeting, the board gave business manager Mark Cherpak direction to prepare a detailed proposed final budget for the 2015-16 school year based on a tax increase of .81 mills.  The increase will generate more than $1.5 million in revenue. Even with the tax hike, the district faces a $2.5 million deficit.  One option presented at the meeting for balancing the budget is adopting the tax increase and also cutting 28.25 positions, with the latter saving the district $2.4 million.

Butler Area board approves consolidation; 5 schools to close
Trib Live By Rick Wills Wednesday, May 6, 2015, 7:36 p.m.
Despite months of protests and a campaign for school board filled with opponents of school consolidation, Butler Area School school directors Wednesday voted to close five of the district's 11 elementary schools.  Board members voted 7-2 during a contentious meeting at Butler Area Senior High School to close the Broad Street, Center Avenue, Clearfield, Meridian and Oakland elementary schools.  “This consolidation has been discussed and debated for over two years. We have increased property taxes 23 of past 25 years. We have to give the taxpayer consideration,” said board member Jim Keffalas.


EPLC "Focus on Education" TV Program on PCN - Sunday, May 10 at 3:00 p.m. 
Topic 1: Sunshine, Ethics, Open Records, and School Districts
Nathaneal Byerly, Acting Executive Director, Office of Open Records
Robert Caruso, Executive Director, Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission
Barry Kauffman, Executive Director, Common Cause Pennsylvania
Topic 2: The Role of Intermediate Units in Pennsylvania
Thomas E. Gluck, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units

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

CONFERENCE ON THE STATE OF EDUCATION IN PENNSYLVANIA
A CALL FOR ADEQUATE AND EQUITABLE SCHOOL FUNDING
Sponsored by Coatesville and Media Area NAACPs
9:00 AM – 1:30 PM SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2015
MARCUS FOSTER STUDENT UNION 2ND FLOOR
CHEYNEY UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA DELAWARE COUNTY CAMPUS, CHEYNEY, PA
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.
FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. SPACE IS LIMITED.
COME AND ASK YOUR PERSONAL QUESTIONS AND SHARE YOUR OPINIONS WITH PRESENTERS WHO ARE EXPERTS AND POLICY MAKERS.
Pre-Registration is required for meals. Deadline for Pre-registration is May 12, 2015

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

PHILLY DISTRICT TO HOLD COMMUNITY BUDGET MEETINGS
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:
 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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