Thursday, June 18, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 18: If BEFC punts on adequacy & "hold harmless", pension crisis could be over before PA school funding inequities are addressed

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for June 18, 2015:
If BEFC punts on adequacy & "hold harmless", pension crisis could be over before PA school funding inequities are addressed

"Barring any unforeseen technical difficulties, the hearing will stream live on and"
Basic Education Funding Commission to Release Report Thursday, June 18th at 10 a.m.
PA Senate Republican website June 16, 2015
The Basic Education Funding Commission, Co-Chaired by Senator Pat Browne (R-16 Lehigh) and Representative Mike Vereb (R-150 Montgomery), will meet on Thursday, June 18th at 10 a.m. to consider recommendations and a funding formula and release its report to the General Assembly and the public.  The Basic Education Funding Commission was established through Act 51 of 2014 to develop a new formula for the distribution of state funding for basic education to Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts. The 15-member commission has undertaken a comprehensive study of a number of factors, held 15 hearings over the past 11 months and heard from a wide-range of experts and advocates in the education field, as well as parents, before arriving ultimately at a consensus on a new formula.  The meeting will be held in the Majority Caucus Room of the House of Representatives. The recommendations of the commission will not go into effect, however, without legislation approved by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor

"The 15-member Basic Education Funding Commission, created by a law last June, is scheduled to produce recommendations after nearly a year of study and hearings.  For some, a fix is overdue. Pennsylvania is repeatedly found to harbor some of the nation's worst inequalities in school finance.  Pennsylvania last had an entrenched and objective school funding formula around 1990. After that, the distribution of school dollars became a political exercise in which governors and top lawmakers worked to bend the formulas to their will."
PA lawmakers work to correct 25-year school funding disparity
Morning Call By Marc Levy Of The Associated Press
HARRISBURG — In theory, Pennsylvania school districts whose communities are similar economically are supposed to receive about the same amount of money per student from the state. But, with politics muscling in on how public school aid was distributed in the last two decades, officials have long complained about gaping disparities in public school aid.
Some communities now get half as much per-student aid as those with similar economic circumstances.  On Thursday, a panel of lawmakers and top advisers to Gov. Tom Wolf is to recommend a way to close the gap, an effort that comes as Wolf is seeking the biggest one-year boost in public school aid in the state's history.  An Associated Press review of state data shows per-student funding differences can be great.  For example, take Purchase Line School District in Indiana County and Curwensville Area School District in Clearfield County. Deemed by the state to have nearly identical wealth, the relatively small districts are neighbors and are similar in enrollment. But Purchase Line is getting about $8,700 per student, based on the latest average enrollment figures available, while Curwensville gets about $6,500 per student, about one-third less.  Or take Northampton Area School District in Northampton County and Wilson School District in Berks County. About 30 miles apart and nearly identical in average enrollment and wealth, Northampton Area gets about $2,300 per student, while Wilson gets barely half that.
"It makes no sense," said Arnold Hillman, a former superintendent and a founder of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. "It hasn't made sense in years."  The disparities, which go back 25 years, are under the microscope as the state tries to confront them.

Pennsylvania looks to correct school funding disparities
Education Week by Associated Press Published Online: June 17, 2015
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania school districts whose communities are similar economically are supposed to receive about the same amount of money per student from the state.  But officials have long complained that isn't happening.  An Associated Press comparison of per-student funding shows the differences can be great, with some districts getting half as much aid as communities of similar economic circumstances.  On Thursday, after months of study, a panel of lawmakers and advisers to Gov. Tom Wolf is scheduled to recommend some fixes. It comes as Wolf, a Democrat, is proposing the biggest-ever one-year boost in school aid.  Arnold Hillman of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools says the state's school funding formula makes no sense. The disparities date back 25 years and analysts say it could take years to correct.

"Among poll respondents, 30 percent said their top priority for state lawmakers is more public education funding, while another 25 percent cited property tax reform."
F&M Poll: Pennsylvania voters want action on education funding, property taxes
Lancaster Online By TIM STUHLDREHER | Staff Writer Thursday, June 18, 2015 6:00 am
Most of Pennsylvania’s registered voters are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.
About half (49 percent) support Gov. Tom Wolf’s death penalty moratorium, versus 37 percent who oppose it.   And they want action on increasing education funding and property tax reform.  Those are some of the findings of the latest Franklin & Marshall College poll, released Thursday.  F&M political scientist G. Terry Madonna, who directs the poll, said he wanted to gauge public sentiment on some of the main issues before the state Legislature.

View the latest Franklin & Marshall College Poll (PDF):

"In "Resource Accountability," Mr. Sciarra and Ms. Hunter explain that the current debate over state school finance reform, by focusing on how much states spend on education, is too narrow. What's missing is the oft-ignored but crucial question of how states must also put in place mechanisms to drive funding to support essential resources and research-proven programs in local classrooms, especially in schools serving high concentrations of students in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities."
EDUCATION JUSTICE - ELC's National Program  June 17, 2015
New ELC Article Explores State Obligation to Ensure Money Matters
In March 2015, Education Policy Analysis Archive (EPAA) published "Resource Accountability: Enforcing State Responsibilities for Sufficient and Equitable Resources Used Effectively to Provide All Students a Quality Education" by Education Law Center's (ELC) David Sciarra and Molly Hunter.  The ELC article, written for the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education's (SCOPE's) New Accountability project, headed by noted educator Linda Darling-Hammond, explores cutting-edge school finance reforms that include not only fair and adequate school funding, but also frameworks to ensure the "effective and efficient" use of funding by local districts and schools.

Rising pension, charter costs mean bad budget news
GoErie Education Blog by  Erica Erwin June 17, 2015 3:17 pm
The news came as no surprise to anybody who has been paying attention: In a replay of the past several years, school districts across the state plan to balance their 2015-16 budgets through property tax increases, the reduction of staff or programs, or both.  That was the bleak picture painted by an annual joint school budget survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.
Among the survey’s findings:
  •   More than 70 percent of responding districts plan to raise local property taxes (Erie isn’t one of them). Eighty percent of those plan to exceed the tax increase-limit set by Act 1, the state’s property tax relief law, by seeking exceptions from the state.
  • 41 percent of districts will reduce staff.
  • Nearly 25 percent will reduce or cut programs.
The survey points to two causes — rising mandated costs, including increased pension, health care, charter school and special education costs, and the overall state share of education funding, down from 39 percent in 2008-09 to 37 percent in 2014-15.

Indicted charter founder Dorothy June Brown has dementia, her lawyers say
MARTHA WOODALL, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Thursday, June 18, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Wednesday, June 17, 2015, 5:24 PM
Lawyers for Dorothy June Brown, a charter school founder scheduled to be retried next month on federal fraud charges, have filed new medical reports that they say bolster their contention that the 77-year-old educator has dementia.  Lawyers said in court documents that they are not seeking to delay Brown's retrial, scheduled to begin July 7 with jury selection on June 29. Instead, they have asked the judge to evaluate Brown's mental competency "at every stage at which it is raised" because physicians at the Cleveland Clinic have concluded that Brown has Alzheimer's-type dementia.

Measure tying teacher layoffs to job performance narrowly survives preliminary test in Pa. House
Penn Live By Charles Thompson | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on June 17, 2015 at 9:35 PM, updated June 17, 2015 at 10:36 PM
A bill permitting Pennsylvania school districts to tie future teacher layoffs to job performance evaluations narrowly survived an early-round vote in the state House Wednesday.  The 95-94 vote on an amendment drafted by House Education Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-Red Lion, left the bill's immediate future anything but a slam dunk, as supporters try to rally the votes needed for final passage.  The bill essentially adds budget shortfalls to the list of reasons a district can lay off classroom teachers, and administrators - when using that reason - would be required to first eliminate affected personnel with "failing," or "needs improvement," ratings.

House passes revisions to state's background checks law
By PennLive staff and wire reports Follow on Twitter on June 17, 2015 at 7:22 PM
Pennsylvania House members voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to exempt more people from a state law that requires background checks for those who work with children.  The 180-9 vote sent the Senate the proposal to limit the checks for adult volunteers and employees at schools, child care facilities and similar places to those who have direct and routine interaction with children.  The more vigorous checks were enacted last year as part of the Legislature's response to the child sex abuse case against former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and scandals involving church clergy.  Some lawmakers said they hoped the Senate will remove a provision that exempts school or university workers who do not interact with students or prospective students who are less than 16 years old.

Corman discusses booze, budget, Wolf and his chief of staff
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on June 17, 2015 at 6:42 PM, updated June 17, 2015 at 9:01 PM
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman stopped by the PennLive/Patriot-News editorial board on Wednesday to provide a progress report on various fronts in the state budget negotiations with the Gov. Tom Wolf Administration and share some thoughts about an assortment of other issues.  Corman, R-Centre County, is in his first year as the Senate Republican Caucus leader after having served as their appropriations committee chairman for six years. He stepped into that role at a time when Pennsylvania voters created a divided state government by putting a Democrat in the governor's office and handing Republicans the largest majority in the Legislature that they've had in years.  Finding a budget compromise in those conditions could be challenging but Corman said if the budget negotiators have a mindset that "we're going to give if we're going to get ... we can get things done."

"Forward Philadelphia and a second super PAC called Building a Better PA -- bothfunded mostly by labor unions -- spent more than $2 million backing Kenney. But the biggest spender in the race by far was a super PAC called American Cities.  The group was funded by three wealthy financial executives from the Philadelphia suburbs who spent more than $5 million to support Williams.  Williams lost by 30 points.
Perhaps one reason American Cities' money failed to move voters is that it is an ideological PAC, devoted not just to a candidate, but also to a cause: expanding charter schools and vouchers."
'New kid' on the local block, super PACS played integral part in Philly mayoral primary
This year for the first time, super PACs spent big money on a mayoral primary in Philadelphia.  In 2012, super PACs, also known as independent expenditure groups, emerged as huge players in the presidential race as a way for donors to get around rules that keep them from writing large checks directly to candidates.  While Philadelphia turned out to be a proving ground for super PACs in local races, the results suggest money alone can't ensure a win.

Morrisville schools considering resolution to keep close eye on charter school billing
Bucks County Courier Times By GEMA MARIA DUARTE Staff writer Posted: Wednesday, June 17, 2015 10:15 pm | Updated: 11:53 pm, Wed Jun 17, 2015.
MORRISVILLE SCHOOLS — Morrisville School District will draft a resolution that will support the state keeping an eye on charter school billing procedures to make sure school districts aren't getting overbilled.  The Pennsylvania Department of Education is auditing charter schools across the state and has found infractions, Michael Braun, Morrisville's business manager, said Wednesday night after the school board meeting.  For Braun, it's about accountability. He said he believes if school district finances have to be accountable, then, charter schools should too.
"We pay the bills as they come in, but who knows how accurate are the bills," he said.
The draft is expected to be completed in time for a vote at Wednesday's board meeting.

Thackston Charter School works on problems outlined in state audit
York Dispatch By JESSICA SCHLADEBECK 505-5438/@JessDispatch POSTED:   06/17/2015 10:37:25 PM EDT
A routine audit of a York City charter school's operations from 2010 to 2013 revealed multiple areas of concern that school leadership on Wednesday said they have been working to fix.  The state audit of Helen Thackston Charter School exposed concerns about reimbursements, a potential ethics violation and double-billing for tuition reimbursements from local school districts — the school serves students from eight different districts — as well as a general lack of accountability and transparency, an insufficient number of certified teachers and a failure to keep proper financial and health records, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said last week.  None of the findings in the report were expected, Helen Thackston's executive director Oscar Rossum said.  "The administration and employees are working on all of our responses to these findings and are trying to get everything in place," Rossum said. "We are diligently working to make sure things are in a place to move us forward."  Rossum declined to comment on the specific steps that have been taken to correct the 12 findings and two observations outlined in the auditor general's 62-page report.

Nearly half of students in York County qualify for free or reduced price lunches
York Dispatch By JESSICA SCHLADEBECK 505-5438/@JessDispatch POSTED:   06/17/2015 07:51:33 AM EDT
The National School Lunch Act, passed in 1946, declared it a matter of national security to safeguard the health and well-being of a child by assisting schools in providing an adequate supply of food and facilities, and more than a half a century later, it remains relevant in York County.  Of the 67,919 students enrolled in schools across the county for the 2014-15 school year, nearly 42 percent, or 28,180, qualified for either free or reduced price lunches — 24,948 and 3,232 respectively, according to data collected by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Baldwin-Whitehall school budget passes with tax increase, staff and program cutbacks
Post Gazette By Margaret Smykla June 18, 2015 1:45 AM
Baldwin-Whitehall School Board on Wednesday night adopted a final operating budget of $61.28 million for the 2015-16 school year that raises taxes 0.81 mills, and takes money from the fund balance to cover a $1.9 million deficit.  The millage increase will generate $1.6 million in revenue. Even with the tax hike, the district faced a shortfall that will be covered from the district’s estimated $8.8 million fund balance.

West Allegheny school budget avoids tax increase
Post Gazette By Sonja Reis June 17, 2015 11:48 PM
West Allegheny School Board Wednesday night adopted a $58.17 million operating budget for 2015-16 that holds the line on real estate taxes by spending from the district's fund balance.  The millage rate will remain at 18.51 mills, meaning school real estate taxes on property valued at $100,000 will be $1,851.   The new budget anticipates revenues of $57.03 million, with the $1.14 million difference between revenues and expenditures coming from the district’s fund balance. Currently, that balance is approximately $12.87 million.

Salisbury school taxes hiked 1.2 percent, full-day kindergarten OK'd
By Kayla Dwyer Of The Morning Call June 18, 2015
With a final 2015-16 budget showing the smallest property tax increase in years, the Salisbury Township School District has approved measures officials say add value to the community, among them implementing full-day kindergarten.  The school board Wednesday night also approved a motion to renew the charter for the district's Arts Academy Charter School, an arts-based public charter for Grades 5-8, though board President Russell Giordano voted against the measure.  The final operating budget for 2015-16 of $34 million is a 1.6 percent increase from the current budget of $33.5 million. The approved budget is slightly higher than the preliminary budget of $33.8 million that was estimated in February.

Broad opt-out bill passes Delaware Senate
A bill passed Wednesday in the Delaware Senate would allows parents to opt their children out of any district- or state-wide assessment.  The bill goes further than a Delaware House version, which only certified that parents could opt out of a new, statewide exam known as Smarter Balanced. The Senate bill, unlike its House counterpart, also allows eleventh-graders to refuse to take statewide assessments. In prior versions, parents had to refuse the test on behalf of their children.  The amended legislation passed 14-7 and now heads back to the House with new language in tow.  The vote marked a strange twist in what has fast become one of Dover's highest-profile legislative showdowns.

"There has been evident improvement in just two years, with high school graduation rates raising to 67 percent in 2014, up from 52 percent in 2011. If skillfully applied, this Massachusetts strategy could become a powerful school reform tool elsewhere as well."
NYT Editorial: Massachusetts Takes On a Failing School District
New York Times By THE EDITORIAL BOARD JUNE 17, 2015
The Massachusetts public schools consistently rank at or near the top in the nation for performance on the rigorous, federally backed math and reading exams known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The state has nonetheless struggled with how to improve chronically low-performing districts like the one in the impoverished former mill town of Lawrence.  That district ranked in the bottom 1 percent in the state based on math and English test scores when it was placed in receivership by the state education commissioner in fall 2011. There has been evident improvement in just two years, with high school graduation rates raising to 67 percent in 2014, up from 52 percent in 2011. If skillfully applied, this Massachusetts strategy could become a powerful school reform tool elsewhere as well.

Hillary Clinton Calls for Universal Prekindergarten
Education Week By Alyson Klein on June 15, 2015 7:00 PM
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton made her first high-profile education policy pitch Monday: universal preschool.  Specifically, Clinton wants to give every 4-year-old in America access to high-quality preschool over the next decade.  It's clear that Clinton, the former secretary of state and U.S. Senator, thinks she has a winning issue here. After all, there's been a lot of bipartisan interest in early education at the state level. But congressional Republicans, some of whom are seeking the GOP nomination, have been reluctant to invest big federal money in the policy, in part because of concerns over runaway federal spending.  "Republicans aren't just missing the boat on early-childhood education, they're trying to sink it," Clinton said Monday in Rochester, N.H., where she officially unveiled her plan, according to published reports.
So what's the nitty-gritty on this preschool plan, and how is Clinton proposing to pay for it? There weren't a lot of hard-and-fast-details in a fact sheet circulated by the Clinton camp.

Come to Harrisburg on June 23rd for an All for Education Day Rally!
Education Voters PA website June 1, 2015
On June 23 at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Education Voters will be joining together with more than 50 organizations to send a clear message to state lawmakers that we expect them to fund our schools in this year’s budget. Click HERE for more information and to register for the June 23 All for Education Day in Harrisburg.  Join us as we speak up for the importance of funding our schools fairly and at sufficient levels, so that every student in PA has an opportunity to learn.  Community, parent, education advocacy, faith, and labor organizations will join together with school, municipal, and community officials to hold a press conference and rally at 12:00 in the main rotunda and to make arrangements to meet with legislators before and after the rally.  We must send a strong message to state lawmakers that we are watching them and expect them to pass a state budget that will fund our schools this year. Please come to Harrisburg on June 23 to show broad support for a fair budget for education this year.

Register Now – PAESSP State Conference – Oct. 18-20 – State College, PA
Registration is now open for PAESSP's State Conference to be held October 18-20 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in State College, PA! This year's theme is @EVERYLEADER and features three nationally-known keynote speakers (Dr. James Stronge, Justin Baeder and Dr. Mike Schmoker), professional breakout sessions, a legal update, exhibits, Tech Learning Labs and many opportunities to network with your colleagues (Monday evening event with Jay Paterno).  Once again, in conjunction with its conference, PAESSP will offer two 30-hour Act 45 PIL-approved programs, Linking Student Learning to Teacher Supervision and Evaluation (pre-conference offering on 10/17/15); and Improving Student Learning Through Research-Based Practices: The Power of an Effective Principal (held during the conference, 10/18/15 -10/20/15). Register for either or both PIL programs when you register for the Full Conference!
REGISTER TODAY for the Conference and Act 45 PIL program/s at:

Apply now for EPLC’s 2015-2016 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program
Applications are available now for the 2015-2016 Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP).  The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC).  With more than 400 graduates in its first sixteen years, this Program is a premier professional development opportunity for educators, state and local policymakers, advocates, and community leaders.  State Board of Accountancy (SBA) credits are available to certified public accountants.  Past participants include state policymakers, district superintendents and principals, charter school leaders, school business officers, school board members, education deans/chairs, statewide association leaders, parent leaders, education advocates, and other education and community leaders.  Fellows are typically sponsored by their employer or another organization.  The Fellowship Program begins with a two-day retreat on September 17-18, 2015 and continues to graduation in June 2016.
Click here to read about the Education Policy Fellowship Program.

Sign up here to receive a weekly email update on the status of efforts to have Pennsylvania adopt an adequate, equitable, predictable and sustainable Basic Education Funding Formula by 2016
Sign up to support fair funding »
Campaign for Fair Education Funding website
Our goal is to ensure that every student has access to a quality education no matter where they live. To make that happen, we need to fundamentally change how public schools are funded. The current system is not fair to students or taxpayers and our campaign partners – more than 50 organizations from across Pennsylvania - agree that it has to be changed now. Student performance is stagnating. School districts are in crisis. Lawmakers have the ability to change this formula but they need to hear from you. You can make a difference »

Berks County IU June 23, 7:00 - 8:30 pm
Date:  Tuesday, June 23, 2015  Time:7:00 – 8:30 p.m. | Registration begins at 6:30 p.m.
Location: Berks County Intermediate Unit, 1111 Commons Boulevard, Reading, PA 19605
Local school district leaders will discuss how state funding issues are impacting our children’s education opportunities, our local taxes, and our communities. You will have the opportunity to ask questions and learn how you can support fair and adequate state funding for public schools in Berks County.  State lawmakers who represent Berks County have been invited to attend to learn about challenges facing area schools.

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