Monday, June 22, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 22: School's out for summer; budget & school funding formula

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for June 22, 2015:
School's out for summer; budget & school funding formula

Deadline looming, no budget in sight
The GOP is considering submitting its own plan to Gov. Wolf by June 30.
HARRISBURG - With 10 days until a new fiscal year, the Wolf administration and the GOP-controlled legislature will have to pull the equivalent of a college cramming session to meet the deadline to enact a state budget.  The two sides have met behind closed doors for months, with little obvious progress on the issues that have dominated Capitol discourse: property-tax reform, liquor privatization, and a fix for skyrocketing pension costs.  By last week, the only agreement between the Democratic governor and Republican legislative leaders was the size of the budget gap - $1.2 billion. The brass ring will be figuring out how to plug it.  The talks, by all accounts, have been civil but frustrating, as ideological differences at the negotiating table - which can be stripped down to a purely Democrat-vs.-Republican divide - run deep.  So deep that the GOP is discussing sending its own budget plan to Wolf by the June 30 deadline instead of building on the one he presented in the spring.

“I think right now we have an impasse between the Republicans and Gov. Wolf and unfortunately I think we almost have to get past this June 30, end of the fiscal year, before both sides realize they are going to have to give a little bit to get what they want,” Vitali said.
Crunch time: Politicians point fingers as state budget deadline nears
By Kristina Scala, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 06/20/15, 10:27 PM EDT 
Delaware County lawmakers are expecting budget negotiations to extend past the deadline at the end of June — and some continue to point fingers at their political counterparts by claiming the vote that rejected Gov. Tom Wolf’s tax plan a few weeks ago was an orchestrated political tactic.  On June 1 the Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously rejected Wolf’s tax plan that would potentially pay for a $4.7 billion increase in spending, mostly to close a gap in the underfunded school system and provide property tax relief.  State Rep. Margo Davidson, D-164 of Upper Darby, called the maneuver a “political stunt” that was “orchestrated to embarrass” Wolf and Democrats.

As Pa. budget deadline looms, Parties find little common ground
Penn Live By The Associated Press on June 21, 2015 at 12:16 PM
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The new fiscal year for Pennsylvania state government begins July 1 and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature are meeting regularly in an effort to reach agreement on granting the state another year of spending authority. The sides have had little, if any, progress to show. Other subjects are in the mix as well. Here is a rundown.

What will blow up the budget? One word - 'Pensions': Tony May
PennLive Op-Ed  By Tony May on June 21, 2015 at 11:00 AM
Just 90 words in a letter from a mid-level program analyst in the Department of Labor and Industry to a handful of state human service providers warning of the mere possibility of a failure to pass a 2015-16 budget by July 1 is all that it took last week to raise the specter of the disruptions of Commonwealth funding crises of the past.  "Although we do not anticipate a delay in the budget being passed, if it is not passed by July 1, 2015, there will be no funds available to continue state-funded projects and programs until the time that the budget is passed.  As such, organizations with limited funding sources should make contingency plans in the event there is a delay," the program analyst wrote in an advisory to some two dozen agencies that provide  services to individuals under contracts with the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

It's budget time - get ready for a long, hot summer: Charlie Gerow
PennLive Op-Ed  By Charlie Gerow on June 21, 2015 at 11:15 AM
As PennLive/The Patriot-News graphically pointed out on the front page of its Sunday print edition on June 14, things have been a bit rough for Gov. Tom Wolf lately.
It was a negative trifecta: He was forced to back down on his failed nominee for State Police commissioner, then had to agree to seat Erik Arneson in the Office of Open Records and, finally, he acknowledged that the so-called "structural deficit" is only about half of what he repeatedly told us it is.  Ninety days after Tom Wolf announced his budget proposal there's finally agreement on the amount of the foundational predicate of his massive tax-and-spend plan. The negotiators have concluded that the structural deficit is $1.2 billion.

Vetoes on liquor, pensions on table for Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf
Trib Live By Brad Bumsted Sunday, June 21, 2015, 11:20 p.m.
HARRISBURG — Anthony May said he has no doubt that Gov. Tom Wolf has the political fortitude in a little more than a week to veto pension or liquor reform bills and a state budget, if necessary, to emphasize his priorities.   “What does he have to lose by throwing down two or three vetoes?” said May, a former top aide to the late Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey.  It may be necessary to protect the issues on which Wolf campaigned last year as the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Democratic governor stare down the eight remaining days until they must sign a budget into law.
"The fact that the 15-member Basic Education Funding Commission unanimously endorsed the proposal, which now goes before the Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf, speaks volumes about its ability to balance the interests of rural and urban schools, rich and poor districts, growing and shrinking communities."
PPG Editorial: Fair formula: A bipartisan panel finds a better way on education
Post Gazette By the Editorial Board June 21, 2015 12:00 AM
When it comes to funding education in Pennsylvania, how the money is allotted is as important as how much. With that in mind, a bipartisan commission created a year ago by Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature finished its work last week and proposed a sensible overhaul of the formula that allocates state money to 500 school districts.  Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been frustrated by the way education dollars are distributed because the current framework ignores some key cost drivers and bases much of a school district’s allocation on what it received the previous year.   As a result, similar districts that sit near each other can receive widely different amounts per student and districts that face spiking costs that are beyond their control can get nothing extra from the state to help cover them.

Lancaster Online Editorial: A sensible way forward on school funding in Pennsylvania
Lancaster Online by The LNP Editorial Board June 21, 2015
State lawmakers on the Basic Education Funding Commission released their report Thursday, its key element a proposed formula for distributing money to public schools. Pennsylvania is one of only a few states without a consistent funding formula; it last had such a formula in the 1990-91 school year. In its quest to arrive at a new formula, the Basic Education Funding Commission heard testimonies from more than 110 school leaders, academics, business leaders, nonprofit groups and parents in 15 hearings across the state.   That sound you heard Thursday across Pennsylvania was a collective “phew” from school administrators who have been setting their budgets in the dark for far too long.  For years, they have been unable to predict just how much money they could count on getting from the state.  The school-funding process lacks “consistency, predictability, sustainability, adequacy and fairness,” wrote former Solanco School District Superintendent Martin Hudacs in an LNP op-ed in March.  Now, however, there’s hope in sight, and for that, we laud the bipartisan, 15-member Basic Education Funding Commission.

DN Editorial: Dysfunctional pols realize school funding formula needs fixing/jbe
Philly Daily News Editorial POSTED: Monday, June 22, 2015, 12:16 AM
HOW BROKEN is Pennsylvania's school funding formula?  So broken that the Legislature actually decided to do something about it.  It created a bipartisan commission to study the current formula and come up with a new, more workable and fairer one.  The Basic Education Funding Commission released its report and recommendations last week and it contains a lot of good news for the Philadelphia School District.  Instead of the hodgepodge formula the state uses now to dole out aid, it calls for a new one that begins with true enrollment.

Capitolwire: Banner day at the capitol for public education.
PA Coalition of Public Charter Schools website By Christen Smith Staff Reporter – Capitolwire June 19, 2015
HARRISBURG (June 18) — A rare mood struck the General Assembly Thursday when the Basic Education Funding Commission announced its recommendation for a new funding formula.  For just one day, the usual partisan bickering over public education took a backseat as lawmakers crossed the aisle to pat each other on the back and commend one another for “a job well done.”  Even Gov. Tom Wolf was all smiles as he sat sandwiched between the two Republican commission co-chairs, Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, and Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, during a press conference in the governor’s reception room.  “This is a big step forward for the people of Pennsylvania and for our education system,” Wolf said. “I think it’s a really strong statement and it’s a sign we can actually reach across party lines and across the aisle to do really important things for the people of Pennsylvania.”

Basic Education Funding Commission releases report
Education Voters of Pennsylvania statement on the release of the Basic Education Funding Commission report
The fundamental key to school funding is student learning: enough resources and fairness, which means providing every child a chance to learn and meet state standards. The key to fixing school funding is having a rational way to drive out funding and fixing what is inequitable now. We are very glad both aspects of this were acknowledged by the Commission members in the release of the report.  The Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC) has started us on the road to fixing school funding by providing a framework for rational ways to deal with student and district characteristics. However, there is much to be done to ensure that funding is allocated at levels sufficient to meet the learning needs of every student. The General Assembly is going to have to step up and make a commitment this year, and in future years, to support the good efforts of their colleagues on the Commission and invest in education in a way that provides every child in every community with a fair shot.  We need to deal with what is unfair now, as well as how to move forward fairly.  A formula is only as good as the funding it drives out.

Pennsylvania's new, 'fairer' school funding formula likely to become law soon
Lancaster Online By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer Posted: Sunday, June 21, 2015 9:00 am | Updated: 10:58 am, Sun Jun 21, 2015.
The typical politician looks at any new proposal and wonders how it will benefit their district. That reflex will need to be repressed for a new way of funding public schools to pass the state Legislature.   The bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission on Thursday unveiled a proposed formula to distribute state dollars to school districts. Commission members say the new method would help Pennsylvania move away from the current unfair and unpredictable system.  Some districts would benefit from the  proposed changes more than others, but no district would get less money than before.  For that reason, two Lancaster County lawmakers who helped create the proposal are confident it can be turned into law this summer. But agreement must be reached on when to start applying the formula, and other legislative battles on school spending are far from settled.

Basic Education Funding Commission report 
This is the Basic Education Funding Commission's final report on Pennsylvania's school funding formula, published on June 19, 2015.

“The commission has recognized the significant and unique challenges facing schools that serve our most vulnerable learners,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center-Pennsylvania, which has sued the state over what it says is inadequate and unfair school funding."
Pa. proposes new school funding formula to help low-income students
Washington Post By Emma Brown June 18  
A Pennsylvania state commission has proposed a funding formula that would send more tax dollars to school districts that serve high numbers of needy children, including those who are poor or who are learning English as a second language.  Advocates welcomed the commission’s unanimous recommendations as a first step toward fixing Pennsylvania’s school funding system, which is the most inequitable in the nation, according to federal data.  The state’s poorest school districts get one-third fewer state and local tax dollars, per pupil, than the richest.

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup June 20: Some weekend reading: PA Basic Ed Funding Commission has published its 105-page final report

Clergy fasting on Capitol steps for education funding by Laura McCrystal LAST UPDATED: Saturday, June 20, 2015, 1:20 PM POSTED: Saturday, June 20, 2015, 12:54 PM
A group of religious leaders began a 10-day fast Saturday on the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg to rally for increased education funding.  POWER, or Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild, began the protest Saturday morning with a Shabbat service, led by two rabbis from Philadelphia. On Sunday, the 20 fasters will set up shop in a tent on the steps of the Capitol.  POWER spokeswoman Margaret Ernst said the group wants the state to dedicate an additional $3.6 billion to Pennsylvania schools – far more than the $400 million in additional funding proposed by Gov. Wolf this year.  The group also has advocated for a formula to determine how funding should be allocated among school districts. A bipartisan commission of state lawmakers last week proposed such a formula, giving weight to factors such as poverty, non-English speaking students, and charter payments.

Religious alliance stages 'Moral Takeover' at Pa. Capitol, seeks education funding boost
By Matt Miller | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on June 20, 2015 at 5:23 PM, updated June 20, 2015 at 10:14 PM
For at least the next 10 days, Pennsylvania's Capitol will be under siege.
The besiegers are members of an interfaith alliance who are staging what they call a "Moral Takeover" of the seat of state government to try to convince legislators to approve a massive boost in funding for public education.  No slings or arrows will be involved.  The weapons of choice will be prayer, fasting and perseverance. Base camp for the expedition will be Grace United Methodist Church right down State Street, almost in the shadow of the Capitol dome.

Educating funding formula impact unknown in region
The Bradford Era By ALEX DAVIS Era Reporter | 0 comments Posted: Saturday, June 20, 2015 10:00 am
School districts across the region are one step closer to potentially receiving their fair share of basic education funding, a move that an area superintendent says could bring a financial windfall over the next few years.  But another official says it’s too early to know just how the proposed basic education funding formula would impact local school districts.   On Thursday, the Basic Education Funding Commission recommended a formula that would need General Assembly approval. Under the proposal, several factors would be taken into account in distributing money to the 500 school districts in the commonwealth, such as poverty, student population, English language learners and charter school enrollment. A “sparsity size adjustment” would also be included, which is designed to adjust funding due to the “unique challenges” that small, rural school districts face.   “At this time it is premature to make any assumptions regarding how the Basic Education Funding Commission’s recommended formula would impact any districts, as no set amount of funding has yet been allocated by the legislature and also because the formula has yet to be voted on,” said Pamela Lenz, circuit rider for Pennsylvania Campaign for Fair Education Funding. Over the course of many months, she has been focusing on a goal for fair education funding and that has included working with school district officials across the region.

State reaction to Basic Education Funding Commission report
The Sentinel Cumberlink by  Sentinel Staff June 21, 2015
On Thursday, state politicians and education organizations reacted positively to the final report issued by the Basic Education Funding Commission. The commission spent about a year creating a plan for the fair distribution of state allocations to local school districts.
“The time is now for a bipartisan effort to move the funding formula across the final finish line and pass legislation putting it into place. A formula will go a long way to help school entities develop their annual budgets. Additionally, a formula will help with the equitable distribution of school funding to alleviate the current disparities in how state dollars are allocated.” — Nathan Mains, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Board Association.
“By giving additional weight to students living in poverty — especially to those living in concentrated poverty — the commission has recognized the significant and unique challenges facing schools that serve our most vulnerable learners. Such districts are often hit with a double whammy; they must serve the most at-risk students while struggling to raise local revenue even as they tax at relatively high rates.” — Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center-PA  “This is a promising set of recommendations. Members of the commission are making a concerted effort to fund students—not systems, districts, or buildings. This is a sharp departure from the status quo and much-needed step in the right direction.” — James Paul, senior policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation

Education funding top issue
Standard Speaker BY ROBERT SWIFT, HARRISBURG BUREAU CHIEF Published: June 18, 2015
HARRISBURG — Education funding remains a top priority among Pennsylvania voters with the deadline for passing the next state budget less than two weeks away, according to a new statewide poll released Thursday.  Almost a third of voters, 30 percent, said increasing state aid for education should be state lawmakers’ top priority while a quarter, 26 percent, said reducing local school property taxes should be, the Franklin & Marshall College poll found.  These findings correspond to results in a Franklin and Marshall poll in March released shortly after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s first budget address.  Wolf has proposed an ambitious budget with additional spending and tax hikes, including using a portion of severance tax revenue to restore earlier cuts to public education. A hike in the state personal income tax rate from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent would pay for substantial school property tax relief under Wolf’s proposal. The emphasis on education funding is not surprising, said G. Terry Madonna, Ph.D., the poll director.  Cuts in state education aid during former Gov. Tom Corbett’s tenure led to higher property taxes, teacher layoffs and program cancellations. Wolf made it a top issue during his successful gubernatorial campaign last year.

What is Act 1 and how did it impact property taxes and school funding?
WHYY Newsworks/Keystone Crossroads/the notebook BY ALLISON WELTON JUNE 22, 2015 MULTIPLE CHOICES: PART 15
Fifteenth in an occasional series of podcasts and web "explainers." 
What is Act 1?
Act 1 is a property tax relief bill passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in 2006 and amended in 2011. It greatly expanded rebates and exemptions for senior citizens and provided rebates for other homeowners. It also set a cap on the amount a school district can raise property taxes without first getting voter approval.  The cap is calculated with an eye toward allowing school districts to cover normal inflationary cost increases. If a school district wishes to raise taxes above that cap, the increase must be voted on in a district-wide referendum. Districts may avoid the referendum if they qualify for one of four exceptions related to increased costs for special education, school construction, employee retirement funds, and certain school debt scenarios.

"Like most school districts, North Allegheny is struggling to pay increased payments into the Pennsylvania School Employee Retirement System. The district’s share into the PSERS fund will increase by $3.1 million in the 2015-16 budget."
Tax increase likely in North Allegheny School District
Post Gazette By Sandy Trozzo June 20, 2015 9:34 AM
The North Allegheny school board will likely vote Wednesday to increase taxes in order to avoid cuts to programs, including elimination of a popular one-to-one technology initiative.  The board will consider two versions of a $144.2 million budget. Both versions were requested by board members.  "The reason the board requested two budget scenarios is because we need to consider what things would look like if a millage increase is not approved this year,” said board President Tara Fisher. “For comparison purposes, it’s important that the board understand the nature and the extent of any proposed cuts necessary to balance the budget without a tax increase."

"The end game in Nevada is pretty simple, pretty clear, and pretty close: the voucher program marks the end of any semblance of commitment to public education and the beginning of a completely privatized system of schools for Nevada. It will not be good for Nevada, it will not be good for students, it will not be good for Nevada's taxpayers, and it will not fulfill any of its promises. It will make a few edupreneurs wealthy. For everyone else, the benefits of the voucher system will remain a mirage."
Mirage: 5 Reasons Nevada's New Choice Law Is Not Good News
Education Week Opinion By Peter Greene on June 18, 2015 9:06 AM
Charter-choice fans are ecstatic. Nevada's GOP legislature has decided to go all in on a state-wide voucher program.   "I think a healthy public school system has choice," says Sen. Scott Hammond, bill sponsor and future charter school chief. The move was also lauded by Patricia Levesque, who is currently the head of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education, the organization that helped Nevada write the legislation.  The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is so delighted that they've devoted a few weeks of bloggy wonkathonning to talking about how awesome this will be.  It will not be awesome. Here are five reasons that Nevada's imagined future of choice-driven most excellent unicorn farming is just a mirage.

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.

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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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