Thursday, June 25, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 25: PA Budget Clock Running; Moyers & Company: As the School Year Ends, the Future of Public Education Is in Jeopardy

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for June 25, 2015:
PA Budget Clock Running; Moyers & Company: As the School Year Ends, the Future of Public Education Is in Jeopardy

Just a heads-up that the PA Ed Policy Roundup may be intermittent and/or late next week while some of us pretend we're on vacation

Charter founder's $6.3 million fraud trial delayed by competency test
A federal judge has delayed the start of the fraud retrial of charter school founder Dorothy June Brown and ordered another competency exam for the veteran educator.  U.S District Judge R. Barclay Surrick directed the court's pretrial services office Wednesday to arrange for Pogos H. Voskanian, a forensic psychiatrist, to reexamine Brown, 78, to determine whether she is competent to stand trial on charges she defrauded the charters she founded of $6.3 million.  Brown's defense attorneys last week filed new medical information with the court that stated that physicians at the Cleveland Clinic examined Brown recently and concluded she has Alzheimer's-like dementia.

PSBA SPECIAL REPORT: The Critical Need for Charter School Reform 

"Dinniman says once it becomes law, the next step will be to make sure the formula actually has funding."
New funding formula for Pa. schools moves toward passage
WITF Written by Rachel McDevitt/Radio Pennsylvania | Jun 25, 2015 5:10 AM
The Senate Education Committee has crafted a bill around the recommendations made by the Basic Education Funding Commission to more equally distribute resources to schools.  Democratic Committee Chair Senator Andy Dinniman says the legislation takes all different types of school districts into consideration.  "This is a balance between rural, urban (and) suburban schools. Everyone's interest is taken into account," he says. "We wanted to make sure that those areas that are impovershished in the state that needed extra resources would get those extra resources. I think we've accomplished that."  The bill passed committee and awaits action on the Senate floor.

Democrats urge education funding restoration before new funding formula is used
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Wednesday, June 24, 2015
House Democrats serving on the Basic Education Funding Commission took to the Capitol newsroom Wednesday to call on House Republicans to put off implementing the new funding formula recommended by the commission until funding is restored to those schools that saw cuts over the last four years.  Rep. Mark Longietti (D-Mercer) said the date of implementation should be done at the budget negotiating table.  “We believe there are three caucuses that are on the same page that it’s on the big negotiating table to talk about when the funding formula should come into place,” he said.  A bill moved out of the Senate Education Committee Tuesday implementing the recommended funding formula, but not specifying a date for its implementation.

Education activists convene in Harrisburg, legislators react
the notebook By Samantha Weiss and MIchaela Ward on Jun 24, 2015 09:05 PM
Hundreds of educators, faith-based leaders, teachers, parents, and students convened in the Rotunda of the Capitol Tuesday to show their support for a fair funding formula for Pennsylvania’s schools. Supporters of all ages -- some as young as 2 years old -- and from various school districts waved signs and chanted about the need to increase education funding.  Tuesday’s action was organized by the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, a coalition of advocacy groups from around the state. Approximately 70 people traveled from Philadelphia with Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY). Other groups came from as far away as Allegheny and Schuylkill counties. About 400 protesters filled the Rotunda stairs.    Protests were timed to follow the long-awaited recommendations from the legislature’s Basic Education Funding Commission aimed at coming up with formula to more equitably distribute the state money that goes out to the 500 school districts. The committee’s recommendation, which would “weight” aid based on factors such as poverty, English language learners, and high number of charters, must still be considered by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.  While the protests went on, the Campaign also met with legislators to press for more education dollars and a fair distribution formula along the lines of the committee’s recommendations.

Faith groups launch 10-day #MoralTakeover of Pa. Capitol over education inequity
Starting Saturday, June 20, the Capitol in Harrisburg was transformed into a place of worship and protest for the largest interfaith mobilization in Pennsylvania's history, led by congregations concerned about the state's well-known crisis in public education funding.  In the vein of the "Moral Mondays" movement in North Carolina, Pennsylvania-based congregations have planned a #MoralTakeover of the state capitol, where they believe "legislators and the governor are serving the interests of corporations and the super-wealthy at the expense of Pennsylvania's families and children." As Gov. Wolf and legislators begin negotiating the next state budget, the #MoralTakeover seeks to call attention to the education crisis by bringing a sunrise-to-sunset fast (happening across the state since March) to the steps of the Capitol so "legislative business cannot be conducted without lawmakers knowing that people of faith are paying attention."  Pennsylvania is one of only three states without a funding formula to distribute funds to schools according to weighted factors like poverty, and has one of the most regressive corporate and income tax systems in the country. The majority of Pennsylvania's schools, across urban, suburban and rural lines, are underfunded, andPennsylvania has the most inequitable school funding levels in the U.S

Times-Tribune Editorial: Put school cash where needed most
Scranton Times-Tribune BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD Published: June 24, 2015
Like students, school districts change over time. Districts try to accommodate changing student needs with new approaches, new technology and new and upgraded facilities. But in Pennsylvania, the state government does not accommodate the changing funding needs of districts as their student populations rise, fall and change demographically, and their tax bases grow or shrink.  That’s why it’s crucial that the Legislature pass a funding formula for schools recommended by the Basic Education Funding Commission.  The commission was created last year by the Legislature and former Gov. Tom Corbett to help better distribute education money. Even though taxpayers in Pennsylvania spend about $15,000 a year per student in state and local funding — about $3,000 more than the national average — the money is not spent per student. There is vast disparity in how the money is distributed, partly due to an over-reliance on local property taxes and partly due to a state funding formula that ignores reality on the ground.

First lady Frances Wolf: Investing in our public schools cannot wait (column)
York Daily Record Letter By Frances Wolf UPDATED:   06/24/2015 02:06:45 PM EDT
Since he was sworn in as governor in January, my husband and I have been crisscrossing the state, visiting schools, meeting with teachers and administrators, and talking with students in the classroom. We have seen the same thing in school after school and classroom after classroom: motivated students and dedicated teachers who simply don't have the resources they need to succeed.  At King Elementary School in Lancaster, I heard about how some textbooks in the library are more than 30 years old because they don't have the funds available to replace them with updated versions. At Paul Fly Elementary School in Norristown, administrators shared how vital support and program specialist positions have been cut, leaving fewer teachers in classrooms with consistently increasing numbers of students.

Turzai: Senate and House Republicans have a budget deal
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Wednesday, June 24, 2015
According to House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), House and Senate Republicans have agreed to a budget and other component pieces that will begin moving within the next several days to meet the June 30 budget deadline.  “There will be a [budget] bill moving on Saturday with the concurrence on Monday,” he said. “We’re ready to go.”  At this point, he said he does not see agreement with the governor likely based upon the governor’s insistence on tax increases.  “The governor has not moved away from a single tax,” he said. “He has asked for a tax increase in the first year of $5 billion in taxes and then it increases to $8 billion in the second year. He hasn’t moved away from a single tax.”  Speaker Turzai added that if a deal is to be reached with the governor, he ought to move quickly on moving away from some of his tax proposals.

GOP prepares a no-tax budget for Pa., daring Wolf veto
WHYY Newsworks BY MARY WILSON JUNE 25, 2015
The centerpiece of Governor Tom Wolf's Pennsylvania budget plan died its umpteenth death around a negotiating table this week.  Republican legislative leaders emerged from closed-door negotiations with the Democratic Wolf administration to announce that the governor's proposed severance tax on natural gas drillers is a non-negotiable no-go.  "Our counterproposal was nothing," said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati. "Yeah, nothing."  Wolf adviser John Hanger said the administration offered major concessions on a Marcellus Shale tax -- there would be no minimum price on gas, and drillers wouldn't have someone looking over their shoulder to double-check how much they make off the gas.  The governor's team also offered to guarantee that the state's existing impact fee levied on drillers would remain, addressing a concern of communities that receive funding from the fee to address the effects of gas extraction and the industry that has sprung up around it.  All proposals were rejected by Republican leaders, said Hanger. Wolf had planned to use revenue from a severance tax to fund a $400 million increase in funding for schools this year.

Pa. Budget 2015: Lawmakers, staff dig in for a long weekend of work: John L. Micek
Penn Live By John L. Micek | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on June 24, 2015 at 1:35 PM, updated June 24, 2015 at 3:55 PM
Six days before the deadline to pass the 2015-16 state budget, there's an emerging consensus that we're in for an extended drama.  The only question is: What kind?  Is it more "Waiting for Godot," with the protagonists marking time with endless small talk as they anticipate agreement on a budget plan that may never come?   Or is it something darker and more apocalyptic? Like maybe a policy equivalent of "Julius Caesar," where everyone falls on each other with (rhetorical) daggers unsheathed?  New Property Tax Plan Unveiled By Pa. Senate DemocratsNew Property Tax Plan Unveiled By Pa. Senate Democrats  At the moment, however, budget conversations seem to be "Much Ado About Nothing."  But that'll change starting Thursday when the reality of the calendar stares lawmakers in the face.

Legislators losing hope of reaching state budget compromise
By Karen Langley & Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau June 25, 2015 12:00 AM
HARRISBURG — As the June 30 state budget deadline crept closer Wednesday, Republican legislative leaders and a top aide to Gov. Tom Wolf sounded decreasingly optimistic about reaching agreement.  “The likelihood of that diminishes with every hour that ticks by without an agreement,” said Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson. “We deal in bills and amendments, not in concepts and ideas. So if it’s not in a bill or an amendment by Friday, or [Thursday] evening, then it’s difficult to have a conversation.”   Emerging from a meeting with John Hanger, Mr. Wolf’s policy secretary, House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, said that while talks with the administration will continue, the House is preparing to vote Saturday on a Republican budget plan, one without the increases proposed by the governor to the sales and personal income taxes.

No compromise: Negotiations over taxing Pennsylvania gas drillers break down
Penn Live By Christian Alexandersen | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on June 24, 2015 at 5:28 PM, updated June 24, 2015 at 7:13 PM
Gov. Tom Wolf wants to tax Pennsylvania's natural gas drillers and have that money go to education. Republicans don't. Wednesday's negotiation session didn't bring the two sides any closer.  Members of Wolf's Cabinet met with Democratic and Republican leaders to discuss instituting a 5 percent severance tax plus 4.7 cents per thousand feet of volume on natural gas extraction. The Democratic governor has made the severance tax a centerpiece of his budget proposal.  Wolf's Policy and Planning Sec. John Hanger said the governor proposed compromising on three aspects of his proposal.

Wolf aide: 'Hope is waning' in budget talks
HARRISBURG - Budget negotiations took another tense turn Wednesday, with a top administration official accusing Republican legislative leaders of throwing up "a wall of ideology" to hamper talks.  "Hope is waning," John Hanger, Gov. Wolf's policy secretary, said late Wednesday afternoon after a negotiating session with House and Senate Republicans.  Hanger said the GOP has refused to seriously discuss the governor's proposed 5 percent tax on natural gas drilling - money that would be used to fund public education - despite the administration's efforts to offer a compromise.  According to Hanger, the counteroffer from Republicans was "zero" - no tax at all.

School property taxes eliminated, reduced for homeowners under new proposed tax plan
Penn Live By Christian Alexandersen | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on June 24, 2015 at 11:38 AM, updated June 24, 2015 at 2:36 PM
A new property tax relief plan that aims to eliminate or significantly reduce Pennsylvania school property taxes for 3.2 million homeowners was unveiled by Senate Democrats on Wednesday.  The plan, dubbed the "Pennsylvania Home Rebate Plan," calls for eliminating school property taxes for 2 million taxpayers, significantly cutting the tax for another 1.2 million residents and providing rent relief for more than 800,000 Pennsylvanians.  The total tax cuts and rent relief would total $4.4 billion and would aid approximately 4 million Pennsylvania residents.  The tax cuts would be paid for by raising the personal income tax 0.78, raising the sales and use tax 0.6 and adding new taxes on cigarettes and tobacco products.

Pa. House advances bill aimed at weakening teacher seniority
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would partially undo the state's seniority protections for teachers, while also allowing school districts to make layoffs for financial reasons – a practice that is now barred.  The bill would allow school districts to ignore seniority when deciding to lay off the small minority of the state's teachers who have below proficient ratings.  Districts would first lay off those with "failing" ratings, then those designated as "needs improvement."  When deciding between those with the best ratings, seniority would still win the day.  Layoff decisions must be based on teacher evaluations without considering salaries, according to the bill.  And districts seeking to downsize must also furlough an equal percentage of administrative staff, unless given a special waiver from the state.  The bill also allows school districts to make layoffs for financial reasons. Now, layoffs are allowed only  when enrollment drops or by cutting programs wholesale.

"Rep. James Roebuck Jr., D-Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, questioned why seniority should be phased out as the benchmark for Pennsylvania educators when it plays such a central role in the operation of the Legislature.  "If it's wrong for teachers, why is it right for us?" he asked."
House OKs bill to factor in performance in teacher furloughs
Education Week by Associated Press Published Online: June 24, 2015
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania's House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow public schools to factor in performance when laying off teachers and to cut staff during hard economic times.  The House voted 100-91 to approve the bill and send it to the Senate. Supporters of the measure said the changes would help keep the most talented educators in the classroom, even though they don't happen to have the most seniority.  The bill would eliminate the requirement that only seniority may be considered when teachers are furloughed, according to House officials.  The proposal also would allow the suspension of professional employees for economic reasons, except for teachers who receive the top "distinguished" rating on two of their last three evaluations. Superintendents could defer tenure from three years to four if more time is needed to certify a teacher's work as satisfactory.

PFT files unfair labor practice charge about substitute outsourcing
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 24, 2015 01:38 PM
UPDATED 10:45 p.m. with District comment
As it had vowed to do, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers filed charges of unfair labor practice Wednesday against the School District for its decision to outsource substitute teaching.  The PFT, which is seeking an expedited hearing before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, claims that, in two years of stalled contract negotiations, the District never brought up the issue.   "The decision to outsource these services without negotiating with the PFT is a blatant violation of our contract," said PFT president Jerry Jordan. 

Of helicopters, baseball bats and GOP thinking in Harrisburg
PHILLY, MEET Scott Wagner.
He's a 59-year old first-term Republican state senator from (Gov. Wolf's home) York County who's loathed by unions, loved by conservatives and a growing force in the GOP Legislature.  He wants to cut government costs, government pensions, taxes and regulations.  He's a self-described rough-edged "garbage man who never graduated college."  But he's also a wealthy biz-guy - owns trucking and trash firms - who made Pennsylvania political history.  Last year, he won a special election as a write-in. No one in the state has done that before.  He's a strong, often strident voice of the right. And now, after helping increase GOP seats with donations to candidates, he's chairman of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee.

Approved spending plan for East Pennsboro schools boosts taxes
Penn Live By Elizabeth Gibson | Special to PennLive on June 24, 2015 at 9:56 PM, updated June 24, 2015 at 9:57 PM
The East Pennsboro Area School Board voted 7-2 to approve a $38.4 millionbudget that will boost taxes 3 percent.  Members Nancy Otstot and Anne Alger voted against the spending plan for 2015-16. Otstot said she couldn't support a plan that was balanced on the backs of already burdened taxpayers.  A homeowner with a property assessed at the district average of $160,200, will pay an additional $54 next year for a total of $1,854.  The new 11.5749 mill rate replaces the current 11.2378 rate.

NA school board OKs technology plan, tax increase
Trib Live By Tory N. Parrish Wednesday, June 24, 2015, 9:36 p.m.
The North Allegheny School District's plan to give every first- through 12th-grader an iPad or laptop over four years will be helped by a tax increase approved Wednesday.  The school board voted 6-3 to approve a $143.6 million budget for 2015-16 that factored in a tax rate increase — from 17.4039 mills to 18.0011 mills — that will help fund the technology plan. School board members Libby Blackburn, Maureen M. Grosheider and Thomas C. Schwartzmier voted against the budget.  Some school board members said that while they favored the technology plan, the district needed more detailed and earlier planning for future budgets because of projected deficits.  “I'm struggling with this budget. I'm not very happy with it,” school board member Joseph Greenberg said. He said an estimated $3.8 million deficit was projected for the 2016-17 school year.  Other costs affecting the district's expenses include state-mandated, increasing contributions to the Public School Employees Retirement System.
York City schools budget hinges on state action
Plan would add staff, programs, if funding comes through
York Daily Record By Angie Mason @angiemason1 on Twitter UPDATED:   06/24/2015 10:28:21 PM EDT
The York City School Board approved a budget for 2015-16 on Wednesday that would increase staff and expand programs, but it still hinges on what happens at the state level.  The adopted budget does not increase taxes, but adds staff — both teachers and other support positions. It also expands programs, such as music, art and physical education at the K-8 level.  The plan is based on Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed state budget, which would direct nearly $6 million more in basic education funding to the district. But Wolf and state legislators are still wrangling over the final budget, due at the end of the month.  Supt. Eric Holmes said that if the funding doesn't come through, there are contingency plans to adjust the budget accordingly. But "everything in that budget we need," he said. "There's no fat in the budget."

PSBA posts video on importance of advocacy
As a school director or administrator, you have a powerful voice when it comes to advocacy. In PSBA’s latestvideo, board members from various districts tell us the issues affecting their districts most, what we need to do and how to get involved. Watch to see if the stories sound familiar. More importantly, get involved. Visit the State Advocacy Network page at

As the School Year Ends, the Future of Public Education Is in Jeopardy
Moyers & Company by Ruth Conniff June 24, 2015
This post first appeared at The Progressive.
School is out for the summer, and kids are overjoyed. But across the country, the future of public education is in serious jeopardy.  Where will public schools be in a year?
Here is a quick primer on some of the key issues that relate to the fundamental question: Will America maintain or destroy that most basic democratic institution, the public school?

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 »


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