Monday, June 8, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 8: Report: Pa. gets a 'D' for school funding distribution

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 June 8, 2015:
Report: Pa. gets a 'D' for school funding distribution

Berks County IU June 23, 7:00 - 8:30 pm

Come to Harrisburg on June 23rd for an All for Education Day Rally!
Education Voters PA website June 1, 2015

Report: Pa. gets a 'D' for school funding distribution
PENNSYLVANIA received a "D" for the way it distributes K-12 education funding to school districts on a new report card from an education advocacy group.  Titled "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card," the evaluation from Newark, N.J., -based Education Law Center says Pennsylvania is one of 14 states in the U.S. with a "regressive" school funding system which allocates less funding to districts with high levels of poverty.  According to the organization's fourth report card, based on 2012 data, high-poverty districts in Pennsylvania received about 9 percent less per-pupil than wealthier districts.

Inequitable school funding called ‘one of the sleeper civil rights issues of our time’
Washington Post by Emma Brown June 8 at 12:05 AM  
Funding for public education in most states is inadequate and inequitable, creating a huge obstacle for the nation’s growing number of poor children as they try to overcome their circumstances, according to a set of reports released Monday by civil rights groups.
Students in the nation’s highest-spending state (New York) receive about $12,000 more each year than students in the lowest-spending state (Idaho), according to the reports, and in most states school districts in wealthy areas spend as much or more per pupil than districts with high concentrations of poverty.

School Funding in Most States Unfair
Inequitable Funding Systems Shortchanging Nation's Students
Education Law Center Newark, NJ, June 8, 2015
Public school funding in most states continues to be unfair and inequitable, shortchanging the nation’s 49 million school public school students, especially those living in poverty, out of the educational opportunities they need to succeed. Despite an economic rebound, states have been slow to restore the cuts to K-12 education triggered by the 2007 downturn, and school funding remains below pre-recession levels in many states.  There are wide disparities in the amount spent on public education across the country, from a high of $18,507 per pupil in New York, to a low of $6,369 in Idaho. In addition, most states do not systemically provide additional funding to low-income districts, depriving at-risk students of the resources and supports essential for academic success.  These are among the key findings from the 4th Edition of Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card released by Education Law Center (ELC) today. The Report Card is the most sophisticated comparative analysis of public school finance in the United States, examining the level and distribution of school funding within each state in relation to student need.The 4th Edition is based on funding data from 2007 through 2012.

“We don’t believe money fixes everything,” he said. “But if you have children that are already challenged by poverty and give them less money—that definitely doesn’t work.”  That, according to studies published by the Education Trust and the National Forum on Educational Statistics is exactly what Pennsylvania has been doing."
Coalition to rally for fair school funding from state
Pittsburgh Courier By Christian Morrow Jun 5, 2015
In three weeks, a coalition of corporations, nonprofits, faith organizations and education advocates from across the state will meet in Harrisburg to send a single message to legislators ahead of state budget negotiations: put a fair school funding formula in place.  The Campaign for Fair Education Funding includes more than 50 organizations all concerned with Pennsylvania’s dismal standing with respect to funding disparities among its school districts. Two recent reports place it last, or near last in the nation.  Allies for Children Executive Director Patrick Dowd, a former teacher, school board member and Pittsburgh councilman, said the scope of the coalition is unlike he’s seen but they are galvanized by the issue of improving educational equity for children across the state

Property tax reform: Comparing Gov. Wolf's plan with the House Republicans
Post Gazette By Eric Holmberg / PublicSource June 7, 2015 12:00 AM
Both Gov. Tom Wolf and the state House of Representatives have advanced plans that give significant property tax relief to homeowners by increasing the state sales and income taxes.
But the two plans diverge when it comes to who would benefit most.  The $4.9 billion property tax relief plan backed by House Republicans directs more money to residents in school districts with the highest property tax bills, which would favor wealthier school districts. The plan also reduces the property tax rate in every school district, extending more of the perks to businesses than under Mr. Wolf’s proposal.  “We tried to drive [property tax relief] to the areas that had the highest property taxes, but in a way that helps everyone,” said state Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.  Property taxes provide a portion of the funding for schools.  Mr. Wolf’s $3.8 billion plan focuses on relief for homeowners, especially in school districts with lower property values and high tax rates. It would reduce the property tax rate in 311 of the state’s 500 school districts, and some of the state’s poorest school districts would be able to completely eliminate property taxes.

Non-native speakers feel lucky to graduate before Pa. Keystone test requirement
Furness High School senior Xiuying Zhang has an artistic gift. The vibrant colors and nuanced shadows of her paintings and illustrations make her classical Asian motifs sing.  In the fall, she'll attend the University of the Arts, where she'll take the next step toward her dream of being a professional illustrator.  If this were 2017, though, it's highly likely she would not be graduating high school.  Why? Because she couldn't pass state Keystone exams in algebra, literature and biology.  "First year I try really hard, but I did not pass. I almost passed it," she said, with a thick Cantonese accent. "But I didn't make it."

Keystone Exams: PSBA asking legislators to ‘push pause’ on graduation requirements
PSBA website June 5, 2015
With growing concerns across the state over the  graduation requirements effective for the Class of 2017, the time is right now to call for a pause on the high-stakes use of Keystone Exams and project-based assessments for granting diplomas.  Let’s get this issue fixed before the start of the next school year! Various bills that address this critical issue have been introduced from both Republican and Democratic legislators.

Senate confirms Pedro Rivera as education secretary
PSBA News June 5, 2015
This week the Senate unanimously confirmed the governor’s appointment of Pedro Rivera as education secretary.  PSBA congratulates the new secretary, noting that his extensive experience as teacher, principal and superintendent in the Philadelphia Public Schools and the School District of Lancaster have prepared him well for the role of state secretary. Through the years, he has demonstrated outstanding leadership abilities and has gained a “real-life” perspective of the needs and concerns of Pennsylvania school officials, teachers and students. His practical knowledge of school operations makes him well qualified to be a key policymaker in education matters. Under his leadership, the school community anticipates an open dialogue and opportunities to provide input with the Department of Education on key education issues, including the establishment of a fair, sustainable and predictable process for funding all public schools.

Wayne Burton: Retiree group sees merit in Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget blueprint
Times Leader by Wayne Burton Contributing Columnist Last updated: June 04. 2015 11:10PM
Pennsylvania has one of the oldest populations of any state in the nation. Unlike our counterparts in the rest of the northeast, Pennsylvania retirees are much more likely to retire here in the state in which they were born. That’s why it’s critical for state lawmakers to consider the needs of seniors when crafting the state budget.  The Alliance for Retired Americans represents more than 300,000 retirees across the commonwealth; most of them come from working-class backgrounds. There is widespread agreement among them that our state needs a new direction to make our tax code more fair, improve our schools and get us back to being a top-10 state in job creation.  Since the governor announced his bold and transformational budget proposal, we have been talking to experts and hearing from our members to determine how it will impact the quality of life of Pennsylvania retirees. The early verdict is that while the plan isn’t perfect, there is much about which to be excited. Priorities such as increased education funding and a higher minimum wage will go a long way toward the education and job creation goals.

"Holmes doesn’t just fly over his district he lives in its trenches and says educating kids in poverty just costs more. Ninety percent of the students in York qualify for free or reduced lunches.  “We’re providing psychological care, we’re providing health care, we’re providing lunch and breakfast,” Holmes said. “All the services that under normal circumstances the child would get at home. Our kids deserve the same quality of education that every other child gets in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Tale of two states, school funding inequities exposed in York
ABC27 By Dennis Owens Published: June 5, 2015, 7:36 pm  Updated: June 5, 2015, 7:37 pm
The swimming pool at York’s William Penn Senior High School was once a crown jewel in the county.  It’s been bone-dry for five years, drained in 2010.  “If you’re looking at whether you’re gonna be buying books or dealing with special programs for students, or spending money on filling the pool you have to make tough decisions,” said York Superintendent Dr. Eric Holmes. “And this is one of the tough decisions we had to make.”
The pool is empty.  Holmes says the rest of his budgetary cup is half empty.
“We’ve cut guidance, elementary art, elementary music, elementary PE,” Holmes said. “We have cut sports programs.”  The super says he’s felt like Eric Scissorhands the past few years.  “They’ve had to eliminate a number of programs and professionals over these last couple of years,” said Representtive Kevin Schreiber (D-York).  Schreiber invited us on a walking tour through William Penn’s reality in reaction to the helicopter flight with Senator Scott Wagner a few weeks ago. Wagner showed us the overhead opulence of some suburban districts and suggested schools aren’t as decimated as Governor Wolf has been insisting.

State Senator Who Can Afford To Charter Helicopters On Whim Says Public Schools Overfunded
The Huffington Post  |  By Samantha Lachman Posted: 06/05/2015 5:51 pm EDT
A Republican state senator illustrated his belief that the state's schools aren't suffering financially by chartering a helicopter ride for himself and a local reporter last week.  According to ACB27 reporter Dennis Owens, Sen. Scott Wagner pointed at various schools from 1,600 feet up to make the argument that their expansive facilities mean the state spends "a lot of money" on all schools.  “This looks like a college or university campus if you look at the sports fields," he said of one. "And they have tennis courts down there.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who unseated former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in November, is pushing for the state legislature to increase education funding by $1 billion. Corbett was one of the few Republicans to lose statewide in an excellent year for GOP candidates.  “Senator Wagner should get out of the helicopter and go visit a school,” Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan told Owens, suggesting that the legislator cherry-picked the districts he flew over. “Nobody has said that every school district across the state was devastated. But we’ve said, and maintain, and stand by that school districts across the state are struggling.”

Two groups, two school districts, one township
WITF Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Jun 5, 2015 5:50 AM
 (York) -- Some parents in a York County township want their children to jump from one school district to another.   The case, one of the more extraordinary in recent years, would allow Washington Township to move from Dover Area School District to Northern York County.  Daniel Fennick, attorney for the group pushing for the change, says it's relatively straightforward.  "All the data shows that Northern out-performs Dover, and most of the people in Washington Township are in favor of moving from Dover to Northern," he says.
Dover Area School District concedes Northern York's test scores are better.
But if the scores are adjusted for poverty levels, Dover is actually as good, or slightly better than Northern York County.

"This isn't a debate about athletic facilities you can see from a helicopter. This is a debate about making sure that every child in Pennsylvania gets a good education, even if they don't live in a wealthy district."
OP-ED: Scott Wagner's clueless helicopter stunt
York Dispatch Op-Ed By AMY FETHEROLF Pennsylvania Working Families POSTED:   06/07/2015 10:27:15 AM EDT
If there were a contest to come up with the most out-of-touch way to assess Pennsylvania's education crisis, Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner's renting a helicopter and doing a flyover of some hand-selected central Pennsylvania schools, declaring that Pennsylvania schools aren't underfunded, would be the winner.  You couldn't even make this stuff up if you tried.  Wagner took the media up in a helicopter and told them that because the schools down below had tennis courts, that means Pennsylvania schools are doing just fine. Never mind that the schools Wagner chose to fly over are some of the most well-funded schools, while so many others would present an entirely different picture.
Could he miss the point any more if he tried?

Inquirer Editorial: Invest more in schools
Now that the May election is over, City Council members have stopped campaigning and gotten serious about filling the hole in the School District's budget, right? Actually, no, they haven't. Compared with the need, the paltry $70 million that Council would generate by tepidly hiking three taxes is a joke.  Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has made it very clear that the schools need at least $85 million just to maintain the terrible status quo, which means a continuation of crowded classrooms with too few counselors, librarians, and nurses. To restore some of the drastic recent cuts in programs and personnel, the district needs $103 million.

City should cut other spending for education
Harold Jackson, Inquirer Opinion Columnist POSTED: THURSDAY, JUNE 4, 2015, 2:36 PM
The scoffing language that some Philadelphia City Council members have been using in discussions with School District officials asking them for more money is not only inappropriate, it suggests that the elected leaders don’t take seriously the dire consequences of not providing a better education for this city’s children.  “I want to help the schools, but not at the expense of hurting people in the neighborhoods,” said Councilman David Oh at a recent public hearing. How can he not see that the worst thing he can do to “people in the neighborhoods” is to condemn their children to an inferior education that limits their opportunities to become productive, tax-paying citizens of this city.

Philly Principals: Give us the tools to succeed
GIVE US THE resources and we will have better outcomes.
That was the message yesterday from dozens of school principals as City Council continues to debate the Philadelphia School District's request for $103 million in new funding.  In a letter delivered to Council and signed by more than 75 principals throughout the district, administrators described an "ongoing crisis in our schools" due to insufficient city and state funding.  "It is a crisis that affects the daily lives of children and whether or not they develop their skills and capacities," the letter reads. "It sends a message to them about how much we value them. It is a crisis that causes there to be too few adults with too few tools and thus affects the ability of our teachers to teach and meet student needs."

If taxes are raised to fund the schools, who will have control of that extra money?
Inquirer by Claudia Vargas @InqCVargas POSTED: FRIDAY, JUNE 5, 2015, 3:03 PM
One of the biggest differences between Mayor Nutter’s school funding plan and City Council’s plan is who would control the money.  As my colleague, Julia Terruso reported in today’s Inquirer, City Council offered a plan Thursday to increase three different taxes - property tax, parking and Use & Occupancy – for an estimated revenue total of $70 million. (The school district asked the city for $103 million).  Nutter previously proposed increasing property taxes by 9.3 percent for a total new revenue of $105 million.  The obvious difference: Nutter’s single source of funding vs. Council’s multiple sources.

Tax hikes for 10 school budgets
07 Jun 2015 — Erie Times-News By MADELEINE O'NEILL madeleine.o' and ERICA ERWIN
Erie School District homeowners won't see their property taxes increase in 2015-16.
But homeowners in most other districts throughout the region might not be as fortunate.
Ten school districts in the region, including Millcreek, Fairview and Crawford Central, have included tax increases in their proposed final or final budgets for 2015-16, and two others have yet to decide whether to increase taxes.  Figures below for 2015-16 budgets are based on budgeted expenditures.

Warrior Run teachers authorize strike notice
Sunbury Daily Item by Joe Sylvester Posted: Wednesday, June 3, 2015 7:57 pm
TURBOTVILLE — Warrior Run School District teachers authorized a strike notice more than a month before their contract expires, the district reported on its website.  But not only is there a stipulation in the current contract that teachers won’t strike while the agreement is in effect, today is the last day of school for this school year, and any walkout would not come until the 2015-16 school year, unless the contract is settled.  According to a posting on the website, Warrior Run Education Association President Michael Freeborn informed the district on May 27 that the union authorized the notice. The posting also states the district and the teachers union have held just four negotiation sessions. The district said if the union decides to strike, it must give the district 48 hours’ notice, and that has not happened.

Wissahickon School Board considers raising taxes 1.9 percent
Ambler Gazette By Erin Weaver 21st Century Media News Service June 06, 2015
Lower Gwynedd >> The Wissahickon School Board Finance Committee has chopped a whopping $475,376 in expenditures from the proposed 2015-16 budget in an effort to close a gap between spending and revenue.  During the May 18 finance committee meeting, the board addressed a long list of one-time expenses that were contributing to a budget deficit. Following the recommendation of Wissahickon High School Principal Lyn Fields, the board reviewed and agreed to adopt a list of reduced major impact items.  The original list of 11 significant one-time expenses for the district totaled $648,500 and included requests for the following: new cafeteria furniture, ceramic studio equipment, library furniture, TV lab equipment, music department risers, a golf cart and various athletic equipment, a weekly behavior therapist, new course materials for the 6-12 Health and Wellness curriculum, a Shady Grove reading specialist, and counseling services for the middle school.

Pa.'s top-paid school chief - at $300,000-plus - gets raise
Abington School Superintendent Amy Sichel has gained national recognition and high marks from school board members and colleagues, but the generous terms of a recent contract extension for the state's highest-paid superintendent have raised concerns in the Montgomery County district.  Her $304,532 annual salary gets bumped up to $319,714 on July 1 - even before a just-inked five-year pact goes into effect in February.  "It's very sensitive right now," said Phyllis Jablonowksi, chairwoman of the Abington Educational Foundation, a fund-raising group that works with the district.  Sichel's salary is higher than William Hite's, the Philadelphia schools chief, who makes $300,000. The Philadelphia district has about 250,000 students, compared with 7,600 in Abington, one of the state's smaller districts.

The Uphill Battle of Unionizing a Philly Charter School
How a Philadelphia charter operator can spend tens of thousands of public dollars to fight a union.
The American Prospect by RACHEL M. COHEN  JUNE 4, 2015
On April 30th, faculty at North Philadelphia’s Olney Charter High School voted 104-38 in favor of forming a union, an NLRB election that Olney’s charter operator, ASPIRA, has since announced they’re challenging. Olney’s union campaign is only the latest in a small but rapidly growing wave of charter union drives nationwide. But few efforts have been as contentious, or as revealing, as this one. Ever since the campaign began three years ago, ASPIRA has pumped tens of thousands of dollars into an elaborate union-busting effort, even as the beleaguered district it’s funded by struggles with massive debt. Unionizing Olney also threatens to shine light on ASPIRA’s questionable finances, at a time when authorities at the state and district level have failed to act. More broadly, the union drive in Philadelphia reveals how charter management organizations can use lax regulation to dodge financial accountability.

Charter School Unions Are Spreading: Teachers at Elite Chicago Charter Network Vote to Unionize
In These Times BY ARIELLE ZIONTS THURSDAY, JUN 4, 2015, 5:21 PM
On Wednesday, a majority of Urban Prep teachers voted to join the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS).  Fifty-six teachers voted for, and 36 voted against, joining Chicago ACTS—a joint Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers project. However, the vote’s results are not yet set in stone because the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is looking into 21 other votes cast by employees like counselors and department chairs with debatable union eligibility. Currently, 60 percent of teachers voted to unionize—the lowest percentage of any of the 29 schools that have voted to join Chicago ACTS. Union organizers say they are confident they will retain a majority.  At the request of Urban Prep COO Evan Lewis, the vote was conducted via an NLRB-sanctioned secret-ballot election. Lewis said this process is the most “fair and democratic” one, the argument often put forward by management about such elections. Teachers had wanted administers to recognize the union through “card check,” a count of how many employees signed union cards. Secret ballot elections can be viewed as benefitting bosses, who are able to use the time between the announcement of the intention to form a union and the union vote itself to organize against the union. 

Don't write off a school basic Letter By Jannie L. Blackwell and Blondell Reynolds Brown  June 5, 2015, 1:08 AM
As classrooms advance into the 21st century, they are no longer in the golden age of the blackboard and chalk. Nevertheless, a timeless and elegant writing style should be preserved in the school curriculum.  The Common Core Standards, released in 2010 and so far adopted by all but five U.S. states, call for replacing the teaching of cursive handwriting in favor of tech-based literacy learning. However, the reintroduction of cursive writing in our schools is important and desirable. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are the foundation of education in our society, and handwriting remains a relevant skill in many settings.  And yet the Common Core standards for English language arts curriculum will no longer explicitly require cursive instruction for elementary school students, setting the stage for a national debate on the importance of handwriting instruction.

What’s Next on Charter School Backfill?
Washington Monthly By Alexander Russo June 04, 2015 11:31 AM
In the media and in real life it seems clear that the charter school “backfill” issue is big and getting bigger — especially in districts where charters are a large and growing percentage of students:  A new report on charter backfilling is coming up from the University of Washington’s CRPE soon. A national charter group is adding the topic to its annual survey. A group of state charter organizations is going to announce a new commitment to quality (but no position on backfilling). Meanwhile, there are a handful of states with backfill requirements on the books, a few authorizers making backfill part of what they’re looking for, and and a few districts and charter networks that have come up with policies regarding what to do with open spaces during the year or between years.

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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