Tuesday, July 21, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 21, 2015: PA Budget politicking hits the road

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 21, 2015:
PA Budget politicking hits the road

Interested in letting our elected leadership know your thoughts on education funding, a severance tax, property taxes and the budget?
Governor Tom Wolf, (717) 787-2500
Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai, (717) 772-9943
House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed, (717) 705-7173
Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Joe Scarnati, (717) 787-7084
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jake Corman, (717) 787-1377

Gov. Wolf says he’s willing to compromise on severance tax
State Impact NPR BY REID FRAZIER JULY 20, 2015 | 5:11 PM
Speaking in Western Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf said Monday he would be “willing to have conversations” about compromises on the 5 percent severance tax on natural gas he’s proposed to balance the state budget.  “I want a better Pennsylvania. If I’m convinced we can have a better Pennsylvania with something better than what I’ve proposed, then I’m all ears.”  Wolf and the GOP-controlled legislature have yet to agree on a budget, and are entering their fourth week past a June 30 deadline. A key element of the impasse is Wolf’s insistence on passing a severance tax on natural gas. Republicans have so far resisted the governor’s call. Wolf says he wants to pass the tax to pay for education and to lower local property taxes.

Amid budget stalemate, Wolf touts education funding in visit to Big Beaver
Ellwood City Ledger By J.D. Prose Calkins Media  Posted: Monday, July 20, 2015 8:30 pm
BIG BEAVER -- As the state’s budget impasse enters its third week, Gov. Tom Wolf visited Big Beaver Elementary School on Monday to tout his education proposals and hammer home that Pennsylvania’s students need to be prepared for a modern economy.  “The world has changed, and we’ve got to want to make sure we have the educational facilities for a 21st century economy,” he told a small gathering of elected officials, Big Beaver Falls Area School Board members and administrators, and residents in front of the elementary school.  Wolf, continuing his Schools that Teach tour, said Pennsylvania must fully fund education, a focal point of his first budget that is predicated on the proposed 5 percent severance tax on drilling.

Budget politicking hits the road
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Monday, July 20, 2015
Major players in Pennsylvania’s budget stalemate were on the road Monday trying to sell their message to the Commonwealth’s body politic before House members return to voting session on Tuesday.  The governor had a busy morning in Western Pennsylvania where he began the day giving remarks at the Pittsburgh Technology Council Breakfast Briefing Program.  He then stayed in Pittsburgh where he gave remarks at the VFW national convention.  By noon, Gov. Wolf was speaking at Big Beaver Elementary School in Darlington, Beaver County. That stop was part of his continuing “Schools That Teach Tour,” which is the governor’s ongoing push for his education funding plan.  It was that third stop that was met with Republican reaction in a joint statement from Representatives Jim Christiana (R-Beaver) and Jim Marshall (R-Beaver), who organized a rally held to counter Gov. Wolf’s trip to the area.

Republicans to Wolf: Call off the attack ads
As Pennsylvania entered its third week without a budget, Gov. Wolf and the Republicans whose support he needs to pass a spending plan were hundreds of miles apart - and not just figuratively.  Wolf spent the day Monday touting his plan in Western Pennsylvania, while Philadelphia-area GOP legislators gathered in Norristown to assail the governor's position on key budget issues - and what they call his unprofessional, take-no-prisoners public relations war against them.  The lawmakers called a news conference to respond directly to what they consider to be misleading television ads and mailers that attack each of them individually. The ads, costing at least $750,000 and paid for by Wolf's allies, claim, among other things, that the Republicans put natural-gas drilling company profits ahead of education, and have denied homeowners property-tax relief.

GOP lawmakers blame Gov. Wolf for budget impasse
Pottstown Mercury By Dan Clark, dclark@21st-centurymedia.com,, @danclark08 on Twitter POSTED: 07/20/15, 6:26 PM EDT | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
NORRISTOWN >> Republican state lawmakers stood outside the Montgomery County Courthouse on Monday decrying the use of political mailers by supporters of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to try to win the favor of suburban residents during the budget impasse.  The group of nine legislators, representing varying parts of Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties, also took the opportunity to denounce the governor’s budget saying it too highly taxes every day working Pennsylvanians and adds an unnecessary sales tax to new products.  State Rep. Mike Vereb, R-150th Dist., acknowledging Monday’s sweltering temperatures, said the state Republicans are used to the heat and that lately it’s come in the form of the political mailers.

Darrell Auterson: Lawmakers should consider a natural gas severance tax (column)
York Daily Record Letter by Darrell W. Auterson UPDATED:   07/16/2015 04:01:11 PM EDT
Darrell W. Auterson is president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance.
Natural Gas and its Economic Benefits for South Central PA
I begin my comments by disclosing that I have a bias in favor of York County and south central Pennsylvania over other counties and regions of the commonwealth. I offer no apologies for narrowing my focus as I raise the issue of the proposed severance tax, a tax on Marcellus Shale gas extracted and sold (as opposed to an impact fee on wells drilled, which we currently have in place). During the early years of natural gas fracking, there was extensive debate over whether to tax this industry. I admit other issues were more pressing on my mind at that time, especially since there is no Marcellus or Utica shale in our region. The York County Chamber of Commerce polled its membership in the summer of 2011 and over 65 percent of the respondents said they believed Marcellus Shale revenue should be taxed in Pennsylvania in a manner similar to other Marcellus Shale natural gas producing states. The information was shared for educational purposes, but no formal position was adopted. As budget negotiations continue, the time is right to gather the facts and thoughtfully evaluate the current impact fee versus Gov. Wolf's proposed severance tax.

Guest Editorial: Budgets express our values
Cumberlink Carlisle Sentinel GUEST EDITORIAL by Jill Bartoli July 20, 2015
Jill Sunday Bartoli, a Carlisle resident, is an Associate Professor of Education and Social Work at Elizabethtown College.
We choose to fund what we believe to be important and valuable to us. To listen to some of our legislators, who rag on about our current “massive investment in public education,” you might be led to believe that Pennsylvania adequately funds its schools.
But here is a reality check from a recent survey of all 500 Pennsylvania school districts:
  • More than 70 percent of districts plan to raise local property taxes, and nearly 80 percent of these indicate that the increases will hit or exceed the Act 1 index.
  • Forty-one percent of districts will reduce their staffing (beyond the 33,000 jobs in education already lost over the last four years).
  • Nearly one-quarter of all districts, and 29 percent of the poorest districts, will reduce or eliminate valuable programs.
Our public schools have fewer guidance counselors, nurses, librarians and teachers than they did four years ago. Music, art and physical education programs and after-school opportunities for our children have been vastly diminished. And the digital divide between the poorest and wealthiest schools has grown ever deeper, at a time when students are required to take high-stakes standardized tests by computer.  All of these alarming conditions are the direct result of the state’s deepening disinvestment in public education funding — from a 50 percent share in the late 1970s to a 35 percent share today. These facts make clear the state’s dwindling commitment to public education over the decades and legislators’ shift of the school funding burden onto local property taxes.

Upper Darby seeks new school funding formula from state
Delco Times By Linda Reilly, Times Correspondent POSTED: 07/19/15, 10:26 PM EDT 
UPPER DARBY >> The Upper Darby School Board is once again seeking a new funding formula for basic education.  As part of the Finance and Budget Report, the board adopted a resolution to emphasize the importance of reform of state subsidies.  Two other resolutions were adopted for a change in cyber charter school funding and legislative action on school employee pension reform.  According to officials, the state’s contribution to fund public education declined from more than 50 percent during the mid ‘70s to less than 35 percent today.  A constant complaint is the state’s share of funding K-12 education decreases while the number of state and federal mandates increases each year.  “Additional burden is placed on local taxpayers to make up the difference,” Business Manager Ed Smith wrote in the document, noting the district is seeking legislative action to establish a formula that is predictable and equitable.  The cyber charter resolution seeks a correction in the funding formula to better represent actual instructional costs of the distance learning program.  Smith noted the tuition increased from $2.1 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year to $3 million in 2013-2014, ultimately causing tax increases to taxpayers.  School director Rachel Mitchell urged residents to contact legislators about the pension reform request due to the expense associated with employer’s contribution. She cited the 25.84 percent contribution amount of $20.9 million in 2015-2016 that will be increased to 32.2 percent and $28.8 million in 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Worries mount as educators brace for fallout of PSSA plunge
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 20, 2015 01:50 PM
As districts across Pennsylvania brace for an anticipated plunge in scores on the state’s standardized test, educators are worrying about the repercussions while questioning the value of using the volatile test results to make high-stakes decisions about teachers and schools.  Districts and schools will not receive their preliminary results until the end of the month. But statewide data show that the proficiency rates of students on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test have dropped precipitously, especially in math – in some grades by as much as 40 percentage points compared to last year.  Plus, math proficiency rates dropped in each grade, starting at 48.5 percent of students in grade 3 and dropping to 30 percent by grade 8.The drops ranged from 26.6 percentage points for 3rd graders to more than 43 percentage points for seventh and eighth graders.  Overall, the proficiency rates were higher and drops much smaller in language arts.  Educators noted that a drop in scores is not unusual after a test is revised, as this one was to reflect the new Pennsylvania Core standards. In fact, it is likely. 

"Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, co-sponsored legislation, Senate Bill 880, that would delay the Keystone graduation requirement for two years while lawmakers examined the role standardized tests should play. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate last month  Similar measures have cropped in the House Education Committee during the last year, but have gone nowhere."… "The state spent $58 million last year to implement the PSSAs and the Keystones, according to state budget documents. It’s money Dinniman says would be better spent on resources necessary for students to past the tests, such as updated text books and appropriately trained staff."
Capitolwire: Underwhelming PSSA scores reignite push to delay the Keystone graduation requirement
PSBA website Reprinted with permission By Christen Smith, Staff Reporter, Capitolwire
HARRISBURG (July 17) — An analysis of preliminary PSSA results from the 2014-15 school year released Tuesday reignited debate surrounding the state’s other standardized test — the Keystones— and whether it should remain a graduation requirement.  Newsworks reports students scoring “basic” or “below basic” on the PSSAs increased 9.4 percent in reading and 35.4 percent in math, with nearly half of all seventh and eighth graders dropping an entire proficiency level in math in just one year.  The news may be disappointing, but not surprising to the state Department of Education.  “The PA Core Standards were adopted by the State Board of Education in autumn of 2013. PDE understands that transitioning to these new, more rigorous standards takes time, curriculum development and resources,” said Nicole Reigelman, department spokeswoman. “Over the next several years, PDE anticipates student performance will grow steadily as resources return to the classroom, and students and teachers become more familiar with the PA Core.”  The state Board of Education also voted earlier this month to raise the bar for what constitutes an “advanced,” “proficient,” “basic” or “below basic” score in order to match the “rigor” of the new standards.  It’s an explanation, however, that doesn’t sit well with many — including one lawmaker devoted to redefining the role of standardized testing in Pennsylvania.

Cocalico teachers to school board: 'standardized testing is harming students'
Lancaster Online By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer Posted: Monday, July 20, 2015 10:00 am | Updated: 11:14 am, Mon Jul 20, 2015.
Public education has gone down the wrong path, according to Cocalico teachers.
The problem?  Too much standardized testing.  That's what the teachers union told the school board at a public meeting last month. Their statement came in a year when testing backlash has reached new heights across the country, and as Congress works to rewrite the 2001 law that mandates yearly testing.  It also came just weeks before Pennsylvania's Department of Education confirmed that the number of students who scored "proficient" or "advanced" on 2015 PSSA tests dropped significantly from 2014.

"According to the study, if this state could eliminate the achievement gap between rich and poor, whites and students of other races, it would have a major effect on the state's gross domestic product, increasing it by at least $1 billion to $2 billion a year.  And it would have an effect on the students themselves, increasing lifetime earnings by $1 billion and $3 billion for each graduating class of students statewide."
Study: Closing racial, class gap will boost state's economy
Philly Daily News Editorial POSTED: Monday, July 20, 2015, 12:16 AM
PHILADELPHIA'S future is dependent on the future of its children. Most parents know that. And most parents - rich, poor and middle-class - want a better life for their children.  They also know, in their gut, that the path to that better life is an education.  There is a vast aspiring class of parents in this city who spend an enormous amount of time and effort seeking a good education for their kids. They join the admissions lottery at charter schools. They sometimes move to be in the catchment area of a good public school. Some even home-school their children, convinced there are no good alternatives.  It makes a lot of sense to believe that there is a link between   education and achievement in life, but little statistical proof.  But, we now have the hard evidence. Temple's Center on Regional Politics recently commissioned a study by the Rand Corp. to quantify the benefits of education - and also the cost of low achievement.

Penn Hills, Gateway districts wrestle with charter school drain
Trib Live By Kelsey Shea and Gideon Bradshaw Sunday, July 19, 2015, 2:28 p.m.
School districts desperate to retain students say taking a personal approach can help draw families back into public schools.  Leaders in Gateway and Penn Hills school districts announced plans this year to interview families leaving their districts for charter schools, a shift from previous efforts to market the districts through commercials and print advertisements.  “I think that when districts have reached out to students who have left traditional public schools for charter schools and worked with them to try to bring them back, they've had a great deal of success,” said Steve Robinson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.  For other districts hard hit by students leaving for charters, the practice of contacting families is now standard.  Charter schools — self-managed, taxpayer-funded schools that are approved by local school districts — came into the Pittsburgh area in the mid-2000s, and there are now 20 brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools in Allegheny County according to the state Department of Education.
Allentown School District kept charter school deal with Abe Atiyeh secret
By Jacqueline Palochko Of The Morning Call July 20, 2015
Allentown School District made secret deal about future of charter schools
When the Allentown School District approved a lease in January for its new alternative high school and an application for a twice-rejected charter school, administrators and board members knew about — but made no public mention — of a side agreement involving developer Abe Atiyeh.  In a Jan. 30 letter outlining the agreement, Atiyeh pledged not to open any more charter schools in the district in exchange for the district's approval of a charter school in a building he owns at 601 Union St.  The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Morning Call, was addressed to Superintendent Russ Mayo. It was forwarded to Mayo by district solicitor John Freund, who in his own letter to Mayo described it as "an original fully executed Pledge letter from Abraham Atiyeh."  Atiyeh's letter indicates the side deal was made as part of Atiyeh's agreement to lease 265 Lehigh St. to the district for Building 21, its new alternative high school.  At the time, the cash-strapped district was frustrated with Atiyeh's promotion of charter schools in buildings that he owns in Allentown and throughout the Lehigh Valley. Allentown students attending charter schools inside and outside the city cost the district $13 million a year in state funding that must follow them.

Quality early education is an investment in the future workforce
Post Gazette By Corbin Kearns and Dennis Noonan July 20, 2015 12:00 AM
As plant general manager of Johnson Matthey Smithfield and as vice president of sales and marketing for Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, the two of us operate in very different industries. However, we both see ourselves as responsible neighbors with a long-term sustainable view of our respective operations.  Part of this long-term sustainable view is having a strong and suitably qualified workforce, both now and in the form of a talent pipeline for the future.  That is why we are pleased that there is widespread bipartisan support for increased investment in high-quality early childhood education programs in this year’s state budget. Both Gov. Tom Wolf and House and Senate Republicans have proposed significant investments in these programs — $120 million and $30 million, respectively.

Philly ethics board fines teachers union over contribution
The Philadelphia Board of Ethics has fined the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers $1,500 for contributions to City Council candidate Helen Gym in violation of the city's campaign finance law.   Political committees are permitted to give candidates for municipal office no more than $11,500 per year. The board found (and the PFT admitted) that the union's political committee gave Gym's campaign twice that, routing a second contribution through the committee of the American Federation of Teachers' Pennsylvania chapter.  Some have publicly questioned whether actions like these by the Ethics Board are effective in policing campaigns. In this case, the union got to deliver $11,500 more than the law allows to Gym's campaign at the relatively moderate cost of a $1,500 fine.  Some public embarrassment is associated with the action, of course, but is that enough? I don't know, but it's good somebody's paying attention.

"Now House HB 1225 and Senate SB 6 proposes to punish principals and staff because they can’t do more with less! Push instead for pre-K funding and for adequate funding for all school districts on some basis that does not rely upon property taxes exclusively. Push for mandated developmental testing of all kindergarteners near the beginning of the school year with mandated services from qualified professionals."
Letter to the Editor: Don’t punish schools with new mandates
Delco Times Letter by Heather G. Jorgensen POSTED: 07/19/15, 10:15 PM EDT
To the Times:
I read with great interest the column on July 8 by Kate Shaw and John Sludden. I think their points are well worth thinking about. I was also struck that, once again, when talking about fixing schools, no mention is made about consulting those who probably know best what is needed, those with boots on the ground, the teachers. To them goes the blame, of course. Having done some volunteering in, and also being a relative of a longtime kindergarten teacher who has taught in, some of the lowest socio-economic areas of Pennsylvania, let me provide a little insight.  Legislators and educators with big experimental ideas that get put into law have very little idea of how these things get, or rather, don’t get, properly implemented in practice. Without the money and training and close supervision where all these big ideas are to be implemented the soundest programs cannot and do not work.

Chief among those differences is how to beef up accountability in a way that appeases the concerns of Democrats and the civil rights communities that the end result must include stronger federal guardrails for the most disadvantaged students, while at the same time ensuring the small federal footprint that Republicans are adamant about.
Clock Ticking on ESEA Rewrite: What to Expect From House-Senate Conference
Education Week Politics K-12 Blog By Lauren Camera on July 20, 2015 9:44 AM
Education leaders from both chambers of Congress begin brokering an overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this week after recent passage of starkly differing House and Senate bills, in hopes of delivering something to the president's desk this fall.
And the clock is ticking: Congress convenes Monday for one of its last working weeks before members scatter for the summer break July 30 until September.  Last week, the U.S. Senate passed its version of a federal K-12 reauthorization for the first time in more than 14 years. The bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act, is carefully crafted piece of bipartisan legislation from co-authors Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash. The two were able to hold their caucuses together to pass the bill with overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle, 81-17.  But that's not exactly how it played out in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republican leadership yanked its version of an ESEA rewrite off the floor mid-debate in February amid waning support from their own caucus.  After months of whipping and educating members about how the bill differs from current law, leadership rescheduled it for floor debate earlier this month, where it narrowly passed in by 218-213, with 27 Republicans joining the entire Democratic caucus in opposing it.  Now the representatives from both parties and both chambers will attempt to find common ground between their dueling reauthorization bills, which contain some big policy differences.

Nominations for PSBA's Allwein Advocacy Award now open
PSBA July 7, 2015
The Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award was established in 2011 by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and may be presented annually to the individual school director or entire school board to recognize outstanding leadership in legislative advocacy efforts on behalf of public education and students that are consistent with the positions in PSBA’s Legislative Platform.  The 2015 Allwein Award nomination process will close on Aug. 28, 2015. The 2015 Allwein Award Nomination Form is available online. More details on the award and nominations process can be found online

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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