Thursday, July 16, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 16: 49 out of 50 Pennsylvania Senate Districts have Underfunded School Districts

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 16, 2015:
49 out of 50 Pennsylvania Senate Districts have Underfunded School Districts

PA House Education committee hearing on PA State Assessments is scheduled for 10:00 am July 29, Room 250 Irvis office bldg.

Senate Votes to End Debate on ESEA Rewrite; Final Vote Expected Thursday
Education Week Politics K-12 Blog  By Lauren Camera on July 15, 2015 5:47 PM
Washington - The U.S. Senate cleared a major hurdle Wednesday, voting to end debate on the bipartisan bill to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and paving the way for a final vote on the measure Thursday.  Thanks to an agreement struck between co-authors Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., and their respective party leaders, the bill was able to remain on the floor into Thursday until more than 40 outstanding amendments could be considered to the measure, the Every Child Achieves Act.  Before agreeing to invoke cloture with an overwhelming 86-12 vote, the Senate adopted 21 of those amendments by unanimous consent (see list below). In the afternoon, senators voted on and rejected four additional amendments, including one of the most high-profile amendments the chamber has considered in its six days of debate—a proposal from Democrats to beef up accountability measures in the underlying bill.   In the afternoon, senators voted on and rejected one of the most high-profile amendments the chamber has considered in its six days of debate—a proposal from Democrats to beef up accountability measures in the underlying bill to rewrite the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the law.

Senate rejects effort to give feds more say in identifying failing schools
Washington Post By Emma Brown July 15 at 5:35 PM  
The Senate on Wednesday rejected an amendment to its No Child Left Behind rewrite that had been championed by major civil rights groups as necessary to ensure that schools are serving the nation’s most disadvantaged children.  The chamber voted 54 to 43 against the amendment, which aimed to give the federal government more say in defining which schools are low-performing and require intervention.  Instead, the bill allows states to decide not only how to judge schools’ success, but which schools don’t measure up and what to do to improve them.  The proposed amendment’s lead sponsor, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), said that could return the country to the days when states and school districts could ignore achievement gaps and allow poor, minority and disabled children to languish.  “This law is an education reform law, but it has to be a civil rights law as well,” said Murphy, invoking the law’s original passage in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.  The measure was opposed by many Republicans who want to rein in the federal government’s influence over education, which they say ballooned under the Bush and Obama administrations.

"Pennsylvania's school funding crisis has often been discussed as if it is just an urban problem or a "Philadelphia" problem.  But a new report shows that 49 out of all 50 State Senate districts have school districts that are getting less than their fair share of state funds."
49 out of 50 Pennsylvania Senate Districts have Underfunded School Districts
POWER Press Release July 15, 2015 
A new report shows that 49 of out of Pennsylvania's 50 State Senate Districts have school districts that are not getting their fair share of state education dollars.  The data analysis demonstrates how unfair and underfunded public education is a statewide problem that spans rural, urban, and suburban areas, and proves that nearly every Senate district will benefit from the application of a fair funding formula.  However, lawmakers in Harrisburg have largely gone home for the summer without finishing a budget that addresses school funding and current inequities in the funding system.   Having led a "Moral Takeover" of the State Capitol in June, faith communities across the state have showed major concern over the problem, which they say is an urgent moral crisis.   

"Roy is frustrated especially with the score changes. Urban schools, with the most transient student populations and highest percentage of students living in poverty, typically score lower than suburban schools.  "It's like a high jumper who is told 6 feet is the height he has to obtain to win: He jumps 6 feet and is considered a winner and then he is later told that that height is now suddenly 7 feet so he's a loser," Roy said. "Even if he jumped 6 1/2 feet the next year, is he a non-proficient high jumper? Even if he improved over the past standard?"  Roy said he can't understand the state's attitude on testing.  "Who benefits from the obsession with standardized testing? Parents don't care for it, teachers know it distorts teaching and learning in negative ways, and students with overall good academic records will be denied graduation," he said."
PSSA scores dive as tests get harder
By Jacqueline Palochko Of The Morning Call July 16, 2015
As many educators predicted, scores on the state's standardized tests plummeted this year, the first time the exams were aligned with the rigorous Pennsylvania Core Standards.  State Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera informed educators that more exacting Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams for 2015 resulted in lower scores, particularly in math.  The state Department of Education did not release scores, but an analysis by WHYY/Newsworks showed overall scores fell by 34 percent in math and 9 percent in reading.  The Education Department didn't dispute those findings, but said comparing results from 2014 with 2015 isn't fair because the tests are completely different.  "[T]his is the first year that the new assessment was fully aligned to the new, more rigorous PA Core Standards, so comparing to prior years isn't an apples to apples comparison," said Nicole Reigelman, spokeswoman for the state's Department of Education. "The scores this year will serve as a baseline for future years."  Besides making the tests harder, the State Board of Education also recently voted to change scoring metrics, raising the bar on which scores constitute a proficient rating, meaning a passing grade.

Pa. sees big drop in 2015 PSSA scores
Lancaster Onlline By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer  Wednesday, July 15, 2015 8:40 am
Full results for Pennsylvania's 2015 standardized tests haven't been released, but we already know they aren't great.  The state Department of Education has confirmed that the number of students who scored "proficient" or "advanced" on the tests fell precipitously compared with 2014, according to Kevin McCorry at WHYY/Newsworks.  State officials attributed the decline to increased rigor of the tests, McCorry reports. The past school year was the first that PSSAs — the tests taken by third- through eighth-graders — were fully aligned to Pennsylvania Core Standards.  Using the limited PSSA data released by the state so far, WHYY's analysis found that proficiency rates dropped on average by 35.4 percent in math and 9.4 percent in English language arts over 2014.  This is Pennsylvania's fourth year of declining test scores, according to McCorry.

Still waiting, Harrisburg, for a Pennsylvania budget and school tax relief
Lancaster Online Editorial by The LNP Editorial Board Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2015 6:00 am
Fourteen of 17 Lancaster County school boards voted to raise property tax rates for 2015-16. The tax increases range from 1 percent in the Hempfield and Manheim Central school districts to 4 percent in Elizabethtown.   An average property tax increase of 1.7 percent in Lancaster County may not seem like much to a family with two incomes and some wiggle room in the budget, but to a senior citizen living on a fixed income, any such increase can be daunting.  School districts are seeing their costs rising all of the time, too.  They — and the homeowners paying school taxes — need relief.  Gov. Tom Wolf knows this. Our state lawmakers know this. And still they remain locked in an impasse over the state budget.

Capitol grinds to a lull as PA concludes second week of new fiscal year without a state budget
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Wednesday marked the two week anniversary of the start of the 2015-2016 fiscal year, while lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf have yet to agree on a state budget.  July 15 is the traditional calendar date on which the state sends its first round of checks to school districts, but the Commonwealth is not authorized to spend the money without the enactment of a state budget.  Meanwhile, activity in the Capitol was at a notable lull Wednesday as tourists once again claimed the Rotunda and staff roamed about from meeting-to-meeting.  While some legislative leaders and the governor were in the Capitol, no face-to-face meetings between legislative leadership and Gov. Wolf were reported or observed.  Members, staff, and Capitol observers speaking to The PLS Reporter discussed an ongoing perception of a lack of urgency behind budget talks 15 days after the governor vetoed a Republican-crafted budget plan.

Study estimates Utica shale holds gigantic amount of recoverable gas
Trib Live By David Conti Tuesday, July 14, 2015, 10:27 p.m.
The amount of natural gas trapped in the Utica shale might rival what drillers hope to extract from its more famous neighbor the Marcellus, a group of geologists said Tuesday.  “It's comparable to the highest number I've seen for the Marcellus,” said Doug Patchen, head of the Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium at West Virginia University and lead editor of a geologic report on the Utica.  The Utica Shale Play Book, the result of a two-year study by federal, state and university researchers, estimates the shale rock formation below the Marcellus holds 782 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas. Estimates for the Marcellus range from 500 to 800 trillion.
Gas companies last year pulled 4 trillion cubic feet from Pennsylvania shale wells.
Senate GOP leader: Shale tax may be considered with offsetting legislation
Trib Live By Brad Bumsted Monday, July 13, 2015, 3:51 p.m.
HARRISBURG — Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman isn't ruling out a severance tax on natural gas as a potential solution to the 14-day state budget stalemate.  Corman, a key budget negotiator, emphasized Monday he is not advocating the tax that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf wants.  “If we can put together a package that benefits the industry, we might be willing to consider it,” Corman, R-Centre County, told the Tribune-Review on Friday.  Asked to elaborate Monday, Corman noted the natural gas industry pays Pennsylvania $225 million a year through the state's impact fee, approved by lawmakers in 2012. With gas prices low, “we cannot take action that would damage this valuable vehicle for economic development and job creation,” he said.  “At the same time, if we could tailor a tax that may also have provisions that would allow the industry to continue to develop and maintain job growth, then it might be something we consider.”
On Monday, Republican negotiators met with Wolf but reported no substantial progress. The budget by law was due June 30.
Senate Republicans won’t bring up anything that doesn’t have a majority of their caucus, so we’re stuck.  How this all ends is that Tom Wolf is going to veto anything that doesn’t address his top three priorities, and Republicans don’t have the votes for a veto override. They’re ultimately going to have to give Wolf something close to what he wants."
Scarnati Knows a Severance Tax Would Pass If Brought Up for a Vote
Keystone Politics Posted on July 14, 2015 by Jon Geeting #
Scarnati said he opposes a severance tax. But he declined to rule it out. There’s “some level of support” in all four caucuses of both parties in House and Senate for a severance tax, he said. But there’s “not majority votes in the House and Senate Republican caucuses at this point,” Scarnati said. With the industry reeling from low gas prices, “I liken a shale tax to Detroit, during the Clutch Plague, putting a tax on automobiles,” Scarnati said.
A bunch of Southeast Republicans ran for reelection as liberals in 2014, saying they supported a severance tax and restoring the Republican cuts to education. If they had to vote on the severance tax plan, they’d vote for it, and so would most Democrats. Very probably it would pass.  The problem is that Republicans don’t want to bring it up for an up-or-down vote. They are going by the “Hastert Rule” used in Washington – the majority of the majority principle. Senate Republicans won’t bring up anything that doesn’t have a majority of their caucus, so we’re stuck.  How this all ends is that Tom Wolf is going to veto anything that doesn’t address his top three priorities, and Republicans don’t have the votes for a veto override. They’re ultimately going to have to give Wolf something close to what he wants.

"In fact, our campaigns were so credible that our opponents spent tens of thousands of dollars to hammer home the messages that they, too, would “stand up for schools” and “allocate new natural gas severance tax revenues to education.”  
GOP lawmakers should honor their campaign promises
Lancaster Online Opinion by Charlie Hample and Ann VonStetten Schott Posted: Thursday, July 16, 2015 6:00 am
Gov. Tom Wolf is only half right when he says his landslide win in last year’s election equates with a mandate for adequate, equitable public school funding.  Because while this issue was indeed the cornerstone of his campaign, it was also front and center in the re-election campaigns of Republican legislators.  We should know: In last year’s election, we were the Democratic nominees for state representative in Lancaster County’s 13th and 97th state House districts. While our campaigns played out in two very different parts of the county, there were common themes. We are both career public school teachers who were making our first runs for major elective office. We waged these campaigns because we thought state government was failing our schools, students, and property taxpayers. And while we both came up short on Election Day, we were proud to run visible, competitive races.

Groups urge Delco lawmakers to compromise on guv’s budget
By Kristina Scala, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 07/14/15, 11:25 PM EDT
Teachers and work force advocates are continuing to push Delaware County lawmakers to come to terms with Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget and its $2 billion increase in spending — or at least meet somewhere in the middle.  “There are a lot of people that want a lot of different things from the state budget,” said Zeek Weil, a spokesman for Pennsylvania State Education Association.  He said the differences pose a challenge for Democrats and Republicans to work together and pass a “reasonable” budget that increases funding in education.”  A small group of demonstrators Tuesday gathered near Sen. Tom McGarrigle’s Upper Darby district office to ask the Springfield Republican, who represents the 26th District, to support Wolf’s plan for a reasonable severance tax on natural gas extraction.  The get-together was meant to show lawmakers that voters are still focused on the issues of better funding schools by establishing a reasonable severance tax on natural gas extraction and providing livable hourly wages.  A few hours earlier, a similar demonstration was held outside the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

Harrisburg Republicans blamed for education cuts

It’s amusing to read and listen to state legislators trying to justify the recently proposed Republican budget, citing a $370 million increase to education without a tax increase, stating that they are voting the way the people want who elected them.  I beg to differ with that. Gov. Wolf defeated incumbent Gov. Corbett by a snowslide, mudslide, and landslide vote. In his campaign. Gov. Wolf spoke out on taxing gas drilling companies, reducing property taxes, and increasing state taxes. Apparently, the people knew this and voted him in overwhelming fashion. So please, local legislators, don’t tell me you are voting for your people. You are voting for your party.  Education is the number one issue within our state government at this time. Gov. Corbett’s excessive cuts have cut through education budgets statewide. When our local politicians cite no tax increase, apparently they don’t consider increased property taxes and higher gasoline taxes a tax.

Nonprofit's review of York City School District expected soon
A nonprofit's report will be released after state officials review it
York DaIly Record By Angie Mason @angiemason1 on Twitter UPDATED:   07/15/2015 08:25:35 PM ED
The York City School Board should soon know what a nonprofit focused on school turnaround found in its review of the school district.  After a new chief recovery officer for the school district was named in the spring, the Pennsylvania Department of Education hired Mass Insight, a Boston-based nonprofit that works to help struggling schools, to complete a comprehensive review of the district. The report was due to be delivered to the department Wednesday.  In a written report given to the school board Wednesday, Carol Saylor, the chief recovery officer, said the report will be released to the district after the education department and the governor's office review it.  A meeting of the district's advisory committee was canceled to allow for more time for the state officials to review the study. Saylor expects it can be reviewed by the school board in August.

Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales: Results From the 2013 NAEP Reading and Mathematics Assessments
National Center for Education Statistics Author: Victor Bandeira de Mello July 9, 2015
Executive Summary - Under the 2001 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, states developed their own assessments and set their own proficiency standards to measure student achievement. This has resulted in a great deal of variation among the states, both in their proficiency standards and in their student assessments (NCES 2008-475). This variation has created a challenge in understanding the ability levels of students across the United States because there is no means to compare the proficiency levels established by one state against the others directly. To address this need, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has published periodic reports for the past 10 years in which the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is used as a common metric for examining the proficiency standards set by states in reading and mathematics in grades 4 and 8. 

Critical Questions about Computerized Assessments and SmarterBalanced Test Scores
EduResearcher Blog by Roxana Marachi, Ph.D / 1 week ago
A recent report from the Public Policy Institute reveals that the majority of California’s public school parents are uninformed about the new tests their children took this year. And despite numerous concerns regarding technological barriers, biases, and testing administration problems, it appears that in a matter of weeks, “test scores” will be released to the public.  The following includes adapted selections of a letter I sent to the California State Board of Education for their meeting on July 8th and 9th.  My purpose in sharing this information is to draw attention to the lack of scientific validity of the test scores that are soon to be released to the public, and to promote critical thinking about issues of fairness, accessibility, data security, and standardization in the test administrations.  It is important to consider that unless assessments are independently verified to adhere to basic standards of test development regarding validity, reliability, security, accessibility, and fairness in administrationresulting scores will be meaningless and should not be used to make claims about student learning, progress, aptitude, nor readiness for college or career.  Please consider the following questions and evidence as you determine public communication and next steps regarding test score data provided by the SmarterBalanced Assessment Consortium.

Who Does Gates Fund for “General Operating Support”?
deutsch29 blog by Mercedes Schneider May 24, 2015
On its website, the Gates Foundation makes it clear that it often initiates contact with organizations to apply for specific grants and that it does not fund what it does not consider a Gates Foundation “priority.”  The assertiveness of the Gates Foundation in funding its approved version of education reform takes on head-tilting meaning when one considers the organizations that Gates funds “for general operating support.”  That means that the Gates Foundation has decided to that it wants to keep such organizations in business. So, it gives them money to stay afloat, like Dad shelling out an allowance to the kids.  There is no greater opportunity for fiscal dependence on the Gates Foundation than for an organization to receive Gates money for general operating expenses– especially in the case of repeated operating support grants. Note also that the Gates Foundation pays its grants in installments, and it sure can become easy to get used to those regularly-arriving payments to help with salaries and other expenses.
Then comes the layer of dependence known as being part of the Gates-endorsed, corporate reform “in crowd”– an open door to additional fiscal and political opportunities for those willing to travel the route of test-score-driven education privatization.

When Charters Go Union
Most charter school funders hate unions and unions generally hate charters. But more and more charter teachers want to unionize, and labor is helping them do it. 
The American Prospect Summer 2015 by Rachel M. Cohen
The April sun had not yet risen in Los Angeles when teachers from the city’s largest charter network—the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools—gathered outside for a press conference to discuss their new union drive. Joined by local labor leaders, politicians, student alumni, and parents, the importance of the educators’ effort was not lost on the crowd. If teachers were to prevail in winning collective bargaining rights at Alliance’s 26 schools, the audience recognized, then L.A.’s education reform landscape would fundamentally change. For years, after all, many of the most powerful charter backers had proclaimed that the key to helping students succeed was union-free schools.  One month earlier, nearly 70 Alliance teachers and counselors had sent a letter to the administration announcing their intent to join United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), the local teachers union that represents the 35,000 educators who work in L.A.’s public schools. The letter asked Alliance for a “fair and neutral process”—one that would allow teachers to organize without fear of retaliation. The administration offered no such reassurance. Indeed, April’s press conference was called to highlight a newly discovered internal memo circulating among Alliance administrators that offered tips on how to best discourage staff from forming a union. It also made clear that Alliance would oppose any union, not just UTLA. “To continue providing what is best for our schools and our students, the goal is no unionization, not which union,” the memo said.

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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