Monday, July 20, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 20: PA House returns to budget impasse; Next up for NCLB: Senate-House negotiations

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 20, 2015:
PA House returns to budget impasse; Next up for NCLB: Senate-House negotiations

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

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup July 18: Wolf campaign asks Pennsylvanians to call lawmakers about budget impasse; budget talks to resume Tuesday

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

"At least four outside groups are involved in these ad campaigns.  They include America Works USA, an arm of the Democratic Governors Association, and Rebuild Pa, which supports Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. Americans for Prosperity, founded by the conservative Koch Brothers, and Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania are critical of the governor’s policies."
House returns to budget impasse
HARRISBURG — The House returns to session Tuesday as the stalemate over the state budget starts to resemble trench warfare.  Because of that, no one expects the presence of House lawmakers at the Capitol will produce a bipartisan budget deal.  Lawmakers plan to vote on some routine bills that are nearing passage. Republican leaders could have a meeting with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. With negotiations sputtering, the focus turns increasingly to efforts by outside groups to sway public opinion with TV and radio ads and mailers.

GOP 'majority of majority' rule could test any budget deal
Lancaster Online By MARC LEVY Associated Press Saturday, July 18, 2015 10:38 am
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — In one of Pennsylvania's defining legislative battles this century, then-Gov. Ed Rendell won passage of a $1 billion tax package, and it still nags some Republicans that their leaders worked with Democrats to make it law, despite opposition from most members of the GOP's legislative majority.  Twelve years later, an unwritten Republican rule inspired by votes like that under Rendell could be a key test as leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf try to break a budget deadlock.  Simply put, the "majority-of-the-majority" rule means legislation cannot get a floor vote unless most Republican lawmakers support it. And many Republicans, particularly the most conservative, want to see their leaders adhere to that rule this time around, as Wolf pursues what opponents call Pennsylvania's biggest tax increase in history.

School funding: Reform pensions
Editorial By The Tribune-Review Sunday, July 19, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
The relentless push by some Pennsylvania lawmakers, citizen groups and Gov. Wolf to increase public school funding ignores an inconvenient fact based on the latest expenditure and revenue figures released by the state's Department of Education:  For the 2013-14 school year, spending by Pennsylvania's school districts hit an all-time high, totaling $26.1 billion — a $600 million increase over the previous year.  The fact is, school spending has steadily increased over the last five years with the exception of 2011-12, when the temporary federal stimulus ended, according to state figures analyzed by the Commonwealth Foundation.  On pace as well is state revenue to school districts, which in 2013-14 came to $9.7 billion, another record.  But as taxpayers pour more money into public schools, school district pension contributions are taking more money out. In 2008-09, districts spent $562 million on pension contributions, according to state figures. In 2013-14, that figure ballooned to $1.9 billion. In just five years, schools have seen more than a three-fold increase in pension contributions.
"A Mercyhurst poll conducted in January found that Pennsylvanians support increased funding for public schools by a margin of nearly three to one, with 74 percent favoring increased school funding and only 22 percent opposing."
Letter: Lawmakers must address school funding shortfall
Pocono Record Letter by Denise Kurnas Posted Jul. 14, 2015 at 6:12 PM
Pennsylvania's school funding system is broken, and students in classrooms across the state are suffering the consequences.  Recent cuts in state funding, combined with the fact that the state does not have a predictable, sustainable, fair and adequate basic education funding system to distribute dollars where they are needed, has put our students and our school districts at a disadvantage. The lack of an adequate funding formula has hit Monroe County school districts and taxpayers especially hard due to extreme underfunding from the state over the last 23 years.  
A strong system of public education is critically important both for our children as individuals, as future citizens, and for the commonwealth as a whole. The educational opportunities available to children in Monroe County schools today will impact the success they have later in life. Yet, the lack of a fair funding formula has led to a decrease in educational opportunities for our students through cuts in valuable programs, larger class sizes, school closings and teacher furloughs.

State leaves schools waiting
Times-Tribune by KATHLEEN BOLUS, STAFF WRITER Published: July 19, 2015
After years of failed promises for new state funding, many local educators played it safe when budgeting for state aid in their 2015-16 school budgets.  Business managers, administrators and board members in Lackawanna County school districts were conservative when calculating state aid in their recently passed 2015-16 school budgets. Contributing to their play-it-safe approach were early indications that a new state budget would not pass by its June 30 deadline. Pennsylvania’s first-term governor Tom Wolf vetoed the GOP-crafted $30.2 billion state budget on June 30; budget negotiations are continuing. Districts on a fiscal year must also pass their budgets by June 30 under state law.  “I don’t know how they expect us, as a school district, to be able to pass a balanced budget when they have no idea what they’re doing in Harrisburg,” said Carbondale Area School Board President Gary Smedley. “We have a 65-percent poverty rate and the tax base isn’t growing. The majority of our funding comes from state funds.”  State aid varies by district. In Abington Heights state aid made up 28.7 percent of its 2013-14 budget and 55.2 percent of Carbondale Area’s budget from the same year, according to state Department of Education data.

Letter: Put kids first, not gas companies
Pennsylvania legislators get a one-sided picture at a hearing on shale-gas taxes
Post Gazette Letter by Lee Branstetter, Nathaniel Horner, Granger Morgan, Ed Rubin and Parth Vaishnav of CMU July 19, 2015 12:00 AM
This article was written by Carnegie Mellon University's Lee Branstetter, a professor of economics and public policy; Nathaniel Horner, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy; Granger Morgan, the Hamerschlag University Professor of Engineering and founding director of the Scott Institute for Energy Innovation; Ed Rubin, the Alumni Chair Professor of Environmental Engineering and Science; and Parth Vaishnav, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy.
Thaddeus Stevens is spinning in his grave.  The venerable Pennsylvania Republican, portrayed so vividly in the movie “Lincoln” by Tommy Lee Jones, was a man ahead of his time. He helped establish tax-financed public education in our commonwealth — a massive expansion of government at a time when many believed government had no obligation to educate its citizenry.
Mr. Stevens’ stern visage still looks down on our legislators in Harrisburg, where a party bearing the name Republican holds a solid majority. But he can’t be happy with what he sees these days.
Back on June 1, state Sens. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, and Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, conducted a hearing on Gov. Tom Wolf’s severance-tax proposal, which would impose a tax on the revenues of shale drillers in Pennsylvania. At a time when the state’s finances are in perilous shape and public education is still reeling from savage cuts instituted by our former governor in 2011, this is a matter of vital importance.  You might expect that our leaders would seek the input of authentic experts who could offer dispassionate, objective analysis of the issues. There are plenty of them in Pennsylvania’s great universities. Sadly, none was invited to Harrisburg, despite the efforts of members of the Democratic minority to secure their inclusion. Instead, Messrs. Eichelberger and Yaw primarily sought the advice and counsel of shale-gas and business-association lobbyists who are paid to protect their members’ bottom lines, not to worry about what is best for Pennsylvania. And that one hearing is the only one the Senate has conducted this summer.

More than $3M at stake for local schools in Pa. budget brawl
By Evan Brandt, The Mercury POSTED: 07/19/15, 2:00 AM EDT |
With the budget impasse grinding on in Harrisburg for a third week, area residents may wonder what’s at stake in the debate surrounding schools funding.  The answer is more than $3 million — and that’s just the beginning.  According to a Mercury analysis, $3 million in basic education funding to nine area school districts separates the Republican House-passed budget that Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed and the budget Wolf proposed in the spring.  That money would pay for an additional 45 teachers in the nine school districts of The Mercury tri-county coverage area at the average regional teacher salary of $67,699.  That $3 million does not take into account proposed increases in other education funding streams like special education funding or early education money. Those specifics were not included in Republican budget numbers and so cannot be compared to the increases Wolf proposed in February.  As with anything that has to do with Harrisburg, the numbers are a little fuzzy.

Guest Editorial: The governor of 'no'
The Sentinel Guest Editorial Stephen Bloom  July 17, 2015
State Rep. Stephen Bloom represents the 199th Legislative District.
It’s been more than two weeks since Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the balanced, no-tax-hike budget passed by the House and Senate, and not much has changed.  After vetoing the budget, the governor locked in the status quo by vetoing not only the new Fiscal and Public School Codes (including the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission’s long-awaited fairer funding formula), but also vetoed the popular liquor privatization bill and the urgently needed state pension reform bill. And he continues to demand his entire package of unprecedented 16 percent tax and spending increases.  Rather than negotiating in good faith, the governor has instead doubled-down with confrontational radio and TV spots which, along with campaign-style mailers targeting individual House and Senate members, are being broadcast throughout the Commonwealth by America Works USA, an arm of the Democratic Governors Association funded mostly by big public sector labor unions. So far, more than half-a-million dollars is being spent on this aggressive push for the Wolf agenda. Even more troubling, these ads are distorting the truth.

Crushing pension obligations are pushing stressed governments
The cost of paying public-worker pensions is soaring even for some well-off suburban towns.
Consider Radnor Township. This leafy cluster of Main Line villages paid $3.3 million in 2014 to stabilize its police and civilian pension plans, tripling what it paid in 2006.  Police have agreed to contribute more, and the township has stopped offering traditional, guaranteed pensions to new civilian hires. Still, the plans remain "moderately distressed," with just 60 cents set aside for every $1 in future pensions, a ratio similar to that in poorer towns such as Chester City or Darby, a report by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale concludes.

Registration open for Bethlehem school district cyber academy
By Sara K. Satullo | For Email the author | Follow on Twitter on July 19, 2015 at 7:35 AM, updated July 19, 2015 at 9:38 AM
The Bethlehem Area School District has opened its K-12 cyber academy registration for the upcoming school year.  The academy is open to any student within the school district boundaries who is  interested in online learning from home. Informational sessions for parents and students are scheduled for July 28 and Aug. 6.  Details about the sessions and applications can be found here.  The district established the academy during the 2012-13 school year to try to lure students back from charter schools. Bethlehem is projected to spend $21 million to send 1,820 students to charter schools this school year.

Some midstate schools shifting to online summer classes
WITF Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Jul 17, 2015 4:20 AM
In a handful of Lancaster County districts, some students are paying to take online summer school classes to get ahead.  Meanwhile, Derry Township in Dauphin County hasn't implemented online summer school yet.  WITF also asked Cumberland Valley and Mechanicsburg districts about their approaches but neither responded to requests for comment.  In the Susquehanna Township School District, the online courses are offered at the high school itself, says principal Keith Still.  "If the student doesn't understand their interactive teacher, he still has access to a live person to answer questions they may have on a content area. So they get the best of both worlds," says Still.

LNP Editorial: It's time to take a serious look at school consolidation
By LANCASTERONLINE | Staff Posted: Sunday, July 19, 2015 9:04 am
The issue: Pennsylvania has 500 school districts, each with its own administrative hierarchy and associated costs. That’s actually an improvement over the early 1950s, when the commonwealth had 2,700 school districts. And it’s fewer than New Jersey, which is a geographically much smaller state and has an astonishing 545 school districts, some of them consisting of just one school. But other states have countywide school systems, which minimize the number of individual districts. Lancaster County has 17 school districts.
Across Pennsylvania, more than 5 percent of total school spending goes to administrative costs, including salaries. This spending amounts to an astonishing $1.4 billion statewide a year; in Lancaster County alone, it amounts to more than $42 million.

School volunteers should serve freely
Lancaster Online Editorial by The LNP Editorial Board Monday, July 20, 2015 6:00 am
THE ISSUE: Cash-strapped schools across Pennsylvania have stretched their staffs to the limit, and volunteers are stepping up to provide essential support. Recognizing the crucial role volunteers play in education and elsewhere, the governor and state legislators have taken steps to make it easier for community members to donate their time and talents.
School districts have long struggled to strike the delicate balance between maximizing student benefits and minimizing the community tax burden. That task has been complicated in recent years by the double whammy of diminished state funding and mounting pension obligations.

"The latest figures from the state Revenue Department show that the $2-a-pack tax generated $50.2 million for the School District of Philadelphia in its first nine months, beginning Oct. 1. The net was pretty much on target with officials' projections.  And in the following year, which began July 1 and ends June 30, the tax is projected to bring in about $60 million."
$2-per-pack cigarette tax helping Philly schools - for now
Moments after buying some Advil and bottled water at a Suburban Station newsstand, Serena Starnes realized that she was out of cigarettes. She quickly went back and paid $9.50 for a pack of Newports.  Had Starnes been in the suburbs, she would have paid much less because of the city's $2-a-pack tax earmarked for city schools. The extra $2 stings, but at least the money is going to help educate her children, the unemployed barber said.  "It's good because it's going toward the schools," the mother of nine said.  Multiply her spending by a hundred-thousand Philadelphia smokers and the cash-strapped school district has got a big chunk of what it needs.

"Here are five things to know about congressional efforts to replace No Child Left Behind:"
Next up for No Child Left Behind: Senate-House negotiations
Washington Post By Jennifer C. Kerr | AP July 17
WASHINGTON — No one thinks it’ll be easy, but the House and Senate are embarking on negotiations to merge two differing education bills that would rewrite the nation’s much-criticized No Child Left Behind education law.  On Thursday, the Senate overwhelmingly approved its version of the education legislation, a week after the House passed a more conservative measure.  For years, Congress has tried to update the law. It expired in 2007, though its mandates remained in place. Critics have complained there is too much testing and the law is too punitive for schools deemed to be failing. The Obama administration began issuing waivers to dozens of states to get around some of the law’s strictest requirements when it became clear they would not be met.

Mercedes Schneider: Both Senate and House ESEA Bills Remove Any Penalties for Opting Out
Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch July 18, 2015 //
Mercedes Schneider is one of the few people I know (outside of Congressional staff) who has read every word of the proposed legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now called No Child Left Behind).  In this post, she explains that both bills remove any penalties for parents who choose to opt out. It is up to the states to determine whether parents are allowed to opt out of testing, but there will be no federal penalties if they do.  In states that are either silent on the matter of opting out or that explicitly ban it, parents can still opt it. They are the parents, and they can decide what is in the best interest of their child.

One Step Closer to Life After No Child Left Behind
A promising rewrite to the notorious law just passed another hurdle.
The Atlantic JUL 16, 2015
After months of anticipation—and nearly a decade of neglect—No Child Left Behind’s demise is closer than ever to becoming a reality. The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a much-anticipated bill that would remake the 50-year-old law on which No Child Left Behind is based, ending a chapter in which the federal government was the key decision-maker at local schools.  The new law—the Every Child Achieves Act—would give much of that decision-making power back to states. Instead of the feds, state-level officials would determine how to assess academic performance, what counts as a struggling school, and which mechanisms to use to hold educators accountable for achievement. No more top-down reforms. No more mandatory interventions. No more Washington, D.C., bureaucrats stepping on the toes of local policymakers and educators who are much more in tune with their communities’ needs.
Right? Of course not. There’s plenty of important nuance here, and the legislative tug-of-war is just getting started.

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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