Thursday, July 9, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 9: Senate Rejects School Voucher Amendment During ESEA Debate; Smart Talk does Education Funding

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 9, 2015:
Senate Rejects School Voucher Amendment During ESEA Debate; Smart Talk does Education Funding

"Both the Senate and House versions of education legislation address what critics of No Child Left Behind have opposed for years — a punitive system of testing overseen by the federal government — in favor of more local control.  While both bills retain the annual reading and math tests required under current law, states would be given latitude to decide how those assessment tests would be used to measure school and teacher performance.  The Senate version, however, would require states to continue to use the tests as a significant accountability factor while the House measure does not."
Lawmakers Move to Limit Government’s Role in Education
WASHINGTON — Congress on Wednesday moved to substantially scale back the federal government’s role in education, particularly the use of high-stakes standardized testing to punish schools, in the first significant proposed revisions since the No Child Left Behind law was passed 14 years ago.  While there is near-universal agreement that the law should be retooled, the paths to change are starkly different.  The House on Wednesday passed its version, a measure laden with conservative prescriptions that congressional Democrats and President Obama opposed. The Senate began debate on its alternative, a bill with at least some bipartisan support, but one the White House still finds wanting.  No Child Left Behind, which passed Congress by overwhelming margins, had been considered one of the signature domestic achievements of President George W. Bush. But its provisions for using standardized tests has ignited debate ever since.

House And Senate Lawmakers Work To Revise No Child Left Behind Law
NPR Morning Edition DAVID GREENE, HOST with JUANA SUMMERS JULY 08, 2015 5:01 AM ET Audiio Runtime : 3:49
Passed in 2001, the education law established more standardized testing and education data collection than at any time in U.S. history. Congress is looking to reauthorize it, but roadblocks remain.  This week, lawmakers in the House and Senate are working to rewrite No Child Left Behind. That's George W. Bush's signature education law that was passed in 2001. NPR's Juana Summers covers Congress and joins us with the latest.

"Vouchers undermine the basic goals of public education by allowing funding that is designated for our most at-risk students to be re-routed to private schools," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., co-author of the underlying ESEA bill.  "Vouchers only provide the illusion of choice to students from low-income backgrounds," Murray added. "And it is these low-income students who ultimately lose out when funds are siphoned away from the public schools they attend."
Senate Rejects School Voucher Amendment During ESEA Debate
Education Week By Lauren Camera on July 8, 2015 9:05 PM
The U.S. Senate waded into its first contentious debate since it began considering an overhaul to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, voting on and ultimately rejecting a voucher amendment that would have allowed Title I dollars for low-income students to follow them to the public or private school of their choice.  The amendment, offered Wednesday by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., co-author of the bipartisan bill, would have provided low-income students with a $2,100 scholarship to use at their discretion.  "Equal opportunity in America should mean that everyone should have the same starting line," said Alexander. "There would be no better way to help move students from the back of the line to the front."  But Democrats slammed the proposal, arguing it would move scarce federal dollars away from the schools that need them the most.

"Overall, the bill represents a dramatic departure from the current version of the federal K-12 law, the No Child Left Behind Act, and would turn much of the decisionmaking over to states.  It would eliminate the current accountability system, known as adequate yearly progress, and despite requiring states to intervene in schools that aren't performing well, it wouldn't tell states how to do so or how many schools to try to fix at a time. The measure would also allow states to set their own academic standards, and would prohibit the U.S. Secretary of Education from requiring states to adopt the Common Core State Standards, or any other set of standards."
House Passes ESEA Rewrite 218-213; Senate Debate Continues
Education Week By Lauren Camera on July 8, 2015 7:30 PM
The U.S. House of Representative reconsidered and ultimately passed Wednesday a Republican-backed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—though it's far from the measure that President Barack Obama may eventually sign into law when it's all said and done.  After considering 14 amendments, including a failed Democratic substitute, members passed the ESEA rewrite, formally known as the Student Success Act, with a very close vote of 218-213. Twenty-seven Republicans crossed party-line to join the entire Democratic caucus in voting against the bill.   "We have an urgent responsibility to replace a flawed law with bold solutions," said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the education committee chairman and the bill's author. "That responsibility grows more urgent with each day."

NSBA Lauds Lawmakers’ Focus on Strong Local Governance as Efforts to Rewrite NCLB Progress
NSBA Press Release July 8, 2015
Alexandria, Va. (July 8, 2015) -- The National School Boards Association (NSBA) continues to actively engage with our nation’s lawmakers in support of a comprehensive, strategic modernization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). NSBA views local and community leadership as the cornerstone of public education in the United States.  During today’s House and Senate floor action, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle reinforced the value of school boards across the country with a call to strengthen local governance, provide greater flexibility for innovation, and guard against inappropriate levels of federal intrusion.  “We are pleased that lawmakers recognize the critical role local board members serve in providing all public school students with an education they deserve,” stated NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “As ESEA undergoes modernization and reauthorization, the time is now to uphold local and community leadership of public schools as serving the best interests of our students, parents, and local communities.”  In advance of today’s consideration of the Student Success Act (H.R. 5), NSBA sent a letter to the House expressing appreciation for members’ commitment to strengthen local governance and promote the success of our nation’s public school students. The letter underscored NSBA’s firm opposition to amendments that would authorize private vouchers, tuition tax credits or any other measure that redirects public dollars toward private education. In a close vote, 218-213, the House passed H.R. 5 with provisions that support the role of local governance in public education.

Senator Casey, Highlighting County-by-County Data, to Push for Passage of New Universal Pre-K Amendment that Could Become Part of No Child Left Behind Rewrite
Both House and Senate Currently Debating Sweeping Education Revamp that Would Impact All of PA’s 500 School Districts  
Casey Amendment Would Fund Five Years of Universal Pre-K by Closing Corporate Tax Inversions Loophole
County-by-County and State-by-State Data Will Show Impact that Adding Casey’s Amendment to No Child Left Behind Rewrite Would Have
Washington DC- Ahead of a major vote on his universal pre-k proposal, U.S. Senator Bob Casey will push for passage of his Strong Start Amendment that could become part of the rewrite of No Child Left Behind, which is currently on the House and Senate floors, TODAY, Thursday, July 9that 2:10pm during a conference call. Highlighting county-by-county and state-by-state data, Casey will detail how his universal pre-k bill could impact Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts and school districts across the nation. The amendment would fund five years of universal pre-k by closing the corporate tax inversions loophole that allows major U.S. corporations to avoid U.S. taxes by claiming they are headquartered overseas.
When: TODAY, Thursday, July 9th 2:10pm
Dial-in: 202.228.0808 (RSVP for passcode)

Smart Talk: Education Funding
Dennis Owens, Kevin McCorry with Senators Folmer and Teplitz, Ed Sec'y Rivera and PSBA's John Callahan
Written by Smart Talk Staff | Jul 8, 2015 11:00 AM
Last month the Basic Education Funding Commission unveiled their updated school funding formula after more than a year of work reviewing the process.  The Senate Education Committee crafted a bill around the recommendations made by the Basic Education Funding Commission to more equally distribute resources to schools. The bill was vetoed last week.   On today's program we talk with Keystone Crossroads Kevin McCorry joins Dennis Owens to discuss the funding situation for school districts across the commonwealth.  Also in studio will be Senators Mike Folmer (R-48) and Robert Teplitz (D-15) who were part of the Basic Education Commission, John Callahan from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, and Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera. 

Battle continues over Marcellus Shale taxes, education dollars By Dennis Owens Published: July 8, 2015, 7:11 pm  Updated: July 8, 2015, 7:11 pm
HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – School funding in Pennsylvania is complicated and a mixed bag.  The numbers tell conflicting stories.  At $29 billion overall and $15,000 per pupil, Pennsylvania is well above the national average in its support of K-12 public schools.  But on average, the state contributes 36 percent to a district’s overall budget, among the worst in the nation.  The commonwealth, by far, is the worst in the nation when it comes to funding inequities. That is, the disparity between wealthier districts and poorer districts is more acute in Pennsylvania than anywhere else in the nation.  But, at $29 billion, critics can’t rightly suggest there’s no money for schools.  “That works out to $856 every second that we’re spending every minute of every day, seven days a week,” Senator Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon/Dauphin/York) said during a lively hour on WITF’s Radio Smart TalkWednesday morning. I was honored to co-host the discussion on school funding in Pennsylvania.  Folmer was a member of the Basic Education Funding Commission, which recently released recommendations on how to make funding more equitable and fair in the state. The proposed formula would weigh factors like a district’s relative wealth, its number of students in poverty and who are English language learners, its number of special education students, and those in charter schools.

Education formula doesn’t bode well for rural Pennsylvania, school officials say
Bradford Era By ALEX DAVIS Era Reporter Posted: Wednesday, July 8, 2015 10:00 am
For the most part, school districts across the region could see small increases in basic education funding under a formula unveiled last month.  In fact, those extra dollars could range from $19,333 to $173,170, according to estimates provided to area school officials by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.  But the estimations could change depending on how much funding state lawmakers decide to allocate to districts, local leaders said. The Basic Education Funding Commission in June  recommended a formula to be approved by the General Assembly.  “I would like to see revisions to the calculations, which would provide the necessary funding to maintain current programs,” Kane Area School District business manager Steve Perry told The Era on Monday.  The school district could receive $90,704, a 1.1-percent increase, part of the new funding formula, he said.  Meanwhile, the Bradford Area School District could be the recipient of $173,170 in extra funding, equating to a 1.4-percent increase — if the state government allocates $100 million to education.  For Bradford Area School District Superintendent Katharine Pude, she said the outcome of the funding formula came as no surprise.  “Poverty schools and schools that are rapidly growing have not been given sufficient funding to provide a quality education across the commonwealth,” she said. 
She went on to say the funding formula would “better even the playing field” for those students.

Wolf vs. Corman and a mid-week budget update
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Wednesday, July 8, 2015
A day following a sit-down meeting with Gov. Wolf and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) where Sen. Corman told reporters that Republicans will not support broad-based tax increases proposed by the governor, Gov. Wolf’s press secretary called the senator’s viewpoints one of political expediency.  "The refusal by Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and Republican leaders to accept basic math and acknowledge Pennsylvania’s massive structural budget deficit is the sole obstacle preventing budget talks from moving forward," Jeff Sheridan said in an email to interested parties.  "Strangely, today’s Sen. Corman doesn’t agree with the Sen. Corman of the past. Sen. Corman’s leadership title seems to have shifted his ideals on budgeting and financial planning."  The email uses quotes from media reports showing Sen. Corman in the past has said some tax increases would be necessary to fill budget needs and would’ve been supported by Senate Republicans in the last budget cycle.

"In what is swiftly turning into a public relations war, the governor is getting some heavy-hitter help. In the last week, the Democratic Governors Association and one of its affiliates have released two ads - one radio, the other television - to bolster Wolf's position on the budget.
Republicans, too, have received assistance from an outside group. Earlier in the week, Americans for Prosperity, a Virginia-based advocacy group founded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, began running a radio ad in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh attacking Wolf as "cooking up schemes to hike your taxes."
Road warrior: Wolf takes budget fight to Chesco
CHRIS PALMER, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Thursday, July 9, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Wednesday, July 8, 2015, 6:09 PM
The message was familiar, but the turf was different.
And to hear Gov. Wolf tell it, that's because the legislature's Republican majority - which has so far rejected many of Wolf's budget priorities - are divorced from life outside the Capitol.
"I want to be where reality actually is," he said during an afternoon news conference in front of Downingtown Middle School. "We have a choice to make. That's what my budget is about, and I came here because I think I can make that statement more clearly in front of real people than I can in Harrisburg."  Wolf, a first-term Democrat, has been stymied during weeks of budget negotiations with Republican legislators, and the stalemate over a state spending plan is now a week past the deadline for passage.  Each side has different priorities. Wolf wants to increase education funding and reduce property taxes by raising other taxes, but Republicans have opposed new levies.

Gov. Wolf visits Downingtown to discuss his 2015-16 budget plan
West Chester Daily Local By Ginger Dunbar, Daily Local News POSTED: 07/08/15, 7:06 PM EDT
CALN >> Governor Tom Wolf Wednesday continued the “Schools That Teach” Tour at Downingtown Middle School to discuss the proposed 2015-16 budget that he said “provides fair and adequate funding for Pennsylvania’s schools.”   Wolf said he wants a budget that contains fair and adequate education funding in part by implementing a commonsense severance tax, provides property tax relief to Pennsylvania families and seniors, fixes the structural deficit and provides a plan to create jobs across the commonwealth.  Wolf, who is in his first year in office, said that the budget needs to fund schools, instead of taking money out of that investment.
“The future of Pennsylvania runs through the halls of places like this,” Wolf said as he pointed at the school behind him. “That’s why in my budget, I’m proposing that we actually invest in education. Not because I care about teachers, not because I care just about the students, because I care about all of Pennsylvania. All of us will benefit if we do a good job of investing adequately and wisely in our schools.”  Wolf said Pennsylvania can adequately fund the schools with a severance tax. He said Pennsylvania schools can “deliver on the promise they make for all of us for a better Pennsylvania. Or are we going to continue to starve them of the resources they need,” he asked rhetorically, to fund its schools. He said his plan provides significant property tax relief and closes the structural budget deficit.

Politics of Pennsylvania's budget impasse heating up
Morning Call Capitol Ideas By Steve Esack Call Harrisburg Bureau July 8, 2015
Wednesday marked the first full week of Pennsylvania's budget impasse. Still, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature do not appear any closer to compromising on their respective financial and policy differences to reach a mutual accord on a 2015-16 spending plan.  That does not mean all was quiet on the budget front, however. In fact, political rhetoric heated up on the seventh day of the deadlock. But first a recap of how the governor and Legislature could not agree on a budget by midnight July 1:
  • Wolf’s $33.8 billion spending plan includes a cumulative 16 percent tax increase. Under his plan, income taxes would go up and sales taxes would rise while the number of taxable items would expand. He would use some of those tax hikes to reduce local property taxes and close the $1.2 billion deficit. Wolf also would put a higher tax and fee on Marcellus Shale gas drillers to pay for a $400 million boost in per pupil spending in public schools.
  • The Republican-backed budget is $30.1 billion. It would not raise taxes. It would close the deficit by delaying bills and shuffling money to different accounts. It would increase education spending at a lower rate than Wolf by selling off the state liquor store system for $220 million in new revenue annually. It also proposes changes to pension benefits for most future state workers and all future school teachers to save about $11.1 billion over three decades.

Air war over Pennsylvania budget standoff to hit TV screens
Morning Call By Marc Levy Of The Associated Press July 8, 2015
HARRISBURG — The air war over Gov. Tom Wolf's week-old budget standoff with Republicans who control the Pennsylvania Legislature expanded Wednesday with the launch of a TV ad by a national Democratic group.  The 30-second statewide ad by an affiliate group of the Democratic Governors Association aligns with Wolf's public relations strategy. It takes on Republicans over the budget bill that Wolf vetoed, saying the GOP plan would let the oil and gas industry off the hook, would not adequately fund education and would have deepened the deficit.  "Gov. Wolf is fighting for a middle-class budget that lowers property taxes and makes oil and gas companies pay up to fund our schools," the ad says. "Tell the Legislature to get serious and pass a real budget."  The ad comes a day after Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, left a meeting with Wolf and told reporters that the effort to revive talks is stuck on Republican opposition to Wolf's request for tax increases on sales and income.

COLUMN: Local state rep. asks: How much new spending is enough for Gov. Wolf?
Meadville Tribune By Republican state Rep. Brad Roae  Wednesday, July 8, 2015 11:14 am
We recently passed a $30 billion no tax increase budget in the House and Senate that increased spending by about $1 billion over last year’s budget. It was a 3.6 percent increase over the prior year’s budget.   Basic education, special education, Prekindergarten and Head Start received $155 million more than last year. All of the increase in basic education funding was distributed based on the new funding formula that was unanimously adopted by the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission. Pennsylvania would have joined the long list of states that have a school funding formula. Colleges and Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency college grants went up by $51 million.  Every school district in Pennsylvania would have received more state funding than they did last year. All of the school districts impacted by the several-year backlog waiting for reimbursement from the state for school renovation costs would have received their money this year.

With end of "payless paydays," budget stalemate could stretch on
WITF Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jul 8, 2015 5:04 PM
Some see the state Capitol deadlock over a state budget as political dysfunction or theatre. But it's also a social experiment: this is the year Pennsylvanians will see how a court decision ending "payless paydays" affects the budget negotiations.  In 2009, the state Supreme Court ruled commonwealth employees must be paid, even if a political stalemate delays the approval of a state spending plan.  The decision removed what was arguably the biggest source of pressure on lawmakers and the governor to reach a deal - thousands of angry people working without paychecks.  "There's no penalty, no price to pay, for lawmakers and the governor for failure to meet the deadline," said Franklin & Marshall pollster Terry Madonna. "Services get provided, the state workers get paid. Life goes on for Pennsylvania residents."

Study says Pa. ranks below federal standards on school testing
By Daniel Solomon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette July 9, 2015 12:00 AM
When it comes to the rigor of its expectations for students in grades 4 and 8, Pennsylvania falls short on the federal tests known as the Nation’s Report Card.  According to a study released today by the National Center for Education Statistics, math and reading proficiency levels for fourth- and eighth-graders in Pennsylvania are below those in most states and at the federal level.  Gary Phillips, the vice president of the American Institutes for Research, said in a conference call that expectations for eighth-graders in some low-standard states were similar to those for fourth-graders in high-standard states.  “States are setting wildly different standards, and in many cases, very low standards,” Mr. Phillips said. “It’s important for the [National Assessment of Educational Progress] to stay the course and retain its role as an independent monitor.”

Philly: A shake-up at 440
Hite reshuffles his administration and moves ahead with his vision.
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 8, 2015 04:29 PM
After three years of an administration defined by austerity, personnel cuts and school closings, Superintendent William Hite is ready to move forward with his vision of improving education in the District.  Hite is moving ahead even though he doesn't know yet whether he will get the financial support from the city and state that he needs to make it happen. He said his main goals will be stability, equity, and opportunity for all students, outcomes he hopes to achieve by making schools -- not the central office -- "the primary unit of change."   Now, the District administration "is essentially a command and control center," he said. "But schools educate children with different needs and different abilities. And they need very different things."  This week, Hite announced a significant administrative reorganization and the personnel he has chosen to lead the effort.

SLA's Lehmann named to head Philly innovative schools network
the notebook By David Limm on Jul 8, 2015 01:08 PM
Science Leadership Academy's nationally recognized founder and principal, Chris Lehmann, has been named to lead the School District's innovative schools network. In addition to his new role as an assistant superintendent, Lehmann will remain principal at SLA, though he will share his duties with a new co-principal.  The change comes amid a reorganization in the District's administration as new assistant superintendents are appointed to lead 13 learning networks, up from eight that exist now.  In his latest blueprint for reforming the District, Superintendent William Hite stated his desire to create and scale-up successful "evidence-based schools models," where instruction is more personalized, project-based, and infused with technology.

PA Cyber charter renewal lag 'nothing out of the ordinary'
Beaver County Times By J.D. Prose | 0 comments Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2015 6:00 pm
MIDLAND -- The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School’s charter expired June 30 and has not been renewed by the state, but an education department spokeswoman said officials are simply taking their time and reviewing the renewal application.  “It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” Jessica Hickernell said Tuesday. She did not have a time frame for when PA Cyber’s renewed five-year charter might be approved.  A cursory review of charter renewal documents for other cyber schools on the Pennsylvania Department of Education website showed that some of them have apparently operated under extended charters before receiving renewals.  “We expected it to take some time,” PA Cyber chief executive officer Michael Conti said of the renewal.  PA Cyber filed its application for another charter on Sept. 29, 2014. With attachments, the application exceeds 1,100 pages and includes detailed academic, operating and financial information.

Poverty rates in every U.S. school district, in one map
Washington Post By Emma Brown July 8 at 8:32 AM  
Anyone who cares about the plight of poor children in America should take a look at a new interactive map, below, put together by the new nonprofit EdBuild.  The map shows Census Bureau poverty rates in each of the nation’s nearly 14,000 school districts nationwide. The darker the blue on the map, the greater the concentration of children living in poverty. It seems like the kind of map that should have been easy to find long ago — but it hasn’t been, at least not in the public realm.  Zoom out, and you can see macro-level concentrations of poverty and wealth, like the dark blue swaths of impoverished districts along the Mississippi River in the Deep South and in rural parts of the West. Zoom in, and you see how school district boundaries often serve as stark lines of division between the poor and the affluent.

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.

Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding Formula Video
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association gives an overview of the newly proposed Basic Education Funding Formula.

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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 »

Why Scientists Are Over the Moons About the Pluto Flyby
New York Times JULY 7, 2015
In the 13 minutes it will take you to watch the video above, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft could get from New York to Kenya, India or China. It is moving that fast. And on the morning of Tuesday, July 14, after nine and a half years hurtling forward at 31,000 miles per hour, it will pass Pluto.  If you want to understand how the mission came to be and why it is such a big deal, we recommend sitting down with a cup of tea or glass of wine and watching this documentary. Here are a few quotes you may want to keep in reserve for conversation lulls at future summer barbecues:

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