Friday, August 28, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Aug 28: As budget impasse drags on, school districts miss $1 billion state subsidy payment

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for August 28, 2015:
As budget impasse drags on, school districts miss $1 billion state subsidy payment

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

As budget impasse drags on, school districts miss $1 billion state subsidy payment
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Thursday, August 27, 2015
As Pennsylvania’s budget impasse nears the two-month mark, a recent report by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials noted school districts Thursday did not receive a scheduled $1.18 billion state subsidy payment as a result of the stalemate.  Of the 171 respondents to the PASBO survey, 83 percent said they are using fund balances to make ends meet in the absence of state funding while half said they have used or have considered using borrowing to ensure continued cash flow.  Additionally, 60 percent of respondents said they have or may delay vendor payments, 53 percent of respondents have delayed or may delay facility maintenance, and 29 percent may delay filling positions.  “With a state subsidy payment expected each month, more school districts will incur additional borrowing costs for loans if the budget impasse continues,” said Jay Himes, PASBO executive director.

Gov. Wolf: Changing GOP pension plan savings numbers throw entire plan into doubt
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Thursday, August 27, 2015
Gov. Tom Wolf Thursday said he is likely to have an answer next week for legislative Republican leadership with regard to their offer of $400 million for basic education funding in exchange for the governor’s agreement on a defined contribution pension plan for new employees.  However, he said the changing savings numbers discussed by Republicans at the last negotiating session earlier this week left him with doubts concerning whether the plan is the right way to go.  “I’m using [the additional time] to find out what their proposal actually was in that room,” he told reporters. “The number on the savings of their pension plan changed twice; there were three different numbers…so I just want to make sure what that real number is.”  He said Republicans kept revising the number downward, which he said opened up “other questions that we had fundamental disagreement over.”  “There were differences, changes, as I was watching the numbers come down,” he stated. “It suggested that maybe the other things that went into the design of this plan are not as tight as they should be.”  Speaking to the governor's comments, Senate Republican spokesperson Jenn Kocher said the savings numbers were revised downward in an attempt to compromise.

Budget talks paused as Wolf mulls offer
WITF Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Aug 27, 2015 3:33 PM
State budget negotiations are on ice as Governor Tom Wolf considers the most significant offer from Republicans since talks stalled in June.  The proposal would let Wolf spend more money on schools, one of his campaign promises. But it would also scale back future pension benefits, delivering a kick in the pants to public sector labor unions, who have panned the deal.  Wolf said Thursday he needs more time - and more information -- to consider the offer.  "The number on the savings of their pension plan for example changed three times or, what, it changed twice," said Wolf. "There were three different numbers. So I just want to make sure that I know what that number is."  Republicans disputed Wolf's version of events. The administration has received an actuarial analysis of the cost of the proposed pension changes from the state's two retirement systems.  Wolf has twice postponed making a final decision on the offer, leading to grousing among Republican legislative leaders.  "The frustration is, just, we need an answer," said GOP House Majority Leader Dave Reed on Wednesday. "If it's yes, that's great, we'll move on to the rest of the budget, get this thing done relatively quickly. If it's no, that's OK, we've got to figure out another direction to take collectively."

Pa. House Democrats ask Treasury for loan; spending authorization for minority caucus may run out by mid-September
Penn Live By Charles Thompson | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on August 27, 2015 at 5:50 PM, updated August 27, 2015 at 9:36 PM
Pennsylvania's House Democratic Caucus is on the cusp of a dubious distinction: it may be the first of the four legislative caucuses to run out of money due to this year's state budget stalemate.  And caucus leaders are now scrambling to avoid the prospect of payless paydays for its 652 employees.  In a letter dated Aug. 13, Caucus Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny County, asked the Pennsylvania Treasury for "a loan, from whatever source you deem appropriate and in such amount as may be necessary, to be used during the balance of the current budget impasse to help us fulfill our obligation to pay timely salaries and related costs."  Democratic spokesman Bill Patton confirmed the letter this week, and said the caucus's conversations with Treasury are "ongoing.   "House Democrats won't exhaust our reserve funds until September," Patton wrote in an email to PennLive.  "In planning for what to do at that point... our preferred alternative is to work with Treasury and avoid incurring substantial unneeded interest costs on a private loan," he continued.  The caucus is apparently good to meet its first payroll in the first week of September, sources familiar with the situation said, but it may not be able to meet payroll for the 568 non-House member employees on Sept. 15.  (Elected House members are paid on a monthly cycle, so the first check the 84 Democratic members would miss would be Oct. 1.)

New poll finds more Pennsylvanians blame Legislature than governor for budget stalemate
By Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau August 27, 2015 10:46 PM
HARRISBURG — More voters blame the state Legislature than the governor for the state’s ongoing budget impasse, a poll released Thursday found.  The Franklin & Marshall College poll found that 54 percent of voters consider the Republican-controlled Legislature responsible for the stalemate and 29 percent blame Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat. Not surprisingly, responses to this question are influenced by party affiliation, the poll noted, with more Democrats blaming the Legislature than Republicans.  Whom the voters blame would likely shift “if there’s a serious disruption of services,” predicted Terry Madonna, director of the poll and professor of public affairs at the college. Mr. Madonna’s prediction was based on budget standoffs under previous governors.  The Legislature’s Republican majorities passed a budget that was vetoed by Mr. Wolf on June 30. The two sides appear to have made little progress since then on a state spending plan. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Mr. Wolf said he was still weighing a potential compromise offered recently by Republican leaders that would tie increased school funding to pension changes.

Read the Franklin & Marshall Poll here:

"On Tuesday, the district lost a bid to severely reduce its payments for special education students attending charter schools and for cyber schools.
After a two-day hearing, Judge Chad F. Kenney agreed that reducing certain charter payments would solve some of the district's problems, but did not approve the reduction request because it left unresolved how the district would pay its accumulated debt.  The ruling was a setback for Gov. Wolf, who had backed the plan, and for the district, which now pays charter schools $64 million - more than it gets in state aid - to educate about half the students in the district.
Wolf said Thursday that no decision had been made on whether to appeal the ruling."
No paychecks? Chester teachers keep working
KATHY BOCCELLA, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Friday, August 28, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Thursday, August 27, 2015, 7:06 PM
Chester Upland teachers and support staff voted Thursday to keep working despite learning that the district might not have money to pay them next month.  Two days after a Delaware County judge rejected a new financial recovery plan submitted by Chester Upland and state officials, its 223 teachers and support staff were told the district could not make its Sept. 9 payroll.  Michele Paulick, president of the Chester Upland Education Association, which represents the teachers, called the announcement from Superintendent Gregory Shannon and receiver Francis Barnes "horrible news." But she said staffers decided to keep coming back, to keep schools open for about 3,800 students.  "We have no idea when that first paycheck is coming, but we're going to stay here as long as we're financially able," she said.

Palmyra School District's PSSA scores drop, reflecting more rigorous tests
Penn Live By Monica Von Dobeneck | Special to PennLive  on August 27, 2015 at 8:56 PM, updated August 27, 2015 at 9:04 PM
Palmyra Area School District PSSA math scores in seventh and eighth grades fell by nearly half from the prior year, but that does not mean students are less smart or teachers less proficient, according to superintendent Lisa Brown.  The scores reflect the drop in scores in most area school districts because of a new test that is more rigorous, has a different format and uses the Pennsylvania Core.  "This raises the bar," assistant superintendent Bernie Kepler said at Thursday's board meeting. "We have our work to do."  Brown said it appears that what used to be fifth grade skills are now tested in fourth grade, and fourth grade skills tested in third.  Kepler said his colleagues around the state are in the same boat.  "From talking to my colleagues, we have held our own with everyone," he said.

"The shift from a personal observation-based system to an onerous VAM-structured policy will ultimately affect how and what our children learn, and it will not have a good effect."
We're going the wrong way in trying to get teacher evaluations right: Lloyd E. Sheaffer
PennLive Op-Ed  By Lloyd E. Sheaffer  on August 27, 2015 at 4:00 PM, updated August 27, 2015 at 4:02 PM
Lloyd Sheaffer, a retired English teacher,is a PennLive/Patriot-News community columnist. His work appears monthly on PennLive.
Imagine yourself as a premier widget fabricator. You take pride in your work; you serve as an example for those who work the line with you; you receive laudable evaluations for your work. Then one Monday morning you come to work and are told by your supervisor that a new entity, one that has little experience in making widgets, has taken control of the business and has dictated new policies, one of which involves how fabricators are assessed.  Now rather than being judged on the merits of your own skills and output, your personal assessment will also be determined by the effectiveness of other widget workers, the proficiency of the research and development engineers, and the number of widgets sold annually by the company. Therefore, if 50 retirees are replaced by a bevy inexperienced first-timers or the R&D tablet-toters fail to improve the widget design or the widget peddlers botch too many sales calls, your annual review might plummet from the customary "distinguished" to "needs improvement" or worse.
Most likely you would grab the nearest box of the product and tell your bosses to shove those widgets "where the sun don't shine." Right?

"This is a major victory for school choice in Philadelphia and for charter schools," said Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools Executive Director Bob Fayfich in a statement Thursday. "This decision is likely to have a ripple effect across the state because it means local school boards and districts cannot override school law for financial reasons."
Commonwealth Court hands major victory to charter schools
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Friday, August 28, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Thursday, August 27, 2015, 5:58 PM
In a decision that could prove far-reaching, Commonwealth Court ruled Thursday that the Philadelphia School District does not have the power to override state law and limit charter-school enrollment.  The School Reform Commission moved in 2010 to cap enrollment in - and therefore payments to - some city charters that had previously agreed to limits, but it declined to do so under new charters.  Those schools, Richard Allen Preparatory and Delaware Valley, were ultimately joined by Folk-Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School, Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School, and Wakisha Charter School in a suit claiming the caps were illegal.  Two of the schools that sued, Walter Palmer and Wakisha, have closed.  The court, in a majority decision written by Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt, noted that the district's central claim was that the School Reform Commission had the authority to suspend part of the state law "which specifically forbids it from imposing enrollment caps on any charter school."
Upholding a lower-court ruling, Commonwealth Court judges ruled that the SRC lacks that power.

Commonwealth Court rules District can't force charters to cap enrollment
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on Aug 27, 2015 07:06 PM
Comonwealth Court ruled Thursday that the School Reform Commission lacks the power to impose enrollment caps on charter schools, a decision that hands a big victory to charters seeking to limit school districts' control of them.  The ruling throws another wrinkle into the School District of Philadelphia's ongoing effort to remain solvent. The District has maintained that unrestrained charter growth depletes its own limited funding and doesn't allow it to plan for its own schools..  The case involves five charter schools – including Richard Allen Preparatory, Delaware Valley, and Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures charters – that had agreed to caps in 2005 but objected to the caps when their agreements came up for renewal in 2010 and refused to sign new charter agreements to abide by the caps. That prompted the School Reform Commission to pass resolutions suspending the charter school law and allowing it to limit enrollment at the schools.  The case hinges on whether the law establishing the SRC and giving it broad powers to restore the District to financial health allows it to ignore another state law prohibiting enrollment caps on charters. A lower court ruled that it doesn't have that authority; in a 4-1 decision, the Commonwealth Court agreed with the lower court that the District cannot cap enrollment at charters.  The court's majority ruled that the state takeover law "does not give the School Reform Commission carte blanche to rewrite the terms of public school education in Philadelphia for schools it operates and for charter schools operated by a board of trustees."

Is trouble brewing between City Council and the schools?
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Friday, August 28, 2015, 1:07 AM POSTED: Thursday, August 27, 2015, 5:47 PM
City Council is not happy with the Philadelphia School District - again.
This spring, Council publicly blasted Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and other officials for what it said was a lack of transparency and information, but finally agreed to parcel out $70 million in new money for the district.  But recently, and in private, Council President Darrell L. Clarke launched another salvo at Hite, ordering more information on a recent series of administrative hires the superintendent has made, and reminding him that $25 million of the district's money has strings attached - with final approval still to come from Council.  In asking Council for $100 million this year, Hite said the money would go "directly to classroom support," Clarke reminded the superintendent in a letter obtained by The Inquirer. "It is on the basis of your testimony that Council approved" the money.  "Let me be clear about my concern with this announcement," Clarke wrote: How will hiring several top administrators "enhance the educational experience of Philadelphia's children?"

Arbitrator reverses firing of two Philly principals in cheating probe
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Thursday, August 27, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Wednesday, August 26, 2015, 4:51 PM
Two city principals fired in connection with a state-test cheating scandal have won arbitration rulings and may be rehired by the Philadelphia School District.  According to the arbitrator, the district conclusively proved in both cases that cheating happened at Tilden Middle School and Lamberton Elementary School. But it did not prove that Michelle Burns and Marla Travis-Curtis participated directly in the improprieties.  Burns, who led Tilden in 2009-10 but moved on to run Kensington Urban Education Academy, won reinstatement as a principal and is due back pay minus wages from a 60-day suspension, plus reimbursement of any expenses paid because of lost benefits.  Travis-Curtis, Lamberton's principal, was ordered returned to the district, but demoted to assistant principal. She would get back pay minus wages from a 30-day suspension, and also be owed expenses she incurred on benefits.

Blogger's note:  While these two Philly principals may be rehired by the school district, two years on nothing has been done to follow-up on what appeared to be overwhelming evidence of cheating at the state's largest charter school, which has been back in the news lately….

"In Chester, standardized-test scores dropped precipitously at that Chester Community Charter School after an investigation of possible past cheating brought new scrutiny to the school’s testing practices. Results for 2012 state tests show that, schoolwide, scores fell about 30 percentage points in math and reading, with double-digit drops in every grade. Some fell more than 40 percentage points. The odds that erasure patterns were random on the reading portion of Chester Community Charter School seventh-graders’ 2009 PSSAs were one in a quadrillion but somehow the state left the charter to investigate itself."
2012 - Letters: Charter school bill: A disaster for education in Pennsylvania
Delco Times By LAWRENCE A. FEINBERG Times Guest Columnist 12/06/13, 11:51 PM
Lawrence Feinberg is a 14 year school director in the School District of Haverford Township. He is also the founder and co-chair of the Keystone State Education Coalition, a statewide, grassroots, non-partisan public education advocacy group.
Pennsylvania’s 20-year experiment with charter schools has had mixed academic results at best for our kids but has been a veritable bonanza for some adults and politicians.
Senate Bill 1085, the latest attempt at “charter school reform,” includes multiple provisions that would strip local control over tax dollars from school boards elected by their taxpaying neighbors, and permit colleges, universities and the state to spend local tax dollars with no authorization or oversight by local officials. SB 1085 also strips language from the law requiring charter schools to be models of innovation for public schools. That begs the question: What, then, is the purpose of charter schools?

Statement From Vahan Gureghian, Founder and CEO, CSMI
Chester Community Charter School's Management Company
SYS-CON Media Press Release CHESTER, PA--(Marketwired - August 26, 2015) -
We're, of course, pleased with Judge Kenney's decision. The ruling ensures that Chester's children will be able to return to their classrooms, next month, at the same time that the rest of the students across the Commonwealth will.  As far as we were concerned, the hearings and the public debate were never about charter public schools versus traditional public schools. In fact, we know that about 40 percent of Chester Community Charter School's parents also have at least one other child in a traditional public school. This effort was simply about ensuring continued, improving educational and economic access for all of Chester's students and families.  CCCS looks forward to having opportunities to work together with the Wolf Administration, on behalf of those students and families, in the months and years to come.

Presidential Contenders' Websites Skimpy on K-12 Policy
Education Week Politics K-12 Blog By Alyson Klein on August 27, 2015 8:47 AM
Want to know where the major presidential candidates stand on K-12 education? Don't go to their campaign websites.  A quick review of the websites of every major 2016 contender wasn't very revealing of their K-12 policy platforms when it comes to either their past record or their plans for the future. In fact, candidates of both parties—especially Democrats—were more likely to emphasize the other ends of the education spectrum, pre-school and college readiness, not elementary and secondary policy.  Only about half of the Republican contenders mentioned education on their sites at all, and sometimes it was only a passing reference. (Like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's plan to create a system that "graduates more students from high school ready to work.)

ACT Alarmed by U.S. Student Test Results
Campus Technology By Dian Schaffhauser 08/26/15
This year's ACT results show 31 percent of students still unready for college in English, math, reading or science — every subject tested by the assessment organization. That's a figure that has not changed since 2012, when it was slightly higher. Fewer than a fifth of those students can be expected to go on to earn a college degree within six years.  The data comes from the 1.9 million tests taken by students who use the results either to graduate from high school (in 13 states) or to apply to college. And the results should serve as a "wake-up call for our nation." Those were the words from ACT CEO Jon Whitmore in a prepared statement. Whitmore noted that "The needle is barely moving on college and career readiness, and that means far too many young people will continue to struggle after they graduate from high school."

Is Teach for America Flunking Out?
The Daily Beast by Samantha Allen 08.27.151:00 AM ET
Among a divided community of alumni, a plethora of blog posts and think pieces, and a controversial business model, Teach for America has reached its moment of truth.
As students head back to school in the coming days, the lowest number of new Teach for America (TFA) teachers since the start of the decade will go with them—just 4,100 new “corps members,” down from an incoming group of 6,000 in 2013.  For the past 25 years, the nonprofit organization has been recruiting young college graduates to spend two years teaching in low-income school districts after participating in a five-week summer training program. TFA’s growth over that period of time has been steady, increasing its operating budget straight through the Great Recession.  Key to its success has been substantial private and public funding. Wells Fargo is one of the group’s corporate partners and the Wal-Mart founders’ Walton Family Foundation has donated at least $5 million. TFA has also relied on “tens of millions” of public funds and, in 2010, the U.S. Department of Education gave the organization a $50 million Investing in Innovation grant.  But now, as TFA’s applicant pool shrinks and recruitment dips, its critics are claiming that alumni horror stories and ideological critiques of the organization are finally starting to take their toll. TFA, on the other hand, maintains that ongoing economic recovery is impacting their recruitment by driving top-tier applicants away from teaching. Whatever the case may be, this is the first major sign of faltering the organization has shown in over a decade.

Save the Date: Make your voice heard at Education Action Day, Sept. 21
School directors and administrators from across the state will be converging at the State Capitol on Monday, Sept. 21 for Education Action Day — your opportunity to push for a state budget and pension reform. Join PSBA in the Main Capitol-East Wing under the escalators at 10 a.m. A news conference will be held from 11 a.m.-noon, and then plan to meet with your elected officials from 1-3 p.m., scheduled by PSBA . There is no charge for participation, but for planning purposes, members are asked to register their attendance online, which will be available in the next few days. We look forward to a big crowd to impress upon legislators and the governor the need for a state budget and pension reform now!

The John Stoops Lecture Series: Dr. Pasi Sahlberg "Education Around the World: Past, Present & Future" Lehigh University October 8, 2015 6:00 p.m.
Baker Hall | Zoellner Arts Center | 420 E. Packer Avenue | Bethlehem, PA 18015
Free and open to the public!  Ticketing is general admission - no preseating will be assigned. Arrive early for the best seats.  Please plan to stay post-lecture for an open reception where you will have an opportunity to meet with students from all of our programs to learn about the latest innovations in education and human services.

Register now for the 2015 PASCD 65th Annual Conference, Leading and Achieving in an Interconnected World, to be held November 15-17, 2015 at Pittsburgh Monroeville Convention Center.
The Conference will Feature Keynote Speakers: Meenoo Rami – Teacher and Author “Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching,”  Mr. Pedro Rivera, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Heidi Hayes-Jacobs – Founder and President of Curriculum Design, Inc. and David Griffith – ASCD Senior Director of Public Policy.  This annual conference features small group sessions focused on: Curriculum and Supervision, Personalized and Individualized Learning, Innovation, and Blended and Online Learning. The PASCD Conference is a great opportunity to stay connected to the latest approaches for innovative change in your school or district.  Join us forPASCD 2015!  Online registration is available by visiting <>

Slate of candidates for PSBA offices now available online
PSBA website July 31, 2015
The slate of candidates for 2016 PSBA officer and at-large representatives is now available online, including bios, photos and videos. According to recent PSBA Bylaws changes, each member school entity casts one vote per office. Voting will again take place online through a secure, third-party website -- Simply Voting. Voting will openAug. 17 and closes Sept. 28. One person from the school entity (usually the board secretary) is authorized to register the vote on behalf of the member school entity and each board will need to put on its agenda discussion and voting at one of its meetings in August or September. Each person authorized to register the school entity's votes has received an email on July 16 to verify the email address and confirm they are the person to register the vote on behalf of their school entity. 

Register Now for PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference Oct. 14-16, 2015 Hershey Lodge & Convention Center
Save the date for the professional development event of the year. Be inspired at more than four exciting venues and invest in professional development for top administrators and school board members. Online registration is live at:

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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