Friday, August 7, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Aug 7: Pa. school leaders brace for impact of state test declines on parents, students, teachers

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for August 7, 2015:
Pa. school leaders brace for impact of state test declines on parents, students, teachers

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

New pension reform bill could reshape the debate over system overhaul
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Thursday, August 6, 2015
Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill) is resurrecting his hybrid pension reform plan that was discussed at length last session, but failed to gain enough support to bring the concept up for a vote on the House floor.  He’s hoping that with the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 1 and the vetting of a defined contribution pension reform plan that the time is ripe for this idea to clear the hurdles that were erected in front of his plan last session.  “After that bill in the last session had gone through the process of some agreed-to amendments, this is kind of the product that eventually came out of that effort,” Rep. Tobash told The PLS Reporter. “It’s the growing expectation of Pennsylvania citizens that we accomplish something in this regard.”  He said he hesitated to introduce the plan because multiple viable options would not be productive to the process.
“But with the veto of Senate Bill 1 and two bodies that have exhibited their ability to vote on meaningful pension reform, I think that alternative options at this point in time are helpful to the process,” he added. “It’s an important time to continue and further the conversation.”

Pa. school leaders brace for impact of state test declines on parents, students, teachers
Last month, WHYY/Newsworks reported that scores on state standardized tests have dropped precipitously based on the implementation of more rigorous tests.  Educators across the state are reeling now that they have learned how much scores have plummeted in their individual schools.  Elementary and middle-school principals in Philadelphia are reporting 10 to 20 percentage point drops on the English language arts exam and 30 to 40 percentage point drops on the Math exam.  The 2014-15 school year was the first in which PSSA tests – taken in grades three through eight – were aligned with Pennsylvania's version of the Common Core state standards.  For that reason, officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Education say it is misleading to compare student proficiency rates to prior years;  2014-15 should be considered the "new baseline," the department said.  Despite that advisory, principals and administrators are bracing for how the news will affect parents, students and teachers.

Are low test scores the new baseline or a cause for worry in Pa. schools?
Penn Live By Rachel Bunn |  Follow on Twitter  August 05, 2015 at 4:20 PM
When parents receive the most recent results from their students Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, they shouldn't be surprised to see a failing grade, even if their child did fine the previous year.   The 2015 PSSA results won't be official until around September, but preliminary results show a marked decrease in test scores from the previous year.  According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, an increased rigor of the test, changes in standards to make proficient or advanced scores harder to achieve, and lining the test up with the new Pennsylvania Core standards are part of the reason for the downturn in student scores. Last month, the department of education raised the bar for students to reach the highest scores on the PSSA tests.  The department of education told districts this year's testing will be the new baseline and shouldn't be compared to prior year's scores. School districts are still leery about the sharp and sudden downturn in scores they've seen. 

Common Core is Premier Education Issue in GOP Presidential Debate
Education Week Politics K-12 Blog By Lauren Camera on August 6, 2015 11:25 PM
Thought education might never come up during the Republican presidential debates on Thursday night? You weren't alone.  Thank goodness for the Common Core State Standards.  After just the briefest mention of education during the 5pm "undercard" debate, the subject finally exploded onto the scene about an hour into the primetime show, featuring the 10 highest polling GOP presidential candidates. Fox News moderator Bret Baier asked former Florida governor Jeb Bush whether he agreed with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that most of the criticism of common core is due to "a fringe group of critics."  Bush has taken a lot of flak from his GOP opponents for supporting the common core standards, a position he's steadfastly backed, even as his conservative contemporaries have battled against them.  "I don't believe the federal government should be involved with the creation of standards directly or indirectly, or the creation of curriculum or content," Bush responded. "It's clearly a state responsibility."

Protesters urge Sen. Corman to pass budget funding schools
Centre Daily Times BY BRITNEY MILAZZO bmilazzo@centredaily.comAugust 6, 2015
BELLEFONTE — One of the things Alicia Witherite said she wants most for her 2-year-old son is to have a good education.  But at the rate the state budget situation is going in Harrisburg, she said, she’s not sure it will happen.  “My dream is to see my son graduate from Penn State, but with the way you have been treating school funding, he won’t have that opportunity,” the Bellefonte resident said during a protest Thursday afternoon at Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman’s office. “I’m not sure how bad the school system will be if your education cuts continue.”  The Benner Township Republican wasn’t present for the march, but about a dozen community members who were part of a group called Good Jobs, Healthy Communitiesrallied at Corman’s office and around the parking lot to raise awareness about the delay in state budget approval.  Corman was unavailable for comment on Thursday, but spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said that Corman, as one of the chief negotiators, has been meeting with the governor each week to negotiate budget plans.  In a press release, the group single-handedly blamed Corman for “prolonging the budget standoff.”  “We’re here to give a message — school starts in less than a month and we need to restore four years of funding cuts,” said organization member and spokesman Greg Overturf, of Bellefonte.

Gov. Wolf, Sen. Scarnati underscore differences holding up budget
York Daily Record By Peter Jackson, Associated Press  08/06/2015 01:31:57 AM EDT
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania entered its sixth week without a state budget Wednesday as the Democratic governor and the top Senate Republican offered no evidence of progress in private negotiations and refused to set a deadline for settling the stalemate.  Gov. Tom Wolf and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati assessed the situation in back-to-back interviews on Harrisburg radio station WITF's "Smart Talk" program. They told program host Scott LaMar there is no date by when the budget must be approved.  Wolf said the $30.2 billion GOP budget plan he vetoed June 30, which called for a modest increase in education spending and covered rising pension and health care costs without increasing taxes, ignored pressing needs and continues to rely on accounting gimmicks that have hurt the state's credit ratings.  Wolf, who ousted his Republican predecessor in last year's elections even as the GOP posted gains in both chambers of the Legislature, defended his plan to increase taxes by billions of dollars a year to slash local property taxes, increase education spending and erase the chronic budget deficit.

“Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax. Kelsey said a severance tax would cost jobs, but Scarnati’s claim a tax would eliminate 250,000 jobs–the equivalent of every job in every industry influenced by the gas industry–was excessive. ”To expect the industry to go away if it’s not gone away in other states with a severance tax would not make a lot of sense,” Kelsey said.”
Scarnati says natural gas tax would cost Pa. 250,000 jobs
State Impact/NPR AUGUST 5, 2015 | 4:57 PM BY REID FRAZIER
More than a month into a budget stalemate between Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-led state legislature, the governor and Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati continue to spar over whether to tax natural gas drillers.  Scarnati, speaking on WITF’s Smart Talk Wednesday morning, implied a natural gas severance tax would cost the state 250,000 jobs–a figure deemed “inaccurate” by a Penn State economist.  When asked by Smart Talk host Scott LaMar about state polls showing support for a severance tax, Scarnati replied:  “It depends on how you read the poll. If you want to put 250,000 people out of work, ask the poll on that question. How’s that going to fare in polling?”  When a surprised LaMar asked Scarnati to confirm the large job loss figure, he replied the state already has a severance tax in the form of an impact fee, which brings in more than $200 million a year. Then Scarnati settled on a more generalized job loss scenario.
“If you’re going to take the plan this governor has proposed, you will put people out of work. Unquestionable, you will put people out of work.”  But Tim Kelsey, a Penn State economist who studies the impact of the industry on the state’s economy, questioned Scarnati’s claim.

To my friends in Harrisburg: Come to the table on budget
Lancaster Online by GORDON DENLINGER | Commentary Thursday, August 6, 2015 6:00 am
With apologies to the great Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again” in Harrisburg. 
As a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I’m watching this year’s installment of the annual budget dance with both enjoyable detachment and a new sense of perspective.  How well I recall the canceled vacations, life on six-hour recall by the Speaker of the House, fellow members “not seeing each other” at New Jersey beaches, and neighbors and friends generally annoyed with the whole mess.  As a corporate finance professional and certified public accountant involved in the good, the bad and the ugly of the last 12 budgets that rolled out of Harrisburg — eight as a Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee — I am routinely asked for my take on the current stalemate.

HEARD ON THE HILL / IN CITY HALL: Hughes Slams Republicans’ Tying Ed Funds To LCB
Philadelphia Public Record August 6, 2015 | Filed under: Latest News | Posted by: Sana
Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-W. Phila.) released the following statement in response to Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai’s recent comments on state budget negotiations:
“I am disappointed by recent comments made by Turzai, who once again tried to link the issue of education funding to the privatization of our highly profitable state liquor-store system.  “Republicans refuse to seriously address education funding or property-tax relief, two of the most-important issues. We know test scores are dropping, critical educational programs are being cut, and over 20,000 public-school employees have been laid off across the state. It’s unacceptable to hold our schoolchildren hostage for an ideological agenda that is a bad deal for the people of Pennsylvania. Republicans simply cannot run from the basic fact that education funding is the top priority for the people of Pennsylvania.

Gov. Wolf pushes state budget proposal at Larksville forum
Times-Leader By Mark Guydish -  August 6th, 2015
LARKSVILLE — Gov. Tom Wolf stood in front of a newly renovated and expanded State Street Elementary School and conceded the Wyoming Valley West School District has not seen — and is not likely to see — several million dollars in state reimbursement for the project, thanks largely to the budget impasse in Harrisburg.  His main message Thursday was as it has been — the claim that his proposal, unlike the Republican counter-offer — funds public education while curbing property taxes and balancing the budget without gimmicks.

Hazleton Area board urges pension plan reform
Standard Speaker by MARIA JACKETTI Published: August 4, 2015
The Hazleton Area School Board on Thursday passed a resolution urging the state General Assembly to take legislative action on school employee pension reform.
The aim is to prevent the district, and a multitude of others throughout the state, from experiencing an array of potential negative outcomes, which may include insolvency.
The 2014-15 employer (district) contributions reached $3.4 billion with the Hazleton Area School District shelling out a whopping 24.8 percent of its total income, or $16.9 million, for pensions.  The legal requirement of having to pay more than a quarter of its income to the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) has contributed to the district’s multimillion-dollar deficit.

PA Cyber board fails to get votes for employee cuts
Beaver County Times By David Taube |0 comments Posted: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 6:15 pm | Updated: 9:26 pm, Wed Aug 5, 2015.
MIDLAND -- Tears turned to cheers Wednesday for workers at Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School when its board of trustees failed to formally approve more than 40 job cuts previously announced.  The board held a special meeting at the school, planning to cut 42 positions, from teachers to administrative staff. More than 65 people attended, many sharing stories about their influence on students and saying that the school had money and options to not make the cuts as drastic.  But, then, the measure to approve the cuts failed to get enough votes from the seven-person board, according to school officials. Three voted in favor, which included board President Brian Hayden, Vice President Edward Elder and trustee Tom Dorsey.

“In announcing the restructuring, PA Cyber, which is based in Midland but serves students from throughout the state, said changes were being made “to align staffing to operate in response to changes to funding levels.”  PA Cyber receives an amount set by the state based on the home district of each enrolled student. Its enrollment has fallen from a peak of 11,500 in 2013 to the current 10,000. The state is reviewing its application to renew its charter.”
Job cuts on hold at PA Cyber Charter School
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette August 7, 2015 12:00 AM
The elimination of 43 job cuts at Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School has run into complications after legal action to halt them was filed and the board failed to have enough votes to approve them in public session.  John Havey, attorney for some of those who face losing their jobs, said the board met July 20 in executive session and did not take any public votes on the employees.  The next day the school issued a news release about restructuring, including 43 furloughs or terminations from a total of 700 full-time and part-time position, about half of them teachers.  At least some of those affected were offered separation packages, with deadlines to accept within seven days if they are under age 40 or 45 days if they are older.  On Friday, Beaver County Common Pleas Judge Deborah Kunselman issued an injunction stopping any actions in regards to those joining in the lawsuit. At the time, seven names were listed, but the total is in a state of flux, said Mr. Havey. Some of those losing their jobs already have signed the separation agreement.  The court is looking to see whether the board violated the state Sunshine Act at its July 20 meeting. The injunction is in effect “until a judicial determination of the legality of the meeting is reached or until such actions are otherwise approved by the board at a public meeting in compliance with the Sunshine Act.”

Comcast offers $9.95 per month Internet for low-income households with school kids
Lancaster Online By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer Posted: Thursday, August 6, 2015 8:12 am | Updated: 1:50 pm, Thu Aug 6, 2015.
The new school year is coming, and with it comes the dreaded task of homework.
To do that homework, students are increasingly expected to be connected to the Internet.
Families without Internet at home may qualify for discounted service through Comcast.
The company's Internet Essentials program offers Internet service at a rate of $9.95 per month, plus taxes, to low-income households with school-age children. It also provides a free Wi-Fi router, and families can purchase a computer through the program for less than $150.
The Internet speed is 10 Mbps.  Comcast's website lists three qualifying requirements:

The Network for Public Education Taps Award Winning Principal, Carol Burris, to Lead its Foundation
Network for Public Education  Press Release August 6, 2015
Today, NPE President Diane Ravitch announced the appointment of Carol Burris as the Executive Director of the Network’s 501C3, NPE Fund, dedicated to raising public awareness on issues of importance to public schools.  Ravitch said, “The Board of the Network for Public Education is thrilled that Carol Burris has agreed to serve as Executive Director of the NPE Fund. NPE Fund will conduct research, issue policy papers, and communicate to the public about the crucial issues facing public education today. With Carol’s extensive and exemplary experience as a principal, a teacher, and a writer, she is exactly the right person to lead the NPE Fund at this time.”  Burris, a recently retired high school principal, is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2013 New York State High School Principal of the Year. She is the author of both books and journal articles on educational equity. During the past few years, Burris has been an outspoken opponent of the Common Core, evaluating teachers by test scores, and high-stakes testing. She has raised public awareness as a frequent guest blogger on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog. Her critique of the Common Core tests in New York have focused on the widening gaps in failure rates that unfairly stigmatize students of color, students living in poverty, and students with disabilities.

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

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. 

Save the Date 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 will be live soon!

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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