Friday, September 18, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Sept 18: Republicans still mulling Gov. Wolf’s pension, liquor reform proposals

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for September 18, 2015:
Republicans still mulling Gov. Wolf’s pension, liquor reform proposals


"Hanger said the governor is focused on overhauling the state's scandal-plagued cyber charters, which have drawn unwanted national attention, but pledged that Wolf also would seek broader reforms to the state's educational system, including charter lending.  "The story underlines that there are more parts of how charter schools are operating that require more tightening and oversight,"
Charter debt 'stunningly bad'
RYAN BRIGGS & ALEX WIGGLESWORTH, PHILLY.COM Friday, September 18, 2015, 12:16 AM
NEARLY $500 MILLION in expensive and lightly regulated borrowing by Philadelphia charter schools uncovered this week contains some spending that is "not defensible" and "stunningly bad," according to Gov. Wolf's top policy official.  A Philly.com investigation published Monday online and in the Daily News found that numerous charters are saddled with millions of dollars of debt after using a city financing agency to tap into public bonds. One charter, String Theory Schools, borrowed $55 million to buy a Center City highrise, and has since cut academic programs and student busing to pay down its debt.  "There are some stunningly bad numbers in there, where far too much money was going into capital projects and financing arms," said John Hanger, the governor's secretary of policy and planning. "We want to be sure dollars are going into the classroom, and not to capital projects that are unnecessary or overly luxurious."

Republicans still mulling Gov. Wolf’s pension, liquor reform proposals
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Thursday, September 17, 2015
Despite contentions made by Gov. Tom Wolf to the contrary, Republicans claimed Thursday that they have not rejected the pension and liquor reform proposals made by Gov. Wolf at a budget meeting yesterday.  In fact, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) told reporters he has not seen the proposals in writing so that he can discuss them fully with members of his caucus.  Wednesday, in response to Republican criticism over Gov. Wolf not accepting their offer for basic education funding proposal in exchange for pension reform, the governor held a news conference where he relayed that he put on the table new proposals to provide for pension reform and to allow the state liquor system to be run by a private manager.

Senate GOP Moves Ahead With Stopgap Budget In Face Of Wolf Veto
PA Capitol Digest September 17, 2015
The Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday reported out the Republican stopgap budget package by a party line vote in the face of a direct veto threat by Gov. Wolf.
The bills include Senate Bill 1000 (Browne-R-Lehigh) General Fund Stopgap Budget Bill (summary and Senate Fiscal Note); Senate Bill 1001 (Browne-R-Lehigh) Fiscal Code Stopgap Bill (summary and Senate Fiscal Note); and amended House Bill 224 (Christiana-R -Beaver) with the Education Code Stopgap Bill (summary and Senate Fiscal Note).  The stopgap budget is about $11 billion of the $30.2 billion General Fund budget passed by Republicans in June and included the so-called "agreed-to" budget provisions included in the vetoed House Bill 1192 General Fund budget bill in June.  It also included the pass-through of federal funding to state agencies and organizations reliant on that money.    The new Fiscal Code bill has project funding and other special provisions legislators put in the original Fiscal Code bill-- Senate Bill 655-- vetoed by Gov. Wolf in June.  “I sympathize with the human service agencies at the county level and the nonprofits,” said Wolf.  “What they (Republicans) are doing is a very cynical, hypocritical attempt to make people believe that they are actually trying to make human services agencies’ lives easier. They’re not.  This stopgap is not that. This stopgap is a poke in the eye and I am treating it as such, and I am going to veto it.”   Gov. Wolf also floated two new proposals on pension reform and liquor privatization to Senate and House Republicans on Wednesday saying they were “historic proposals.”

Pennsylvania Senate readies vote on short-term spending plan
Washington Times By MARC LEVY - Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The Pennsylvania Senate’s Republican majority is poised to pass an $11 billion short-term spending plan to break an entrenched budget stalemate with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who’s vowed to veto it.  The Senate’s Friday session was scheduled for 10 a.m. Action in the Republican-controlled House was scheduled for next week.  The $11 billion is four months of funding, retroactive to the July 1 start of the fiscal year. Republicans say the measure also would release billions in federal funds. However, Democratic lawmakers oppose it, and Wolf says Republicans are trying to pretend that they’re helping the schools and social services organizations for which they cut funding in recent years.

How do you know when a budget offer is rejected? It's hard to tell in Pa.
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter on September 17, 2015 at 5:04 PM, updated September 17, 2015 at 6:32 PM
The state budget disagreement between Republican lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf apparently has gotten so bad they can't even tell whether an offer is rejected or not.  Gov. Tom Wolf's office tweeted out on Thursday  But Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said on Thursday, "I never rejected it. I haven't seen it to reject it."  Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said the tweet was based on a comment Corman told reporters after meeting on Wednesday with Wolf and other legislative leaders.  Corman said they were back to Square One in budget negotiations after the governor rejected the Republicans' offer to give Wolf a $400 million increase basic education funding in exchange for him accepting their pension reform plan.  What was revealed later in the day was that Wolf put an offer on the table to privatize the liquor system's management and to introduce a stacked hybrid pension reform plan that would include a defined contribution element for some new hires and a $3 billion pension obligation bond.  Corman said he has yet to see the governor's proposal in writing and without more details, it's hard to form an opinion about it.

Wolf’s latest budget plan gets chilly reception
By Karen Langley/Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau September 17, 2015 11:17 PM
HARRISBURG — Republican leaders on Thursday said they will push ahead with a short-term state budget and played down Gov. Tom Wolf’s new proposals for private management of the state liquor system and limits to traditional pensions for future state and public school workers.  Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said the chamber will pass a stopgap funding measure today, and House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, said he expects the House to give its approval next week.  Mr. Wolf, a Democrat in his first year in office, has said he will sign a stopgap measure only when an agreement is reached on a full budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. At an emotional news conference Wednesday, the governor made clear that had not happened, saying his proposal of “historic reforms” on pensions and liquor had been greeted with “nothing” in return.

"The details are still being ironed out but the rough plan is to meet at the capitol at 11 a.m. before speaking with reporters about their budgetary concerns, he said. Anyone interested in attending the march should check the district’s website for more information. They will also need to provide their own transportation, as bussing will no longer be provided."
Spring-Ford march on Harrisburg scaled back, still happening Monday
By Eric Devlin, The Mercury POSTED: 09/17/15, 5:53 PM EDT | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
While it will no longer be a statewide event, Spring-Ford Area School District officials say they still plan to hit the road to Harrisburg in order to make their voices heard this Monday.  Last month, school board member Joe Ciresi announced a march on the state capitol to protest the lack of a state budget and the budgetary process as a whole. Shortly after, he was contacted by representatives from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association asking if the district would lead a march it was planning of all 500 school districts. Since then, however, it appears plans have changed once again.  The PSBA canceled the official event after only 37 districts agreed to participate, Ciresi told The Mercury Thursday.  But that won’t stop him and others from making the trek to the capitol anyway.  “We’re still going,” he said, admitting he was disappointed by the lack of support from around the state. “We started this, we’re going to finish it.”

"Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the following districts are withholding full or partial payments to charter schools until a state budget is passed, according to media reports: Bethlehem Area (Lehigh and Northampton counties); Parkland, (Lehigh County); Salisbury (Lehigh County); and Smethport Area (McKean County).  Some districts in Chester County are withholding partial pension payments, according to The Pottstown Mercury.  The Pennsylvania School Boards Association issued a guidance document last year saying its general counsel believes both measures can be taken legally during a state budget impasse."
State budget impasse: 2 Lancaster County school districts vote to withhold charter school payments
Lancaster Online by Kara Newhouse Staff Writer September 17, 2015
Two Lancaster County school districts — Lancaster and Elizabethtown — are the first to take what may become a common step to deal with financial issues as the state budget stalemate drags on.  Public schools in Pennsylvania are paying the bills with local revenue while they await a state budget and its accompanying subsidies. On Tuesday night, school boards in Lancaster and Elizabethtown voted to withhold charter school payments until a state budget is passed.  Similar moves are being taken or considered elsewhere in the state, but no other local districts reported such plans as of Wednesday.  Charter funding - Charter schools in Pennsylvania receive 100 percent of their public funding through school districts. When a student enrolls in a charter school, the student’s home school district must pay tuition to the charter school for that child.  School District of Lancaster’s board agreed unanimously to withhold only the state’s share (about half) of its payments to cyber charter schools. The district pays about $2 million per year to such schools. The move will save the school district about $100,000 a month.

"Is it fair to pick on charter schools, and in SDL’s case, cyber charter schools, in particular?  Well, yes — for three key reasons.
— Despite having fixed per-student costs, cyber charter schools get to charge school districts an average of the district’s per-pupil cost. As part of his budget, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed setting a cap on per-pupil funding for cyber charter schools— a plan that would save Lancaster County’s 16 school districts $4.5 million per year, reducing annual payments by SDL and Columbia Borough School District by  more than $760,000 and $309,000, respectively.
— Cyber charters are among the lowest scorers on Pennsylvania’s School Performance Profile.
— And, as noted in a 2014 review by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, there is a lack of oversight and accountability regarding Pennsylvania charter schools in general. Charter schools are not subject, for example, to Right-to-Know requests and there is little if any oversight of their lease agreements or adherence to ethics guidelines."
Desperate times (for school districts) call for desperate measures (like withholding payments)
Lancaster Online by The LNP Editorial Board September 17, 2015
THE ISSUE: School District of Lancaster and Elizabethtown Area School District have decided to withhold payments to charter schools. The legal rationale for doing so is spelled out in an opinion late last month from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. The PSBA says it is legal for districts, during the state budget impasse, to delay paying the employer contributions to the state’s pension fund for district employees; and to delay the portion of charter school tuition that comes from the state.
The Lancaster district’s unanimous decision Tuesday was to withhold payments only to cyber charter schools — thus sparing La Academia, the only brick-and-mortar charter school serving district students.  The Elizabethtown district is withholding payments to both charter schools and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System.  At least a half dozen other school districts across the state are withholding payments to charters, PSERS or both.  And, if the now 79-day-old budget stalemate continues, other districts will no doubt do the same.  Penn Manor might discuss cyber charter funding as soon as Monday.  And, in Solanco, while there have been no discussions yet, “That could change if there’s no budget in place by the end of November,” according to spokesman Keith Kaufman.

Otto-Eldred school directors discuss state budget issues, curriculum efforts
Bradford Era By BARB CLOSE Era Correspondent bmdclose@hotmail.com | 0 comments Posted: Thursday, September 17, 2015 10:00 am
DUKE CENTER — The Otto-Eldred School Board has prioritized sets of bills to pay for the month of October as the state budget impasse drags on.  Some recently received invoices will be paid in October when more property tax revenue should be collected. Meanwhile, the board voted to only pay for the district's portion of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) quarterly payment in September. The portion not approved for payment is the amount that would be reimbursed by the state.  The board also passed a resolution to give the administration and district solicitor permission to take steps to open a line of credit through the Pennsylvania School District Liquid Asset Fund in case a state budget is not passed by the end of October.
By undesignating all remaining reserved funds, the district can operate through October with anticipated revenue and all remaining funds. A line of credit would be needed to meet obligations in November, however, officials said.

“The state has an obligation to maintain a thorough and efficient public school system,” he said. “This requires a budget, which requires cooperation of the governor and Legislature, which will only happen if they are in session. The Pennsylvania Senate returned to session this week after the summer recess, the House returns next week. What message does that send Pennsylvania?”
School districts near financial danger zone
Bradford Era By ALEX DAVIS Era Reporter a.davis@bradfordera.com Posted: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 10:00 am
As the state budget impasse continues, area school districts are being pushed ever closer to the financial danger zone.  While the first wave of local tax dollars are helping to carry districts through the budget stalemate, officials could be forced to borrow money — as early as October.  “Without a budget it makes it extremely difficult to operate,” Galeton Area School District Superintendent Brenda Freeman told The Era on Tuesday. “We are using our fund balance currently to pay our bills. That will only last until December.”  She said school officials have made a move to look into a tax and revenue anticipation note, money which would need to be acquired in November.  “Spending has been restricted and materials that were budgeted for are now on hold,” she said. “We continue to strive to do what is best for our students, but a budget impasse is making it very difficult.”  When no state money gets doled out, Freeman said the students get hit the hardest.  “Our focus is on maintaining operations locally for our students,” Otto-Eldred School District Superintendent Matt Splain said. “If the state cannot make its obligations, why should districts still need to do so?”

PSSAs aren't the only measure of student competence | Editorial
By Express-Times opinion staff on September 16, 2015 at 6:00 AM, updated September 16, 2015 at 9:52 AM
Get ready for a new round of hand-wringing about the state of American education — at least in Pennsylvania, where the results of the 2015 PSSA exams will be released in the next few weeks. The early returns indicate just about everyone has taken a nose dive, compared to last year.  Get ready, too, for another round of Common Core-bashing. The standardized testing based on Common Core curriculum has changed the way the students, school districts and teachers are measured.  None of this is new. The "teach to the test" debate has been going on for more than a decade. As the tests have gotten tougher, the debate has shifted to whether the quest for "rigor" induces a deeper level of learning, or turns students in better regurgitators and dot-fillers on standardized forms. (Or, the case of math, whether students need to be able to explain in words how they solved a problem, rather than simply doing it.)  This year there's an added wrinkle: The bar was raised on PSSA standards, and the result is lower scores. The tests are given to third- through eighth-grade students in math and reading.

Group applauds PDE for ESEA waiver
Cumberlink by Debbie Chestnut September 16, 2015 12:02 am  •  For The Sentinel
HARRISBURG — Education Voters of Pennsylvania, a statewide organization dedicated to supporting policies that strengthen and support great public schools in every community to ensure opportunities for all children, applauds the delay in the use of Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores to calculate School Performance Profile scores and educator evaluations.  “It is very encouraging that the current administration sought this waiver from the U.S. Department of Education and understands that raising the bar that measures what students should know through the implementation of the new PA Core Standards on the PSSA test is a process,” said Susan Spicka, of Shippensburg, advocacy coordinator. “Because this is a new test, aligned to new standards, this is a baseline year, and it would be inappropriate to use these results to determine if a school or educator is doing better or worse than in the past. This is ‘Year 1’ in terms of getting data on how schools are doing at meeting the new standards.”  In March 2014 as part of a nationwide movement to create new standards (called the Common Core), the Pennsylvania Board of Education replaced the state’s academic standards with new Pennsylvania Core Standards, the first revision in 10 years. Spicka said these are very rigorous standards that significantly changed the content that students in Pennsylvania learn in public schools.

Wilkinsburg Middle And High School Students Could Go To Pittsburgh Schools In 2016
WESA 90.5 NPR Pittsburgh By MARK NOOTBAAR  September 17, 2015
In a joint move Wednesday night, the Wilkinsburg district announced it will close its grades 7-12 school building and send those 200-plus students to Westinghouse 6-12 next year.  The plan is still pending approval next month by the boards of both districts.  “After learning of the challenges facing the Wilkinsburg School District, and out of care and concern for its students, we felt it was our responsibility as educators to determine if we could create a cross-district partnership that serves both districts well and provides a better educational program for Wilkinsburg’s seventh through twelfth grade students,” said Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane. “It was important that we ensured that any agreement brought before our Board does not adversely impact our service to Pittsburgh’s children and at minimum has a cost neutral impact on our budget.”

SRC votes down new Belmont charter; Hite expresses regret at substitute mess
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 17, 2015 09:34 PM
Superintendent Hite said at Thursday night's School Reform Commission meeting that the $34 million, contract with a private firm to find and place substitute teachers is "in jeopardy" unless the company rapidly improves the rate at which it is able to fill empty classrooms.  Hite  expressed his "personal regret" that schools experienced a "poor start" due to Source4Teachers' problems. Over the vociferous objections of the teachers' union, the SRC hired the Cherry Hill-based firm on a two-year deal last spring in hopes of substantially increasing the District's own "fill rate" of only 55 to 65 percent of empty classrooms.   "I will be watching and managing this partnership closely to ensure we receive the performance we contracted for," Hite said.  The firm promised a 75 percent fill rate in September and 90 percent by January. But the best it has managed in the first six days of schools is 15 percent.  Hite said the District is asking Source4Teachers to bring in a subcontractor, increase its daily rates, beef up its recruiting staff, and streamline the hiring process. It has already altered daily rates, paying $110 a day for all certified teachers, not just those certified in special education. Before, the rate for certified regular education teachers was $90.

SRC warns substitute-teacher contractor it must do better
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER September 17, 2015, 9:40 PM
The firm hired to staff Philadelphia classrooms with substitute teachers has been put on notice: "Continued poor performance puts this partnership in jeopardy," Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday night.  Source4Teachers was awarded a $34 million contract to provide substitutes, promising it would fill 75 percent of vacancies on the first day of school. It has done no better than about 15 percent to date.  School Reform Commission Chair Marjorie Neff also said the Cherry Hill company's work "has been unacceptable," and said the SRC took full responsibility for its vote to approve the contract.  The SRC's move "was not about cutting costs," Neff said. "It was about solving a crucial problem."  Under district management, the substitute "fill rate" was about 60 percent.  Hite said the district was working closely with Source4Teachers, immediately bumping up substitute pay for certified teachers to $110 daily, exploring the use of a subcontractor to fill some jobs, using more recruiters, and streamlining the hiring process.

Local Leaders Show Off Acting Skills To Highlight School Funding In PA
CBS Philly By Justin Udo September 17, 2015 5:14 AM
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) Local leaders joined the cast of the drama School Play at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre Wednesday evening in an effort to highlight unfair school funding.
Arden Kass is one of the co-creators of School Play.  She says the drama consists of verbatim interviews they did with 100 Pennsylvanians involved in the education system.  “School Play is about telling the stories behind the numbers and political arguments that we hear on the radio and that we see in the newspaper and making it relatable to more people by telling real stories.” says Kass.  Philadelphia School Superintendent Dr. William Hite was one of the local leaders to show off his acting chops Wednesday night.  “Advocacy around getting additional monies for public schools across the common wealth I think is really important thing that we hope to convey with this performance.”

Old Forge teachers to strike Monday
Scranton Times Tribune by SARAH SCINTO, STAFF WRITER Published: September 17, 2015
OLD FORGE — Teachers in the Old Forge School District will go on strike next week, unless a tentative contract agreement is reached.  After a regular board meeting Wednesday night, Old Forge Education Association President Shawn Nee approached the stage and delivered a strike notice to district Superintendent John Rushefski. The notice declares the association will go on strike Monday.  The education association has worked under an expired contract since 2010, making it the longest ongoing contract dispute in Lackawanna County. The dispute has included a rejected fact-finding and arbitrator’s report, lawsuits and a three-week strike in the 2013-14 school year.

"Our current belief in high-stakes testing manufactures failure by labeling the schools serving a disproportionately high number of ESL students, special-needs students, and impoverished students as "failing.” Instead of using these tests (which essentially tell us nothing but how white and wealthy a school is) to signal a necessary influx of additional resources to these children, we penalize the schools by taking away funding, diminishing the agency of leaders and teachers, and villainizing the communities in which the students live. This mass disinvestment induces flight to charters and thus underenrollment in district schools, necessitating school closures. While Le Bok Fin perhaps benefited from a cool roof deck, it had nothing to do with these systemic issues.
Our elected officials, on the other hand, could do something. Instead they have done nothing to step up in order to right these issues. We are quickly approaching our third month without a state budget. Our schools are teetering on disaster. We don’t have sufficient nurses or counselors. We’ve cut the arts, sports teams, and anything that makes education marginally enjoyable for children."
Scapegoating Le Bok Fin missed the real problem for Philly schools
WHYY Newsworks COMMENTARY  BY KRISTYN STEWART SEPTEMBER 17, 2015 ESSAYWORKS
Kristyn Stewart is currently a Ph.D. student in urban education at Temple University with a keen interest in school reform policy. She works at the Mayor's Commission on Literacy in Adult Basic Education and as a graduate assistant at Temple's College of Education
Everyone has an opinion about Le Bok Fin — calling it everything from a form of symbolic violence to "Philly’s hottest new rooftop bar." This once successfulvocational school-turned-beer-garden has become a constant source of disagreement and rage across our city, but we need to let it go and concentrate on the real problems facing Philadelphia public schools.
Yes, the images strewn across social media are not only insensitive and pretentious, but also deeply disheartening to educators, parents and students who are fighting each day to resurrect a school system that has suffered severe disinvestment and societal neglect.
Yes, the building would have been underutilized otherwise, and perhaps the stunt will generate further economic investment. I argue, however, that while opportunities to highlight social justice issues have been missed.

Debt chokes charters
INQUIRER EDITORIAL BOARD POSTED: Thursday, September 17, 2015, 1:08 AM
Philadelphia's regular public school buildings are so run down that the cost to repair them is estimated at $4 billion. Those buildings aren't likely to get face-lifts with the School District limping from funding crisis to funding crisis. In contrast, the city's charter schools have received $500 million in taxpayer-backed bonds for new or improved buildings.  The gaping inequity exists in part because the legislature has not properly updated the state's charter school law since it was passed. The 1997 act guarantees a lopsided, conflict-ridden system with too little oversight and too few opportunities for taxpayers to influence critical financial and academic decisions affecting a growing number of students.  With no one saying no, some charters are in a frenzy to acquire or renovate buildings and finance the transactions with bond issues they can't afford. The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. issues bonds for charters, but fees for lawyers, consultants, and others who profit from the deals aren't fully disclosed.

"Profit-minded businesses are destroying whatever moral authority the education reform movement had."
3 Huge Problems With the Charter School Movement
The big risks and high costs of a fast-growing, ad hoc charter system.
PhillyMag Citified BY PATRICK KERKSTRA  |  SEPTEMBER 17, 2015 AT 9:22 AM
Philly.com has a story this week that distills many of the troubling qualities of the charter school movement down to a disturbing essence.  Yes, it’s that bad.
This deeply reported piece by Alex Wigglesworth and Ryan Briggs zooms in on one school and one deal: the academically well-regarded String Theory Charter School, which is housed in a high-end eight-story office building at 16th and Vine. This is the same building that not long ago was the North American headquarters for GlaxoSmithKline. It would be eyebrow-raising enough if the taxpayer-funded String Theory were merely leasing such high-end digs. But the school — or, technically, a separate nonprofit run by two of the school’s board members — actually owns the tower, and acquired it through a $55 million tax-exempt bond deal.

Philadelphia: Some Charters Spend More on Facilities Than on Instruction
Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch September 17, 2015 //
An investigation in Philadelphia finds that some charters now spend more on paying down the debt of lavish facilities than they spend on instruction.  “THREE FRANKLIN Plaza, a bow-shaped eight-story building at 16th and Vine streets, once hummed with 1,700 GlaxoSmithKline white-collar workers.  “Today, it is empty more than three months out of the year, a lone security guard watching over the corporate art still hanging in the lobby.  “From September to June, a charter school called String Theory occupies half the floors. The school acquired and began renovating this premier office tower in 2013 as part of a $55 million tax-exempt bond deal, arranged with help from the city’s biggest economic-development agency. It was the largest bond deal of its kind in city history.

Philadelphia: The “Get Rich” Charter Business
Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch September 17, 2015 //
What would you rather be? A mid-level bureaucrat monitoring fiscal matters in the school district or a millionaire?  Find the answer to this question in this article about Philadelphia.
“MANY OF the recent charter bond deals have been helped by Santilli & Thomson, a New Jersey-based firm that has made millions off consulting contracts and bond fees.  “The firm, run by ex-School District of Philadelphia finance officials Gerald Santilli and Michael Thomson, touts on its website “more than 50 years of combined experience in municipal school management.”  “There is no way to know exactly how much Santilli & Thomson has earned in taxpayer-funded contracts from charter schools, according to a district spokesman. The firm did not respond to numerous requests for comment.  “However, a Philly.com analysis of financial documents for several charter schools that received municipal bonds found that Santilli & Thomson has billed at least $5 million since 2010….

"Lately I’ve just grown weary of us all talking about how bad it is to be a teacher. I am not talking about “teacher bashing” but “profession bashing.” We’re all guilty of this profession bashing, everyone from education reformers to union leaders—spending a lot of time talking about all the reasons why no one who is sane should consider a career in teaching.  I am worrying a lot lately that our negative portrayal of the job may be doing more to dissuade people from considering it as a career than any of the other factors we have put on the table.  For those of us in the education-reform camp, we advance our agenda by reminding everyone about how broken the system is."
WSJ on Teacher Quality
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Thursday, September 17, 2015
Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal convened a trio of educational experts to discuss the question "How Do We Raise the Quality of Teachers."  I'm not sure what got into them, exactly, but reporter Leslie Brody actually included a teacher in her trio of experts. In fact, not just a teacher, but New York teacher, activist and writer Jose Luis Vilson. I have huge respect for Vilson for a variety of reasons (the man teaches math to middle school students!), not the least of which is his calm and focus and ability not to get caught up in opposing things, but always clearly articulating what he is for. It's a skill not all of us have mastered.  Vilson is teamed up in the conversation with Daniel Weisberg, honcho of the New Teacher Project (TNTP) and Kate Walsh of the national Council on Teacher Quality. So, well. That makes one more teacher in one of these conversations than we usually get. Brody edits the conversation by topic, so we'll do the same here.

"And here's one very important lesson a decade after Dover:
Elections matter.  School board elections matter.  We all get caught up in debating national and statewide issues — especially as a presidential election looms.  But unpaid, volunteer school board members have a huge impact on your life: Negotiating teacher contracts. Setting property tax rates. Hiring and firing administrators. Meddling in academic affairs. Setting your district on a course of costly litigation.  That's what happened in Dover."
Is your school board intelligently designed? (YDR opinion)
York Daily Record editorial UPDATED:   09/16/2015 01:47:09 PM EDT
Well, a number of things.  Judge John E. Jones III's decision that teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution violates church/state separation still stands.  It's not the law of the land because the case was never heard by the Supreme Court, but its precedent has proved influential in courts outside the federal Middle District of Pennsylvania. The decision cast a pall over the intelligent design movement, as there have not been similar cases of Dover's stature.  Judge Jones considers his ID ruling the pinnacle of his judicial career — and that's saying something, considering he also issued Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage decision.


Education a no-show at GOP debate
Politico Morning Education By CAITLIN EMMA 09/17/15, 10:00 AM EDT
With help from Allie Grasgreen, Kimberly Hefling, Maggie Severns, Adam Sneed and Aubree Eliza Weaver
Education didn’t just take a backseat during Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate — it wasn’t invited along for the ride. There were zero questions about education over the course of the second, three-hour debate hosted by CNN. And none of the Republican candidates focused on the issue in any substantial way. Education only received fleeting mentions amid a debate heavy on immigration, national security, defense and other issues. (Your Morning Education author could swear a Common Core question was coming when moderator Hugh Hewitt asked Jeb Bush about the “elephant in the room.” But alas, no.) POLITICO fact-checked the candidates on a range of issues here: http://politi.co/1W4gnHQ. And here are a few highlights from education’s sudden and short-lived moment in the spotlight:

"The $250 million Preschool Development Grants program was funded as part of the budget deal agreed to last January. That money was awarded to 18 states as part of a four-year grant to help them build new preschool programs or expand existing ones. But the funding was only paid out for the first year, putting the entire program in jeopardy.  Both fiscal 2016 spending proposals from the House and Senate would eliminate the program. And as Congress negotiates yet another stopgap funding measure, Vitter and Casey are pushing to let the grant program run its course."
Senators (Casey and Vitter) Push to Maintain Pre-K Grant Program
Thousands of children are in jeopardy of losing preschool services, the lawmakers warn.
US News By Lauren Camera Sept. 17, 2015 | 12:01 p.m. EDT+ More
As Congress mulls ways to stave off a government shutdown with the close of the fiscal year looming, a bipartisan duo in the Senate is urging appropriators to reinstate funding for a federal preschool program that would otherwise mean a loss of services for more than 100,000 children.  "There is a tremendous unmet need for high-quality early learning throughout the country," Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Robert Casey, D-Pa., wrote in a letter sent to Senate colleagues Thursday. "Currently, fewer than 3 in 10 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program, and many states do not have the resources to provide such opportunities to the children most at-need for these programs."

"Complicating matters: Neither of the bills to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act making their way through Congress would continue to require states to develop teacher-evaluation systems that rely on student test scores. So it's unclear just how many states and districts will continue with the policy if that legislation passes–or even if reauthorization falters and a new administration is in place."
Teacher-Evaluation Reins Loosen Under NCLB Waivers
Earlier hard-line approach giving way to flexibility
By Alyson Klein Published Online: September 15, 2015
Perhaps no single K-12 policy is more closely associated with the Obama administration than teacher evaluations tied to student test scores, which the president and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have championed, first through Race to the Top, and then through No Child Left Behind Act waivers.  And perhaps no policy has been as difficult to implement, particularly as states make the transition to new tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards.  The administration initially took a hard line on evaluations, asking states to roll them out over a specific time period and to include state test scores as part of the mix.  But over the past year and a half, the U.S. Department of Education has offered states more and more flexibility when it comes to getting evaluations aligned to common-core tests in place and using them to make personnel decisions.

De Blasio’s Plan to Lift Poor Schools Comes With High Costs and Big Political Risks
New York Times By KATE TAYLOR SEPT. 16, 2015
There was $75 million a year for second-grade reading specialists.Advanced Placement classes got $51 million. Every eighth grader can take algebra thanks to $19 million. And $15 million was proposed to provide more than 16,000 students with dedicated counselors from sixth through 12th grade.  On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio made his biggest commitment yet to his education philosophy. He announced a half-dozen programs that focus on New York City’s poorest students, in a speech that framed the proposals as a way to address income inequality, a touchstone issue of his administration.  The cost of Mr. de Blasio’s programs is high, and the political risks are great. Republicans in the State Legislature are already skeptical of the mayor’s approach to education, and the results of his new programs will not be known for years. 


PSBA launches an alumni network
Are you a former school director or in your final term? Stay connected through the PSBA Alumni Network. Your interest in public education continues beyond your term of service as a school director. And as a PSBA alumnus, you have years of experience and insight into the workings of public education and school boards. Legislators value your opinions as a former elected official. Take that knowledge and put it to work as a member of the PSBA Alumni Network.
For a nominal yearly fee of $25 a year or $100 for a lifetime membership, you will receive:
  • Electronic access to the PSBA Bulletin, the leading public education magazine in Pennsylvania
  • Access to legislative information pertaining to public education and periodic updates via email.
To join, complete the registration below. For more details or questions, contact Member Engagement Director Karen Devine at Karen.devine@psba.org or (800) 932-0588, ext. 3322.

Help fund the statewide tour of a live documentary play about the struggle to save public education in Pennsylvania.
After standing-room-only shows at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center in April, we’re taking this compelling play about the precarious state of public education back to the people who lent us their voices and stories. This October, we’re traveling across the state, putting on free performances to spark conversations and engage citizens.  School Play is a work of grassroots theatre, woven from the narratives of hundreds of Pennsylvanians affected by our state’s school funding crisis. The play is entirely crowd-sourced; the script is derived from the words of students, parents, educators and legislators, and is available online for anyone to perform.  Artists Arden Kass, Seth Bauer and Edward Sobel created School Play out of our personal concern for our kids and our communities. The result is a funny, sad, straight-talking documentary theatre piece, told through the words of real people.  You can read more about School Play here, here, here and here.

Register Now for the Fifth Annual Arts and Education Symposium Oct. 29th Harrisburg
Thursday, October 29, 2015 Radisson Hotel Harrisburg Convention Center 8:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Act 48 Credit is available. The event will be a daylong convening of arts education policy leaders and practitioners for lively discussions about important policy issues and the latest news from the field. The symposium is hosted by EPLC and the Pennsylvania Arts Education Network, and supported by a generous grant from The Heinz Endowments.

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 www.pascd.org <http://www.pascd.org/>

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 open Aug. 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:

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

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