Saturday, October 17, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Oct 17: Surprise: McKeesport Area SD expected $1.2M in gaming funds next week; it will get just $41K- the rest diverted to charter school tuition

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup October 17, 2015:
Surprise: McKeesport Area SD expected $1.2M in gaming funds next week; it will get just $41K- the rest diverted to charter school tuition

Fair funding campaign analyzes Pa. budget proposals
the notebook By Catherine Offord  on Oct 16, 2015 01:34 PM
The Campaign for Fair Education Funding (CFEF), a statewide coalition of more than 50 organizations, recently released a report on the implications of the education proposals being debated in Harrisburg.  The report, “Lifting All Students: Why Pennsylvania Must Act Now to Fairly Fund Public Education and Secure Our Future,” details the practical outcomes for school districts across the state under both the $410 million funding increase in Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget and the $100 million increase proposed by Republican legislators.  “This report was an effort to make clear what is at stake if we get a truly robust education funding formula and an influx of funding this year,” said Ian Gavigan, policy and communications associate at the Education Law Center, a leading member of CFEF.  “It was an effort to ground the discussion in what actually happens in each district.”  In June, the campaign endorsed a fair funding formula proposed by the Basic Education Funding Commission. Although the formula has received general support in Harrisburg, debate continues over exactly how it should be implemented.

"We are, however, quick to invoke a position we took a few months ago on this page: Spending on education in Pennsylvania must be distributed more fairly.
We should remember that Pennsylvania has the nation's widest funding gap between wealthy and poor districts because dollar distribution is based on an outdated and unfair formula.  That's precisely why we applaud the Basic Education Funding Commission's recommendations to more reasonably spread money to our public schools."
Editorial: Exam results underscore need to alter school funding
Reading Eagle Editorial Saturday October 17, 2015 12:01 AM
The Issue: Students in Reading and across the state don't do well in new standardized tests.
Our Opinion: One of the reasons is an unfair system that rewards students in wealthier districts with more money.  The results aren't anything to write home about. In fact, students in Pennsylvania have fared a lot worse on the state's new, more difficult standardized math test, the first to test students on their mastery of skills based on Common Core standards.  The state Department of Education recently released data based on the Pennsylvania System of State Assessment tests. This was the first time the exams were aligned with the rigorous Pennsylvania Core Standards.  Of the 95 schools that received scores, only 63 percent scored at or above the state average of 60 on the English language arts exam and 62 percent scored at or above the state average of 39.6 on the math exam.  The good news? All schools in the Boyertown, Owen J. Roberts, Schuylkill Valley, Twin Valley, Wilson and Wyomissing districts exceeded the state average in both subjects.  The bad news, on the other end of the spectrum, no schools in the Antietam, Reading or Pottstown districts met the state average in any subject.

"School officials now wonder if it will take a district shutting down to force Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and GOP majority leaders into an agreement that releases billions in aid to schools. The subject came up at a recent meeting of superintendents in northeastern Pennsylvania."
Specter of school shutdown haunts Pennsylvania budget fight
WPXI By MARC LEVY The Associated Press October 17, 2015
HARRISBURG, Pa. —  As Pennsylvania's state budget stalemate drags through a fourth month, the talk of the Capitol has drifted to when the first school district could run out of cash and shut its doors.  That, after all, is effectively what hastened an end to the 2003 stalemate over education funding: As Christmas approached and schools threatened to close without funding, then-Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature launched a week of private talks that led to a budget agreement.  School officials now wonder if it will take a district shutting down to force Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and GOP majority leaders into an agreement that releases billions in aid to schools. The subject came up at a recent meeting of superintendents in northeastern Pennsylvania.  "It may be the only thing that gets them to move off the dime," one superintendent told the gathering, recalled Joe Gorham, the superintendent of Carbondale Area School District.  For now, no shutdown appears imminent.

Pa. credit rating lowered as budget standoff drags on
Delco Times By The Associated Press POSTED: 10/17/15, 5:56 AM EDT
HARRISBURG, Pa. >> Pennsylvania is getting more bad fiscal news.
New York-based Moody’s credit rating agency on Friday slapped a negative outlook onto its rating for Pennsylvania’s $10.9 billion in general obligation debt.  Moody’s cites Pennsylvania’s 108-day partisan budget stalemate and the difficulty it says the state government is likely to have in closing its long-term deficit.  The deficit is a key point of contention in the stalemate between first-term Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature. A lower bond rating typically means higher borrowing costs.  All three major credit rating agencies each downgraded Pennsylvania’s bond rating last year after the state enacted a $29 billion budget that relied on $2 billion in one-time stopgaps to balance.  The negative outlook puts Pennsylvania in the bottom three of the 47 states rated by Moody’s.

PA public schools at Defcon-1' -- and are making national news
In case you missed it, I wrote about the effects of Harrisburg's budget impasse on Erie Public Schools in the last issue of the Reader. Fellow Contributing Editor Jim Wertz covered it, too, noting the hard costs of public education   and the "impossible decision" facing Erie Public Schools Superintendent Jay Badams.  Why so much commentary on one issue? Bluntly put: It's a big deal. A very big deal. So big in fact that it's garnering national attention.  The Atlantic interviewed Badams about those decisions in "The Tenuous Fate of Pennsylvania's Public Schools" feature. Because I love The Atlantic and appreciate its style of coverage of tone of conversation, I'll encourage you to read the piece for yourself. But I will tell you that my headline for this post came from the lede of Maressa Nicosia's piece:  "Pennsylvania public schools are now at Defcon 1—borrowing millions of dollars to keep the lights on, starting to ask teachers to work without pay, and even voting to shut the schoolhouse doors and send the kids home—all because an unprecedented state budget crisis has left them within weeks of insolvency."

Auditor to scrutinize gaming money that's going to charter schools
Sarah M. Wojcik and Jacqueline Palochko  Of The Morning Call October 16, 2015
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association on Friday called for an investigation into the payment of state gambling revenue to charter schools in need of cash in the midst of a nearly four-month state budget stalemate that has deprived public districts of state and federal funds.  Calling the charter school payments an "illegal raid on gaming funds held in trust for taxpayers," the association appealed to the state's auditor general and attorney general to explore the legality of the move.  Within hours, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said he will look into the payments charter schools are receiving to "try to determine the appropriateness according to both the charter school law and all laws applying to gaming funds."

Locally, the McKeesport Area School District was expecting $1.2 million in gaming funds next week. It found out this week, it will get just $41,000 because the rest has been diverted to charter school tuition.
Pa. School Boards Association calls for review of gaming revenues going to charter schools
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette October 16, 2015 3:08 PM
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association today called on the state Attorney General and Auditor General to investigate whether it is legal for the state Department of Education to divert school district gaming revenues to charter schools.  In a related matter this afternoon, state reps. Marc Gergely, D-White Oak, and Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, and state Sen. Jim Brewster are calling on the Department of Education to halt the scheduled payments to charter schools.  Districts throughout the state, who are awaiting their next installment of gaming funds next week, learned in recent days that the education department is deducting charter school tuition from gaming revenues.  "PSBA believes that diversion of this money is unlawful, as it is held in trust in the Gaming Fund for the benefit of taxpayers and is not subject to the subsidy interception provisions of the Charter School Law," the PSBA said in a statement released this morning.

Gambling revenue diverted to charter schools
Trib Live By Natasha Lindstrom Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, 10:47 p.m.
An unexpected move by the state Department of Education to redirect gambling revenue to charter schools ignited furor and confusion Friday among school officials across Pennsylvania.  
The change threatens to intensify tensions between traditional schools and charters while school officials and their advocates contemplate a tangled web of potential recourse.  “We shouldn't be pitted against each other,” said Patricia Rossetti, CEO of Franklin Park-based Pennsylvania Distance Learning Charter. “We should be working together for the best interests of the children.”  Districts that had not made recent charter school payments learned their gambling money slated for disbursement next week would be slashed and diverted to charter schools serving students who live within their boundaries. The gambling revenue, which districts pass along to residents in the form of property tax relief, is the only state money flowing into school coffers amid the budget stalemate in Harrisburg.

Charter Schools to Start Receiving State Funds
ABNC27 HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) October 16, 2015
 As the budget impasse pushes through its 108th day, human services and school districts aren’t getting paid, but some charter schools are set to start receiving state funds.
Rhetoric reigned once more Friday in the Susquehanna Township municipal building, as Gov. Tom Wolf called on Republicans, yet again, to drop the “smoke and mirrors” and compromise.  “I have made concessions. I made historic concessions,” Wolf said, speaking to reporters during an afternoon news conference. “Tell me what [the Republicans] have done. … I really, for the life of me, have not seen any concessions on their part.”

Diversion of gambling revenues to Pennsylvania charter schools drawing flak
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette October 16, 2015 9:36 PM
The diversion of school district gambling revenues to pay charter school bills has district officials protesting, legislators demanding a halt and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association asking for an investigation.  But Nicole Reigelman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the use of the funds is required by state law.  “This is mandated by the Pennsylvania School Code. Pennsylvania’s charter school law, passed in the 1990s, says that if a school district doesn't make its charter school payments, the secretary of the Department of Education shall deduct the estimated amount, as documented by the charter school, from any and all state payments made to the district after receipt of documentation from the charter school.

Auditor General DePasquale Issues Statement on Payments to Charter Schools During Budget Impasse
Pledges due-diligence in review of payments
PA Auditor General's website October 16, 2015
HARRISBURG (Oct. 16, 2015) – Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued the following statement on the Department of Education making payments from gaming revenues to charter schools during the budget impasse:  “Charter schools are possibly receiving payments from the commonwealth while some school districts are scrambling to borrow money. This is just another example of the pain being inflicted on our entire educational system by the prolonged state budget impasse.   “Both our charter schools and our school districts must receive the funding they are entitled to -- funding they sorely need to educate our students.  “While we await a solution to the state budget, we will be doing our due-diligence to review these payments and try to determine the appropriateness according to both the charter school law and all laws applying to gaming funds.”

PSBA calls for investigation into use of gaming funds to pay charters
PSBA's website October 16, 2015
On October 15, school districts in Pennsylvania who are legally withholding a portion of charter school payments in light of the current state budget impasse were notified by the state Department of Education (PDE) that PDE was diverting their Property Tax Reduction Allocations from the Gaming Fund to pay charter schools instead. PSBA believes that diversion of this money is unlawful, as it is held in trust in the Gaming Fund for the benefit of taxpayers and is not subject to the subsidy interception provisions of the Charter School Law.  In addition, PDE has the duty under the Charter School to offer a hearing when diverting subsidy funds away from school districts, and PSBA recommends that all districts affected by this action demand such hearings. This is yet another example of the need for extensive overhaul of the charter school funding scheme.

Letter to the Editor: Dems offered reasonable state budget compromise
Delco Times Letter by Frank Dermody POSTED: 10/16/15, 9:58 PM EDT
State Rep. Frank Dermody, House Democratic leader,
To the Times:
Pennsylvania is in a serious financial mess. We face a clear choice: We can stick with the status quo and watch things get even worse, or we can move our state in a better direction.
The numbers don’t lie. Since the recession, those states that made hard choices to raise new revenue and invest more in education have seen higher average rates of job growth and better academic performance by students. The economies in those states are moving forward and many of them have budget surpluses now.  Here in Pennsylvania, however, we sharply cut our investments in education since 2011. As a direct result, schools lost well over 20,000 teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, librarians and other support staff. Student performance went down. Many pre-K, basic education and higher education programs closed or cut back. Local property taxes skyrocketed.

Harrisburg, Pa. schools to sell bonds amid state budget impasse
Reuters Fri Oct 16, 2015 4:55pm EDT
Oct 16 The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania school district is scheduled to sell $10 million of municipal bonds next week with one big financing source up in the air: it, like many others, might not get the state aid it is counting on any time soon.  The district's fiscal 2016 budget relies on $57 million of state aid. With the state's own budget up in the air, the district may not get that funding before it runs out of cash in late December, according to preliminary bond documents.  "All of us are concerned about the status of the state budget," William Gretton III, the district's acting chief financial officer, said in a phone interview.  The district has a fund balance of about $30 million and a local tax base that will bring in another roughly $30 million to help it operate beyond December, he said.  It is scheduled to make a debt service payment in November and "we fully intend to meet that obligation even without the state support," Gretton said. Typically it gets about 50 percent of its revenue from the state.

(Tomalis) Criminal ghost employee? Pa. auditor general thinks so
Pennsylvania's top whistle-blower on fiscal mischief says the findings of a recent audit could leave a former Corbett aide vulnerable to a criminal charge.  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, said Friday that authorities could "easily" argue that Ron Tomalis perpetrated a "theft of public services" as a special assistant to former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.  A state audit released this month found Tomalis was reporting to work most of the time, but not producing much to show for it.  WITF's Smart Talk host Scott LaMar asked DePasquale if the scant work product could give rise to criminal charges.  "That's up to law enforcement to determine that," said DePasquale. "Seventy-two percent of the time showing up for work, and no evidence that you did anything?"  But at least one former federal prosecutor thinks such a case would be a long shot.  "A no-show public officer is hardly a unique animal in the commonwealth," said George Parry, now in private practice as a defense lawyer. "The issue would be, well, what was this person required to do?"

PSSA scores concern local schools
Centre Daily Times BY BRITNEY MILAZZO bmilazzo@centredaily.comOctober 16, 2015 
Some state standardized test scores dropped.  And it’s not just an issue across the state; it’s also at school districts in Centre County that reported a similar dip.  Administrators, like those at Penns Valley Area School District, said they know scores aren’t where they should be.  While the goal is to improve test scores and the teaching methods to assure student proficiency, administrations are hoping the state will help schools get where they need to be.  But there isn’t much confidence in the state from some.  “I’m not happy with the scores,” said Penns Valley Area Assistant Superintendent Sherri Connell. “I think we need to do better, but there needs to be some reasoning with the state to help us get there, and I’m concerned it’s something that’s going to take longer than we’d like to see. … We want our kids to exceed at high levels — I’m not questioning that, but I look at these scores and see a way we can improve, but we need to be realistic in doing so.”

@SalisburySchool Board Passes Resolution Regarding Standardized Testing
Salisbury School District Blog by RANDY ZIEGENFUSS on OCTOBER 16, 2015
After a month of discussion, the Salisbury Township School District Board of Directors passed a resolution pertaining to standardized testing at the October 12 board meeting. While the board and administration values limited standardized testing and will continue to present tests as mandated by law, the board and administration together believe the success of our children is defined more broadly: curiosity, goal setting, academic risk taking, along with  successful completion of the board approved curriculum. Read the full resolution below. It will be shared with our state representatives and senator.

Frustrated Radnor teachers go public with labor spat
KATHY BOCCELLA, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Saturday, October 17, 2015, 1:07 AM POSTED: Friday, October 16, 2015, 5:54 PM
With labor talks still simmering six weeks into the new school year, unionized teachers and staff in the Radnor School District say they're turning up the heat to build pressure on board members for a new contract.  After considerable pushback from students and parents, they dropped their initial formula for a breakthrough - withholding recommendation letters for college-bound seniors. And packing a school board meeting earlier this month with 100 teachers and staff in black union T-shirts did nothing to change the equation.  Now, entering the 10th month of talks, teachers in the affluent Delaware County district say they are going public with details of the negotiations, breaking an earlier promise.  "There's been no progress," said David Wood, president of the Radnor Township Education Association, which represents 320 members whose contract expired Aug. 31.  Teachers and boards in the Lower Merion Area, Marple Newtown, and Bristol Township School Districts also continue to negotiate contracts.

District running out of patience with substitute firm
the notebook By Catherine Offord on Oct 16, 2015 04:37 PM
Five weeks into the school year, District officials are reaching the end of their tether with the private substitute placement firm Source4Teachers.  The District has seen the number of staffed classrooms plummet since it outsourced substitute recruitment and placement to the Cherry Hill-based firm in an attempt to boost coverage levels. Source4Teachers has said the firm is working to find solutions, but progress remains slow.   After the fill rate for empty classrooms reached nearly 30 percent in the last week of September, that level has now slumped back to 20 percent, the District said.  Speaking after Wednesday’s Appropriations Committee hearing at City Council, Superintendent William Hite told reporters, “We've been very disappointed with their performance. It hasn't met our expectations.”  The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has filed a grievance against the District, challenging the legality of the outsourcing decision. Its president, Jerry Jordan, again spoke out against Source4Teachers at Thursday night's School Reform Commission meeting.  “The District needs to end their contract with Source4Teachers, a firm that has failed miserably to provide substitutes for our schools,” Jordan said in a statement to the SRC.

SRC's Jimenez the one who really cares
LAST WEEKEND, I saw "He Called Me Malala," a profoundly moving documentary about the life of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani teenager who was shot through the head because she advocated for the education of young women. The Taliban made a huge mistake in trying to silence her. Not only did Malala survive, she won the Nobel Peace Prize, and is today a widely admired activist for change.  Far from muzzling this one courageous voice, the Taliban managed to amplify it, sending it into thatched classrooms in Africa, the White House, onto the stage of the Constitution Center here in Philadelphia and throughout the halls of Buckingham Palace.  This is a good example of how devotion to education in its purest sense and motivation is a force that will not be intimidated into silence.  I thought about Malala when I happened upon an article in the Daily News this week, documenting a conflict between School Reform Commission member Farah Jimenez and a group called the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.

Testing Resistance & Reform News: October 7 - 13, 2015
Submitted by fairtest on October 13, 2015 - 1:19pm 
This week's top news story is the decision by the nation's most populous state, California, to suspend its exit exam mandate retroactively. That means some 32,000 young people, who had been denied graduation solely by a test score, now may receive a high school diploma.  Policy makers in five other states also suspended graduation testing requirements in just the past two years, a testament to the growing clout of the grassroots assessment reform movement -- for details, see

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:

Back to School Special Education Seminar October 20th
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia
Join us on October 20, 2015, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for our first special education conference of the 2015-2016 school year!
Building on last year’s successful Back to School seminar, this year you will hear about the current state of special education law and engage in dialogue about today’s most pressing matters.
  • Early Intervention
  • Inclusion
  • Assistive Technology
  • General update on the state of special education, both in Philadelphia and nationally
  • HUNE
  • The PEAL Center
  • Sonja Kerr
Our “Know Your Child’s Rights” Special Education workshops aim to educate parents, educators, attorneys and advocates so that they can advocate for the rights of children with disabilities. CLE credit is available for attorneys in Pennsylvania that attend the seminar in person.  Questions? Email or call 267.546.1303.

Registration is open for the 19th Annual Eastern Pennsylvania Special Education Administrators’ Conference on October 21-23rd in Hershey. 
Educators in the field of special education from public, charter and nonpublic schools are invited to attend.  The conference offers rich professional development sessions and exceptional networking opportunities.  Keynote speakers are Shane Burcaw and Jodee Blanco.  Register at

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.

Constitution Center, Philadelphia Monday, November 2, 2015 at 4 p.m.
Free for Members • $7 teachers & students • $10 public
Become a Member today for free admission to this program and more!
Click here to join and learn more or call 215-409-6767.
Does the Constitution guarantee an “equal education” to every child? What do the U.S. and Pennsylvania Constitutions say about school choice, teacher tenure, standardized testing, and more? The Constitution Center hosts two conversations exploring these questions.
In the first discussion, education policy experts—Donna Cooper of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, Mark Gleason of the Philadelphia School Partnership, Deborah Gordon Klehr of the Education Law Center, and Ina Lipman of the Children's Scholarship Fund Philadelphia—examine the state of Philadelphia public education, what an "equal education" in Philadelphia would look like, and their specific proposals for getting there. They also explain what, if anything, the Pennsylvania state constitution says about these questions, and how state government interacts with local government in setting education policy.
In the second discussion, James Finberg of Altshuler Berzon and Joshua Lipshutz of Gibson Dunn—two attorneys involved in Vergara v. California, a landmark dispute over the legality of teacher retention policies—present the best arguments on both sides and discuss what's next in the case. They also explain what the U.S. Constitution and major Supreme Court cases like Brown v. Board of EducationSan Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 say about education and our national debates.

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 <>

NSBA Advocacy Institute 2016; January 24 - 26 in Washington, D.C.
Housing and meeting registration is open for Advocacy Institute 2016.  The theme, “Election Year Politics & Public Schools,” celebrates the exciting year ahead for school board advocacy.  Strong legislative programming will be paramount at this year’s conference in January.  Visit for more information.

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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