Monday, October 5, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Oct 5: Wolf tax plan to face scheduled House vote Wednesday

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup October 5, 2015
Wolf tax plan to face scheduled House vote Wednesday

Department Of Education Hires Art Teacher To Spread Evenly Across All U.S. Public Schools
The Onion NEWS IN BRIEF September 29, 2015
WASHINGTON—Expressing their desire to provide American students with a well-rounded education, officials from the Department of Education announced Tuesday they had hired 26-year-old art teacher Kelsey Alexander to be spread evenly across all U.S. public schools. “Ms. Alexander is a well-qualified teacher, and we have the utmost confidence that she will provide quality art instruction to our nation’s students as she rotates through each of the 98,000 public schools in this country,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who explained that Alexander will teach a 40-minute studio art course to each of the grade levels at a different school each day, beginning with Colby High School in Denver on Wednesday, until she eventually visits every school in the nation, at which point she will cycle back to the beginning and start again. “An education in the visual arts is a vital part of every child’s education, and with Ms. Alexander’s hiring, we can now guarantee that each student in America will have an art class at some point during their K-through-12 years. We know she will make a wonderful addition to every single school district in the country.” As of press time, Alexander had spent an estimated $3.2 million out of pocket on the art supplies needed for her lessons.

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup Oct 3: If you thought Arne Duncan was controversial, meet his successor

Wolf tax plan to face House vote
Citizens Voice BY ROBERT SWIFT Published: October 4, 2015
HARRISBURGPennsylvania’s budget stalemate heads into very uncharted waters this week with a planned vote in the House on Gov. Tom Wolf’s tax increase plan.  House and Senate Republican leaders have challenged the Democratic governor to see if he can get enough votes to pass tax hikes he says are needed to restore the state’s fiscal health. Wolf and House Democratic leaders have taken up the challenge and are trying to round up votes from both caucuses in the GOP-controlled Legislature for some type of compromise.  The House is scheduled to vote Wednesday and if a plan passes that chamber, the Senate would vote on it next week. GOP leaders said they don’t think that will happen and Wolf will get a political reality check as a result.  These exercises are known as test tax votes and they have a checkered history.

Pennsylvania's budget train wreck unfolded over past year by MARK SCOLFORO, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS POSTED: Saturday, October 3, 2015, 10:18 AM
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The utter breakdown in state budget negotiations in Pennsylvania didn't happen overnight, but was produced by diametrically opposed policy positions and fueled by tough rhetoric among people elected specifically to work together.  It's possible that the decision this week by Republicans who hold firm control of both chambers of the Legislature to give Gov. Tom Wolf and his Democratic allies the ability to bring up their own tax and spending bills could finally produce a breakthrough.  Or the process could just end up being another in a series of fruitless exercises that illustrate how the sides remain very far apart.

GOP stymies Pa. budget process
Inquirer Letter by Jeffrey Sheridan, press secretary for Gov. Wolf, Harrisburg POSTED: Sunday, October 4, 2015, 1:09 AM
Stymied by the GOP
The Republican stopgap budget is yet another gimmick that shortchanges the people of Pennsylvania. Republicans in Harrisburg have become too comfortable with politics as usual, and the stopgap they passed embraces a failed status quo that is preventing Pennsylvania from moving forward.  The Republican legislature has passed fiscally irresponsible budgets for four years. We are facing a multibillion-dollar deficit and are trying to recover from numerous credit downgrades.  Statewide, schools have been suffering from drastic funding cuts, and hardworking families have been footing the bill through soaring property taxes. Meanwhile, oil and gas companies have been let off the hook, as the Republicans have refused to pass a commonsense severance tax.  At every turn, Republicans have refused to work with the governor to create a serious, no-nonsense budget that works for our commonwealth.  It's past time for a comprehensive plan that moves Pennsylvania forward.

Auditor General says budget impasse is killing schools
PA Independent October 1, 2015 | By Evan Grossman | Posted in Education
Pennsylvania’s budget impasse, which has frozen state spending for three months, is hurting public schools.  State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the stalemate has already led 17 school districts and two intermediate units to borrow more than $346 million to keep operating while politicians slug it out over a new budget deal in Harrisburg. DePasquale said interest and fees on that money could reach $11.2 billion.   “It’s causing financial insecurity in schools across Pennsylvania and already forcing some to borrow money,” he said. “Instead of focusing on education, schools across the state are having meetings to try and figure out how to get by every month and shopping banks for loans that will hopefully allow them to keep the lights on.”   The School District of Philadelphia, which gets almost 50 percent of its money from state taxpayers, has already borrowed $275 million, which is more than any of the other 16 districts DePasquale cited. The next highest total is $10 million borrowed by the Stroudsburg Area School District.  If the budget impasse continues, at least 28 districts and two more intermediate units will be forced to borrow an estimated $122 million in October, DePasquale said.

Pennsylvania budget impasse hasn't hurt local school districts yet, state Senate GOP data show
Reading Eagle By David Mekeel   Sunday October 4, 2015 12:01 AM
Local school districts aren't feeling the sting of a state budget stalemate, at least not yet.
According to data released by the Pa. Senate Republicans, all but two Berks County districts won't start having cash flow difficulty until at least March.  The report says Reading will have difficulty starting this month and Daniel Boone will begin to feel the pinch in February.
The data was released after Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a stopgap budget bill this week that would have provided partial state funding to school districts. The report shows that several districts across the state - mostly urban or poor rural districts that rely heavily on state funding - will face cash flow problems by the end of the year if state funds don't start flowing.

Here's a win-win fix for Pa. budget
GOOD NEWS, I've figured out how to solve Pennsylvania's budget mess.
In a nutshell - and, trust me, there are lots of nuts involved - it's big new spending without big new taxes.  Democratic Gov. Wolf gets to keep his promise of more money for schools and such. Republicans running the Legislature get to keep their fiscal fidelity.
It's a win-win.  How, you might ask?

Here are the more important numbers. Republicans hold majorities in the House and Senate. If Wolf has any chance of getting this plan through the Legislature, he needs Democrats to stand united behind him, and get 18 House Republicans to cross over and support the tax hikes. In the Senate, he would need all 19 Democrats on board as well as six renegade Republicans.
Editorial: Trick or Treat: Pa. budget deadlock drags on
Delco Times POSTED: 10/03/15, 6:44 PM EDT
It’s arm-twisting time in Harrisburg.  It’s about time.
Our august leaders have just clicked another month off their calendars. August? Forget that. We’re now into October, and there’s no state budget in sight.  Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican leaders in the House and Senate have been locked in a standoff since the end of June, when the mandated deadline for having a state spending plan in place came and went. Try not to snicker. These folks were just getting warmed up.  Independence Day? No freedom from the partisan bickering that has dominated these budget talks.   Labor Day? Well, most of us continue to go to work every day. Our legislators didn’t seem terribly concerned that the state did not have a fiscal blueprint.  Welcome to Month Four of the Harrisburg follies. Maybe our elected representatives are planning an early Trick-or-Treat. We’ve seen most of the tricks. We’re still waiting on a treat. And on a state budget.

Here's a closer look at Tom Wolf's 'faith-based' budgeting: Dennis Roddy
Penn Live Opinion  By Dennis Roddy on October 04, 2015 at 1:00 PM
Dennis Roddy, a former Corbett administration speechwriter, is a PennLive/Patriot-News Opinion Columnist.
Gov.Tom Wolf has scaled back his proposed hike in the state's income tax by a few clicks and now wants to expand the sales tax to fewer items.   In other words, he will now try to persuade the House Republican rank-and-file to shoot themselves in the head with a smaller caliber bullet.  Budgets are transactional politics at its base. I watched House Democrats push through a record tax increase in 1991 by trading favors and earmarks for votes so offending members could go back and show their constituents a new park, a paved road, or a new roof on the social hall.

Pat Howard: Schools debate should focus on how, not just how much By Pat Howard  814-870-1721 Erie Times-News October 4, 2015 01:01 AM
There's something bracing about Erie schools Superintendent Jay Badams' earnest outrage over the failure of Harrisburg politicos to cut a budget deal and resume meeting their constitutional obligation to fund public schools.  The respect and credibility attached to his performance in leading the Erie School District through hard times make his voice carry outside of the partisan context of the state budget impasse. And the arguments he makes on behalf of the city's school system are about fairness, not ideology.

Pa. kids first victims of state budget stalemate
Trib Live Opinion By Joseph Sabino Mistick Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
As the executive director of Allies for Children, Patrick Dowd is worried and he is sounding the alarm. The state budget impasse hangs like a sword over many programs that protect our children. And many of the proposed resolutions offer faint hope for our children's future.
According to Dowd, unlike past state budget standoffs, it has been hard to tell that deep trouble is brewing this time around. To the average Pennsylvanian, it is business as usual and that has created a false comfort that belies the coming crisis for kids.  Kids are going to school, child care centers are open, child hunger and welfare programs that protect children are operating. Parks have remained open for families and child care payments continue to flow.  “But all of this,” says Dowd, “masks a dangerous reality. Our children will be hurt the most if there is not a budget negotiated soon that makes their needs a priority.”

Officials look to improve on PSSA for next year
By Eric Devlin, The Mercury POSTED: 10/04/15, 4:16 PM EDT
As predicted, scores from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment released last week showed on average students in grades 3-8 did worse on the test than they did the previous year.  That was expected because the test was changed this year, and local school officials said they weren’t surprised by the drop. That doesn’t mean lower scores are acceptable, however, and they are already looking ahead to see how they can improve.  “I didn’t go into shock,” Spring-Ford Area School District Superintendent David Goodin on his reaction to the district’s results. “We certainly anticipated scores would change in the assessment. We knew that was going to happen. I was pleased to see they didn’t drop as much as I anticipated.”  Officials say changes made to the test to align with the new Pennsylvania Common Core Standards increased the level of difficulty of the test. Also changed were the test’s cut scores, or the ranking each student receives based on their individual results. Scores are divided into four categories: advanced, proficient, basic and below basic. The cut scores changes made it more difficult to land into the higher categories. One official compared the cut score changes to increasing the distance it takes to hit a home run from 200 feet to 250 feet.

PSSAs: Emphasis on standardized testing has gone too far
Pottstown Mercury Opinion POSTED: 10/05/15, 2:00 AM EDT |
For a few years, measuring education performance using standardized tests was all about making “adequate yearly progress.”  But don’t look for any “progress” in the newest crop of Pennsylvania standardized test scores — and not just because the scores are all lower.
Even the Pennsylvania Department of Education admits “it is not useful to directly compare students’ scores on the new assessment to students’ scores from previous assessments.”
That’s because the most recent test is radically different than the test given the year before. Further, halfway through the process, the department changed the “cut score,” making it even harder to score well.  Or, as Pottsgrove School Board President Justin Valentine said at a recent board meeting, it is like being “told a home run is 305 feet and having them change it to 350 feet in the middle of the game.”  This was all done to align the test — the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA — with commonwealth’s new “core” standards, a variation on the national core standards being implemented, with some controversy, nationwide.

End the school-testing roller coaster ride
Lancaster Online Editorial by The LNP Editorial Board October 4, 2015
THE ISSUE: Scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests were down statewide this year — particularly in math, with about 40 percent of students scoring “proficient” or above on their math PSSAs. Lancaster County schools, on average, achieved 47 percent in math proficiency. Educators explain that the math and English language arts tests were made more challenging this year to align with Pennsylvania Core Standards. Educators say they couldn’t make up for the fact that years of past lessons were not aligned to the new standards.  While education should never stagnate, there is such a thing as going too far in the other direction. And the test-based accountability system driving federal and state education policy over the past dozen years is a good example of that.  Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera stressed Tuesday the importance of putting this year’s scores in the context of updates to the PSSAs.  “It’s crucial that people understand,” he said in a news release last week, “comparing old scores to new scores isn’t a reliable indicator of student growth or academic achievement. This year’s results are truly the new benchmark.”  According to an analysis by Philadelphia public radio station WHYY’s NewsWorks, while the 2014-15 decline was larger, it marked the fourth straight year of falling scores on the PSSAs.

Disappointing test: The state says students’ scores are an anomaly
Post Gazette By the Editorial Board October 5, 2015 12:00 AM
Just 42.5 percent of Pennsylvania students are proficient in English and only 26.1 percent of third- through eighth-graders have mastered age-appropriate principles of math, according to newly released numbers from the state Department of Education.  While those numbers may cause students, parents and taxpayers distress, the state Department of Education insists the dismal performance on spring standardized tests is an anomaly born of rigorous curricula implemented two years ago. Whether that’s a reason or an excuse won’t be determined for a couple of years.

A Pa. district takes stand for standard tests
An open revolt against standardized testing is spreading among some Pennsylvania school boards and administrators - but not in at least one Chester County district.  In fact, most of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District's board members actually like standardized tests and are enthusiastic boosters of the Keystone and Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests.  One even publishes a blog extolling their virtues, says they improve performance, and criticizes their detractors.

DN Editorial: Let Philly schools chief Hite do his job
Philly Daily News Editorial POSTED: Monday, October 5, 2015, 12:16 AM
WILLIAM HITE holds the apparently radical idea that as superintendent of the Philadelphia's public schools he should make decisions about the schools.  This is not a widely shared notion - certainly not among the powers that be.  City Council would rather have the final say. The teachers union wants its agenda followed. Education activists demand that before Hite takes a step he consult with them.  If he makes a decision these forces do not like, they complain about how he ignored the process, ignored parents and ignored the voices of activists.  Hite angered these critics again last week by making a series of decisions on 15 public schools.

Penn Hills schools to borrow $20M in deal
By Clarece Polke / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette October 1, 2015 10:39 AM
A special agreement by state officials has helped facilitate yet another loan for the cash-strapped Penn Hills School District.  State subsidy payments for the district will be sent straight to the district’s debt-holders to cover a $20 million loan through BNY Mellon, Pennsylvania Treasurer Tim Reese announced Thursday.  The concept, known as an intercept agreement, was formed among the school district, the state Treasury, state Department of Education and BNY Mellon. The agreement helped lower the district’s interest rates and borrowing costs by prioritizing the debt repayment above all other state subsidy uses.  “Without this latest bond offering, Penn Hills School District would not be able to pay its bills and would likely have to curtail critical educational activities,” Mr. Reese said. “And, without the intercept agreement, it would be more difficult and expensive for the district to raise this money.”

"Most teachers who receive an unsatisfactory rating leave. Over the past four years in the school district, 157 teachers have received at least one unsatisfactory rating. Of them, 106 have left, and 51 remain employed by the district.
A second consecutive unsatisfactory rating for a tenured teacher triggers the process for dismissal. Of the 44 who received a second unsatisfactory rating, only one continues to teach, the only one to prevail in a binding arbitration hearing. Five others took their cases to binding arbitration and lost, resulting in their being dismissed by the school board. The others left."
Joe Giansante, the teacher who's fighting his dismissal
Most public schoolteachers deemed 'unsatisfactory' go away quietly. But he's challenging the evaluation methods
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette October 4, 2015 12:00 AM
Joe Giansante didn’t become a teacher until he was 45 years old.  “I thought I could save the world,” said Mr. Giansante, who holds a bachelor’s degree in administration management science and math from Carnegie Mellon University and worked as a computer programmer, systems analyst, computer consultant and head hunter.  Now at the age of 56, after eight years of teaching math in Pittsburgh Public Schools, he is fighting to save his career and his name while administrators are battling to try to dismiss a teacher they view as ineffective.  Mr. Giansante, who had received satisfactory ratings for six years at what was then Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School in Homewood, received unsatisfactory ratings in both of his years teaching at Pittsburgh Brashear High School in Beechview. The second one in 2012-13 triggered the process for dismissal.  Few teachers fight as hard or as publicly to try to save their jobs as Mr. Giansante. He spoke three times at board public hearings and, in a rare move, opened his tenure dismissal hearing to the public.  And while administrators spend time extensively documenting teacher evaluations in general, district staff members usually don’t have to put in so much time and effort to dismiss a tenured teacher as in this case.

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 or (800) 932-0588, ext. 3322.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:  School Play is going on tour!  Click below for more information about tour dates in your county.  All performances are FREE!
School Play, a documentary-based live theatre piece, is here to put school funding center stage. Compiled from a series of interviews, the play premiered in Philadelphia in April, 2015 and is now available for free for performances around the Commonwealth.

"This will be an opportunity for the community to discuss its collective aspirations for our next superintendent. We hope you'll join us for an evening of learning and discussion about how we as a community can support our Board in its search for our schools next leader."
Getting a Great Superintendent
Pittsburgh, PA Wednesday, October 7, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (EDT)
A+ Schools and its partners are hosting a community discussion about innovative talent search models that have attracted high quality leadership to key roles in the City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Public Schools.  Come hear from Valerie Dixon, Executive Director and Founder of the PACT Initiative, Leigh Halverson, Strategic Project Advisor to the President, Heinz Endowments, Patrick Dowd, former school board member and Executive Director of Allies for Children, Robert Cavalier, Director, Program for Deliberative Democracy at Carnegie Mellon University, and Alex Matthews, former school board member discuss the key lessons they've learned from being part of selection processes for key leaders in our City.  

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.

School Leadership Conference online registration closes Sept. 25
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:

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.

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 <>

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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