Wednesday, November 18, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Nov 18: Large & diverse coalition urges PA Senate to reject SB76 property tax elimination bill

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup November 18, 2015:
Large & diverse coalition urges PA Senate to reject SB76 property tax elimination bill

"The bill now goes before the full House. Saylor said he doesn't anticipate any action before the state adopts a budget, and that the issue could be part of the budget process moving forward."
State committee OKs Keystone exam delay
It would delay making the exams a graduation requirement until 2019.
York Daily Record by Angie Mason, amason@ydr.com1:50 p.m. EST November 17, 2015
The state House education committee passed a bill Tuesday that would postpone making the Keystone exams a graduation requirement until 2019.  The end-of-course exams are currently set to become a graduation requirement with the class of 2017. The House committee approved Senate Bill 880, already adopted by the Senate over the summer, with an amendment that would require the state education department to look at alternatives in addition to the Keystones and report on those within six months.  Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, who chairs the committee and offered the amendment, said there's a need to do more than just delay, because otherwise the problem will just keep coming up.

Delay in Keystone Exam graduation testing requirement wins House panel approval
By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on November 17, 2015 at 12:53 PM, updated November 17, 2015 at 12:54 PM
Legislation to impose a two-year moratorium on the state's graduation testing requirement won passage of the House Education Committee on Tuesday.  This proposal would push back the use of the Keystone Exam or a project-based assessment as a graduation requirement until the 2018-19 school year.  The bill, which passed the Senate in June by a vote of 49-0was amended by the House panel to add a provision requiring the state Department of Education to study alternatives to the Keystone Exams and report its findings to the House and Senate education committees within six months.  Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-Red Lion, said he proposed adding that to the bill to help inform the discussion about what will happen when the moratorium expires and to avoid having to extend the moratorium longer.

House Education Committee approves two-year delay on Keystone Exam graduation requirement
Lancaster Online by Kara Newhouse Staff Writer November 17, 2015
A proposal to delay the Keystone Exam graduation requirement was approved by the state House Education Committee today.  The committee voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 880, according to a staffer for Sen. Lloyd Smucker, the Republican from West Lampeter Township who introduced the bill.  The Senate approved the bill in June. The bill must pass a floor vote in the House before it can cross the governor's desk to be signed into law.  High school students and some middle schoolers take Keystone Exams at the end of courses in algebra I, literature and biology. Under current law, students in the class of 2017 and younger must pass the tests to graduate.  Those who fail the exams twice will need to complete a project-based assessment. School administrators and lawmakers have raised concerns about the implementation of those projects. Finding staff to supervise student work on the projects has burdened some schools, for example.

Keystone exams: Questions and answers
the notebook By Dan Hardy on Nov 17, 2015 02:40 PM
What are the Keystone exams?
In 2009, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education voted to establish statewide end-of-course exams in order to set uniform benchmarks for key academic subjects. The tests began in 2011. The tested subjects are Algebra 1, Biology, and Literature.  Seven other subjects were to be added later. Civics & Government and English Composition are supposed to be tested next, but no rollout schedule has been set.  Originally, test scores were to count for at least 30 percent of a student’s final grade for each subject; it was left to each school board to determine if the exam would be a graduation requirement, but if not, districts would have to develop a local test that met state approval.  In 2013, the 30 percent requirement was dropped but passing the Algebra, Biology and Literature Keystones or an equivalent local or national exam became a graduation requirement, starting in the 2016-17 school year.

Nick Trombetta's attorney-client privilege not violated, judge rules
Beaver County Times By J.D. Prose NOvember 17, 2015
PITTSBURGH -- Federally indicted Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta did not prove that government recordings violated his attorney-client privilege, so his criminal case will not be dismissed, a judge ruled Monday.  U.S. District Court Chief Judge Joy Flowers Conti’s opinion on Trombetta’s talks with former PA Cyber attorney Tim Barry, who also personally represented Trombetta on some issues, follows her ruling in July that recorded conversations between Trombetta, an East Liverpool, Ohio, resident, and three other attorneys were also not privileged.  Those attorneys were former Beaver County solicitor Joe Askar, an attorney for Rochester-based Lincoln Learning Solutions (formerly the National Network of Digital Schools), and Leo Daly and Ralph Monico, attorneys with the Pittsburgh firm Grogan Graffam, which used to represent Lincoln Learning Solutions.  Trombetta had sought to have the recordings tossed out as evidence and have his case dismissed.

Diverse Coalition of Business Groups, Faith Communities, Education Associations, and Other Advocates Sign Letter Opposing SB76 Property Tax Elimination
Posted by PA Budget and Policy Center on November 16, 2015
Date: Monday, November 16, 2015
To: Members of the Senate of Pennsylvania
From: Concerned organizations
RE: Opposition to Senate Bill 76, Property Tax Elimination

We, the undersigned organizations, representing advocates for education, combating hunger, the business, manufacturing, legal and banking communities, religious institutions and clergy, school districts and administrators, among many others, are opposed to Senate Bill 76. The roots of our objections are as diverse and varied as the constituencies we represent, reflecting a broad range of concerns and perspectives. We are united, however, in our opposition to passage of this legislation.  Senate Bill 76 calls for a fundamental re-organization of Pennsylvania’s taxation and educational systems. The potential negative consequences that could result from the implementation of Senate Bill 76 are vast, and many significant questions remain unanswered. In light of these uncertainties and significant risks, the organizations listed below respectfully urge you to oppose Senate Bill 76.  We recognize that school property taxes are a genuine concern for many across that Commonwealth, and we will continue to offer our expertise and assistance to develop a responsible approach to address the financial concerns where it is most needed, using sustainable and proven strategies.

"Corman said he has told Wolf and other negotiating partners that any school property tax debate in the Senate would have to include a vote on legislation to eliminate the tax. A strong contingent of senators support the move and it is close to having enough support to pass, Corman said.  "I told that to everybody, so they're all very aware that we're going to go through this process," Corman said. "If it passes, then we have to sit down and discuss what we want to do."
SB76: Pennsylvania Senate voting next week to eliminate school property taxes
Morning Call by Marc Levy Of The Associated Press Nov. 17, 2015
HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Senate's majority leader said Tuesday that he is planning a vote next week on legislation to end the collection of school property taxes and replace it with $14 billion in higher state taxes on income and sales, including the repeal of a wide range of currently exempt transactions.   A planned vote Tuesday was postponed to address various issues, including ensuring that the bill would raise enough money to adequately replace eliminating the property tax, Majority Leader Jake Corman said.  Passage of the bill could threaten the fragile outline of a sprawling deal to end a 5-month-old budget stalemate. Under that deal, House and Senate Republican leaders and Gov.Tom Wolf agreed to pursue legislation to increase school property tax rebates by $1.4 billion by raising the sales tax rate from 6 percent to 7.25 percent.

MvGarrigle said that since the proposal would just shift the tax burden to other forms without creating any new revenue, he would no longer support it. He said that he supports a natural gas extraction tax to help fund schools, and without that piece of legislation, which isn’t included in any current budget proposals, he wouldn’t support SB 76.  “The extraction tax is not part of this budget and so I can’t support (SB 76),” he said. “Without the shale tax you’re shifting $14 billion to a personal income tax and a sales tax. I can’t do that to the hard-working people of my district.”….  He also opposes the bill because it will take local control away from elected school boards and give it to Harrisburg"
Senator McGarrigle drops support of SB76 school-tax measure
By Vince Sullivan, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 11/17/15, 9:46 PM EST
The Pennsylvania Senate tabled a vote Tuesday on legislation that would eliminate local property taxes to fund schools — and one Delaware County official has withdrawn his support for the bill.  State Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26, of Springfield, ended his cosponsorship of Senate Bill 76 on Friday, saying that he believes it is not the way to solve the property tax problem. SB 76, also known as the Property Tax Independence Act, would eliminate local property taxes to fund schools, and replace them with increases in personal income and state sales taxes.  “When I was running for the Senate, I was a supporter of the bill,” McGarrigle said Tuesday afternoon, hours after a scheduled floor vote was delayed until next week. “Since then, I have taken my name off that bill.” 

SB76: Property tax elimination vote put off amid technical concerns
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, November 17, 2015
A tentatively scheduled vote on a plan that would completely eliminate school district property taxes in Pennsylvania was nixed Tuesday amid technical concerns that sponsors of the plan have agreed to address in advance of a vote by the full Senate now tentatively scheduled for next week.  "Today was supposed to be a full Senate vote to consider the elimination of school property taxes – a proposal drafted by over 80 grassroots taxpayer advocacy groups from across the state," read a released statement from the proposal's sponsors. "Some minor technical concerns regarding the bill’s implementation have been raised. We agreed to make tweaks to the proposal and have it considered next week by the full Senate.”  When asked about the proposal, Senate Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) said there is an interest in moving the proposal next week so long as the issues are taken care of.

"If we get it wrong, we will get phone calls at home. We will get stopped in the supermarket... and ultimately, if we continue to get it wrong, they will vote us out," Lewisburg School Board President Kathy Swope said at a school funding rally this week.  They'd prefer to stay with the current law that permits boards to avoid referendum as long as they live within inflation-based indexes, plus potential exemptions for soaring retired teachers' pensions and special education costs.
One middle-ground proposal being looked at would require referendums on tax increases, but permit a school board to override voter rejection with support from a two-thirds board majority.  Republicans are also eyeing a proposal that might exempt from a referendum those districts that finance 80 percent or more of their annual budgets with local revenues."
Referendum: The great Pennsylvania property tax debate: The concept, the facts, the questions
Penn Live By Charles Thompson | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on November 17, 2015 at 8:21 PM, updated November 17, 2015 at 8:22 PM
The promise of property tax relief that Gov. Tom Wolf refused to completely drop during this year's budget stalemate came roaring back to life last week.  That said, it's still not at all clear whether this revival will make a final agreement on a 2015-16 state budget easier or harder to wrap up.  Wolf and legislative leaders said Nov. 10 that their "framework" agreement contains a 20.8 percent hike in the state's 6 percent sales tax, to 7.25 percent, to fund a new pot of money to offset school property taxes on residences.  Here's a look at how that proposal is taking shape, or not, in the final round budget negotiations, and what could still blow it up.

Education associations visit legislators to press for budget passage and elimination of back-end referendum proposal
PSBA website Nov 16, 2015
School directors, superintendents, principals, school business officials and Intermediate Unit executives all will converge on the State Capitol on Monday, Nov. 16, to meet with legislators on the critical importance of passing a state budget. Now in the fifth month without a state budget, many school entities across the state are feeling the financial burden caused by the lack of state funding. As talk of a potential budget deal increases, school leaders hope to impress upon policymakers not only the need for a state budget, but a budget that will provide fair and equitable funding for the education of Pennsylvania children.  Four particular areas of interest will be addressed by school officials, including back-end referendum; increased funding for education and approval of the Basic Education Funding formula; special education expenses to charter schools; and school construction reimbursements from the state.  Of particular concern among those traveling to Harrisburg is recent talk of a mandatory back-end referendum and the elimination of the Act 1 index and its exceptions. If such a deal goes through, any and all school tax increases would be required to go to the voters for a referendum. School leaders are concerned that such a move would tie the hands of locally elected school directors to raise revenue needed to fund schools. Many costs, such as pension, charter tuition payments and special education costs, are out of the control of local school districts. If unable to balance a budget to pay such expenses, the only option left would be draconian cuts to student programs and services.

Pension reform vehicle introduced, scheduled for committee vote
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, November 17, 2015
A vehicle for the pension reform proposal that is being worked on as part of the budget framework was introduced by Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) Tuesday as Senate Bill 1071 and has already been scheduled to be considered by the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday morning.  As reported Monday, that committee will also be considering municipal pension reform legislation Wednesday as well.  According to Sen. Browne, the legislation as introduced is merely a vehicle at this point and reflects much of what was in Senate Bill 1, which was vetoed by the governor earlier this year.  “The reason for that is to put a bill in that can carry the final product,” he said. “That bill was structured to carry reforms for both systems, so it was appropriate for us to use that as a vehicle for the final product.”

In city elementary schools, a campaign for libraries
by Kristen A. Graham, Inquirer Staff Writer Updated on NOVEMBER 18, 2015 — 1:08 AM EST
Across the city, many classrooms lack what Alison Walters has cobbled together from 10-cent yard sales, book-club deals, and the proceeds of side jobs she works "to support my teaching habit": a colorful, voluminous classroom library.  City and school officials want to change that.  On Tuesday, Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., and 30 other leaders gathered at Clara Barton School to launch a $3.5 million fund-raising campaign aimed at placing libraries in every Philadelphia School District elementary classroom.  The need is great, especially in a system where few whole-school libraries remain, and fewer than a dozen librarians are on staff citywide.

Lawmakers' pay remains stagnant for only second time in 21 years
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on November 17, 2015 at 3:44 PM
Even though state lawmakers' base pay will stay at $85,339 for the coming year, it is only the second time in 21 years that their salary has remained stagnant. The other time was in 2010.  A 1995 law provides for an automatic annual cost-of-living adjustment for state lawmakers as well as judges and top executive branch officials. The annual adjustments, which are based on the year-to-year change in the federal consumer price index for the Mid-Atlantic Region, rarely exceeded 3 percent but as you can see below, they add up.
Here is how this law has changed the base legislative pay since 1995:

Audit warns of bleak finances for West Mifflin schools
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette November 18, 2015 12:00 AM
An audit of the West Mifflin Area School District to be released this morning by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale paints a bleak financial picture of the district, citing two consecutive years of negative fund balances and the repeated refinancing of debt far into the future.  But superintendent Dan Castagna, who released the audit to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said he believes the district has weathered a “perfect storm” of significantly lowered real estate assessments, a decline in state funding and an economic downturn in the community in recent years.

With the ESEA Conference Set to Kick Off, Is the End Near for NCLB?
Education Week Politics K-12 Blog By Alyson Klein on November 17, 2015 5:02 PM
After eight years and at least three serious attempts, Congress is finally moving forward on bipartisan, bicameral legislation to rewrite the almost-universally-despised No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  The preliminary agreement—or "framework"—as the lead negotiators, Reps. John Kline, R-Minn., and Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., are calling it—is not the final word. Instead, it's a jumping off point to set the stage for an official conference committee that is likely to begin—and maybe even end—this week.    The names of the lawmakers who will make up the House portion of that conference committee were just announced. It's pretty expansive list as far as these things go, possibly because Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the new speaker, wants to signal that many perspectives will be represented.

Pennsylvania's Congressman Glenn Thompson named to ESEA Conference Committee
NSBA applauds next step toward modernized ESEA
NSBA website Charlotte BlaneNovember 17, 2015
In another step toward a modernized education bill, the U.S. House of Representatives today named conferees for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Conference Committee. Senate action to appoint conferees is expected soon.   John Kline (R-Minn.) Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee officially announced the first conference meeting will take place Wednesday, November 18, at 2:30 p.m.  "NSBA applauds Congress for taking the next step toward a modernized education bill,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association. “As conferees move forward this week, NSBA welcomes the open process to put finishing touches on a bi-partisan compromise."  "Our nation's schoolchildren deserve a world-class public education, and NSBA acknowledges the positive momentum toward a bill to support local school district leadership and community ownership to ensure student success." 

Unions Eye L.A. Charter Schools
Efforts to organize teachers in the country’s largest system could have nationwide repercussions
Wall Street Journal By KRIS MAHER Nov. 16, 2015 7:39 p.m. ET (paywall)
As teachers unions ramp up efforts to organize the fast-growing charter school movement, one of the biggest and most contentious fights is taking place at a chain of schools in Los Angeles.

Testing Resistance & Reform News: November 11 - 17, 2015
FairTest Submitted by fairtest on November 17, 2015 - 1:26pm 
It may be hard to believe but the already fast pace of assessment reform news continues to accelerate, reflecting the rapidly growing strength of the grassroots movement against standardized testing misuse and overuse. Activists will pay particular attention to Washington DC in the coming weeks as Congress finally appears ready to take up a bill to replace "No Child Left Behind," which shifts considerable power over testing and accountability to state government policymakers.
National NCLB Overhaul May Soon Begin Moving on Capitol Hill
National Will President Obama's Education "Reformers" Acknowledge Their Own Failures
National Concrete Victories Won By the Testing Reform Movement (So Far)

Education Bloggers Daily Highlights 11-17-15

Delaware/ Chester County Public Forum on PA Budget 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM  - Thursday, Nov.19, 2015 West Chester
THE PENDING PA BUDGET AGREEMENT - How will it Impact Your Schools and Your Taxes; and is it What You Want for Pennsylvania?
It’s time for the law makers to pass a budget. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN WITHOUT YOUR INPUT!  Pennsylvania needs a responsible budget that invests in the future.

PSBA New School Director Training
School boards who will welcome new directors after the election should plan to attend PSBA training to help everyone feel more confident right from the start. This one-day event is targeted to help members learn the basics of their new roles and responsibilities. Meet the friendly, knowledgeable PSBA team and bring everyone on your “team of 10” to get on the same page fast.
  • $150 per registrant (No charge if your district has a LEARN PassNote: All-Access members also have LEARN Pass.)
  • One-hour lunch on your own — bring your lunch, go to lunch, or we’ll bring a box lunch to you; coffee/tea provided all day
  • Course materials available online or we’ll bring a printed copy to you for an additional $25
  • Registrants receive one month of 100-level online courses for each registrant, after the live class
Nine locations for your convenience:
  • Philadelphia area — Nov. 21 William Tennent HS, Warminster (note: location changed from IU23 Norristown)
  • Pittsburgh area — Dec. 5 Allegheny IU3, Homestead
  • South Central PA and Erie areas (joint program)— Dec. 12 Northwest Tri-County IU5, Edinboro and PSBA, Mechanicsburg
  • Butler area — Jan. 9 Midwestern IU 4, Grove City (note: location changed from Penn State New Kensington)
  • Allentown area — Jan. 16 Lehigh Career & Technical Institute, Schnecksville
  • Central PA — Jan. 30 Nittany Lion Inn, State College
  • Scranton area — Feb. 6 Abington Heights SD, Clarks Summit
  • North Central area —Feb. 13 Mansfield University, Mansfield

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.

PASBO 61st Annual Conference and Exhibits March 8 - 11, 2016
Hershey Lodge and Convention Center, Hershey, Pennsylvania

The Network for Public Education 3rd Annual National Conference April 16-17, 2016 Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Network for Public Education is thrilled to announce the location for our 3rd Annual National Conference. On April 16 and 17, 2016 public education advocates from across the country will gather in Raleigh, North Carolina.  We chose Raleigh to highlight the tremendous activist movement that is flourishing in North Carolina. No one exemplifies that movement better than the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, who will be the conference keynote speaker. Rev. Barber is the current president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the National NAACP chair of the Legislative Political Action Committee, and the founder of Moral Mondays.

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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