Monday, November 9, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Nov 9: Should leased curriculum services for one PA cyber school cost taxpayers $50 million per year?

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup November 9, 2015:
Should leased curriculum services for one PA cyber school cost taxpayers $50 million per year?

Register for PSBA Budget Action Day on Monday, Nov. 16 — Join us!
Capitol Building, Harrisburg NOV 16, 2015 • 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM

Why do PA school districts need Act 1 special education and pension increase exceptions?

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup Nov 7: What Local Control? Voter Referendum for Any & All School Tax Increases in the Mix with Budget Deal in the Works

"The Governor and legislators are seriously discussing mandating referendum as part of a property tax package.  This concept is gaining traction and is being discussed as a possible part of a budget agreement."
PSBA: As Budget Discussions Continue - Tax Referendum a Serious Consideration
Last month the Senate Finance Committee reported out Senate Bill 909 (Sen. White, R-Indiana) that requires school districts to place a referendum question on the ballot for any and all property tax increases. It amends Act 1 of 2006 to eliminate the index and the remaining allowed exceptions for pension obligations, special education and school construction.  The Governor and legislators are seriously discussing mandating referendum as part of a property tax package.  This concept is gaining traction and is being discussed as a possible part of a budget agreement.    Referendum ties the hands of locally elected school boards by eliminating their ability to build a budget, pay for mandated costs and make tax decisions based on their financial needs. School districts, already struggling to maintain their financial operations in light of the budget impasse, will face critical, long-term fiscal distress.  PSBA is asking you to take action and contact the Governor and legislators now ... tell them “NO” to a voter referendum requirement.  Click here to take action. If you need further information on the impacts of this proposal review these documents developed by PASBO: Impact of Eliminating the Act 1 Index and Impact of Eliminating the Act 1 Exceptions

PSBA Webinar Update on the budget crisis and membership discussion
Monday NOV 9, 2015 • 7:30 am, noon or 6:00 pm
PSBA will be hosting a special complimentary members-only webinar on the budget crisis and discuss how your advocacy efforts can help push back on referendum and other issues that are affecting public education in Pennsylvania. During the webinar we will offer a Q&A where you will have the opportunity to voice your local school directors’ concerns and find out what you can do to help public education in your district and across the state. This complimentary webinar will be held Monday, Nov. 9 at 7:30 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.  Register online for one of three times:

"One item that is of significant concern is the fact that there are serious discussions at the budget table about requiring a backend referendum for any and all property tax increases. This issue is being discussed under the guise of ensuring “accountability” when additional BEF dollars are driven out to school districts. "
PA Association of School Administrators Education Update November 2, 2015
State Budget Update – This week the Senate attempted a veto-override vote on SB 1000, the stopgap budget bill that was passed by the legislature and vetoed by the governor last month. The bill, brought up quickly and without much discussion, failed to get the 2/3 vote required to override the veto, with a 30-19 tally along party lines.  Budget meetings between the House and Senate Republicans continue, as they work to get agreement within their caucus on a budget proposal. While there is a heightened push to attempt to finalize a budget by Thanksgiving, there is still a very long way to go, and only the most optimistic believe it can be done by the holiday. Discussions with the administration are set to resume as well.

"Needless to say, education funding has been Gov. Wolf's top priority since day one and he will continue to fight for that commitment. Without a historic increase in funding for K through 12 education, there is no deal."
Budget framework agreement coming soon?
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Sunday, November 8, 2015
According to an email sent to House Republicans sent by Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) and obtained by The PLS Reporter, a budget framework agreement could potentially be coming in the near future, possibly as early as Thanksgiving.  "Our hope is to have this finished by Thanksgiving, but we still have many details to iron out," read the letter.  As part of the framework, the communication noted members will be voting on major changes to the way wine and spirits are bought and sold in Pennsylvania, reforms to Pennsylvania’s state-run pension plans, and a way to close the structural deficit for the current and coming fiscal year while also promoting “fiscal restraint.”  Members were told to expect an update in caucus this week and the possibility of session days being added in the future to allow for the votes.  The language of the email did not discuss any compromise with the administration as of yet.

State budget possible by Thanksgiving?
WITF Written by The Associated Press | Nov 8, 2015 9:32 AM
(Harrisburg) -- With Pennsylvania's budget stalemate in its fifth month, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf's office and leaders of the Legislature's Republican majorities say the momentum of closed-door talks has picked up and there's cause for optimism.  Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said Saturday that there are serious negotiations and a light at the end of the tunnel.  On Friday, House Majority Leader Dave Reed wrote in a note to rank-and-file Republicans that there's progress toward a framework that could lead to a final budget agreement, possibly by Thanksgiving.  However, numerous differences remain between Wolf and Republicans.  For one, negotiators report differences over how much aid public schools should get.  Sheridan says Wolf won't sign a budget agreement without a historic increase.

Optimism returns to state budget talks, despite differences
One key development is the identification of a source of money to help prop up the budget: diverting slot-machine gambling revenue into the state treasury.
Post Gazette By Marc Levy / Associated Press November 7, 2015 4:29 PM
HARRISBURG — With Pennsylvania’s budget stalemate in its fifth month, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and leaders of the Legislature’s huge Republican majorities say the momentum of closed-door talks has picked up and there is cause for optimism.  One key development is the identification of a source of money to help prop up the budget: diverting slot-machine gambling revenue into the state treasury.  However, numerous differences remain between Mr. Wolf and Republican lawmakers, and Republicans may have to confront their own internal differences to pave the way to a broader agreement.  Mr. Wolf’s press secretary, Jeff Sheridan, said Saturday that there are serious negotiations and a light at the end of the tunnel. That followed an upbeat note Friday by House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, to rank-and-file Republicans saying progress in talks could lead to the passage of a budget by Thanksgiving.  “We’re not there yet, but for the first time in a while, we seem to have a direction that we’re heading in together,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said Friday.

Gov. Wolf has compromised on the #PaBudget - it's time for the GOP to do the same: Vincent J. Hughes
PennLive Op-Ed  By Vincent J. Hughes on November 08, 2015 at 10:00 AM, updated November 08, 2015 at 10:07 AM
Elected officials must be driven by principles and core values. But it's also vital to pay attention to the messages being sent by public. Pennsylvania voters delivered a strong message to the Republican Party on Election Day, sweeping Democrats into control of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  This should send a clear message to Republicans in Harrisburg: It's time to compromise with Democrats and pass a state budget that fully addresses the needs of the Commonwealth.  When Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, defeated former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett more than a year ago, it marked the first time that a challenger unseated a sitting Pennsylvania governor in modern Pennsylvania history.  This happened primarily because the public was fed up with policies pushed by the Republicans in Harrisburg, especially deep cuts to school funding and rising local property taxes.   However, Republicans have refused to listen to the voters and acknowledge their call for change.  Nowhere is that more evident than in the current budget impasse. 

Pa. budget facing two paths
YOU KNOW THE Robert Frost poem "The Road Not Taken," about two roads diverged in a wood?  Well, that's exactly where Pennsylvania's needlessly long budget battle between Democratic Gov. Wolf and the Republican Legislature stands - at a point of divergent paths.
One path leads to a budget resolution as early as Thanksgiving; the other to political conflagration ending who knows when.  "We are definitely getting closer," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Adolph tells me.  House GOP Leader Dave Reed's memo to members on Friday (a great example of pol-speak) says, "We are making progress towards the framework of what could lead to a final budget compromise."  A "framework" that "could lead to" . . . sigh.  Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan says, "The governor is encouraged . . . there has been some progress."  And when I ask Senate GOP Leader Jake Corman about serving something up for Thanksgiving, he says it's doable: "At least I hope so."

State budget's latest victim: literacy
Until the end of October, Adam Stewart took basic education classes at the Center for Literacy, which for 47 years has equipped adults with tools to rebuild their lives.  The Philadelphia nonprofit had to shut its doors because of the state budget impasse, and Stewart has a message for the politicians.  "I'm almost 30, and I can't read," he said. "By not passing a budget, they're pushing people who want to make a change back into the streets."  Stewart was 12 when he started selling drugs, and now wants nothing more than to put that chapter behind him.  But a full 80 percent of the Center City agency's $2.4 million budget comes from the state. And so, after CEO Michael Westover exhausted cash reserves and tapped a line of credit, he and his board made the wrenching decision to shut down classes until a budget is passed.  They are hardly alone.

"Perhaps Pennsylvania leaders, from both the executive and legislative branches of our government, need to be locked in a room until they work out a compromise. In the meantime, no elected official should be paid. If they need funds for food and/or shelter, they can borrow money and use their own money for interest on the loans.  And maybe all of those who feel as I do should go to the state Capitol and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Pre-K programs should be paid while Pa. lawmakers get loans
Lancaster Online Opinion by Rhea Starr November 8, 2015
Rhea Starr, of Lancaster Township, is a former child care director at YWCA of the USA and advocacy consultant for early education for United Way of Lancaster County.
Many years ago when our children were students in the School District of Lancaster, I regularly attended budget meetings, hearing retired citizens talk about not increasing school taxes because they lived on a fixed income. I vowed then that when I was retired and no longer had children in the schools, I would speak in support of tax dollars for education.  Now I understand more clearly what it means to live on a fixed income. However, I also thoroughly understand the importance of properly funding education. What I don’t understand is spending tax dollars for interest on loans because our elected officials can’t pass an equitable budget on time.  Schools across the state are borrowing money and many are in jeopardy of closing their doors. Pre-K programs have to turn children away and members of their staff are being laid off. In the School District of Lancaster, the pre-K program has a waiting list. In addition, job vacancies are being left unfilled, with good candidates available (at least for the time being) to be hired.

"Midland-based PA Cyber will pay Lincoln Learning Solutions (LLS) in Rochester, formerly known as the National Network of Digital Schools, about $36 million for curriculum services in 2015-16.  DePasquale said his auditors will determine if the curriculum is meeting student needs and giving taxpayers the best deal. “It is a lot of money, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” he said.  In the past, PA Cyber has paid LLS about $50 million annually, Conti said. However, a new deal earlier this year, which followed the issuance of a request for proposals, could net the school “big savings,” he said.  Conti also said that PA Cyber and LLS are working on a redesigned curriculum.  LLS has historically received almost 90 percent of its annual revenue from PA Cyber, which has leased curriculum solely from LLS since it was created by PA Cyber founder Nick Trombetta in 2005."
PA Cyber CEO deflects charges that curriculum is useless, welcomes state audit
Beaver County Times By J.D. Prose November 7, 2015
MIDLANDPennsylvania Cyber Charter School’s chief executive officer on Saturday refuted accusations that the school’s multi-million dollar leased curriculum is outdated and said he welcomes an investigation promised by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.  “We respect the auditor general’s position as the taxpayer’s watchdog and we look forward to working with him to review all aspects of our organization,” said Michael Conti in the wake of a KDKA-TV report Friday based on anonymous allegations.  Auditors from DePasquale’s office already spent several months combing through PA Cyber’s books and records earlier this year and never raised any red flags, Conti said. “There were no issues to be reported at all,” he said.  Conti scoffed at the report’s allegation that some teachers are developing their own curriculum. “They are not writing their own curriculum,” he said. “That’s nuts.”  All teachers have the freedom to supplement the curriculum as they deem fit for their students, Conti added.  DePasquale, though, said that some teachers did “reach out to us with concerns” during the course of the audit.  And, Stephanie Skinner-Hinton, a social studies teacher for 11 years and union representative for the PA Cyber Education Association, said the curriculum has “been a school-wide issue” for years.

"The Supreme Court's ruling on Citizens United and other court rulings have opened the floodgates of money in the past few years that affect everything from large national races to small local ones, like Sanchez v. Morales. Consider: In 2012, two presidential candidates raised about $2 billion. Spending for 2016's race could reach $10 billion. Local spending totaled $27 million during this year's primary season. At the state level, the race for the Supreme Court, at $16 million, set a national record for spending on a court race. Have the agencies overseeing and enforcing campaign spending rules kept pace with the money? Of course not."
DN Editorial: DARK MONEY TALKS: In Citizen's United era, enforcing finance reports is crucial
Philly Daily News Editorail POSTED: Monday, November 9, 2015, 12:16 AM
WHEN Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez and her staff made election-day rounds of polling places in the 7th District on May 19, they saw squads of workers for her opponent, Manny Morales, many of them sporting "Vote for Manny" T-shirts.  Yet Morales had just filed a campaign-finance report that showed he had spent a mere $20,000 on his campaign and had only $1,400 left in the days before the primary.  Where did the money for all those workers come from?  That's the question Sanchez asked the city's Ethics Board to investigate last week, in a complaint against "dark money" that went to help Morales. Sanchez believes that most of the money was funneled through the wards in her district.  For the most part, no one knows how much was raised and how it was spent because most of the wards failed to file financial disclosure reports as required by state law. The requirement has been on the books since 1978.

“The emotional health of incoming (college) freshmen is at its lowest point in at least three decades.” What has happened over the past “three decades” to bring us to this crisis? We have had three decades of education with the emphasis upon quantitative measures of success. Additionally, emotional and psychological well-being measures and outcomes have not been on the radar screens of our education leaders and policymakers, and parents have been led to believe that if children do well in school academically then they will also be happy, healthy, flourishing children. In other words, parents and teachers have bought into the myth that testing and academic measures are the key to future success.
Better balance needed in schools
Centre Daily Times Letter BY HENRY G. BRZYCKI November 6, 2015 
Henry G. Brzycki is president of The Center for the Self in Schools based in State College, whose mission is to impact the psychological, socioemotional, and physical well-being of K–16 students.
There is a growing awareness that something is not right with our system of education in the United States where alternative views and voices are being heard here in Pennsylvania and nationally. In a column ( CDT, Tuesday), Pennsylvania State Education Association President Gerald Oleksiak asserted: “Right now, our toxic standardized tests miss that mark (of helping students learn) by a long shot ... to build kids’ natural curiosity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.”  Oleksiak, with his extensive and substantive experiences in our public schools, is correct to describe the impact of today’s school culture on children as being bad for their mental health, the very definition of toxic. However, he does not call for more of a balance between academics and well-being, unfortunately.  The issue that we should be paying closer attention to is not testing, but rather that our schools are doing harm to children, and then how to formulate a clearer vision for the future of education that actually heals and empowers the full and unique potentials of each young person.

Ken Bernstein on the Democratic Presidential Debate
Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch November 7, 2015 
Ken Bernstein, veteran teacher and NBCT, listened to the Democratic debate (his picture was kaput on his TV). He was disappointed by how little was said about education, a familiar reaction.  He writes:  “I was disappointed on how little there was on education. Yes, Bernie again mentioned free tuition at public colleges and universities. And Hillary talked about the school resource officer in SC (to which I will return beneath the fold), as well as the increasing percentage of students receiving Free and reduced Meals (for increasing numbers it is breakfast as well as lunch), but there was no discussion of what this administration has done that has distorted and damaged public education, and whether any of them would take a different approach….

Hillary Clinton: Most charter schools ‘don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them’
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss November 8 at 9:26 AM  
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who is running for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, was  campaigning in South Carolina this weekend and sat down with journalist Roland Martin for an interview in which she talked about a number of topics, including one that has not featured in any of the Republican and Democratic debates: charter schools.
Martin, host of “News One Now,” a one-hour weekday morning news show on the TV One network,  spoke with Clinton on Saturday just before a town hall meeting hosted by the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus on the campus of Claflin University in Orangeburg. Martin brought up the subject of charters by saying that a poll in South Carolina among black parents found that most of them were interested in enrolling their children in charter schools because they were not satisfied with traditional public schools. He then asked Clinton whether she supported the expansion of charter schools and vouchers.  Here was her response:

On the Issues
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
On the Issues or OnTheIssues is an American non-partisannon-profit organization providing information to voters about candidates, primarily via their web site.[1] The organization was started in 1996, went non-profit in 2000, and is currently run primarily by volunteers.[2]  The owner and CEO of On the Issues is Dr. Naomi Lichtenberg. The editor-in-chief and content manager is Jesse Gordon. The organization is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Missoula, Montana.[3]  The organization's stated mission is to help voters pick candidates "based on issues rather than on personalities and popularity." They obtain their information from newspapers, speeches, press releases, book excerpts, House and Senate voting records, Congressional bill sponsorships, political affiliations and ratings, and campaign websites from the Internet.[3]

On the Issues: All Presidential Candidates Views on Education

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

Register for PSBA Budget Action Day on Monday, Nov. 16 — Join us!
Capitol Building, Harrisburg NOV 16, 2015 • 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM
For more than four months Pennsylvanians have gone without a state budget, and school districts are feeling the pain.  As the budget stalemate continues, many school districts across the state are depleting savings or borrowing to meet expenses. In addition to loan interest payments and fees, schools are taking many other steps to curtail spending and keep school doors open.
PSBA is asking you to join us at the Harrisburg Capitol on Monday, Nov. 16 to take action. Let our legislators know that a state budget is critical to the education of our public school children in Pennsylvania.  Budget Action Day, Capitol Building, Harrisburg, PA; Monday, Nov. 16, 2015; 9 a.m.-1 p.m.  Meet at 9 a.m. in the Majority Caucus Room, Room 140, to hear from legislators on top issues that are affecting the budget stalemate and receive packets for your legislative visits. 

WESA Public Forum: Equitable Education Funding Nov. 9, 7 pm  Pittsburgh
WESA By EBAISLEY  October 27, 2015
Governor Tom Wolfe has proposed spending 6.1 billion dollars on basic education, yet Pennsylvania is one of just three states that does not use a formula to distribute funding to local school districts. What is the best and most equitable way to allocate state education funding? How can educators and lawmakers ensure a fair education for all students?
90.5 WESA will convene a "Life of Learning" community forum November 9 at the Community Broadcast Center on the south side.  to discuss the Basic Education Funding Commission’s proposed funding formula as well as strategies used in the state’s history.  Doors open at 6:30; forum starts at 7. It will be recorded for later broadcast. The event is free, but space is limited; registration is recommended.Register online to attend.
Panelists include State Senator Jay Costa, member of the Basic Education Funding Commission; Ron Cowell, President of the Education Policy and Leadership Center;  Linda Croushore, Executive Director of the Consortium for Public Education; and Eric Montarti, Senior Policy Analyst for the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy; and Linda Lane, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools. 90.5 WESA’s Larkin Page-Jacobs will moderate.
WHAT: Community Forum on Equitable Education Funding
WHEN: November 9, 2015, 7 PM
WHERE: Community Broadcast Center, 67 Bedford Square, Pittsburgh PA 15203
COST: Free. Register to attend.

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.

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

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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