Friday, December 11, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec 11: Senate Ed Bill: Everything but the kitchen sink - BEF hybrid, Keystones grad reqmt delay; cyber charter funding; state takeover plan; PLANCON reform

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup December 11, 2015:
Senate Ed Bill: Everything but the kitchen sink - BEF hybrid, Keystones grad reqmt delay; cyber charter funding; state takeover plan; PLANCON reform

Campaign for Fair Education Funding: PA Lawmakers need to deliver a #PABudget that meets the needs of every child.  Ask them to at:

Today might be an excellent day to reach out to your House members.  Phone numbers are here:

New federal law earns high marks from state's top education official
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on December 10, 2015 at 4:52 PM
Pennsylvania's Education Secretary Pedro Rivera welcomes the enactment of a new federal education law that shifts more decision-making powers back to the states.  The law, called the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed on Thursday by President Barack Obama represents a sweeping overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act and its one-size-fits-all policies that dictated accountability and improvement for all of the nation's schools.  "It's empowering us state and local decision-makers to develop our own system for school improvement," Rivera said. "It's creating more access to high-quality preschool programs. It's understanding that there's far too much of an onerous burden of testing on students and teachers. So it gives a little more flexibility to how we assess education and school districts across the state."  What is heartening to Rivera is how the federal sentiment dovetails with Gov. Tom Wolf's education agenda and desire to ensure students graduate career and college ready.

"It calls for introducing a bi-partisan-backed formula crafted by the Basic Education Funding Commission to distribute some of the $350 million increase proposed for basic education in 2015-16. Districts that would fare better under the current distribution method would receive their share of the new money based on that system.  A breakdown of how much individual districts would receive under this hybrid funding system was not available Thursday evening.  The hybrid would last only one year as the legislation commits to using only the commission-recommended formula to distribute new money for basic education in future years.
Another aspect of the bill includes delaying until 2018-19 the controversial use of Keystone Exams or a state-approved alternative as a graduation requirement. That requirement is set to take effect for the Class of 2017.  It also includes a provision inserted in the House ordering the Department of Education to do a six-month study of alternatives to the exams' use as a graduation requirement.
The Senate-passed bill also proposes a number of House-passed reforms affecting charter schools to improve the accountability and transparency of these independent public schools.  It calls for allowing school districts to make certain deductions from tuition payments to cyber charter schools, and capping how much money they can keep in unassigned fund balances. It also would establish a charter school funding commission to recommend a new way to fund these schools that students attend at no cost.
Other highlights of the bill include creating a three-year pilot to try to turnaround five under-performing schools in Philadelphia; reforming the system for state reimbursement of school construction costs;"
Senate-passed education bill likely to face opposition in the House
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on December 10, 2015 at 8:46 PM, updated December 10, 2015 at 8:47 PM
The state Senate on Thursday approved an education bill that would begin to overhaul the way state funding to school districts is distributed and delay by two years the start of using the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement, among other reforms.   The 102-page bill passed by 41-7 vote with no debate, just moments after the measure became public at a Senate Appropriations Committee.  It now goes to the House for concurrence, where House Education Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-Red Lion, indicated Thursday night it will likely receive a chilly reception.    While he was not certain what all was in the bill, he said from what he was told about it, "there's no way the House could pass the bill as they sent it over."  "There's no way the House could pass the bill as they sent it over." Rep. Stan Saylor  He declined to elaborate on what parts he might not agree with, saying he wanted to review the bill first.

"Sources say the votes were a necessary tradeoff in order to secure the roughly $100 million funding boost that would come to city schools as part of the budget framework agreed to by Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislative leaders.
The $100 million boost nearly equals the annual funding Philadelphia lost when the state eliminated the "charter reimbursement" line-item.  That part of the Pennsylvania budget helped the district cover the added, systemic costs incurred when students enroll in charters. That was cut in the first budget passed during former Gov. Tom Corbett's tenure.
This legislation appears to be a compromise version of a bill forwarded by state Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) earlier in the year that was modeled, in part, after Tennessee's "achievement school district."
Pa. Senate passes bill calling for dramatic interventions at bottom performing schools
In a bipartisan 42-9 vote, the Pennsylvania Senate approved a school code billThursday evening that would require the state to take drastic intervention at five "persistently low achieving" schools per year.  The "opportunity schools" legislation says the state secretary of education will have discretion to choose the five schools from a list of chronic low performers as measured by the state's school performance profile index.  The schools would then come under the purview of the Pennsylvania Department of Education for at least three years.
The education department would have five intervention options:
  • Turn over operations of the school to an outside education management organization
  • Convert the school into a neighborhood-based charter
  • Close the school and facilitate transfering students to higher performing schools
  • Authorize a new charter and guarantee admission preference to students who reside in the area around the low performing school
  • Replace the principal and at least half of the school's staff
A school district or charter school can appeal the designation of its school as a "chronic low performer" within 30 days.  As part of its power as overseer of the "opportunity schools," the Pennsylvania Department of Education would have wide leeway to make staffing changes as it sees fit.  The department could hire employees and managers who do not hold state certification. Employees could be reassigned, suspended or dismissed at will.  Each of the eight state senators who represent Philadelphia voted for the bill.

Senate moves Pennsylvania budget fight into House's court
Morning Call by MARC LEVY, AP December 10, 2015 10:01 pm
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania Senate sprinted through hundreds of pages of just-unveiled budget legislation Thursday, handing it back to the House Republican majority and all but ensuring that a five-month stalemate that is crippling social services agencies would plow into next week.  The House adjourned until Saturday, when Majority Leader Dave Reed said Republicans there should have a better idea of what elements of the package of budget-related legislation they can support and what elements they cannot.  The Republican-controlled Senate adjourned Thursday night after a marathon week of passing major bills that authorize $30.8 billion in spending, overhaul public pension benefits and smash state control over the sale of wine. The last bill it passed — a 100-page education policy and school spending bill — came up for a vote within moments of it becoming public.  The Senate's legislation has the support of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, putting pressure on the House GOP to respond as social service agency layoffs mount and borrowing by counties and school districts approaches $1 billion.

Budget framework back on…kind of
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Thursday, December 10, 2015
Good news on Thursday if you were hoping to see that budget framework agreement to come back together with all five parties on board; it has, but only kind of.  After discussions with Senate colleagues on how to move forward both Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, it appears there is movement in the House Republican caucus to support some version of to-be-tweaked budget framework agreement that was announced just before Thanksgiving.  Those close to the inner-workings of the budget deal say the legislative process behind getting the various pieces of legislation through the General Assembly could be wrapped up by the early to mid-part of next week.  What the tweaks would be was still a bit of a continuing mystery Thursday evening as House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) left a meeting with Senate Republican leadership.
“There are some things around the edges potentially on all issues,” he said. “We just haven’t seen the final products yet.”

"Another area of potential dispute between the House and Senate was if or how to divvy up an additional $350 million in funding to schools that's a key part of the framework."
Pa. Senate approves budget bills, expansion of wine sales
by Chris Palmer, Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau. Updated: DECEMBER 10, 2015 — 4:47 PM EST
HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Senate on Thursday passed nearly all the final pieces of a long-overdue budget plan, including a bill that would allow consumers for the first time to purchase wine in some supermarkets and restaurants.  The bill, which passed 29-21 in the Senate, would enable licensed supermarkets, restaurants, or bars to sell as many as four bottles of wine to customers.  Though the votes may indicate progress toward an end to the budget crisis, they came with an elephant in the room no one would discuss: which taxes would be raised to pay for the $30.8 billion spending plan reached by Senators and Gov. Wolf - one that still needs to win support in the House.  "Instead of me talking about what I believe is in it, just wait and see," the governor said during a session with reporters Thursday.  The lack of details on how to fund the budget has been a key sticking point in budget negotiations this week, and perhaps the central item standing between lawmakers and a completed spending plan.

Speaker Turzai to be Ousted?
PoliticsPA Written by Jason Addy, Contributing Writer December 10, 2015
As (some) lawmakers work together to bring the budget impasse to an end, straining relationships in the House GOP leadership could bring negotiations to a halting crash.
More than two dozen House Republicans and Democrats have met this week to discuss ousting Rep. Mike Turzai as Speaker of the House, Kevin Zwick of Capitolwire reports. The group has even brought in an experienced attorney to draft a resolution to remove Turzai.
“It’s very serious. I think that members are getting blamed for what’s going on and I think that pot has begun to boil over,” an unnamed House GOP source told Capitolwire. “The credibility of the institution, it’s losing its value by the minute, and the person who gets held responsible in many eyes is the top dog – the Speaker.”  The anonymous source said Turzai could be gone as soon as next week if a budget isn’t passed before then, though another source called the talk an “intensified rumor,” with people looking for a scapegoat for the six months of fruitless negotiations

"According to the report, just five states had 5 percent of African-Americans in high school graduating classes pass at least one AP test in a STEM subject."
Report finds continuing achievement gap in academic performance
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December 10, 2015 11:02 AM
While there has been some improvement in academic achievement among African-American students since the early 1990s, overall performance levels remain critically low nationally, and Pennsylvania’s results fall below national averages.  That information was contained in the report “The Path Forward: Improving Opportunities For African-American Students,” released today by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the NAACP.  “We certainly want to highlight that there is good news. But the reason we are doing this is that we want to impress upon folks that this is a crisis in our community,” said Cheryl Oldham, vice president for the Center for Education and Workforce Development at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Why the ‘no property tax’ idea that scares PA’s public schools isn’t going away
Billy Penn By Anna Orso  December 10, 2015
What if the way most Pennsylvania public schools bring in cash just… went away? 
Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been trying just that for years: Scrapping the state’s property tax and replacing the more-than-$13 billion it generates with higher tax rates on sales and personal income. Translation: You’d pay more in taxes out of your paycheck and when you buy things. But you’ll get a huge break if you own a home or a business.  The latest bill that would have made Pennsylvania the first state in the union to ditch a property tax completely was narrowly defeated on Nov. 23 in the state Senate. In a vote that literally couldn’t have been closer, Lt. Gov. Mike Stack stepped in to break a tie and voted “no” on the measure.  It’s the closest property tax elimination proponents have come in the Keystone State to achieving their decades-old goal: Only two taxes — sales and income — instead of three (even if it’s at the expense of local school districts losing tons of control).  Key sponsors of two separate but similar bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, say the fight isn’t over, and this issue is far from dead.

PSBA pleased with order to block use of Property Tax Relief Funds for charter payments
PSBA Website December 10, 2015
PSBA is pleased with the Order issued Dec. 9 by the Commonwealth Court stating that Property Tax Relief Funds (PTRF) will not be distributed to charter schools by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) or the state Treasury. According to the document, after the state budget is passed, all pending charter redirection requests, including basic education and special education subsidies, will be funded from non-PTRF state subsidies.  The Order comes after PSBA filed a lawsuit Oct. 21 in the Commonwealth Court against the PDE and the state Treasury after the PDE announced it was redirecting gaming revenues marked for property tax relief to charter schools.  “PSBA fully supports the Order issued by the Commonwealth Court that prohibits the use of Property Tax Relief Funds to make payments to charter schools. These funds are to be used solely to benefit taxpayers,” said PSBA Executive Director Nathan Mains. “We greatly appreciate the support and participation of the Phoenixville Area School District and the Eastern Lancaster County School District, named petitioners with PSBA on the lawsuit filed in regards to this issue. We also thank the MeKeesport Area School District for intervening and providing support to the effort.”

"With the help of Penn doctoral student Justice Walker, I recently surveyed 111 public and private high schools in the Philadelphia region to find out what kind of computer science classes are available. In the School District of Philadelphia, just 19 high schools, representing 22 percent of all district high schools, reported offering some type of introductory computing course that goes beyond teaching students how to make PowerPoint presentations."
Schools must make computer science a priority Opinion By Yasmin Kafai Updated: DECEMBER 11, 2015 — 3:01 AM EST
Yasmin Kafai is a professor of learning sciences at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, the author of "Connected Code: Why Children Need to Learn Programming," and a codeveloper of, a free youth programming site.
This week, students in Philadelphia have been among millions of children and young adults around the world participating in the Hour of Code (, 60-minute online tutorials intended to demystify computer programming. Participants use characters and themes from MinecraftFrozen, or Star Wars to create simulated environments and games using basic computer science concepts.  The Hour of Code is a teaser: a way to ignite students' interest in computer science. But for thousands of students in Philadelphia area schools, any interest in coding sparked by these online tutorials is likely to be snuffed out by a harsh reality: Very few public high schools offer computer science classes.

"Embraced by an unusual coalition of Republican, Democrats, business groups and teachers’ unions, the law was a curiosity in a capital more often gripped lately by partisan gridlock. Mr. Obama referred to the bipartisan bill-signing as “a Christmas miracle.”
President Obama Signs Into Law a Rewrite of No Child Left Behind
New York Times By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS DEC. 10, 2015
The president signed a new education reform bill that shifts power from the federal government to the states on issues of school performance and accountability.
WASHINGTON — Putting an end to more than a decade of strict federal control of public education, President Obama on Thursday signed a sweeping rewrite of the No Child Left Behind act that returns power to states and local districts to determine how to improve troubled schools.  The bill is a bipartisan measure that preserves federally mandated standardized testing but eliminates the punitive consequences for states and districts that perform poorly. The new version, renamed the Every Student Succeeds Act, also bars the government from imposing academic requirements like the Common Core. “This bill makes long-overdue fixes to the last education law, replacing the one-size-fits-all approach to reform with a commitment to provide every student with a well-rounded education,” Mr. Obama said at a White House signing ceremony for the law. “With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamental American ideal that every child — regardless of race, income, background, the ZIP code where they live — deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they will.”

No Child Left Behind: An Obituary
NPR by CORY TURNER  All Things Considered Runtime: 3:24 Updated December 9, 2015 5:49 PM ET 
The U.S. Senate is expected to vote as soon as Wednesday on replacing the nation's big education law, known since 2001 as No Child Left Behind.  And President Obama is expected to sign the new version, ending an era marked by bitter fights between the federal government, states and schools.  So as it dies, we thought an obituary was in order.  Yup, an obituary. Because the law's critics and defenders all agree on one thing: No Child Left Behind took on a life of its own.  Actually, they agree on one other thing, too: "If No Child Left Behind was a person, he or she should have died a long time ago." That's how outgoing U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan puts it. "It's about time to finish it off and to bury it. And to do something much better."

The State of Charter Schools, A Report by Pro-Charter Advocacy Group
Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch December 10, 2015 //
Bellwether Education Partners is a consulting firm that works with “reform” organizations, with charter chains, Teach for America, and others who promote the privatization of public education and the replacement of the teaching profession with inexperienced short-timers.It prepared this very interesting report on the state of charter schools today. It projects that by the year 2035, between 20-40 percent of all students will be in charter schools (p. 60).  The report contains a wealth of information about which states and cities have the most charters, about which states do not permit charters (there are five of them), about the demographics of charters, about how many charters have opened and how many have closed, etc. The language of the report is much like an annual report to the board of directors of a corporation.

Charter schools are a ‘gravy train,’ say researchers
A new report examines the methods charter school operators can use to enrich themselves
AlJazeera America by Ned Resnikoff   @resnikoff December 10, 2015 12:01AM ET
The policy framework for U.S. charter schools encourages “privatization and profiteering,” a research institute said in a report released Thursday.  Charter schools are able to siphon off large quantities of public money for private gain — and only substantial changes to state policies regarding charter schools can stop this, according to the authors of the report from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at University of Colorado Boulder.  Many education reform advocates argue that the charter school model — under which publicly funded schools are administered by bodies other than the school board, such as private Education Management Organizations (EMOs) — promotes experimentation and newer, fresher teaching methods. But the same permissive charter regulations intended to boost innovation can also help EMOs pocket cash better spent elsewhere, the NEPC report said.  “What we found is that there are a host of real estate and tax laws that were not put in place with charter schools in mind, but that the owners of charter school enterprises are using in order to profit,” NEPC Director Kevin Welner said. “I think that understanding the nature of the charter school gravy train, as I call it, is extremely important for the public and policymakers."

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
Remaining Locations:
  • 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
  • Delaware Co. IU 25 — Feb. 1
    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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