Tuesday, December 15, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec 15: PA school districts may lose ability to borrow; NY Regents Vote to Exclude State Tests in Teacher Evaluations

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup December 15, 2015:
Pennsylvania school districts may lose ability to borrow; NY Regents Vote to Exclude State Tests in Teacher Evaluations

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Statement of Education Voters: Comment on proposed School Code language; As adopted by the Senate on December 10th, 2015
Education Voters PA website December 14, 2015 
We are troubled that during this protracted budget stalemate the Senate has chosen to pass a bill that contains what is essentially a state takeover and charter school conversion model that is only for Philadelphia, and that provides language that could limit any community’s ability to place reasonable enrollment limits in their contracts with charter vendors. Communities must retain authority over the contracts they are obligated to pay for.  We support the establishment of a commission to study the issue of charter school funding but believe that the charter sector should be limited to informing the process rather than being provided with seats on the voting body.

"New dollars provided under a bipartisan budget deal would be swallowed up by the skyrocketing costs associated with rapid charter expansion. Statewide, charter schools would be empowered to open new buildings and expand their student bodies with almost no limitations. In Philadelphia, where the district is already under state control and over a third of students already attend charter schools, the legislation would put more schools under a different state operator and convert more of them into charter schools – all still without ensuring those schools have adequate funding."
ELC Analysis of Senate School Code Bill
Education Law Center December 11, 2015
Pennsylvania’s budget woes cannot be resolved by robbing Peter to pay Paul. Unfortunately, the School Code bill—previously HB530—passed by the Pennsylvania Senate and under consideration in the House of Representatives would do just that. New dollars provided under a bipartisan budget deal would be swallowed up by the skyrocketing costs associated with rapid charter expansion. Statewide, charter schools would be empowered to open new buildings and expand their student bodies with almost no limitations. In Philadelphia, where the district is already under state control and over a third of students already attend charter schools, the legislation would put more schools under a different state operator and convert more of them into charter schools – all still without ensuring those schools have adequate funding.

tweet from Keystone State Education Coalition December 14, 2015
.@RepTurzai .@PAHouseGOP Chronically failing PA Cybers w over inflated tuition rates spend millions of tax $ on ads

Wolf is wishing for Pa. budget
Gov. Tom Wolf and conservative House Republicans continue clashing over a Pennsylvania budget plan, now five and a half months late.  House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, is demanding changes to a budget proposal passed by the Senate a week ago. His caucus says the $30.8 billion plan calls for spending far too much money.  But Wolf said he won't stray from the Senate's proposal, the result of a tentative deal reached before Thanksgiving.  "It's time to stop negotiating," said Wolf. "Let's get a budget. I want a budget."  That leaves Wolf waiting on the House, with its historic Republican majority and what appear to be rifts between its Republican leaders.

Fate of Pa. budget now rests with House
Philly.com Updated: DECEMBER 15, 2015 — 1:08 AM EST by Chris Palmer, HARRISBURG BUREAU.
HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania House members spent most of Monday behind closed doors discussing what changes, if any, they might seek to make to budget-related bills passed by the Senate and supported by Gov. Wolf.  "We're going through everything," said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans. He declined to identify which areas members were studying.  Still, lawmakers were hopeful that a final deal could be passed this week, Miskin said, meaning votes on major budget-related legislation - such as a spending bill or education code - could start as soon as Wednesday.  Any attempts at major alterations to the $30.8 billion so-called framework agreement announced last month by Senate Republicans and Wolf were almost certain to meet resistance.  "I'm done. I'm committed to the framework," Wolf said Monday afternoon when asked if he would accept House changes.

As budget bills advance, big questions still linger
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Monday, December 14, 2015
A ray of hope broke through the proverbial clouds of Pennsylvania’s budget impasse Monday as a budget bill from the five-party framework agreement headed to the governor with the passage of the Public Welfare—now Human Services—Code bill.  Another budget bill, the Administrative Code, was sent back to the Senate for them to review changes made by the House.  However, as bills continue to chug along, questions are still lingering for members about questions concerning how the budget is going to be paid for, how budget dollars are going to be distributed to public schools, and even some of the procedure behind how the process will move forward.

Bad brew: Wonder why Pennsylvania's state budget is six months late? Here's a few top reasons
Penn Live By Charles Thompson | cthompson@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter on December 14, 2015 at 9:57 PM, updated December 14, 2015 at 10:45 PM
Pennsylvania's state budget is now going on six months late, and while there are some tentative signs that the last issues are now at least being teed up for closure, this is a cycle that many will never forget.  It's earning a place in state government infamy alongside 1977 (a brawl on the House floor), 1991 (the largest tax increase in state history), 2003 (Rendell meets the Republicans) and 2009 (Rendell's last big ask).  There are some things that this cycle has in common with some of those others: First-year governors, divided government, requests or perceived needs for tax increases.  But then there are some other factors that Pennsylvania legislative staffers, political scientists and lobbyists say the 2015 cycle can claim as its own in, so far, distinguishing itself as the state's second-longest.

"The Pennsylvania Treasury Department's chief counsel, Christopher Craig, says if the other ratings agencies were to follow suit, the districts would be effectively cut off from the debt market, or the cost would be so high, they couldn't afford it."
Pennsylvania school districts may lose ability to borrow
Education Week by Associated Press Published Online: December 14, 2015
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania's long budget stalemate could soon make it impossible for dozens of school districts to get another loan to stay open.  Standard & Poor's says it has withdrawn its ratings on school districts whose debt is backed by the state government's guarantee to repay bondholders.  In a Friday note, Standard & Poor's says Pennsylvania's state aid payments are no longer a reliable and stable source of money.  On Standard & Poor's list are some of Pennsylvania's poorest and biggest school districts, including Philadelphia, Reading, Scranton, Erie and York.

Pennsylvania school districts may lose ability to borrow
Standard & Poor’s says Pennsylvania’s state aid payments are no longer a reliable and stable source of money.
Post Gazette by Associated Press December 15, 2015 12:10 AM
HARRISBURG — The months-long Pennsylvania budget impasse has convinced one of the main credit ratings agencies that state education payments are no longer a reliable source of funding.  Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services says it has withdrawn ratings for school districts and community colleges that were based upon a program through which the state committed to diverting funding from districts or community colleges that failed to meet debt obligations.  “While we consider school aid to be a priority state expenditure, the budget stalemate has led us to conclude that Pennsylvania’s state aid payments are no longer a reliable and stable source of funds,” the rating agency said late Friday.  Superintendent Edward Zelich of the Charleroi Area School District, one of the districts Standard & Poor’s named as being affected by its decision, said the Washington County district has borrowed about $4.1 million to get through December.
“It’s so frustrating,” he said. “It’s just like a circus almost. They’re holding everyone hostage.”
Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, said the loss of the credit boost available through the state aid intercept program will make borrowing more expensive for some districts.

"Standard & Poor's wrote. budgets that are passed late are not unique to Pennsylvania, but Standard & Poor's said it considers the length of Pennsylvania's stalemate and the frequency to be an anomaly."
Ratings agency move may cut off some Pa. school districts' borrowing
Post Gazette By The Associated Press Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, 1:27 p.m.
HARRISBURGPennsylvania's long budget stalemate could soon make it impossible for some of the state's poorest school districts to get another loan to stay open.  New York-based Standard & Poor's credit rating agency said it has withdrawn its ratings based on a state government program that can help school districts get more favorable loan terms by giving a guarantee to repay bondholders.  In a Friday note, Standard & Poor's said Pennsylvania cannot ensure the timely payment of debt service because of the stalemate.  “While we consider school aid to be a priority state expenditure, the budget stalemate has led us to conclude that Pennsylvania's state aid payments are no longer a reliable and stable source of funds,”

With credit ratings withdrawn, Scranton, other districts face financial woes
BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL Published: December 15, 2015
Borrowing $31.2 million by the end of the year may come with higher interest rates and fees for the Scranton School District — if the money can be secured at all.  The borrowing ability of Scranton, along with more than 50 other districts statewide, is now in jeopardy after ratings agency Standard & Poor’s withdrew its credit rating because of the state budget stalemate.  In Lackawanna County, Mid Valley, Old Forge, Riverside and the Career Technology Center also lost their ratings. The withdrawal is especially troublesome for Scranton, which has a calendar-year budget and must pay back $31.2 million worth of loans by the end of the year.  “It’s critical to get things done. It’s very unfortunate,” said Michael Judge, president of Scranton-based CaseCon Capital, the district’s financial consultant.  Without any state funding since the impasse started in July, the district has been unable to repay its two tax anticipation notes. Districts, which often borrow money in advance of tax revenue, are required to pay back those notes in the year they were issued. The district sought and received permission from the court earlier this month to secure a bond for the unfunded debt. Mr. Judge said he had inquired about a credit rating from Standard & Poor’s last week, and learned on Monday that the rating had been withdrawn entirely.

House GOP member: 'There aren't enough of us' to block tax hike
Trib Live By Brad Bumsted Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, 2:09 p.m.
HARRISBURG — Republicans who control the House met behind closed doors on Monday to discuss a $30.8 billion budget approved by the GOP-majority Senate and agreed to by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.  Resolving the five-month budget impasse “is a matter of what happens in the House,” Wolf said.  Wolf avoided criticizing House Republicans, saying, “They're good people. We all want a budget.”  House Republicans have balked at $1.2 billion in new revenue needed to fund the budget, and the fact that the Senate did not forward a revenue bill. Leaders in both chambers said they are committed to getting it done this week.  A conservative Western Pennsylvania House member, Rick Saccone, a Republican from Elizabeth Township, said it appears House Republicans are prepared to capitulate to Wolf and his “lust for spending.”

EDITORIAL: Stop merely teaching to the test
Delco Times Editorial POSTED: 12/14/15, 3:44 PM EST | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
It’s a critical aspect of establishing balance in life, or in business or school: Knowing when you have too much of a good thing.  And so it is, or should be, when it comes to the business of standardized testing in our public schools. Of course testing knowledge of a subject that has been studied is not only a good thing but a necessary aspect of education. A student learns, and then to prove she or he has done so — to the student perhaps as much to the teacher — verifies the fact, under a bit of pressure.  But somehow, in our country, somewhere along the way, the essential concept that less can be more, whether in architecture or pedagogy, got lost. We couldn’t take the middle path. If one set of tests of our children’s knowledge was good, since these young ones were suddenly so woefully inadequate compared with the children of a Finland or a South Korea, wouldn’t more be better?

What do kids learn from coding? Much more than just computer skills, educators say
Lancaster Online by Kara Newhouse Staff Writer December 15, 2015
Third-graders at Pequea Elementary School in Penn Manor can't quite explain how computer coding is used in the real world, but they do know this: it's a lot of fun.  "I like coding because you get to play games, but it makes you think and stuff," said 8-year-old Kennedy Dings.  Last Thursday, Kennedy and her classmates participated in Hour of Code, a global campaign in which children try software programming for one hour anytime during Computer Science Education Week. The event was launched in 2013 by Code.org, a Seattle-based nonprofit dedicated to expanding participation in computer science.  During the first year, only a few Lancaster County schools and organizations joined in the Hour of Code. This year, at least 10 local districts and private schools participated.

Former String Theory charter principal alleges age discrimination
by Martha Woodall, STAFF WRITER. Updated: DECEMBER 15, 2015 — 1:08 AM EST
A former top administrator and principal at String Theory Schools has filed a federal suit alleging the charter operator discriminated against her and wrongfully terminated her because of her age.  Gail H. Avicolli contends that shortly after the School Reform Commission renewed the five-year operating agreement for the Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School in January, 2014, founder Angela Corosanite and son Jason, the chief operating officer, embarked on a campaign to remove the woman who was "the face" of the String Theory charters.  Avicolli, then 67, said Angela Corosanite repeatedly shouted at her, "Do you know how much your health insurance costs me because of your age?"

New York Regents Vote to Exclude State Tests in Teacher Evaluations
New York Times By KATE TAYLOR DEC. 14, 2015
New York took another step toward removing state test scores as a component in teacher evaluations on Monday, when members of the Board of Regents voted in favor of a four-year moratorium on their use.  The vote completed a sharp reversal of the state’s policy earlier this year, when the Legislature voted to increase the weight of test scores in evaluations.  The Regents were following a recommendation made last week by a task force created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. It called for revising the state’s standards on what students should know and eliminating state tests when evaluating teachers, at least through the 2018-19 school year.  The task force’s report, which came with Mr. Cuomo’s implicit approval, represented an about face by the governor, a Democrat, who in January had called for test scores to account for half of some teachers’ evaluations.  The governor’s push to increase the weight of test scores upset the teachers’ unions and many parents, and was considered a factor when 20 percent of students sat out state math and reading tests — which had been aligned with the Common Core national benchmarks — this year.  Regents are elected by the Legislature and do not report to the governor.

How the Every Student Succeeds Act Will Impact Educators and Education as We Know It
PeopleAdmin By Dr. Lisa Andrejko, PeopleAdmin Strategic Advisor, Former superintendent, principal, teacher December 11, 2015
After surviving conference committee meetings throughout the summer and fall, and passing the House and Senate, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA/ESSA) was signed into law by President Obama yesterday.  This is the first rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in more than a dozen years. It is being viewed by most educational and political organizations as a success due to the compromise from both sides of the aisle. It removes the influence of Washington on K-12 Education delegating accountability measures to the states. It also consolidates nearly 50 programs into a giant block grant.  What is important for school administrators to understand regarding teacher evaluation as well as recruiting and hiring?

TFA Is Rescued!
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Sunday, December 13, 2015
Teach for America continues to take shellacking from people who think to ask questions like "How do you prepare someone to be a teacher in five weeks?" or "Why aren't wealthy, white districts lined up to take advantage of this awesome program?" or "How exactly does it help a high needs school to have an endless parade of untrained amateurs wandering through classrooms for just a couple of years at a time?"  But TFA fits the reformster narrative in many ways (Some people are just better than others, so they should make great teachers-- certainly better than those dopes who are in teaching as a career. Poor schools are failing because the Right People aren't there, so we'll put the Right People there and that will fix everything!), and it has allowed many people to put "teacher" on their resume as they move onto their real careers as bureaucrats, lobbyists and political appointees, so that TFA has become a multi-million dollar operation with plenty of friends in high places. Still, they also participate in another popular reformster narrative-- "Even though we are Better People and we're doing Great Things, people keep popping up to say mean things about us, and that makes us sad."  And so periodically reformsters try to fight back, and we get the bizarre spectacle of millions of dollars being spent to outfits like the $12 million Education Post or the $4 million per year the74 to combat a bunch of people who blog for little or no money.   Now TFA is joining the party. As reported by Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post, NYCAN (part of  a network of pro-charter, anti-public school, anti-teacher union reformsters) has set up a Big Fat PR engine to combat TFA criticism. Why would NYCAN do that for TFA? Well, most likely because they are all interconnected and run by the same folks.

Blogger note: Would TFA still exist without the $69 million it has received from the Walton Family?
Teach For America (National)      $7,209,746        2009
Teach for America (National)       $16,652,436      2010
Teach for America (National)       $12,572,500      2011
Teach for America (National)       $11,445,000       2012
Teach For America (National)      $1,727,500        2013
Teach For America (National)      $2,020,000        2013
Teach For America (National)      $15,050,000      2013
Teach For America (National)      $2,430,000        2014
…and for good measure, here's another $10 million that the Walton's have given to NYCAN (and PENNCAN) parent organization 50CAN:
50CAN, Inc        $2,600,000        2011
50CAN, Inc        $1,650,000        2012
50CAN, Inc        $4,300,000        2013
50CAN, Inc.       $2,500,000        2014
Where are you shopping this Christmas?
Rapid response unit aims to counter criticisms of Teach for America
Washington Post By Lyndsey Layton December 12  
A nonprofit group has begun a public relations campaign to defend Teach for America against critics of the program that places newly minted college graduates in teaching jobs in some of the country’s most challenging classrooms.  The new campaign, called Corps Knowledge, is an offshoot of the New York Campaign for Achievement Now (NYCAN), a network that supports public charter schools and school choice and wants to weaken teacher tenure laws.
Derrell Bradford, NYCAN’s executive director, said the campaign aims to counter attacks on Teach for America’s image, which some people loyal to the program think has been damaged by “a few disgruntled alumni” and other critics.  Several TFA alumni have written negatively about their experiences, saying that TFA’s five-week training session did not adequately prepare them for teaching in struggling schools and that the two-year commitment that TFA requires adds to the teacher churn in high-needs schools.

Education Bloggers Daily Highlights 12-15-15

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:
  • 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 www.nsba.org/advocacyinstitute 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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