Wednesday, December 16, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec 16: In 16-state comparison, Pa. among most friendly to cyber charters and uncertified teachers

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PA Ed Policy Roundup December 16, 2015:
In 16-state comparison, Pa. among most friendly to cyber charters and uncertified teachers

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Blogger rant: While spending millions of tax dollars from all 500 school districts on advertising, not one of PA's cyber charters has achieved a passing SPP score of 70 in either 2012, 2013 or 2014.  Most never made AYP under No Child Left Behind.
In 16-state comparison, Pa. among most friendly to cyber charters and uncertified teachers
The Pew Foundation report looks at charter school governance.
the notebook  by Wendy Harris December 15, 2015
Charter schools in Pennsylvania are allowed to have a relatively high percentage of uncertified teachers and they are closed here less often than in other states, according to a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.  Pennsylvania also has a high proportion of students in cyber charters.  The 15-page report, “How Charter School Governance in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Measures Up,” examines the rules for starting and operating charter schools in 16 states, drawing comparisons in areas such as authorization process, oversight, closing rates, extent of waivers from rules governing traditional public schools, and friendliness to cyber charters.

Feature: Charter school compliance with right to know laws
The PLS Reporter Author: Andreas Dienner/Tuesday, December 15, 2015
What to do about Pennsylvania’s charter schools has been thrown into the fore of the Commonwealth’s protracted budget debate as the Public School Code portion of the budget-related bills has drawn concern from both sides of the aisle.  As discussions on how, if at all, to reform Pennsylvania’s charter school system take place within the legislature, one area of particular concern that could be resolved in ongoing negotiations is charter school transparency as it applies to Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.  This feature takes a look at the history of Pennsylvania’s charter schools and their transparency compliance issues.

Pa. education secretary lauds new federal school accountability law
President Obama last week signed a bill that weakens federal oversight of public schools and transfers autonomy to the states.  Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera says the outgoing No Child Left Behind law was a "cookie cutter" approach that put too much stock in one-size-fits all testing.  Rivera says he's "extremely pleased" with its replacement, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act.  "By creating the opportunity for states to create a system of accountability and support that can be differentiated based on the needs of students is probably most important," said Rivera.  That law created a national system that judged schools based on math and reading test scores.  Every Student Succeeds erases that system. Instead it lets each state develop its own methods for judging school quality.  The only mandatory standards in NCLB were state standardized tests. Annually, schools either had to raise scores or face escalating penalties.  Under the new law, states still must test students grades 3-8 and once in high school, but it gives states the power to develop their own accountability tools which include other more holistic measures.  Pennsylvania developed its School Performance Profile measuring stick through a federal waiver to NCLB.  Still, 90 percent of an SPP score comes from test results.

"Asked how discussions among House Republicans were progressing, Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) offered a one-word assessment. "Interesting," he said, before getting into an elevator. "I really don't have much more to say than that."
Pa. budget talks 'interesting' but yield no deal by Chris Palmer, HARRISBURG BUREAU. Updated: DECEMBER 16, 2015 — 1:08 AM EST
HARRISBURG - On the 168th day of Pennsylvania's budget impasse, the House held a light voting session, approving, among other items, a resolution honoring a journeyman professional golfer.  Then lawmakers were dismissed.  If there was a breakthrough that might lead to a final budget sometime soon, leaders were guarding it like a matter of national security.  Asked how discussions among House Republicans were progressing, Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) offered a one-word assessment.  "Interesting," he said before getting into an elevator. "I really don't have much more to say than that."  Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana) declined to comment following a closed-door caucus meeting.  The Senate last week approved nearly all of the budget-related bills necessary to enact a $30.8 billion spending plan negotiated with Gov. Wolf.  The House has so far stalled on passing - or even amending - many of the bills sent to them by the upper chamber.

"The state’s centrist political culture is no more. The sharp partisan divisions so evident in Congress have trickled down to Pennsylvania."
Plaid Is So Yesterday
New York Times Opinion By TOM FERRICK Jr. DEC. 14, 2015
Philadelphia — Hugh Scott, the Pennsylvania Republican who served as Senate minority leader during the Watergate era, was known for his ever-present pipe and his determination to evade taking a position until he was good and ready.  The story goes that once, when asked what his favorite color was, Mr. Scott replied, “Plaid.”  It’s a joke, but there is truth to it because Mr. Scott represented a plaid state, not as liberal as Massachusetts, not as conservative as Indiana.  In Mr. Scott’s day, Pennsylvania trended Republican. Today, Pennsylvania trends Democratic. Seen from 30,000 feet, it looks blue. The last Republican presidential candidate to win here was George H. W. Bush in 1988. This is mostly because of the populous southeastern part of the state, where 42 percent of all Pennsylvania voters live, which has become increasingly Democratic, especially in the Philadelphia suburbs.

A #PaBudget by Christmas? Here's what could happen and what's happened before: Tuesday Morning Coffee
Penn Live By John L. Micek | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on December 15, 2015 at 8:31 AM, updated December 15, 2015 at 10:54 AM
Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
For those of you playing along at home, today is Dec. 15, which means a scant 10 days remain until many among us celebrate the birth of the World's Most Famous Carpenter.
But another anniversary also beckons on this Tuesday morning: We're just seven days from breaking the standing record for late budgets.  Yep, that's right, it was back on Dec. 22, 2003, that lawmakers and former Gov. Ed Rendell were able to settle the final pieces of a spending plan that, as is the case now, saw school districts borrow money to make ends meet.  "I think Christmas is one of those dates where everyone wants to get this done," said Rep. Mike Vereb R-Montgomery, tells ABC-27. "But I think you'll find those in our caucus (House GOP) including myself who are just not interested in voting for a billion dollar tax increase."  There are, of course, a couple of differences between then and now. Let's review, shall we?

"Add that sorry fact to the list of difficulties spawned by the impasse. Pennsylvania is approaching the embarrassment of 2003, former Gov. Ed Rendell’s first year in office, when the complete spending plan wasn’t signed until Dec. 23. That overdue budget was the second-latest in the modern era, surpassed only by the fight in 1969, when enactment came 247 days late."
PPG Editorial: Losing favor: Pennsylvania is downgraded over the budget
Post Gazette By the Editorial Board December 16, 2015 12:00 AM
Five and a half months after a state budget should have been enacted, the damage done by the stalemate is really adding up.  The latest fallout from the inability of Harrisburg’s polarized negotiators to agree on a 2015-16 spending plan came from Standard & Poor’s Rating Services, an agency that determines the credit-worthiness, and thus the interest rates, of borrowers.  S&P withdrew ratings for school districts and community colleges that were based on a state program that helps them get more favorable loan terms by guaranteeing repayment to their bondholders. In a damning note issued last week, the agency concluded that “Pennsylvania’s state aid payments are no longer a reliable and stable source of funds.”  The change could make it difficult, impossible or, at a minimum, more expensive for districts and community colleges to borrow money to keep their doors open until the Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf reach agreement on a new state budget.

“The idea of trying to make resistance to higher taxes something that only the speaker stands for ignores the fact that he was elected to his position by a unanimous vote of a House GOP caucus that as a whole, is adamantly against unnecessary tax hikes,” said Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland.  “There is a large majority of our caucus who believe this is about taxes,” said Rep. Kristin Phillips Hill, R-York. “This has been about taxes from day one.”
Dems cast Turzai as villain in Pa. budget gridlock
By Kate Giammarise/ Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau December 16, 2015 12:00 AM
HARRISBURG — With tempers at the state Capitol running high as a budget stalemate approaches the six-month mark, many Democrats are casting House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, as the main obstacle to having a deal.  Mr. Turzai allowed a vote on the House’s alternate budget to the compromise framework hammered out by the Wolf administration and party leaders, and he canceled sessions Friday and Saturday that many members hoped would result in a budget. Mr. Turzai, considered to be more conservative than House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, is increasingly becoming the focus as frustration grows over the impasse.  But many House GOP members say Mr. Turzai is speaking for a significant number of people in his caucus — House members who won’t vote for the tax increases Mr. Wolf is seeking. Republicans control both the House and Senate by large majorities; 31 to 19 in the Senate and 119 to 84 in the House.

Bill changing Pennsylvania state, school pensions hits homestretch
Morning Call by Marc Levy Of The Associated Press December 15, 2015
HARRISBURG — Republican lawmakers' long-sought legislation to overhaul pension benefits for Pennsylvania state government and public school employees received what could be its final changes Tuesday before it becomes law.  One change to the bill would help lawmakers keep their existing pension benefit.  Several amendments in the House State Government Committee followed the Senate's passage last week of a compromise bill that would create a mandatory 401(k)-style benefit for future hires — combined with a traditional pension benefit that is halved.  The committee vote was along party lines, with Republicans framing it as a step toward limiting the potential to roll up more pension debt, even if there is no guarantee that the proposed new plan ultimately will be less costly.

Pension reform bill gets House “tweaks”
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Senate legislation that would overhaul Pennsylvania’s state-run pension plans that benefit state and public school employees received the “tweaks” many were anticipating in a Tuesday morning vote by the House State Government Committee.  The legislation was changed to allow all current state employees—not just elected officials—to opt-in to the new side-by-side hybrid pension plan, eliminate the artificial funding collars for FY 2016-2017 the Senate included in the legislation, and require the Public Employee Retirement Commission to attach an actuarial note to the legislation as required by law.  All of the changes were agreed-to unanimously, but committee Democrats uniformly opposed the full measure.  “We still are not satisfied with this legislation,” said committee Minority Chairman Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia). “The legislation does not address the unfunded liability…the plan offers no dedicated revenue stream to cover pension costs in the future, it does not produce obvious savings to taxpayers, there are questions of constitutionality.”

"We have been elected to serve our constituents—and the common good—at the moment what Pennsylvanians desperately need is a budget.  I believe we have an obligation to stay here in Harrisburg until that is completed: no weekends, no vacations."
It's way past make-or-break time on the #PaBudget: Madeleine Dean
PennLive Op-Ed  By Madeleine Dean on December 15, 2015 at 11:00 AM
State Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Democrat, represents the Montgomery County-based 153rd House District.
Among the calls that my office has been receiving from those affected by Pennsylvania's budget stalemate, some of the saddest are from foster parents that have not been getting state aid to care for the children that they have taken into their homes.  With the holiday season approaching, this Legislature's inability to enact an adequate, responsible budget seems starkly cruel.  The House's failure to approve a fair and passable budget is a failure on us as legislators.

How do legislative staffers really feel about the Pa. budget impasse? 'It sucks'
Penn Live By Candy Woodall | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on December 16, 2015 at 7:03 AM, updated December 16, 2015 at 7:23 AM
Normally, legislative staffers would've received an email by now telling them they could go home a couple hours early on Christmas Eve.  But this isn't a normal year.  The budget stalemate is crawling through its sixth month, and many staffers say their lives and holiday plans revolve around ongoing negotiations.  "It sucks," said Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House Republican caucus.  He and other staffers for House and Senate leaders have worked nearly every weekend since June.  Will Pennsylvanians get a budget before the holiday and will staffers go home for Christmas?  "I sure as hell hope so," said Miskin, who is often blunt and a self-described glass-is-half-full kind of guy.  The frustration at the statehouse is palpable.

"Philadelphia schools were taken over by the state decades ago, but the state has incredibly failed to magically transform them, so the state would now like to take them over from the state (you can read more about that foolishness here)."
PA: Budget Fluffernuttery Threatens Schools
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Tuesday, December 15, 2015
We have a budget problem in Pennsylvania. You could call it a budget "crisis," but that makes it sound like it just sort of happened, like a hurricane or male pattern baldness. You could call it a budget "impasse," but that suggests two grown up sides that can't find a compromise. Perhaps budget "screwup" or budget "failure so stupid it is raising the collective blood pressure of the entire state."  If it seems like we've been budget fiasco for a long time, that's because we have. Today is Day 168 of the ongoing budget not-done-on-time event.  There was a time when I would have agreed with a bi-partisan assessment. In the early stages, the GOP controlled PA House and Senate wanted to act as if the previous GOP governor had not been decisively kicked to the curb. Newly-elected Governor Tom Wolf, whose previous work experience is running a successful family business, did not initially seem to grasp that he is not a CEO who can order the legislature around as if they are his minions.  But many of the parties got on a learning curve and seemed to make progress.  At first it seemed like a manageable catastrophe. After all, we're used to this-- we've had five late budgets in ten years.

"The main achievement pursued by the recovery plan is to eliminate negative fund balances in the district budget for two consecutive years so that the district can stand on its own without additional funding from the state being necessary. In a series of amended recovery proposals made earlier this year, the district sought a reduction in its payments to charter schools for special education students. The three brick and mortar charter schools in the district entered into an agreement to accept smaller payments and to forgive outstanding payments, helping the district save millions."
State wants to control Chester Upland for three more years
By Vince Sullivan, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 12/15/15, 10:05 PM EST
MEDIA COURTHOUSE >> Delaware County President Judge Chad F. Kenney will hold a status hearing Thursday morning to hear arguments from the Chester Upland School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education regarding the receivership that currently operate the district.  The hearing follows a motion filed by the Department of Education Dec. 1 to extend the receivership for three more years. The district was placed into receivership in December 2012 for three years, with the term expiring Tuesday, Dec. 12. Kenney issued an order last week extending the receivership until a decision was made following Thursday’s hearing.  “... The district’s finances must become more stabilized before it can exit receivership,” according to the petition filed by attorney James Flandreau on behalf of the department. The petition claims that though the district has made great strides over the past three years, there is more work to be done in order to emerge from receivership in a strong position to again operate independently.

Parents rally against converting Philly school into charter but supporters show up too
Supporters and opponents of the plan to transform Philadelphia's Wister Elementary into a Mastery Charter school squared off last night in Germantown. As Mastery prepared to make its pitch to parents, protesters gathered outside to make their displeasure known.  "They're trying to ram their educational bullcrap down our throats, and I think it's unfair," said parent Kenya Nation, who believes that Wister should remain under control of the Philadelphia School District.  "We can turn this into a community school," Nation said, referring to a model that's won praise from incoming mayor Jim Kenney, which relies on partnerships with neighborhood organizations. "The time it would take a charter school to turn around this place, is the same time it would take a community school to turn around this place."  Nation says the School Reform Commission can expect an earful from charter opponents like her when it meets Thursday night.  But the commissioners will also hear from Mastery supporters such as Elizabeth Moffitt, who says her grandson has thrived since leaving a district school for a Mastery charter.

What parents of special ed and ELL students should know about testing
An interview with Maura McInerney of the Education Law Center
the notebook by Brianna Spause December 15, 2015
The Notebook interviewed Maura McInerney, senior staff attorney for the Education Law Center, in November about what parents need to know regarding testing of special education students and English Language Learners. A shorter version of this interview appears in our Dec. 2015-Jan. 2016 print edition. 
Notebook: What do parents of English Language Learners and Special Education students need to know regarding standardized testing? 
Maura McInerney: For both sets of parents, it’s important for them to know what their rights are. Students with disabilities and English language learners [ELLs] are entitled to accommodations on standardized tests. It’s important to discuss these issues with their schools well in advance of when the testing is taking place.

Late budget could give teachers extra year to meet professional development requirements
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on December 15, 2015 at 11:47 AM
Financial challenges that the late state budget has created for public schools may buy them and their educators and administrators more time to complete their state-mandated professional development requirements.  Legislation that passed the House Education Committee on Tuesday by a vote of 24-0 would give public school teachers and administrators an extra year to complete their continuing education requirements.  A 16-year-old state law requires educators to complete at least 180 hours of professional development every five years to maintain their certification. House Bill 1734 would tack on another year to meet that requirement as well as give school districts four years, instead of three years, to complete their professional development plan.

Would consolidating Pennsylvania school district health plans save money? Maybe a little, study says
Lancaster Online by Heather Stauffer December 15, 2015
About $100 million of taxpayer money could be saved if all public school employees are covered under a statewide health insurance plan, a new study says.  The idea is more than a decade old, and back then a similar study suggested a statewide health plan could cut costs by nearly a quarter.  That didn’t happen.  The new follow-up study found that a lot of consolidation has happened in the interim, with more than 85 percent of school districts now getting their health care coverage from 37 health trusts and consortia.  Consequently, the possible savings have dropped significantly.  For the 2016-17 fiscal year, the study suggests that instituting a single pharmacy plan could save $74 million, and a single health benefits program could push the savings up to $107 million.  That’s about 3.6 percent of the total estimated health benefit costs of $2.9 billion, with a projected rise to about 6 percent over the following few years.  The study was commissioned by the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee, a bipartisan, joint committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Its mandate is to study and recommend ways of eliminating unnecessary expenditure.

Graduation rates going up across nation; Lancaster County rates are above average
Lancaster Online by Kara Newhouse Staff Writer December 15, 2015
More students in the United states are graduating from high school than ever before, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Education.  And at most Lancaster County schools, graduation rates are even higher than the rest of the country.  The national graduation rate reached 82 percent in 2013-14, the National Center for Education Statistics reported Tuesday. The figure has risen every year since 2010-11, when states adopted a uniform way of calculating graduation rates, according to a press release. In 2010-11 the national graduation rate was 79 percent.  For 2013-14, Pennsylvania students completed high school at a slightly higher rate than the national total: 85 percent.  All of the states that border Pennsylvania also had rates in the 80s, except for New York, which had a graduation rate of 78 percent.  Elsewhere in the country, graduation rates ranged from 60 percent in Washington, D.C., to 90 percent in Iowa.

National Graduation Rate Increases to All-Time High of 82 Percent
Education Week Politics K-12 Blog By Andrew Ujifusa on December 15, 2015 10:00 AM UPDATED - The graduation rate for the nation's class of 2014 reached a record 82 percent, an increase of 1 percentage point from the class of 2013's graduation rate, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education Tuesday.   Graduation rates for several student demographics rose as well from the class of 2013 to the class of 2014, except for American Indian and Alaskan Native students, for whom rates remained virtually flat. Significant gaps remain, particularly between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts, although those gaps have shrunk recently, and economically disadvantaged students also continue to lag behind.   The graduation rate for low-income students rose by 1.3 percentage points to 75 percent from 2013 to 2014, and black students also saw a relatively notable increase of 1.8 percentage points, to roughly 73 percent. See the table below from the Education Department:

GradNation leaders speak out on latest national grad rate
The Road to 90: A Proud and Sobering Moment
America's Promise website DEC 15, 2015
Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the national high school graduation rate stands at a record high, up from 81.4 percent in 2013 to 82.3 percent for 2014.   Four organizations leading the GradNation campaign to raise the high school graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020 – the Alliance for Excellent EducationAmerica’s Promise AllianceCivic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education – have issued the following press statement:
“The national high school graduation rate is at its highest rate ever, thanks in large part to the progress that has been made by young people and their families, educators, state and community leaders and organizations, and the business community over the past 10 years. 
“But there are two issues that give us pause today. First, for the first time in four years, the country is not on track to reach the national goal of a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020, missing by just a few tenths of a percent. Second, while there have been some significant gains for key subgroups, the nation continues to suffer from gaps in graduation rates affecting students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities and English-language learners.   “These are reminders that our work is not finished, that the last leg of this campaign will be very challenging, and that we must redouble efforts to reach our goal.

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 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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