Friday, December 4, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec 4: Education funding lawsuit destined for Pa.’s Supreme Court

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup December 4, 2015:
Education funding lawsuit destined for Pa.’s Supreme Court

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

Education funding lawsuit destined for Pa.’s Supreme Court
Delco Times By Nick Tricome , Times Correspondent POSTED: 12/03/15, 10:49 PM EST
The state Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments sometime in 2016 for the lawsuit filed by school districts and parents throughout Pennsylvania that claims the state is in violation of its own constitution by underfunding many of its public school districts.  The suit, which was filed in November 2014 by petitioners in the William Penn, Greater Johnstown, Lancaster, Panther Valley, Shenandoah Valley and Wilkes-Barre Area school districts, along with the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference and seven parents with children in underfunded schools was thrown out by the Commonwealth Court in April, citing previous cases that kept courts from making decisions on school funding.  An appeal to the Supreme Court was filed that same month, and on Monday, a reply brief was submitted by the petitioners urging that the courts can and must look into the claims being made in the lawsuit.  The state’s legislative and executive branches submitted briefs earlier in the month arguing that all education funding decisions should be protected from judicial review.  Jennifer Hoff, the president of the William Penn School Board, is hoping that their case holds up better at the Supreme Court than it did the Commonwealth, recalling the state respondents’ argument that they were meeting their responsibilities by just keeping the lights on and the doors open.

"Pennsylvania has the widest gap between funding for rich and poor school districts of any state in the nation. In past lawsuits, the court has said it couldn't decide if funding was adequate to meet educational standards because there was no way to assess whether students were meeting those standards.  
McInerney says that's no longer the case.  "In 2015 it's clear that we do have judicially manageable standards," says McInerney. "We have mechanisms to assess how children are doing in school, what their academic outcomes are."
Parents, School Districts Ask Supreme Court to Decide Lawsuit
A lawsuit claims Pennsylvania's school funding system is unconstitutional.
Public News Service December 3, 2015
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Education advocates are asking the state Supreme Court to hear their challenge to the state's school funding system. The state has filed papers asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit filed a year ago by parents and school districts.   Briefs from the legislature and the governor's office say school funding decisions are not a matter for judicial review. Maura McInerney, senior staff attorney at the Education Law Center, disagrees.
"It's clearly not a political question and in fact a majority of states have considered these school funding cases and have rejected arguments that it presents a political question," says McInerney. The lawsuit says the state has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately fund schools, and the current funding system violates the constitution's equal-protection clause.
- See more at:

State to review charter payment appeal process
by Martha Woodall, Inquirer Staff Writer. Updated on DECEMBER 4, 2015 — 1:08 AM EST
In light of the controversy over payments to charter schools during the stalemate over a Pennsylvania budget, the state auditor general Thursday announced that his office would audit the Department of Education's handling of charter-payment appeals.  "The ongoing state budget impasse brought to light potential failures in the process the Department of Education uses to handle school districts' appeals of payments to charter schools," Eugene DePasquale said in a statement.  "With more than $1.1 billion of state education funding going toward charter school tuition payments, it is important to make sure all education funding is handled accurately and appropriately."  Noting that the current system often pits districts against charter school operators, he said the lack of a state budget had exacerbated tensions in every region of the state.
When districts and charter schools have disputes over tuition payments, DePasquale said, the "appeals process should be judicious, fair, timely, and understandable."

Budget package to be put to the test Friday in closed-door meetings
Penn Live By The Associated Press on December 03, 2015 at 7:29 PM, updated December 03, 2015 at 9:29 PM
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Friday could be an important day in determining whether a sprawling proposal being worked out by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican lawmakers will put an end to Pennsylvania's five-month-old budget stalemate.  Lawmakers said Thursday that much more detail about a largely secret package will be unveiled in closed-door meetings with rank-and-file lawmakers.  House Minority Whip Mike Hanna says they're expecting Wolf to speak privately with House Democrats, while Republican senators are expected to get a look at the details that've been settled.   Lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated with silence from Wolf's office and the handful of lawmakers who are negotiating with him.

State may have budget deal soon, Wolf says
Post Gazette By Marc Levy / Associated Press December 3, 2015 11:34 PM
Pennsylvania may be down to its last week or two without a 2015-16 state budget.
In a Thursday appearance Downtown, Gov. Tom Wolf said he expects to finalize by mid-December a long-overdue budget deal with Republican lawmakers. Senate Republicans are hoping for the same timeline, said Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre.  “As you have seen in the past, my predictive powers on when we’re actually going to get a budget have not been all that great. But I think we’re close,” Mr. Wolf told reporters at the Omni William Penn Hotel, where he spoke before the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania.  The Democratic governor and GOP lawmakers are locked in a five-month disagreement over state taxes and expenditures, having negotiated on and off since the June 30 budget deadline. Ms. Kocher said talks will probably continue this weekend in “one big push.”  “We’ve come to agreement on about 90 percent of the issues. Some of the remaining 10 percent can be difficult to iron out,” she said.

Wolf: Pa. will have budget 'much sooner' than Christmas
by Angela Couloumbis, Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau. Updated on DECEMBER 3, 2015 9:46 AM
HARRISBURG - Calling himself "the eternal optimist," Gov. Wolf on Thursday predicted that Pennsylvania will have a signed budget well before Christmas.  But the Democratic governor shied away from divulging any new detail on how he and the Republican-controlled legislature plan to raise new dollars to fund a substantial funding boost for public schools that is part of their tentative deal.  "We are almost there," Wolf said on KDKA radio this morning, later adding: "I'm very confident."  Before Christmas?  "Much sooner than that," the governor said. "That would be my bet."  The legislature has scheduled voting sessions through the weekend, a signal that they are preparing to jam through votes on the tentative agreement, which both Wolf and legislative leaders have only described in the broadest of terms.

SB76: Pa. lieutenant governor explains his vote on property tax bill
Reading Eagle  Thursday December 3, 2015 12:01 AM
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Mike Stack cast the deciding "no" vote on a state Senate bill to eliminate school property taxes because it was the "wrong bill at the wrong time," he said in an interview Wednesday.  "The independent Fiscal Office said ... that was going to put a billion-dollar black hole in the public education budget," Stack in the interview.  Dave Langley, reporter for WEEU, Berks County's only locally owned radio station, spoke with Stack for about 14 minutes about his vote, school funding and other issues.   You can listen to the entire interview below:

SB76: Palmyra School District officials to vote on resolution opposing tax increase referendums
By Monica Von Dobeneck | Special to PennLive  on December 03, 2015 at 9:28 PM, updated December 03, 2015 at 9:39 PM
Palmyra Area School District officials fear Senate Bill 909, which would require school districts to hold a referendum whenever they want to raise taxes by any amount.  The school board will vote next week on a resolution opposing that bill or any similar proposal, and instead will urge legislators to "establish a funding formula that is predictable and addresses adequacy and equity for all school districts."  They also plan to send a letter to parents warning of what they see as the dangers of such a bill, and asking them to contact their legislators. There are 3,500 students in the district, but about 22,000 residents. It will be nearly impossible to convince that many people without students in the district to vote to raise their taxes, according to superintendent Lisa Brown. That would harm education, she said.  Business director Darcy Brenner-Smith said is appears the plan to force referendums on school districts appears to be off the table in the on-going state budget impasse, but it could return.  In the resolution, school officials will list some of the reasons they feel they need more control of their budget:

Scranton School District asks court to approve $31.2 million in borrowing
BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL, STAFF WRITER Published: December 3, 2015
The Scranton School Dstrict faces payless paydays and a possible shutdown if the district is unable to borrow $31.2 million.  During a court hearing Wednesday, district officials explained that because of the state budget impasse, they cannot repay two tax anticipation notes taken out this year. Districts, which often borrow money in advance of tax revenue, are required to pay back those notes in the year they were issued. If the district cannot pay back the notes by the end of December, it faces default.  “No state subsidies coming in between July and today creates a great hardship,” Gregg Sunday, deputy superintendent of finance, told the panel of Lackawanna County Judges Terrence Nealon, Robert A. Mazzoni and James Gibbons.

Philly's Central High ranked America's most diverse public high school
Two Philadelphia high schools earn spot in top 25
The state of Pennsylvania may be mired in another lengthy budget crisis that has frozen resources for schools across the Commonwealth, but according to a website that provides insights into big life decisions, two of the country's finest educational examples reside in the Keystone State.   Philadelphia's Central High School was placed at the top of's rankings for the 2016 Most Diverse Public High Schools in America, a cultural assessment accounting for factors such as ethnic composition of the student body, proportion of students who receive free or reduced lunches and reviews by students and parents.  Central High was one of two Philadelphia schools to crack the top 25, joined by Science Leadership Academy, the magnet public high school launched in 2006 through a partnership with The Franklin Institute and Drexel University.  Separately, the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District in Chester County was named 2016's Best School District in America, a ranking that accounted for strength of academics, quality of teachers, school resources, quality of student life, and reviews from students and parents.  Also included in the top 25 of the best school districts are the Main Line's Radnor Township School District and Lower Merion School District.

When Rich And Poor Learn Together, Kids Win
A North Carolina study proves again that diversity is a really good idea.
Rebecca Klein Education Editor, The Huffington Post December 3, 2015
With all the roadblocks thrown up by the Supreme Court, should school systems still try to pursue diversity? One district in North Carolina said yes and, as a new study shows, reaped solid rewards for the kids.  After years of progress in reducing racial segregation in schools, North Carolina began to go the other way in the 1990s. A series of Supreme Court decisions had undermined the districts' ability to assign students to schools based on race. Districts began abandoning their diversity plans in droves and reverting back to a time when your ZIP code was your educational destiny.   But the Wake County Public School System took a different approach. In place of race-based school assignment policies, it implemented plans that emphasized socioeconomic diversity.  The new study, published online this week in the journal Urban Education, looks at the impact of school assignment plans based on socioeconomic status in Wake County between 2000 and 2005. Duke University researchers focused specifically on how those SES-based plans affected school diversity and student achievement. The results were mostly positive.

"Recommending more precise measurements to identify needy schools is like recommending that fire departments invest in expensive and highly accurate thermometers so that firefighters get the exact temperature of dangerous and rapidly spreading fires before trying to put them out."
Lift kids out of poverty before expecting higher test scores
LA Times Letter by Stephen Krashen, Los Angeles The writer is a professor emeritus of education at USC December 1, 2015
To the editor: The No Child Left Behind law gets undeserved credit for making schools pay attention to students living in poverty. ("Finding the sweet spot of reason in evaluating schools and teachers," editorial, Nov. 27).  Experienced educators have always been aware of the effects of poverty and know which schools and students are the most impacted. Also, educational research has confirmed the negative effects of poverty on learning for decades.
Recommending more precise measurements to identify needy schools is like recommending that fire departments invest in expensive and highly accurate thermometers so that firefighters get the exact temperature of dangerous and rapidly spreading fires before trying to put them out.  Instead of spending billions on unnecessary testing, let's invest in protecting children from the impact of poverty by expanding and improving food programs, improving healthcare and building better libraries in high-poverty areas. The best teaching in the world has little effect when children are hungry, sick and have little access to reading material.

Social Impact Bonds for Dummies
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Sunday, November 8, 2015
We've been hearing about Social Impact Bonds, or "Pay for Success" programs for a few years now, but only recently have they entered the world of public education. Chicago, for example, launched one $17 million program last year for Pre-K, and last month Utah's United Way was happy to announce that Goldman-Sachs' Pay for Success program in Utah had yielded dividends.   The spread of Social Impact Bonds to the education sector raises all sorts of questions like "How are the fiduciary interests of a private investment firm balanced against social demands of education" or "What overseeing groups can best evaluate programs with a balanced view toward all involved interests."  Or, "What the hell is a social impact bond?"  On the ground, it looks kind of ridiculous, like a program that pays a Wall Street firm a bonus every time a kid is taken off of special ed rolls.
But how does that even work? How does the Wall Street firm get paid? With what money? How do you make money on an investment in something that creates no profit?

Social Impact Bonds: Save Special Education, Not Profiteers!
Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch December 3, 2015 //
From Beverley Holden Johns:
CALL D.C. ON PAY FOR SUCCESS  NOW IN S. 1177, the new No Child Left Behind law (ESEA):  You may be able to leave a message at any time, but to talk to a live person just stay on the phone ignoring any prompts.  PLEASE SAY: S. 1177 will harm special education. In Utah, Pay for Success (which is authorized in the bill), funded by Goldman Sachs, resulted in over 99 percent of children NOT being identified for special education.  (New York Times article of November 3, 2015: “Success Metrics Questioned in School Program Funded by Goldman”).

Social Impact Bonds: Success Metrics Questioned in School Program Funded by Goldman
New York Times By NATHANIEL POPPER NOV. 3, 2015
It was, in the vernacular of corporate America, a win-win: a bond that paid for preschool for underprivileged children in Utah while also making money for investors.
Goldman Sachs announced last month that its investment in a Utah preschool program had helped 109 “at-risk” kindergartners avoid special education. The investment also resulted in a $260,000 payout for the Wall Street firm, the first of many payments that is expected from the investment.  Gov. Gary R. Herbert of Utah hailed the program as a model for a new way of financing public projects. Such so-called social impact bonds are a new kind of public-private partnership, promising financing from Wall Street and imposing a goal on local governments.  Yet since the Utah results were disclosed, questions have emerged about whether the program achieved the success that was claimed. Nine early-education experts who reviewed the program for The New York Times quickly identified a number of irregularities in how the program’s success was measured, which seem to have led Goldman and the state to significantly overstate the effect that the investment had achieved in helping young children avoid special education.

Social Impact Bonds: Fred Klonsky: ESEA Bill Includes Rewards to Bondholders for Limiting Special Education
Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch October 16, 2015 //
Fred Klonsky hosts special education expert Bev Johns, who explains that social impact bonds (SIB) encourage investors to take over government responsibilities and make a profit.
Special education advocate Bev Johns has written here warning about the impact of Social Impact Bonds on special education services.
What are Social Impact Bonds (SIBs)?  They have become a favorite privatization tool of corporate Democrats and others.  Wall Street loves them.  Also known as Pay for Success programs in which Wall Street investors, often using funding from private philanthropies, invest in social programs which once were funded directly by the government. The aim is to reduce government costs by offering profits to Wall Street.
The profit increases for investors when schools reduce the number of students who receive special education services:

School Voucher Advocates Push Supreme Court to Hear Case on Blaine Amendments
Education Week Charters & Choice Blog By Arianna Prothero on December 3, 2015 4:38 PM
Several heavyweight school choice groups are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a case out of Colorado that could potentially smooth the way for school voucher programs to open up in every state.   In June, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a small voucher program being piloted in Douglass County was unconstitutional because it would have allowed students to use public dollars toward tuition at private, religious schools.  Even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 in a case out of Cleveland that vouchers do not violate the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, provisions in many state constitutions, called Blaine Amendments, have been used to strike down publicly funded voucher programs at the state level.  In an amicus brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court this week, four groups have asked the High Court to hear the Colorado case and overturn Blaine Amendments across the country: The Goldwater Institute, the American Federation for Children, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options.  In a statement, the four organizations said that were the U.S. Supreme Court to rule Blaine Amendments unconstitutional, the decision would "clear the way for school vouchers in all 50 states."

District takes on challenges of creating community schools
Ed Source Dec 2, 2015 | By Susan Frey | No Comments
For the past five years, the Hayward Unified School District has been focusing on its lowest-income neighborhoods, transitioning to a “community schools” approach that provides health, social and other services to students and their families.  The East Bay Area district south of Oakland offers a case study in the potential of an approach whose goal is to transform schools into hubs for the entire community by offering a range of services, such as mental health counseling, health clinics, after-school programs and classes for parents.
Nationwide, about 5,000 community schools serve 2 million students, according to the Coalition for Community Schools. The concept is “catching on in California,” said Deanna Niebuhr, senior director of the Community Schools Initiative of the Partnership for Children & Youth, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland. In response, the partnership launched a statewide network in September to connect community school districts to each other and to advocates who work with them.  Now that districts have more flexibility in how they use their resources under the Local Control Funding Formula, “we wanted to seize the moment” to steer the conversation about how to reform education toward community schools, Niebuhr said. The approach emphasizes building relationships within schools and beyond their walls, she said. That includes building a positive school climate, creating community partnerships and engaging with parents.

Education Bloggers Daily Highlights 12-4-15

Kenney holding five town halls to get feedback from Philly residents
Got a question or concern for Philadelphia Mayor-Elect Jim Kenney? You could have your chance to tell him in person this week.  Starting tonight, Kenney will hold a series of five town hall style meetings in the north, south, west and northeast sections of Philadelphia.   During a press conference earlier this month, he said the ideas and issues that come out of these meetings will be passed along to members of his large transition team, which will put out a final report in January laying out the Kenney administration's priorities.  "I think it's always important that not only are we inclusive of every community and every neighborhood in the city, but that we listen to what people have to say," Kenney said. "They pay taxes, they live and work in our city and they have something to say and we want to make sure that they're included."  All members of the public are invited, but are encouraged to RSVP online Those who can't make the meetings in-person can give their input at the same website. 
Here's the schedule:
Central High School, 1700 W. Olney Avenue
Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, 6:00pm - 7:00pm
South Philadelphia High School, 2101 S. Broad Street
Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, 7:30pm - 8:30pm
School of the Future, 40th & Parkside Avenue
Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, 7:30pm - 8:30pm
Mayfair Community Center, 2990 Saint Vincent Street
Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, 7:30pm - 8:30pm
Strawberry Mansion High School, 3133 Ridge Avenue
Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, 6:30pm - 7:30pm

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

NSBA Advocacy Institute 2016; January 24 - 26 in Washington, D.C.
Housing and meeting registration is open for Advocacy Institute 2016.  The theme, “Election Year Politics & Public Schools,” celebrates the exciting year ahead for school board advocacy.  Strong legislative programming will be paramount at this year’s conference in January.  Visit for more information.

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

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

Interested in letting our elected leadership know your thoughts on education funding, a severance tax, property taxes and the budget?
Governor Tom Wolf, (717) 787-2500

Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai, (717) 772-9943
House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed, (717) 705-7173
Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Joe Scarnati, (717) 787-7084
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jake Corman, (717) 787-1377

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