Monday, January 11, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Jan 11: Pennsylvania School Boards Association sues Wolf, Legislature over budget impasse

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup January 11 2016:
Pennsylvania School Boards Association sues Wolf, Legislature over budget impasse

"Primary election season is now imminent for 228 of the Legislature's 253 seats.
The deadline to file petitions to get on the ballot is Feb. 16, an important date for sitting lawmakers who are thinking about voting for a tax increase, and the potential that a tax increase fresh in the minds of voters would doom them to a successful challenge from the right.  With the immediate pressure off schools to borrow more or close, some in the Capitol now wonder if passage of a bipartisan budget deal will inevitably slide until the next pressure point."
Pressure off, Pennsylvania's budget fight could be on ice
AP State Wire By MARC LEVY Published: January 9, 2016
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - For the first time since July, billions in electronic money transfers began rocketing out of the Pennsylvania Treasury to school districts, county governments and state vendors. With it seemed to go something else: urgency in the Capitol to settle a bipartisan budget fight that produced a record-long impasse.  A rush of action before Christmas over pressing concerns about schools and social services agencies staying open in January has been replaced by a new, bitter round of partisan finger-pointing and a completely new timeline.  That timeline is anyone's guess. Some suspect it could stretch until after the April 26 primary election.

"What we are witnessing is a complete failure of our state government to fulfill its constitutional duty to ensure that the education of our children is not interrupted," Mains said in a statement."
Pennsylvania School Boards Association sues Wolf, Legislature over budget impasse
Penn Live By The Associated Press on January 08, 2016 at 7:24 PM
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania School Boards Association sued Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled state House and Senate on Friday, saying it is illegal and unconstitutional to withhold state and federal school aid during a budget impasseThe lawsuit, which also names Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and state Treasurer Timothy Reese, asked Commonwealth Court to prevent the state from withholding the dollars. It also seeks damages for the loss of investment income and borrowing costs while school districts went six months without aid.  The organization's executive director, Nathan Mains, said schools have borrowed nearly $1 billion to cover costs during the impasse.

"We expect, no matter what is going on with the state budget, that there is fire protection. We expect that the police are there. We expect that the prisons are secure," said PSBA director Nathan Mains. "I think that we should expect that children aren't stuck in the middle of a budget crisis and that our public schools are going to not only be able to remain open, but to be effective."
Pa. schools group files suit over halted funding
Gov. Tom Wolf's administration and the Legislature are facing a lawsuit from Pennsylvania schools over the budget impasse's freeze of education funding.  The Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which represents each of the state's 500 school districts, filed the legal challenge Friday in Commonwealth Court.  The suit claims it's illegal and unconstitutional to cut off commonwealth schools from their funding when there's no final budget, especially when other programs and state employees continue to be paid.

Pennsylvania sued over budget fight's holdup of school aid
By Marc Levy, Associated Press   |  Posted Jan 8th, 2016 @ 9:40am
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania School Boards Association is suing Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Legislature, saying it's illegal and unconstitutional to withhold state and federal school aid during a budget impasse.  The lawsuit, filed Friday, asks Commonwealth Court to prevent the state from withholding the dollars.  The lawsuit also seeks damages for the loss of investment income and borrowing costs while schools went six months without aid.  Wolf authorized about $7 billion last week after a budget stalemate with the Republican-controlled Legislature going back to July 1. That's about six months of retroactive school funding, and raises the possibility that schools could see another funding crunch in the coming weeks.  Some school districts had warned that they'd remain closed after winter break and some worried they'd be unable to borrow more money to make payroll in January.

School leaders file suit over Pa.'s budget gridlock
PSBA claims school districts and students have been 'made to suffer'
Central Penn Business Journal By David O'Connor, January 8, 2016 at 11:14 AM
Pennsylvania's school boards have had enough of the state's budget impasse.
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association plans to file a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court today, seeking to compel the “continued timely release of federal and state funds owed to school districts” across the state, its officials said.  PSBA leaders said state officials are violating the state constitution, and are asking the court to award damages to school districts to compensate them for all interest and expenses incurred as a result of schools borrowing nearly $1 billion since the start of the budget deadlock.  “It is absolutely shameful that the state’s failure to pass a budget for the last six months has forced us to seek a remedy before the court,” declared PSBA Executive Director Nathan Mains.  “While our elected officials have continued to play politics with our state budget, school districts and all Pennsylvania students have been made to suffer,” Mains said. “We will not sit idly by and wait for numerous school districts to run out of money and close their doors.”  The lawsuit claims, among other things, that districts have lost “significant” investment income, which by law they must budget for, and which is used to offset taxes and expenses.

Pennsylvania school group sues Wolf, legislature over budget impasse
Lawsuit seeks release of funding and payment for borrowed money
BY DANIEL CRAIG  PhillyVoice Staff JANUARY 10, 2016
An education organization is suing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers over a still absent budget in an effort to release funds owed to districts.  The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) filed the lawsuit Friday against Wolf, the GOP-controlled House and Senate, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and state Treasurer Timothy Reese, saying lawmakers were violating a section of the state's constitution that says the General Assembly "shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth."  In addition to asking the Commonwealth Court to release the funds, the PSBA is seeking compensation for the $1 billion borrowed by districts since the budget impasse began this past summer.

Editorial: No budget should equal no pay for Pennsylvania lawmakers
Delco Times Editorial  POSTED: 01/09/16, 8:03 PM EST | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
The kids are back in school. Their harried parents have gone back to work — so they can start to dig out of that mountain of holiday debt.  In other words, life goes back to normal.  Unless, of course, you toil in Harrisburg. In the state Capitol, “normal” takes on a meaning all its own.  Oh, they know all about debt. This week, our fearless state leaders decided to borrow a tidy $2 billion to tide them over to the spring.  Welcome to the Harrisburg version of “normal.”  The commonwealth still does not have a budget in place. Nothing new there. It’s been that way now for more than six months, when that midnight July 1 deadline came and went and no one in Harrisburg turned into a pumpkin.

"The reason I did this is Governor Wolf is just insistent on more taxes and I'm an operations person. I run businesses where the last thing you do is raise prices," Wagner said. "My goal is to not have tax increases for the whole time Governor Wolf is in office."
Sen. Scott Wagner is asking for ideas to cut costs to avoid tax hikes
Penn Live By Jan Murphy |  Email the author | Follow on Twitter on January 09, 2016 at 8:30 AM
Have some ideas about ways to cut spending in state government? Sen. Scott Wagner wants to hear about them.  Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County, has launched a website to collect possible alternatives to avoid Gov. Tom Wolf's call to raise the state's 3.07 percent income or 6 percent sales   The conservative York County Republican senator has launched a website to collect possible alternatives to avoid Gov. Tom Wolf's call to raise the state's 3.07 percent income or 6 percent sales tax.

“We are concerned that without federal oversight that the schools in Pennsylvania can overlook the needs of educationally vulnerable students,” said Cheryl Kleiman, staff attorney in the Pittsburgh office of the Education Law Center."
Concerns raised about law replacing No Child Left Behind
By Mary Niederberger and Clarece Polke / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette January 10, 2016 12:00 AM
One month after Congress approved legislation shifting oversight of student accountability standards from federal to state control, state officials, including those in Pennsylvania, are planning how to establish and measure those new standards.  The end of No Child Left Behind, passed by Congress in 2001 and put into effect in 2002, was welcomed by many who objected to its focus on testing and to the complex reporting requirements. The program also did not come close to its goal for 100 percent proficiency by 2014.  But some civil rights and education advocacy groups are concerned that the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces the former federal statute known as No Child Left Behind, will create an environment that will not require some under-achieving schools to improve.

Governor, lawmakers to renew fray over Pa. gas tax
Trib Live By David Conti Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Pennsylvania's natural gas industry and lawmakers in Harrisburg are preparing for another battle over a severance tax on production, even before the current state budget is settled.  “It's going to return in a big way as the budget situation remains completely unresolved,” Muhlenberg College political scientist Christopher Borick said about the debate that has lingered since Gov. Tom Wolf campaigned on the promise of a tax in 2014.  “It's a sore point out there for the governor. It's a complicated issue for some of the Republicans in the state. It's not going away.”  Wolf intends to take another shot at imposing the tax when he introduces his next budget package in a speech Feb. 9, said his spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan.

Other views: State savings seem to be a no-brainer
Daily Local/Citizens Voice POSTED: 01/10/16, 11:37 PM EST | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
Since the state Legislature is paralyzed over the pressing issue of finding enough money to fund school districts, a new study by one of its own committees should be greeted as a no-brainer.  A report commissioned by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, which includes members from both houses, has found that a statewide health insurance plan covering employees in all 500 school districts would save $209 million a year by 2020. It also reported that a statewide prescription drug plan alone would save between $100 and $160 a year per covered employee — $72 million a year.  All of that has been obvious for a long time but the Legislature has ignored the savings potential even while abandoning a plan it passed a decade ago to fully and fairly fund public schools. Employee health care costs are among the biggest expenses facing school districts. This school year, coverage will cost more than $2.7 billion for 190,000 school employees and their families, or about 450,000 people.

Sticking point on Pa.’s budget: finding the money
Lancaster Online by STEVEN MENTZER | SPECIAL TO LNP January 10, 2016
State Rep. Steven Mentzer is a Republican lawmaker representing Lititz, all of Warwick Township and most of Manheim Township
On Dec. 28, Gov. Tom Wolf executed a line-item veto that allowed money to flow to social service agencies and school districts.  He could have used his line-item veto when first presented with the budget June 30. I believe this would have provided for a much better negotiating environment, resulting in the Legislature and governor likely having passed a full-year budget by now.  So, now that Wolf has vetoed 77 of 401 line items, we can focus on coming to agreement on those items. Talks will begin to determine how to find the revenue to support increased spending on the items. And in coming weeks, negotiations will focus on whether taxes should rise to support additional state spending.  Every year the Legislature passes approximately a dozen bills that make up the Pennsylvania budget. The two most significant bills are the General Appropriations Bill, or the spending bill; and the Tax Code Bill, or the income bill. Just as with  your household budget, income must support all spending.

"Philadelphia's new mayor, Jim Kenney, hopes Wolf will achieve his goals.
At an event this week, he attributed the protracted budget battle, in part, to his belief that many state lawmakers don't understand the nature and depth of the challenges faced by urban public schools.  Kenney has pledged to visit a Philadelphia public school each week of his tenure, and says he can help break the logjam in the Capitol by inviting Republican leaders to join him.  "I would love to see a number of our leadership in Harrisburg come down, without the press, and just go with me ... go into these schools and see these teachers and talk to these kids and see what potential is there," said Kenney. Republican leaders are "human beings. They're decent people, and I think they'll understand that."
Miskin said House Majority Leader Dave Reed has talked with Superintendent William Hite about touring district schools."
Wolf's half-year school spending plan begins to restore cuts to Philadelphia
the notebook by Kevin McCorry January 8 — 5:05pm
In the first 15 years that charter schools have operated in Pennsylvania, the state acknowledged that these alternatives to traditional public schools pose a financial burden for school districts.  During former Gov. Tom Corbett's first year in office, the aid to cover those added costs was eliminated – wreaking havoc on districts with many charters, namely Philadelphia.  Corbett's successor, Gov. Wolf, took steps this week to change that.  As the larger budget battle continues in the state Capitol, Wolf has agreed to release half a year's worth of state aid to schools.  Within that allocation, Wolf has partially brought back the charter reimbursement funding that was cut in 2011.  Statewide, $2.8 billion has been released. The School District of Philadelphia has received $518 million – representing 45 percent of its projected basic education funding for the year and doubling last year's "Ready to Learn" block grant funds.  With the rationale that districts disproportionately hurt by cuts need to be made whole, Wolf steered an additional $28.3 million to Philadelphia through the block grant as charter reimbursement cash, bringing its total allotment to $62 million.  "We need to restore the severe cuts that were enacted under the previous governor and Republican-controlled legislature," said Wolf's spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan.  Some Republicans have criticized Wolf for favoring the state's largest city.

Schools get some money, await final numbers
York Daily Record by Angie Mason, amason@ydr.com4:46 p.m. EST January 8, 2016
Local public school officials say payments from the state -- catching them up on funds they should have received over the past six months -- have begun rolling in. And while that relieves immediate financial pressure, some said schools still need a full state budget resolution sooner rather than later.  At the end of December, Gov. Tom Wolf line-item vetoed the budget sent to him by the Legislature, agreeing to release only about six months worth of basic education funding for schools. The distribution assumes a $100 million increase in basic education funding for the year, though Wolf wants more.  The Pennsylvania Department of Education began sending out those funds this week. And while school districts will receive only part of the year's basic education funding, the entire year's allocation was approved for some items like Ready to Learn Block grants and special education payments.  It's temporary relief, but it's still only six months worth of the biggest line of funding schools receive from the state, said Hannah Barrick, director of advocacy for the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.  "There's still a significant concern, a significant financial challenge for a lot of districts," she said.

Philly district's school quality metric spotlights successes, raises questions
One of the toughest questions in education is: How do you rate and rank school quality?
Going only by raw test scores often ends up simply ranking schools by rates of poverty, special education disability and English fluency.  The School District of Philadelphia's metric attempts a more nuanced look, but this year it may raise more questions than answers.  During a celebration ceremony at Anne Frank Elementary in Northeast Philadelphia Thursday, Superintendent William Hite praised the district and charter schools that ranked highest this year on the School Progress Report.  "What we're doing is celebrating ...  the top performers, those schools that are leading the way," said Hite.  The SPR metric ranks schools two ways. First, against every public school serving the same age bracket. And second, against peer schools that share similar demographics in poverty, special education disability, race, and English fluency.  City leaders were no surprise: Central High School, Julia Masterman Middle School, Penn Alexander K-8 elementary, and Anne Frank K-5 Elementary (which has earned top honors three years straight).
The "peer leader" grouping showcased those that aren't as often heralded.

"Crawford said she has been challenged as a student and as an employee for Philadelphia Futures, which starts with ninth-grade students who are first in their family to attend college and live in low-income households. Nationally, statistics show 9 percent of teens, who meet both criteria, complete a college or university degree in six years."
Philadelphia Futures boost college degree completion rate
Philly Tribune Staff Report  Posted: Friday, January 8, 2016 12:00 am
Crystal Crawford didn’t let absentee parents stop her from pursuing an education, graduating from Samuel Fels High School and earning her bachelor’s degree from the state’s flagship university in June.  Crawford, 23, of Northeast Philadelphia, found a surrogate at Philadelphia Futures, a nonprofit organization that has been helping young adults attend college and graduate with a degree since 1989.  She and her 5-year-old daughter Syrah have been an inspiration to each other, with Syrah cheering on her mother at commencement exercises at Penn State University’s Abington campus. When the young girl graduated from pre-kindergarten program, Crawford remembers her daughter telling her, “It’s my turn.”  Crawford is grateful for Philadelphia Futures, and sees herself continuing to grow and support the organization that put her on a pathway to college and a career. But she plans to be a strong advocate for her daughter so her family’s experience with a college-access organization ends with her.

"Years of budget cuts and working conditions that wouldn't be acceptable anywhere else, she said, have worn people down.  "The new normal is, 'You don't have it, whatever it is,' " MacDonald said. "I don't remember the last time we got textbooks. We don't have enough books for the kids, and forget workbooks - you're lucky if you have one to make copies from."  MacDonald, whose smallest class is 35 students - still over the contractually mandated class maximum of 33 - has had it.  "I'm taking early retirement," she said. "I'm going to take a penalty, and I'm going to work at Costco."
Teacher vacancies lead to overstuffed classrooms, burnout by Kristen A. Graham, Staff Writer. Updated: JANUARY 11, 2016 1:07 AM EST
Nearly halfway into the school year, Harding Middle School has six teaching vacancies - the same number it has had since September.  Some open positions have been filled along the way, longtime Harding teacher Bernadette MacDonald said, but others have cropped up, leading to overstuffed classes and an atmosphere that "makes it harder and harder to stay," even for veterans.  "We had one teacher quit to go sell tacos at a taco truck," said MacDonald, a sixth-grade teacher at the Frankford school. "He said he would rather do that than work at Harding."  Always a tough-to-staff system, the Philadelphia School District is having particular challenges finding and retaining teachers this year. As of Friday, there were 162 vacancies - up from 107 at this point last year, and 39 in January 2014. 

Where are the millenials in Pa. Legislature?
By Kate Giammarise/ Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau January 10, 2016 12:00 AM
HARRISBURG -- Sit in the gallery of the state Senate or House in Harrisburg and you might notice something beyond the spectacular murals, stained glass windows and marble walls.
There are a lot of gray-haired legislators on the floor in both chambers.   In Pennsylvania, the average age of a state legislator is 54, according to a recent examination of legislatures by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Conference of State Legislatures. The study found New Hampshire had the oldest legislature nationally, with an average legislator age of 66.  “Legislators from the baby-boomer generation [those born between 1946 and 1964] have a disproportionate influence in America’s legislatures, with nearly twice as many members as their overall share of the U.S. population would warrant,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. “The millennial generation [those born from 1981-1997] is seriously underrepresented in both state legislatures and Congress.”  Pollster Terry Madonna attributes the dearth of young Pennsylvania legislators to several factors.

Jerome King ( and Terrell Price ( are current college students and graduates of Mastery Charter Schools - Simon Gratz.
ONLY ONE out of 10 ninth-graders in the School District of Philadelphia graduates college. That's right, only 10 percent. Those were the odds we faced as freshmen at Simon Gratz High School, a neighborhood school in North Philadelphia.   But when we were rising seniors, we got lucky: The school was selected to undergo a charter turnaround as part of the Renaissance initiative. Today, we're both enrolled in college and on track to graduate.  Let us be clear: We would not be where we are today without Renaissance. We hope the district goes ahead with the program this year and in the future to give more students in struggling schools the opportunity for a great education that we received.

Evaluation of the BVIU Regional Choice Initiative
Rand Corporation by Andrea PhillipsKun YuanShannah Tharp-Gilliam Janaury 2016
School districts in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, have been working to further improve student achievement by increasing students' exposure to more-rigorous courses. In 2007, the Beaver Valley Intermediate Unit (BVIU), a regional educational-service agency, received funding for a five-year grant under the U.S. Department of Education's Voluntary Public School Choice program. The BVIU responded by developing, implementing, and evaluating the Regional Choice Initiative (RCI), a large-scale initiative designed and implemented in 17 school districts. The RCI sought to expand school choice — as well as provide opportunities for students in low-performing districts to learn in high-performing environments — for students in grades 7 to 12 by offering four programs: Open Seats, Dual Enrollment, Cyber Learning, and Academies for Success. The RCI was implemented for six years — 2007–2008 to 2012–2013.  The BVIU commissioned RAND to conduct a formative and a summative evaluation of the RCI programs. 

Phoenixville Area School Board eyes 2.4% tax hike
Daily Local By Eric Devlin, on Twitter POSTED: 01/08/16, 3:05 PM EST
Phoenixville >> Forced to make a number of assumptions about the future thanks to Harrisburg’s failure to pass a budget, Phoenixville School District officials did their best Wednesday to present a budget for next school year.  The administration unveiled the proposed 2016-17 preliminary budget, which calls for a 2.4 percent tax increase. That’s the limit, under the Act 1 index, the district can raise taxes without holding a voter referendum.  With a proposed budget of $89.29 million and millage rate of 29.58 mils, the owner of a home assessed at the median average $133,540 would pay an additional $92 a year, for a total of $3,950 in real estate taxes, according to District Finance Director Chris Gehris. A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The school board is expected to adopt the preliminary budget at its Jan. 21 meeting and a final budget May 26.

“This budget year is going to be unprecedented,” said Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, a group of school business managers.  “We've never had a situation where you had the Act 1 time frame layered overtop of a fiscal year in which the state budget has yet to be decided. It's simply not happened before,” he said.
Pa. budget uncertainty makes planning tax rates a headache for Alle-Kiski Valley schools
Trib Live By Brian C. Rittmeyer Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, 9:51 p.m.
Alle-Kiski Valley school districts will be able to increase property taxes between 2.4 percent and 3.6 percent for the 2016-17 school year, under inflation limits set by the state.  Whether any school districts will raise their taxes remains to be seen.  The limits are established by the state's Taxpayer Relief Act, commonly known as Act 1. They're the highest they've been since the 2010-11 school year, when they ranged from 3.4 percent to 4.3 percent. While the higher limits may give districts more breathing room to cope with rising costs, they are being forced to work on next school year's budget while this year's state budget remains in question, and sooner than usual this year. 

Haverford school taxes to rise
Delco Times By Lois Puglionesi, Times Correspondent POSTED: 01/09/16, 8:05 PM EST
HAVERFORD >> School district officials began the annual budgeting process with review at a recent meeting of budget assumptions for 2016-17.  Although officials stressed that it’s early in the year, Business Manager Rick Henderson estimated that a 3.29 percent millage increase would be required to close the gap between revenues and expenditures, as well as a $345,000 draw down from the district’s $8.4 million ending fund balance.  The proposed increase would raise rates from 29.4719 to 30.4413 mills, equal to an approximately $160 hike on an average residential property assessment of $164,929, bringing total taxes to $5,021.  Reviewing changes in revenue, Henderson said this year’s Act 1 index will yield approximately $2.4 million in taxes. Also anticipated are referendum exceptions for special education and Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) costs that will allow the district to raise $780,000 more.  Henderson estimated an additional $150,000 in transfer taxes, as well.  Local taxes will contribute about 92 million, with $18.6 million from state sources and $1.2 million from Federal, for $111.9 million anticipated total revenue. Major cost drivers affecting expenditures include a 3 percent wage increase, requiring an additional $1.51 million. Rising pension costs and Social Security will have a net impact of about $1.5 million, Henderson said.

There’s a shift in state power with change in Delaware County delegation
By Kathleen E. Carey, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 01/10/16, 8:06 PM EST
At one time, Delaware County was home to Pennsylvania’s Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader and House Appropriations Committee Chairman and there was no questioning the power that originated in this concentrated Philadelphia suburb.  However, just like time, things change and shifts are made and the once-powerful Delaware County delegation is going through changes as members leave, retire or announce their term as coming to an end. And, many of leadership positions are being assumed by conservatives of a different type, who come from the center and western parts of the state.  “Delaware (County) was a huge factor,” Terry Madonna said of the delegation’s political prowess, dating it back to the county’s War Board. “The political bosses exerted tremendous power.”

Manheim Township is the latest local school district to release its own mobile app
Lancaster Online by Kara Newhouse Staff Writer January 7, 2015
Checking grades, finding out about snow days and adding money to a lunch account just got easier for parents and students in Manheim Township.  The school district is the latest in Lancaster County to launch its own mobile app. The digital tool allows parents to receive district alerts and monitor a variety of student records, such as attendance history, on a smart phone or tablet.  It is available to download for free from the iTunes and Google Play stores.  Eight other local districts and schools already have mobile apps: Conestoga Valley, Elizabethtown, Hempfield, Lancaster Catholic, Penn Manor, Pequea Valley, School District of Lancaster and Solanco.  To maintain the apps, schools pay tech companies annual fees ranging from $650 at Lancaster Catholic to nearly $9,200 at Hempfield. Manheim Township's annual fee will be about $1,400, according to a district official.

How to Fix the Country’s Failing Schools. And How Not To.
A QUARTER-CENTURY ago, Newark and nearby Union City epitomized the failure of American urban school systems. Students, mostly poor minority and immigrant children, were performing abysmally. Graduation rates were low. Plagued by corruption and cronyism, both districts had a revolving door of superintendents. New Jersey officials threatened to take over Union City’s schools in 1989 but gave them a one-year reprieve instead. Six years later, state education officials, decrying the gross mismanagement of the Newark schools, seized control there.  In 2009, the political odd couple of Chris Christie, the Republican governor-elect, and Cory Booker, Newark’s charismatic mayor, joined forces, convinced that the Newark system could be reinvented in just five years, in part by closing underperforming schools, encouraging charter schools and weakening teacher tenure. In 2010 they persuaded Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to invest $100 million in their grand experiment. “We can flip a whole city!” the mayor enthused, “and create a national model.”  No one expected a national model out of Union City. Without the resources given to Newark, the school district there, led by a middle-level bureaucrat named Fred Carrigg, was confronted with two huge challenges: How could English learners, three-quarters of the students, become fluent in English? And how could youngsters, many of whom came from homes where books were rarities, be turned into adept readers?
Today Union City, which opted for homegrown gradualism, is regarded as a poster child for good urban education. Newark, despite huge infusions of money and outside talent, has struggled by comparison. In 2014, Union City’s graduation rate was 81 percent, exceeding the national average; Newark’s was 69 percent.

"So, if you are a philanthropist from the tech or finance sectors and your goal is truly to fix education in this country, you would do well to apply your generosity, innovative spirit and funds toward addressing the problem of income inequality. Your wealth and position as prominent business leaders put you in a particularly influential position to help close the gap between the wealthy and the poor. Rebuilding the middle class—not expanding charter schools—is the most effective path to increasing access to quality education and to giving more students the opportunity to achieve their dreams."
To the 1 percent pouring millions into charter schools: How about improving the schools that the vast majority of students actually attend?
If we really want to improve education for all, we must address income inequality. Charter schools are no cure-all by GARY M. SASSO THURSDAY, JAN 7, 2016 07:58 AM EST
Gary M. Sasso, Ph.D., is the dean of the College of Education at Lehigh University
Obscured by the rancor of the school reform debate is this fact: Socio-economic status is the most relevant determinant of student success in school.  It is not a coincidence that the so-called decline of the American public school system has coincided with the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.  According to a 2014 Pew Research Center report, the wealth disparity between upper-income and middle-income families is at a record high. Upper-income families are nearly seven times wealthier than middle-income ones, compared to 3.4 times richer in 1983. Upper-income family wealth is nearly 70 times that of the country’s lower-income families, also the widest wealth gap between these families in 30 years.  As the income disparity has increased, so has the educational achievement gap. According to Sean F. Reardon, professor of education and sociology at Stanford University, the gap for children from high- and low-income families is at an all-time high—roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born 25 years earlier. With 22 percent of children in the U.S. living in poverty, this country’s 27th-place PISA ranking—the worldwide study that measures K-12 academic performance—simply cannot be compared to a country like Finland, which ranks 12th and, at 5.3 percent, has the second-lowest child poverty rate in the world.  So, why are wealthy school reform funders so squarely focused on identifying teachers and their unions as the cause of public education’s decline and advancing charter schools as the best solution?

"It shows that things like good, steady, stable leadership makes a huge difference; focusing on the culture of the schools as a place where kids feel supported and want to be; supporting the teachers, so they want to stay and work hard. It's about having a comprehensive vision that includes things like social supports while providing a high-quality education."
There’s a Way to Help Inner-City Schools. Obama's New Education Law Isn’t It.
UCLA education expert Pedro Noguera on No Child Left Behind's replacement and how to really reach black kids.
Mother Jones Interview  By Kristina Rizga | Fri Jan. 8, 2016 6:00 AM EST
"If the streets shackled my left leg, the schools shackled my right." That's how author Ta-Nehisi Coates described growing up in Baltimore in last year's influentialBetween the World and Me, his treatise on the history of racism in America. Instead of fighting to eliminate racist patterns in American society, Coates wrote, the country's public schools often replicate them: "I was a curious little boy, but the schools were not concerned with curiosity. They were concerned with compliance."  Coates' poignant classroom narratives add to at least three decades of research documenting similar experiences by African American students. At the forefront of this work is sociologist Pedro Noguera, a distinguished professor of education at the University of California-Los Angeles and a director of its Center for the Study of School Transformation who also taught in urban classrooms for five years before entering academia. In his 2008 book, The Trouble With Black Boys, Noguera discovered a jarring discrepancy in his research that echoed Coates' experiences almost two decades earlier. Although nearly 90 percent of black male high school students in California schools said they agreed with the statements that "education is important" and "I want to go to college," less than a quarter said their teachers treated them fairly or that they trusted them or that they worked hard to achieve good grades. It's no wonder then, Noguera wrote, that racial achievement gaps remain stubbornly large.
In the past five years, Noguera has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of our country's mainstream approach to school reforms. Now that the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has been signed into law to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB), many parents, teachers, and educational advocates are wondering: Will the new law finally help students in the most underserved schools and communities?Mother Jones caught up with Noguera to get his take.

High court dispute over union fees could curb labor's clout
Inquirer by SAM HANANEL, The Associated Press. Updated: JANUARY 8, 2016 10:52 AM EST
WASHINGTON (AP) - The largest teachers union in Michigan still represents Jason LaPorte at the bargaining table, but he no longer pays anything to support the union.  LaPorte and thousands of other public school teachers stopped contributing to the union after the state's new right-to-work law took effect in 2013. Membership in the Michigan Education Association has since dropped by 19 percent.  A similar fate could soon be in store for public-employee unions around the country as the Supreme Court considers whether government workers who choose not to join a union can be required to nevertheless pay fees that cover collective bargaining.  The high court hears arguments Monday in a California case brought by a group of public school teachers who claim such mandatory fees violate the First Amendment rights of workers who disagree with the union's positions.  Unions fear the potential loss of tens of millions of dollars in fees could reduce their power to bargain for higher wages and benefits for teachers, firefighters, sanitation workers and other government employees.

Better-looking students get better grades — but not in online classes
Washington Post By Susan Svrluga January 8  
Two economists knew that appearance matters: Studies had shown all sorts of benefits linked to attractiveness, everything from dating to salaries to ratings of how well professors teach classes. But they weren’t sure whether better-looking people earn more money and are more likely to be considered smart just because they’re easy on the eyes. Maybe factors, such as confidence or greater effort, were the real reason for the differences studies had found.  Rey Hernández-Julián and Christina Peters set out to test that at Metropolitan State University of Denver. What they found surprised them.  Students who were rated as attractive got better grades than those who were not. But when the researchers looked at courses that were online-only, they didn’t find the same benefit for either men or women.  The better-looking the students are, the greater the difference in grades between online and traditional classes, Hernández-Julián explained, with the students getting better grades in classes where they could be seen.

Education Bloggers Daily Highlights 1-11-16

Astronaut Chris Hadfield Space Oddity song HD, HQ, Major Tom, David Bowie
Published on May 13, 2013 Youtube runtime 5:30
Chris Hadfield Space Oddity song HD, HQ Major Tom Astronaut.

Remaining Locations:
  • 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
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

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.

Save the Dates for These 2016 Annual EPLC Regional State Budget Education Policy Forums
Sponsored by The Education Policy and Leadership Center
Thursday, February 11 - 8:30-11:00 a.m. - Harrisburg
Wednesday, February 17 - 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. - Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania)
Thursday, February 25 - 8:30-11:00 a.m. - Pittsburgh
Invitation and more details in January

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.

2016 PA Educational Leadership Summit July 24-26 State College
Summit Sponsors: PA Principals Association - PA Association of School Administrators - PA Association of Middle Level Educators - PA Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development 
The 2016 Educational Leadership Summit, co-sponsored by four leading Pennsylvania education associations, provides an excellent opportunity for school district administrative teams and instructional leaders to learn, share and plan together at a quality venue in "Happy Valley." 
Featuring Grant Lichtman, author of EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera (invited), and Dana Lightman, author of POWER Optimism: Enjoy the Life You Have... Create the Success You Want, keynote speakers, high quality breakout sessions, table talks on hot topics and district team planning and job alike sessions provides practical ideas that can be immediately reviewed and discussed at the summit before returning back to your district.   Register and pay by April 30, 2016 for the discounted "early bird" registration rate:

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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