Tuesday, January 19, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Jan 19: ‘Holding the line’ in Harrisburg means raising local property taxes

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup January 19, 2016:
‘Holding the line’ in Harrisburg means raising local property taxes

" It is important to consider that HB 1460’s 1.8 percent increase in basic education funding is more than offset by state-required pension contributions that increased by 22 percent this year, or an estimated 11 percent increase in state-required funding for charter schools; the figure is higher still for cybercharter schools."
‘Holding the line’ in Harrisburg means raising local property taxes
Lancaster Online Opinion by HARVEY MILLER and ADAM SCHOTT | SPECIAL TO LNP January 18, 2016
Residents of the School District of Lancaster must feel like characters in the Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day.”  Like last year and the year before — and the year before that — SDL is staring down a multimillion-dollar deficit that is wholly the product of forces outside our control.  And, consistent with recent history, we are now forced to raise property taxes to correct for Harrisburg’s failure to deliver on promised school funding.  The only wrinkle this year is that we are faced with the extraordinary task of building next year’s 2016-17 budget while the 2015-16 fiscal plan remains in limbo.  The latest chapter in the 2015-16 budget debate is House Bill 1460, which passed just before Christmas and was partially vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Dec. 29.  We would like to take this opportunity to fact-check several talking points from Harrisburg lawmakers concerning this legislation.
Claim No. 1: HB 1460 takes “education spending to record levels.”
The test of a fair budget isn’t whether it spends more than last year’s spending plan, especially when Pennsylvania voters have identified education as a top priority and view current spending levels as inadequate.  Rather, the standard should be whether the budget allows local districts to provide a high-quality public education and meet state-mandated expenses.  It is important to consider that HB 1460’s 1.8 percent increase in basic education funding is more than offset by state-required pension contributions that increased by 22 percent this year, or an estimated 11 percent increase in state-required funding for charter schools; the figure is higher still for cybercharter schools.  The disconnect between state mandates and state funding is the chief factor in years of staff and program cuts in districts across Pennsylvania, and HB 1460 will do nothing to arrest this trend.  In fact, the legislation represents just the third budget in the past 20 years that reduces education investments from a governor’s proposed level of funding.

Pa. legislators must fix broken school funding system
Centre Daily Times Opinion BY MARY M. DUPUIS January 18, 2015
Mary M. Dupuis is education committee chairwoman of the State College Branch, American Association of University Women.
Thanks to a seven-month budget stalemate, Pennsylvania state government begins 2016 without a full budget, leaving the short- and long-term needs of every school — and every student — unmet.  In the short term, the partial spending plan recently signed by Gov. Tom Wolf will provide desperately needed money for schools and human services, but only enough to stave off closures and further cuts for the next few months.  The extended budget deadlock forced scores of districts to borrow emergency funds just to keep their doors open. In addition, all Centre County districts were forced to make cuts when the education budget was slashed several years ago. Clinton and Mifflin counties and Williamsburg Area School District made shockingly deep cuts.  Equally upsetting, efforts to fix our broken public school funding system remain unresolved in the face of the deadlock. Pennsylvania’s system does not provide enough resources to educate every student to the necessary academic standards, nor does it distribute dollars according to a fair and valid formula. The result is that Pennsylvania has the widest funding gap between wealthy and poor school districts of any state in the country.

State government sued by Pennsylvania School Board Association as budget impasse continues
The Penn State Daily Collegian by Tyler Arnold January 18, 2016
Republicans are pointing the finger at Democrats and Democrats are pointing the finger at Republicans, but Steve Robinson believes the continuing budget impasse resulting in the lack of full education funding is a “collective failure of government.”  The Pennsylvania legislatures and the governor have been unable to agree on a budget for longer than six months, which has prompted the Pennsylvania School Board Association to take legal action in suing the Pennsylvania legislature and the governor, saying it is a legal and constitutional obligation for the government to fund education.  The Pennsylvania government recently signed into law a partial budget, which will allow for partial funding of the schools, but the PSBA does not believe this is adequate.

Reprise March 2015: F&M Poll: Education Funding, Property Taxes are Top Priorities
PoliticsPA Written by Nick Field, Managing Editor March 26, 2015
In Harrisburg, lawmakers are currently discussing a wide variety of issues as budget talks heat up.  As a result, Franklin and Marshall decided to survey PA residents to find out what their top priorities are.  Coming in first was “increasing state funding for public education” which narrowly edged out “reforming the state’s tax system to reduce local property taxes” by a 27% to 25% margin.  The ranking of the other top priorities was as follows: “passing a plan that deals with the state’s pension obligations” (15%); “reduce overall state spending” (15%); “increasing the state’s minimum wage” (8%); and “privatizing the liquor stores” (1%).
There was quite the partisan divide, however, in the responses.

Analysis: The New Normal?
PoliticsPA Written by Nick Field, Managing Editor January 18, 2016
We’re approaching Governor Tom Wolf’s one year anniversary in office.
Before he took the oath, I examined if he could be effective in Harrisburg and quoted the former President John Adams’ assertion that “I am determined to control events, not be controlled by them”.  It would surely be fair to say Gov. Wolf has been controlled by events.  The prime example of this is the lack of a full budget agreement. The stalemate is widely viewed as the Governor’s major failure during his first year in office and proof that he is having an extraordinary difficult time adjusting to the job.  In reality, however, our budget situation is not the product of a him or even the group of individuals who run the state legislature. Rather our situation is a reflection of the sentiments of the public at large and the peculiar structure of our government.  Most commentators, and even most citizens, believe that it is imperative that the Governor and the state legislature get a deal done. They believe the lack of compromise is the cause of all problems and the root of the public’s anger.  But what if that isn’t the case at all?

Lancaster General Health looks to open student clinic at McCaskey High School
Lancaster Online by Kara Newhouse Staff Writer January 18, 2016
Starting next fall, McCaskey High School students with a sore throat or other common ailments might not have far to go for medical treatment.  The School District of Lancaster board is weighing a proposal from Lancaster General Health to create a health center at the 2,600-student high school.  The goal is to make it easier to access health care, Lancaster General's Director of Community Health Alice Yoder said. "The whole idea is to keep the child healthy and keep them in school," she said.  Numerous studies in the last 20 years have found that school-based health centers increase adolescents’ use of medical care.  "It seems like an awesome thing," said board member Candace Roper at a work session on Jan. 12.  Lancaster General already operates three free clinics at elementary schools in the district, but would charge for services at the proposed high school center.  A two-year pilot at McCaskey would allow Lancaster General to work out a billing system, which it could later use at the elementary clinics, Yoder said.  The plan would not cost any money to the district. The school board will vote on the proposal at its Tuesday night meeting.

Blogger note: Now if we could just get the other 49 PA senators to pony up…
Sen. Wagner loans more to Thackston Charter
The Spring Garden Township Republican's loans to York's Thackston Charter School will have grown to nearly $890,000 on Wednesday.
York Daily Record by Flint L. McColgan and Angie Mason, amason@ydr.com3:49 p.m. EST January 18, 2016
State Sen. Scott Wagner's loans to York's Helen Thackston Charter School will reach a little more than $889,000 on Wednesday, he said Monday.  The Spring Garden Township Republican first floated a $400,000 loan to the school in late October to meet missed payroll and to cover basic operating and insurance expenses.  The school has not received any state funding since late June, said Helen Thackston Charter School Board President Danyiell Newman, who confirmed the total loan amount.  Newman said she hopes to begin receiving state funding later this week as part of the second round of state payouts now that part of a state budget is in place.

Wagner defends controversial comment on Wolf
Flint L. McColgan, fmccolgan@ydr.com4:03 p.m. EST January 18, 2016
“We had him down on the floor with our foot on his throat and we let him up. Next time, we won’t let him up.”
That's what state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, had to say about Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, according to a report by Politics PA on the 2016 GOP Winter Meeting in Hershey on Saturday.  On Monday, the senator confirmed he made the remark and stood by it.  "Gov. Wolf has waged war on the Republicans," he said by phone.  "I stick by the statement because this is a war between Gov. Wolf and conservative Republicans," he added. "They continue to call me an extremist/Tea Party person, but I'm just a lifelong Republican."  He said he was elected to represent the citizens of his district, which he says call on him to oppose hikes to their taxes.  Wagner said that the budget Wolf wanted included $4.5 billion in additional taxes "to fund education and all his grand ideas."

Dems want Sen. Wagner comment denounced
York Dispatch by Greg Gross, 505-5433/@ggrossyd7:53 p.m. EST January 18, 2016
Pennsylvania Democrats are crying foul after York County state Sen. Scott Wagner made a comment — steeped in violent rhetoric, they said — directed at Gov. Tom Wolf over the weekend.  "We had him down on the floor with our foot on his throat and we let him up. Next time, we won't let him up," political news website PoliticsPa quoted Wagner as saying.  Wagner made the comment when discussing the ongoing state budget impasse at the state GOP's Winter Meeting in Hershey on Saturday, PoliticsPa reported.

Lawmakers need to get rid of outdated seniority-based layoffs for teachers: Ashley DeMauro
PennLive Op-Ed  By Ashley DeMauro on January 18, 2016 at 1:00 PM, updated January 18, 2016 at 1:03 PM
Ashley DeMauro is the state director of StudentsFirst in Pennsylvania, a nonprofit working to ensure all students have access to great teachers and great schools.
With a portion of the state budget bill signed into law, schools have been anxious to receive the funds that are owed to them by the state.  Because of the lengthy budget impasse, state payments to schools were frozen for more than half a year and the resulting funding crisis continues to ripple throughout our state.  Gov. Tom Wolf signed roughly six months of funding for schools in law and negotiations for additional education dollars have been put on ice. Given the fluidity of the situation, school districts must be given the flexibility to effectively manage their workforce.  Because of the lack of a student-weighted funding formula to drive dollars out to Pennsylvania schools in previous years, more than 90 percent of districts say they have reduced staff, according to a survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.  The bill, part of the incomplete budget package, now moves to the state Senate for further consideration.
Another 41 percent say they may need to reduce staff this year.

There's hope for public education
School communities are fighting back against charter takeovers.
the notebook by Kendra Brooks January 18 — 11:55am
After Superintendent Hite dropped the plan to turn Wister Elementary School in Germantown into a Renaissance charter school, the Notebook asked two commentators to weigh in on the move. Kendra Brooks of Parents United for Public Education gives her view here. For a contrasting opinion, see what Jonathan Cetel of PennCAN says here.  
On Jan. 11, the School District of Philadelphia announced that John Wister Elementary School would be removed from consideration for a charter takeover. The reason was questionable data that hid the fact that Wister was actually on the upswing. But the real story was that the parents and communities of Wister had from the beginning told the District that they had chosen the wrong school for charter takeover.  Parents at Wister stood up for a neighborhood school with stable leadership, a principal that had stayed with the school for 14 years, a community approach to learning, and a dedication to literacy and enrichment despite the budget cuts from Harrisburg for the last four years.  But contrast that with the rhetoric from the charter takeover groups trying to privatize public education in our city. For two months, we parents listened to charter operators like Mastery revel in the “failing schools” narrative in order to incite despair and desperation into parents and force their move toward charter. Mastery learned few lessons from their failed attempt to take over Steel Elementary School in 2014, where I helped lead a parent vote that went two-to-one against them. Mastery continues to enter into communities with a divide-and-conquer mentality, disrespectful of longtime educators and with all the arrogance and entitlement their wealthy backers and lobbyists demand.

Hite made the wrong decision on Wister
While the school has seen growth, parents want and deserve much more.
the notebook by Jonathan Cetel January 18 — 11:54am
After Superintendent Hite dropped the plan to turn Wister Elementary School in Germantown into a Renaissance charter school, the Notebook asked two commentators to weigh in on the move. Jonathan Cetel of  PennCAN gives his view  here. For a contrasting opinion, see what Kendra Brooks of Parents United for Public Education says here.
In a Jan. 14 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Wister Elementary parent Alisha Grant said, "If you know Mastery has a good track record, why wouldn't you let them come in and get the job done?"  It’s a good question. After all, Mastery’s results have been praised by the likes of Oprah and President Obama; it was one of 12 charter management organizations in the country last year to be awarded funding from the US Department of Education as part of a competitive grant to replicate high-performing schools; and multiple research organizations includingResearch for Action and the School District’s own Office of Research and Evaluation have shown that in Renaissance schools student achievement and student attendance is up while student attrition and violent incidents are down.
Ms. Grant’s words are compelling, but the actions of parents are even more persuasive. On Jan. 14, parents from Wister delivered 500 signed petitions to the SRC urging Dr. Hite to reconsider his decision. Across all 20 Renaissance schools, there are now over 1,800 families who want to attend but can’t because the schools have reached capacity.  

Business workshop: Schools can target commercial real estate tax assessments
Post Gazette January 19, 2016 12:00 AM
Following a recent decision by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, Pennsylvania school districts can selectively challenge real estate tax assessments on commercial businesses.
The case began when the Upper Merion Area School District hired a realty company to identify commercial properties within the district that the county may have under-assessed for real estate tax purposes. The district then appealed the assessments on all of those properties.  While the school district’s appeals were pending, the owners of several apartment buildings targeted filed a lawsuit against the school district and the realty company, asserting that they unfairly targeted apartment buildings and other high value commercial properties while choosing not to appeal any residential assessments.  According to the property owners, the practice violated the Uniformity Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which states that taxing bodies must levy taxes uniformly among “the same class of subjects.”  he trial court dismissed the lawsuit. On appeal, the Commonwealth Court upheld the trial court’s decision.

Study Raises Questions About State Takeovers of Urban School Districts
Education Week District Dossier By Corey Mitchell on January 14, 2016 5:00 PM
State takeovers of large urban school districts have become more common in recent years, but there's no clear-cut evidence that the intervention leads to better student performance or fiscal management, an analysis from the Pew Charitable Trusts finds.
Using Pennsylvania's 2001 takeover of the Philadelphia schools as a starting point, the Pew report compares elements of the city's school governance structure with those of 15 similar urban districts, including Baltimore, Detroit, and Newark.  The Pew analysis found that no form of school governance, be it elected local school boards, mayoral control, or state takeover, provides a surefire way to address the academic and fiscal issues, and possible mismanagement, that large districts often face.  "There is no indication that any particular system for governing urban school districts is superior to another in improving long-term academic performance," the report authors wrote. "Too many other factors, experts say, help determine what happens in the classroom, including the quality of principals and teachers, funding, and parental expectations."

Remaining Locations:
  • 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 www.nsba.org/advocacyinstitute 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

Save the Date | PBPC Budget Summit March 3rd
Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center
The 2015-2016 budget remains in a state of limbo. But it's time to start thinking about the 2016-17 budget. The Governor will propose his budget for next year in early February.
The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will hold our annual Budget Summit on March 3rd. Save the date and join us for an in-depth look at the Governor's 2016-17 budget proposal, including what it means for education, health and human services, the environment and local communities.  And, of course, if the 2015-2016 budget is not complete by then, we will also be talking about the various alternatives still under consideration.
As in year's past, this year's summit will be at the Hilton Harrisburg.  Register today!

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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