Thursday, January 21, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Jan 21: As PA moves to implement an Achievement School District, model Tennessee considers closing theirs

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3850 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Wolf education transition team members, Superintendents, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, faith-based organizations, labor organizations, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup January 21, 2016:
As PA moves to implement an Achievement School District, model Tennessee considers closing theirs

Proposed changes to Pa. law would squander higher school funding
the notebook Commentary by Michael Churchill, Deborah Gordon Klehr, Susan Spicka January 20, 2016
Michael Churchill is an attorney at the Public Interest Law Center.
Deborah Gordon Klehr is executive director of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania.
Susan Spicka is an advocacy coordinator for Education Voters PA.
Earlier this month, Gov. Wolf approved emergency funding to allow schools to remain open despite the ongoing budget impasse in Harrisburg. We are pleased that the governor is holding out for an agreement with legislative leaders that would result in a historic $350 million increase in basic education funding, which would include a $100 million restoration of funding to Philadelphia schools. This money would provide immediate relief to a cash-strapped district and would allow it to begin restoring cuts to nurses, counselors, and other vital services after years of bare-bones budgeting.  Yet those gains could be fleeting.  We are deeply troubled by language that has been inserted into the proposed Pennsylvania School Code that would enact sweeping changes to our state charter school policy. The changes would weaken the important role of school districts as charter authorizers to both manage responsible charter school growth and ensure that charter schools are providing a high-quality education to all kinds of students.

Bill proposes to close Tennessee Achievement School District
The Tennesseean by Jason Gonzales, jagonzales@tennessean.com7:51 p.m. CST January 19, 2016
As expected, state legislation has been filed to close Tennessee's Achievement School District.  State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, and Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, have sponsored companion bills that will close the district by July 2017.  If passed, the operations of the schools the state district oversees would return to the local school district. And if the school is operated by a charter management organization, the local district will then have the ability to revoke, deny or renew the charter agreement.  "I will tell you this, the halls are talking," Parkinson said. "Whether this is the final outcome, I don’t know, but we are serious about accountability from all schools. When schools are not performing, children are being affected."  The ASD has been the subject of much debate, especially since a recent Vanderbilt University study cast doubt on the effectiveness of the district meant to help improve the bottom 5 percent of all schools in the state.  The report said schools in the ASD across all years haven't improved academic outcomes, but added school reform often takes time. The district, in operation since 2012, is tasked with the takeover and turnaround of the lowest-performing schools in the state.

Here's a link to our prior postings on SB6, which would create an Achievement School District….
PA Ed Policy Roundup July 6: SB6: Editorial - New layer of bureaucracy is not answer to quandary of Pa.'s lowest performing schools

Gorham: Fair funding formula needed
Carbondale News By Kelly Waters Special to The News Posted Jan. 20, 2016 at 4:51 PM
CARBONDALE – Like other school districts in Pennsylvania, Carbondale Area is struggling with the lack of funding from the state.  In late December Governor Tom Wolf announced emergency funding would be released for human services and the school districts so they can keep running despite the lack of a state budget.  While those funds will help alleviate some expenses of those entities, it isn't a cure all.  “Carbondale Area has been very vocal in its dissatisfaction with the current funding status in the state of Pennsylvania,” stated Superintendent Joseph Gorham.  
“We've been very clear in saying all along when we testified... [in] Harrisburg, that this is not a solution. This is a band-aid to a much bigger problem.  “Does it solve our problems? Absolutely not. It allows us to pay off vendors that we were in the rears with, so we'll be paying off those bills, but it doesn't solve the long term problem.”  Gorham added Pennsylvania doesn't have a fair funding formula implemented either.

"The state has more than 1.8 million recipients of food stamps, or SNAP. More than a quarter of them, or 500,000, are in Philadelphia. That is a third of the city’s population."
Rates of poverty and hunger have risen in Philly and in Pa.
Children make up 40 percent of the state's food stamp recipients.
the notebook by Dale Mezzacappa January 20, 2016
Poverty and its byproduct, food insecurity, are getting worse in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, according to federal and state data. The region's children are heavily affected.
The state has more than 1.8 million recipients of food stamps, or SNAP. More than a quarter of them, or 500,000, are in Philadelphia. That is a third of the city’s population.  Children – individuals under the age of 18 – make up 40 percent of the participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to the data.

Advocates push for pre-k funding
York Daily Record by Angie Mason, amason@ydr.com4:48 p.m. EST January 20, 2016
Early childhood advocates called Wednesday for the state to step up its role in the funding of pre-kindergarten, saying philanthropic organizations don't have the resources to meet the needs on their own.  As other states have increased their commitment to early childhood education programs, Pennsylvania has lost ground, advocates said Wednesday at a news conference at York Day Nursery, hosted by area United Way organizations and members of the Pre-K for PA campaign.  Over the past five years, the state dropped four spots to rank 15th in the nation in pre-k access for 3-year-olds and fell six spots to 30th when it came to 4-year-old children, according to data included in a report issued Wednesday.

"Mr. Smucker listed two areas in need of review — project-based assessments, which are offered to students who after remediation still can’t pass the tests, and the impact of assessments on career and technical students.  State Sen. Andy Dinniman of Chester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee and co-sponsor of the bill, said the Keystone graduation requirement was an “unfunded mandate on schools” that hurt the poor and failing schools most.
He cited high schools in the Philadelphia School District that didn’t have certified biology teachers or labs, and textbooks that were so old they didn’t include the material on the tests."
Keystone exams delayed until 2019
By Mary Niederberger and Janice Crompton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette January 20, 2016 2:30 PM
School officials are breathing a sigh of relief at the state Legislature’s approval of a two-year delay in requiring students to pass the Keystone exams in order to graduate.  Senate Bill 880, unanimously approved by the state Senate on Wednesday, will delay until 2019 the use of Keystone exams in algebra 1, biology and literature as graduation requirements.
The bill now goes to Gov. Tom Wolf, who is expected to sign it.  “I’m glad we got a little breathing space on that one,” said Pittsburgh superintendent Linda Lane.
“I don’t think it’s anyone’s intention to have a bunch of children complete their high school requirements and then not graduate because they didn’t pass the Keystone exam.”
State Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and sponsor of the bill, said in a press release: “It is time to push the pause button on the timetable for phase-in and work through the honest concerns raised by parents, students and educators.”

"The Senate voted 49-0 to send Gov. Tom Wolf a bill that would delay the requirement of passing the Keystone Exams to graduate high school by two years. It was to take effect with next year's graduating class."
Delay in graduation testing requirement all but a done deal
Penn Live By Jan Murphy |  Email the author | Follow on Twitter on January 20, 2016 at 1:37 PM, updated January 20, 2016 at 3:22 PM
*This post was updated to include parent Jim Sherner's comment.
It's all but official. Passing a high-stakes test won't be a requirement to graduate from a Pennsylvania public high school for at least three more years.  The Senate on Wednesday voted 49-0 to approve legislation that would put a two-year pause on a State Board of Education-imposed requirement that made passing the Keystone Exams, or a state-approved alternative a graduation requirement, starting with the Class of 2017.  It now goes to Gov. Tom Wolf who has said he would sign the legislation that also carries a requirement for his Department of Education to study alternatives and provide its findings and recommendations to the Legislature within six months.

Wolf to sign bill delaying Keystone graduation requirement
the notebook by Kevin McCorry Newsworks January 20, 2016
Pennsylvania high schoolers in the class of 2017 are breathing a huge sigh of relief.
On Wednesday, the state Senate unanimously signed off on a House-approved measure that pushes back by two years a requirement for students to pass state standardized Keystone exams in Algebra, Literature and Biology in order to graduate.  Pressure on lawmakers had mounted over the last few years to repeal or punt on the requirement as recent test results indicated a possibly large decline in the state graduation rate.  If students didn't pass the tests after two tries, they were to complete a project assessment, but districts were to receive no additional funding to help remediate the children.  Districts across the state feared a nightmare scenario. Based on recent pass rates, a quarter million students would need help with projects – especially based on performance on the Biology exam.  "I still support the concept. I just think in rolling out the implementation of this graduation requirement we ran into a lot of problems," said Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster), the majority chair of the Senate Education Committee. “The purpose of this bill is to reset that decision and see whether there’s a better way to place requirements around graduation.

Pa. bill clouds future of Keystone tests
Inquirer by Chris Palmer, HARRISBURG BUREAU. Updated: JANUARY 20, 2016 1:17 PM EST
HARRISBURG - The state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to delay using Keystone Exams as a high school graduation requirement and, in the meantime, to study whether the proficiency tests should be used as a graduation requirement at all.  The plan, which passed the Senate unanimously, would set the 2018-2019 school year as the earliest possible date to unroll the exams as a graduation benchmark.  In addition, over the next six months the Department of Education would be asked to "investigate and develop alternatives" to the tests, according to the bill.  The measure, which will now be sent to Gov. Wolf's desk, is likely to be signed into law. Wolf's spokesman said Wednesday that the governor supports it.  The tests, which cover subjects from math to science and literature, have sparked outrage and protests from some school districts and education-related groups across the state.  Over the summer, the superintendent of the West Chester Area School District said the exams could cause some students to "give up." The acting superintendent of Lower Merion School District last spring also said he opposed the tests.  In a statement, Wolf said that he and Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera would be meeting with school officials, teachers and others to discuss alternatives.

State Senate approves two-year delay for Keystone Exam graduation requirement
Intelligencer by Joan Hellyer, staff writer Posted: Wednesday, January 20, 2016 11:45 pm
Pennsylvania is one step closer to delaying the use of Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement for high school students.  The state Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to postpone the requirement for two years. The state House previously approved the delay, and Gov. Tom Wolf has indicated he will sign the bill. No date has been set for the signing, according to spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan.  Pennsylvania initially intended to require high school juniors who are members of the Class of 2017 to take and pass the end-of-course exams in Algebra 1, literature and biology to be eligible to graduate. Students who did not pass the exams could take project-based, online assessments to earn their diploma.  But critics complained that too much time is devoted to preparing students for the exams. Plus, children in poorer districts had fewer resources to help them, and schools lack the personnel to help students complete an alternative project if they fail the tests.

Philly Daily News Editorial Updated: JANUARY 20, 2016 — 3:01 AM EST
THINGS HAVE gotten so bad in the state Legislature in Harrisburg that a number of inmates are fleeing the asylum.  So far, 16 incumbents - 11 Republicans and five Democrats - have announced they will not seek re-election. Some are doing it for career reasons. State Rep. Dwight Evans, for instance, is quitting to run against U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.  But a number said they are departing the scene because they essentially have lost faith in the chambers where they have served. As state Rep. Peter Daley put it: "I'm benching myself for a while."  Daley, a Democrat from western Pennsylvania, has served in the state House for 34 years. In his view, "Harrisburg is becoming a very difficult place to get anything done and I don't think it is going to get better." In reality, the political system of compromise that allowed for two-party rule in the capital has been seriously damaged, thanks mostly to a cadre of tea party conservatives who would rather see government falter or fail than see taxes raised.  We fear it will get worse, because a number of Republicans who are retiring were moderates who found themselves increasingly at odds with fellow party members. Many are likely to be replaced by hard-right conservatives.

"The state’s budget impasse hasn’t helped matters, said Kevin Mahler, board vice-president.  “These budget numbers as they currently sit are somewhat imaginary. We don’t know what money is coming in from the state this year, much less next year.”
North Allegheny school board approves preliminary budget
Post Gazette By Sandy Trozzo January 20, 2016 11:28 PM
The North Allegheny school board Wednesday approved a preliminary budget that calls for a tax increase, but members said that they do not intend to raise taxes in the final budget.
The $151.1 million budget comes with a tax rate of 18.6277 mills. The current rate is 18.0011 mills.  “First and most importantly, the board’s goal is to approve a final budget that does not increase the millage rate,” said board President Tara Fisher. “The board does not intend to raise the millage rate for the 2016-17 fiscal year.”  Mrs. Fisher said administrators and board members on the budget and finance committee have been meeting with residents through advisory committees and small groups to find ways to increase revenue and decrease expenses.  The administration’s plans will be presented at the February work session for public input, she added.

Greater Latrobe School District receives $7.9M in delayed state funding
Trib Live By Mary Pickels Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, 10:45 p.m.
Greater Latrobe School District received $7.9 million in long-delayed state aid this month that officials said will keep it operating into spring.  Money was released to Latrobe and other Pennsylvania schools after Gov. Tom Wolf signed a line-item-vetoed spending plan Dec. 29.
“We received the money on Jan. 5,” Business Manager Dan Watson said at Tuesday's school board meeting.  But the funding — about 45 percent of the district's expected state allocation — provides only temporary budget planning relief.  “I believe we are good until April 30. We are hopeful that, by then, the budget will be resolved,” Watson said.  If the state budget has not been passed by April 1, the board may have to revisit a plan to borrow money to continue operating, Watson said.

Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg school officials meet in Harrisburg on Westinghouse plan
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette January 21, 2016 12:00 AM
Officials of the Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg school districts met Wednesday in Harrisburg with state legislators and Department of Education officials to iron out plans for the transfer of Wilkinburg’s secondary students to Pittsburgh Westinghouse Academy 6-12.  Officials of both districts agreed that the $3 million allocated recently by Gov. Tom Wolf for the transfer will be spent jointly by the districts, with the the Pittsburgh Public Schools hiring an administrator to oversee the process.  Pittsburgh superintendent Linda Lane said the district already has advertised the position and has applicants. Interviews will start soon with the hiring expected to take place within the next few weeks.

Senate passes school closing bill
Times Tribune BY ROBERT SWIFT, HARRISBURG BUREAU CHIEF Published: January 21, 2016
HARRISBURG — A bill giving school districts more flexibility when closing their doors during bad weather and the unexpected, such as massive police manhunts, is nearing final passage.  The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to give the state education secretary authority to declare emergency school closings for safety, health and weather issues. This declaration would give school districts new options to satisfy the state-required 180 days a year schools must be open. One option could involve classes on a Saturday, but not more than once a month.  The measure, sponsored by Rep. Mike Peifer, R-139, Greene Twp., faces another House vote to concur with a Senate amendment.  Mr. Peifer said the bill would eliminate the need for the General Assembly to offer districts 180-day relief on a case-by-case basis.

Editorial: Time for an intervention
York Dispatch12:53 a.m. EST January 21, 2016
Some politicians apparently need to be reminded of something:  We live in a civilized country.  We expect our elected officials to be able to speak to and about each other without sounding like schoolyard bullies.  Most importantly, we expect them not to speak about each other or other citizens in violent terms.  Do we need to repeat that, Sen. Scott Wagner?
Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, spoke last weekend at the GOP Winter Meeting in Hershey about Gov. Tom Wolf.  "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.

Last run for current SAT this weekend; new one debuts in March
Delco Times By Jennifer C. Kerr, The Associated Press POSTED: 01/21/16, 5:41 AM EST 
WASHINGTON >> The current version of the SAT college entrance exam has its final run this weekend, when hundreds of thousands of students nationwide will sit, squirm or stress through the nearly four-hour reading, writing and math test. A new revamped version debuts in March.  Sixteen-year-old Alex Cohen, a junior at the Miami Country Day School in Florida, thinks he’s solid on math, but he’s been studiously cramming on vocabulary words to get ready for the exam.  I don’t want to study for the new one, so hopefully I’ll do well on this one,” he said.  Alex said his college adviser was worried about students being “guinea pigs” for the new SAT that rolls out March 5 and told him to focus on Saturday’s exam. “There’s a lot of vocabulary on this test so I’ve been trying to memorize as many words as I can per day,” said Alex, who wants to study business and finance in college.  The College Board, the nonprofit organization that owns the SAT, says more than 351,000 students registered to take the Jan. 23 test. That’s a nearly 10 percent increase over the number of students registered for last January’s exam. A major snowstorm could force cancellations along some parts of the East Coast. Make-up sessions would be offered with the current exam.

Funders Fuel a Bigger Push for Family Engagement in Schools
Inside Philanthropy by AuthorL.S. Hall January 20, 2016
Researchers and advocates of greater family engagement in K-12 schools have long complained that educators pay lip service to the idea, but seldom put their money where their mouths are. But that is starting to change.  Education Week reported last summer that educators are making a greater effort to better engage parents and incorporate them into schools. A growing number of school districts have created positions and departments that focus on parent involvement, while other districts have expanded existing parent engagement programs and made greater involvement an element of their strategic planning. In another sign of this new attention to parent involvement, some states are including family engagement as an element of teacher evaluation systems and other programs.  Funders also have shown a greater interest in strategies to better engage families and communities in K-12 education. The W.K. Kellogg Foundationhas awarded millions in grants to strengthen partnerships between schools and families. Heising-Simons Foundation is another leading funder of parent involvement activities. 

"So far, almost all of the borrowers applying for forgiveness under the 1994 program attended for-profit schools."
Thousands Apply to U.S. to Forgive Their Student Loans, Saying Schools Defrauded Them
Borrowers owing $164 million have stepped forward in the past six months, citing a previously obscure federal law
Wall Street Journal By JOSH MITCHELL Jan. 20, 2016 5:30 a.m. ET
Americans are flooding the government with appeals to have their student loans forgiven on the grounds that schools deceived them with false promises of a well-paying career—part of a growing protest against years of surging college costs.  In the past six months, more than 7,500 borrowers owing $164 million have applied to have their student debt expunged under an obscure federal law that had been applied only in three instances before last year. The law forgives debt for borrowers who prove their schools used illegal tactics to recruit them, such as by lying about their graduates’ earnings.  The U.S. Education Department has already agreed to cancel nearly $28 million of that debt for 1,300 former students of Corinthian Colleges—the for-profit chain that liquidated in bankruptcy last year. The department has indicated that many more will likely get forgiveness.

How to View Five Planets Aligning in a Celestial Spectacle
The New York Times By NICHOLAS ST. FLEURJAN. 19, 2016
Five planets paraded across the dawn sky early Wednesday in a rare celestial spectacle set to repeat every morning until late next month.  Headlining the planetary performance are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. It is the first time in more than a decade that the fab five are simultaneously visible to the naked eye, according to Jason Kendall, who is on the board of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York.  Admission to the daily show is free, though stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere should plan to get up about 45 minutes before sunrise to catch it. 

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 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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