Tuesday, February 16, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 16: Agora Cyber Charter announces dozens of layoffs

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup February 16, 2016:
Agora Cyber Charter announces dozens of layoffs

RSVP Today for One of EPLC’s Education Policy Forum Series on Governor Wolf’s 2016-17 State Budget Proposal
Wednesday, February 17, 2016 - Philadelphia
Thursday, February 25, 2016 - Pittsburgh

"The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.  It also means that education policy, funding decisions and classroom instruction must adapt to the needy children who arrive at school each day".
Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty
Washington Post By Lyndsey Layton January 16, 2015  
For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.  The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.  “We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later,” said Michael A. Rebell of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University, noting that the poverty rate has been increasing even as the economy has improved. “A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”

Questions also remained how a cyber with revenues of $122.7 million and a $13.4 million fund balance could find itself in such financial straits that it has been forced to let go as many as 15 percent of its workforce.
Agora Cyber Charter announces layoffs
Inquirer by Martha Woodall, Staff Writer. Updated: FEBRUARY 16, 2016 — 1:07 AM EST
Agora, the second-largest cyber charter school in Pennsylvania with 8,500 students across the state, has laid off dozens of teachers and staffers.  Officials at the cyber school, headquartered in King of Prussia, said they did not have a total for the number of employees let go Friday, but blamed the layoffs on Gov. Wolf and the state budget impasse.  "The Commonwealth's failure to pass a budget necessitated that Agora make a substantial number of layoffs to survive," Agora said in a statement issued Monday night.  Current and laid-off employees, however, said that their tallies indicated that more than 100 people were laid off, and possibly as many as 150.  Employees also said they were blindsided by the move.  Nearly two months ago, Agora assured staff that it had the resources to weather the budget impasse and that layoffs were not being considered.  "We have no plans to cut or furlough staff due to the lack of funds we are currently receiving," Mary Steffey, chair of the Agora board, wrote Dec. 18 in an email to all 649 staff members. "Please do not fear for your position here at Agora."  One teacher, who did not want to be quoted by name for fear of reprisal, said, "Teachers didn't even know there was a chance of layoffs."

In February 2015, when the School Reform Commission voted to greenlight five of the 40 charters schools that had applied, superintendent William Hite stressed that the new charters would not be a fiscal drain on existing district schools.  "We can not have a situation where any of our children are receiving less as a result of this," Hite said after the SRC's vote.  District leaders operated under the rationale that new charter seats would not add costs because they would replace those seats shed due to the closure of other charter schools.
Last year's new charter school approvals set to cost Philly district more than expected
On Tuesday, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission will vote on 12 applications to create new city charter schools.  This is the second vote since the 2014 state cigarette tax legislation mandated the SRC end its moratorium on new charter applications.  Again, a debate has arisen between those who argue that additional charter seats will improve educational opportunities in the city, and those who argue that the fiscal cost of charter expansion will take too much of a toll on existing schools.  In the wake of last year's new charter school approvals, School District of Philadelphia officials minimized the long term costs associated with the openings.  According to the district's current projections, there's reason to believe that view was shortsighted by millions of dollars.

Guest Column: Pa. needs to face reality and solve its fiscal woes
By Joseph Batory, Delco Times Guest Columnist POSTED: 02/15/16, 9:49 PM EST
Joseph Batory is a past superintendent of schools in Upper Darby School District. He has written extensively on the “politics of education.”
Pennsylvania government is broken. The latest Franklin and Marshall poll (January 2016) indicates that citizens have given Pennsylvania’s government its lowest confidence ratings in more than 20 years. Not surprisingly, this latest poll indicates that two-thirds of Pennsylvania citizens (67 percent) believe things in the state are on the wrong track. Almost four in five voters (82 percent) believe that Pennsylvania government needs to be reformed.  This dissatisfaction is not surprising. The state budget for 2015-2016 is eight months overdue. The problem of the state pension fund, created by the Legislature via massively increasing the benefit levels beginning in 2001, has not been remedied in 15 years. Pennsylvania continues to have disgracefully inadequate funding of public education. And the state is facing a massive structural deficit.  For too many legislators, vilifying Gov. Tom Wolf may be effective partisan politics these days but the state’s budget realities as highlighted by the governor are a reality. Pennsylvania faces a severe structural deficit (estimated at $1.9 billion for the next fiscal year) that threatens to bring additional credit downgrades and further cuts to crucial state programs that educate our children, aid the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, and protect the environment.

A few things the Ill. and Pa. budget crises have in common - and a few things they don't: Monday Morning Coffee
By John L. Micek | jmicek@pennlive.com  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on February 15, 2016 at 7:58 AM, updated February 15, 2016 at 7:59 AM
Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
We've noted more than once before that Pennsylvania and Illinois are the only two states in the union without a completed budget.  And that got us to wondering, why is that? What's driving the longest deadlocks in these 50 states?  Fortunately, our pal Brad Bumsted of The Tribune-Review was wondering the same thing. And this morning, he's running down the contrasts and commonalities between the two states.  In essence, it's the same stuff, just mostly different.

"What followed was story after story of these 9- and 10-year-olds losing grandfathers, uncles, and cousins, all to gun violence. By the time everyone who wanted to share had a chance, over 85 percent of the 30 students in my class revealed they had lost someone. In the process there were tears, sadness, anger, fear and grief, all of which was very raw and very real."
Letters: Teacher shares children's heartache over gun violence
Philly Daily News Letter by Joe Alberti Fourth-grade teacher Philadelphia School District  : FEBRUARY 15, 2016 — 3:01 AM EST
I JUST HAD one of the hardest days of my teaching career. The reason was not because of student behavior or the lack of funding for Philadelphia schools. The reason was that my fourth-grade students and I had discussed the very real problem of gun violence in our city and its neighborhoods, and how close to home it hits for many of Philadelphia's students.  We read Helen Ubinas's column from the Daily News - "Who is crying over Philly's children who live amid our gun culture?" - and watched the Public Service Announcement from Unity in the Community, "Stop the Violence," which featured Philly children who have lost fathers to gun violence. I had two students who have lost their own fathers to gun violence (one only two months ago) share this article and video with their classmates. Then they shared their own experience and grief in losing a parent.

Editorial: National teacher discipline database needed
York Daily Record editorial board1 a.m. EST February 16, 2016
The background checks that schools conduct to ensure that prospective teachers aren't sexual predators are pretty stringent.  Schools research criminal records. Teachers are fingerprinted. References and former employers are checked and questioned in many cases.  Yet some teachers with checkered pasts do slip through the cracks. For example, a teacher at Northern York High School named Craig Yoder surrendered his Pennsylvania teaching certification in 2011 after it was revealed that he failed to admit in his employment and other applications that he had given up his Virginia teaching license in 2003 amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a student.  There are other examples. Teachers who have run afoul of the law have found work in schools merely by moving to a different state.

Editorial: Make financial literacy a high school staple
Pocono Record Editorial Posted Feb. 15, 2016 at 12:26 PM Updated at 7:46 PM
The typical high school student has a cell phone these days. What's the monthly bill? Then there's the used car, with its gas and maintenance. A new pair of jeans. Movie ticket and bucket of popcorn. All this spending draws against the income from a teen's part-time, low-wage job — or from an allowance. How young people know how to balance their income and expenditures? How many even have a credit card, and keep close tabs on the balance?  High school students deserve basic training in planning a personal or household budget. They should know how to balance a checkbook, how to set a limit on their cell phone bill, how to make sure they live within their means.  State Rep. Rosemary Brown, R-189, wants all students to gain some financial literacy before they graduate. Her proposed bill to make such classes a graduation requirement in Pennsylvania would be a boon to young people who don't learn these skills elsewhere.

At 10, a North Philly prep school savors success
Inquirer by Martha Woodall, Staff Writer. Updated: FEBRUARY 16, 2016 — 5:48 AM EST
Ten years ago, Germantown Academy teamed with Project HOME to create something unique: a small, top-notch private school for low-income kids in North Philadelphia.  With alumni placed in high-achieving prep schools around the region, the Community Partnership School (CPS) is celebrating a decade of success and making plans to expand.  "When people ask what I feel are the greatest accomplishments in my time at GA, I always list the Partnership School," said James Connor, who's retiring in June after heading that independent school for 26 years. "It allowed us as a school to broaden our definition of what GA could mean."  The school, which opened its doors at Project HOME's Honickman Learning Center in the fall of 2006, began with 34 children from prekindergarten through first grade. A grade was added each year until the school included fifth.  Connor, who nurtured the spark for the Partnership School with GA's board, said the goal was to give low-income students access to a curriculum based on Germantown Academy's and enrichment opportunities to provide a solid foundation for college-prep coursework.

Fresh turmoil in Coatesville School District
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer. Updated: FEBRUARY 16, 2016 — 1:07 AM EST
After a scandal involving racist and sexist texts between the former superintendent and athletic director and a scathing grand jury report, leaders in the Coatesville Area School District promised dramatic change and a new era of transparency.  But just 19 months after hiring a new superintendent who promised sweeping reforms - Cathy Taschner, the daughter of Lukens Steel plant workers - the district is awash in fresh turmoil.  Teachers, union leaders, parents, and students allege that rampant fighting inside schools - especially the 9/10 Center, where high school freshmen and sophomores are taught - has led to a climate of fear and intimidation for educators.

Kansas Lawmakers Mulling Response To School Funding Ruling
Kansas lawmakers will be working to determine how to respond to a court ruling over school funding.  The Kansas Supreme Court says lawmakers haven’t done enough to reduce funding disparities between school districts. As KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, the justices say lawmakers have to fix it by the end of June.  Republican Senate President Susan Wagle says the best option may be rewriting the funding formula for the state’s nearly 300 school districts. But she says the court isn’t giving them enough time to comply, because rewriting the Kansas school funding system is a huge job.

A leading charter school advocate’s stunning admission: Online public schools are a colossal disaster
Could the Walton Family Foundation be reversing course? Or is it sacrificing cyber charters to save its investment?
For the second time in three months, the Walton Family Foundation—which has spent more than $1 billion to create a quarter of the nation’s 6,700 public charter schools—has announced that all online public school instruction, via cyber charter schools, is a colossal disaster for most K-12 students.  “If virtual charters were grouped together and ranked as a single school district, it would be the ninth largest in the country and among the worst performing,” co-wrote Walton’s Marc Sternberg and Marc Holley, respectively the foundation’s director of educational giving and its evaluation unit director, in a recent Education Week commentary. “Online education must be reimagined. Ignoring the problem—or worse, replicating failures—serves nobody.”
Last fall, the giant foundation, which has pledged to spend its second billion to expand charter public schools nationally between now and 2020, simultaneously released three detailed comissioned studies finding more than two-thirds of America’s 200,000 charter students receiving all of their instruction over the Internet were barely learning the basics.

"Southeastern Region Forum Series"Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Networking and Coffee - 9:30 a.m. Program - 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Penn Center for Educational Leadership (5th Floor)
University of Pennsylvania - 3440 Market Street Philadelphia, PA 19104-3325
SUBJECT: Governor Wolf's Proposed Education Budget for 2016-2017
An Overview of the Proposed 2016-2017 State Budget and Education Issues Will Be Provided By:
Representative of The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center
Ron Cowell, President, The Education Policy and Leadership Center
Statewide and Regional Perspectives Will Be Provided By:
Donna Cooper, Executive Director, Public Citizens for Children and Youth
Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director, Education Law Center
Mark B. Miller, President-Elect, Pennsylvania School Boards Association
Dr. George Steinhoff, Superintendent, Penn Delco School District
One or more representatives of other statewide and regional organizations are still to be confirmed.
RSVP for Southeastern Forum on-line at

Save the Dates for These 2016 Annual EPLC Regional State Budget Education Policy Forums
Sponsored by The Education Policy and Leadership Center
Thursday, February 25 - 8:30-11:00 a.m. - Pittsburgh

'Beyond Measure' to be shown Feb. 24 at Bucks County Community College
Bucks County Courier Times Joan Hellyer, staff writer Sunday, February 14, 2016 11:45 pm
The general public is invited to a free screening of "Beyond Measure," a documentary about education reform, on Feb. 24 at Bucks County Community College, organizers said.  The movie, from Vicki Abeles, director of the award-winning film "Race to Nowhere," begins at 7 p.m. in the Zlock Performing Arts Center on the BCCC campus at 275 Swamp Road in Newtown Township.
In "Beyond Measure," Abeles examines public schools across the country that are working to "create a more equitable, empowering, student-centered education culture from the ground up," event organizers said.  The college’s Department of Social and Behavioral Science, Future Teachers Organization, and Amy McIntyre, founder of the Council Rock Parents Facebook page, are sponsoring the free event.  Register online at tinyurl.com/BCCCBeyondMeasure. For more information call 215-504-8545 or send an email to Kate.DAuria@bucks.edu.

Attend the United Opt Out Conference in Philadelphia February 26-28
United Opt Out: The Movement to End Corporate Reform will hold its annual conference on Philadelphia from February 26-28.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will host its Annual Budget Summit on Thursday, March 3, 2016 9:00 - 3:30 at the Hilton Harrisburg.
PA Budget and Policy Center website
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, and local communities. The Summit will focus on the leading issues facing the commonwealth in 2016, with workshops, lunch, and a legislative panel discussion.  Space is limited, so fill out the form below to reserve your spot at the Budget Summit.
Thursday, March 3, 2016 Hilton Hotel, Harrisburg Pennsylvania
The event is free, but PBPC welcomes donations of any size to help off-set costs.

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

PenSPRA's Annual Symposium, Friday April 8th in Shippensburg, PA
PenSPRA, or the Pennsylvania School Public Relations Association, has developed a powerhouse line-up of speakers and topics for a captivating day of professional development in Shippensburg on April 8th. Learn to master data to defeat your critics, use stories to clarify your district's brand and take your social media efforts to the next level with a better understanding of metrics and the newest trends.  Join us the evening before the Symposium for a “Conversation with Colleagues” from 5 – 6 pm followed by a Networking Social Cocktail Hour from 6 – 8 pm.  Both the Symposium Friday and the social events on Thursday evening will be held at the Shippensburg University Conference Center. Snacks at the social hour, and Friday’s breakfast and lunch is included in your registration cost. $125 for PenSPRA members and $150 for non-members. Learn more about our speakers and topics and register today at this link:

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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