Thursday, February 18, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 18: Public outrage over budget debacle doesn't translate into runs for state House or Senate seats

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

These daily emails are archived and searchable at
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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup February 18, 2016:
Public outrage over budget debacle doesn't translate into runs for state House or Senate seats

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

The Keystone State Education Coalition will be compiling a list of current and former school board members and educators who have decided to run for state office for the first time in the primary election April 26th.  Please let us know  of any such candidates.  Thanks!

Public outrage over budget debacle doesn't translate into runs for state House or Senate seats
Ninety-three incumbents in the state House and Senate appear to have drawn no primary or general election challengers based on the Department of State's unofficial list of candidates for the April 26 primary election.
By Jan Murphy |  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on February 17, 2016 at 4:38 PM, updated February 17, 2016 at 5:10 PM
Despite coming off a year where a state budget never fully got finalized and thepublic grew increasingly dissatisfied with state officials over it, 185 state House members and 21 senators are planning to ask their constituents to re-elect them to another term of office.  What's more, 93 of them appear to face no primary or general election challenge at the moment based on the unofficial list of candidates who filed paperwork to get on the April 26 ballot by the Tuesday deadline.  But even more striking about the list of 373 candidates running for House seats and 47 seeking a Senate seat is Gov. Tom Wolf may be headed for some more rough waters ahead.
Looking at the number of legislative seats that would have to flip to Democratic hands, it appears Pennsylvanians will likely have to live with the divided government that brought us one of the longest budget impasses in state history for another two years.

List Of Candidates Filing Petitions To Be On Primary Ballot Available Online
PA Capitol Digest by Crisci Associates February 18, 2016
The Department of State has available a constantly updated list of candidates filing nominating petitions to be on the ballot in the April Primary election.  Click Here to see the list.
Only 26  House incumbents out of 189 seeking reelection have a primary opponent, with 14 open seats.
Only 4  incumbent state senators out of 25, all Democrats, have a primary opponent, with 3 open seats.

Impact of court decision on Philly charter schools extends beyond that city's borders, group say
A state Supreme Court ruling on a Philadelphia charter school lawsuit highlights the need for a school funding formula that provides adequate, stable funding to all public schools, according to an official from the Education Law Center-PA.
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on February 17, 2016 at 6:55 PM, updated February 17, 2016 at 6:59 PM
A state Supreme Court ruling that limits the power of the commission that oversees the Philadelphia School District is viewed by others as having far-reaching ramifications on other aspects of public schools in Pennsylvania.  The high court ruled on Tuesday that the School Reform Commission in Philadelphia overstepped its authority by imposing enrollment caps and other conditions on Philadelphia charter schools and then threatening to revoke their charters if they refuse to comply with them.  While the decision most directly impacts that city's charter schools and the children on waiting lists hoping to enroll in them, Robert Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, also says the tenor of the court's ruling gives hope to the charter community as a whole.  "It sends a clear message that the rights of charter schools, every child in them, and every child on a waiting list to get into a charter school cannot be trampled. No district is above the law," Fayfich said.  He said school districts that have refused to pay their charter school bills should take heed that the Supreme Court, despite having more Democratic justices sitting on it than Republicans, will review cases based on facts and not have an anti-charter bias.

What high court just did to the way Phila. schools are run
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham and Martha Woodall, STAFF WRITERS. Updated: FEBRUARY 18, 2016 — 1:07 AM EST
Teacher reassignments. Caps on charters. School closings.
All those weighty matters could be up in the air in Philadelphia schools, after this week's Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that stripped the School Reform Commission of extraordinary powers it had believed it had - and had used - under state law.  Lawyers and close watchers of the School District were still combing through the 18-page decision Wednesday, determining exactly what it means for the school system.  But the scope of the ruling was clear. The SRC on Wednesday called it a "sobering moment."  "Clearly, it's going to require a total reenvisioning of the way in which the SRC is going to manage costs and resources," said Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth. "Their quiver has been depleted a bit."  Financially, the decision could be devastating, because of the possibility for rampant, unplanned charter-school growth, already a sensitive issue in a district whose leaders were uncertain, even before the ruling, that they would have enough cash to get through the school year.

Reactions to court decision stripping SRC of special powers
the notebook by David Limm February 17, 2016 Updated | 6:45 p.m.
Pennsylvania's highest court blunted the School Reform Commission's authority on Tuesday, declaring unconstitutional a portion of state law granting the governing body its use of special powers in managing the distressed Philadelphia school district.  As sudden news of the decision rippled through education quarters, many were shocked by the potentially far-reaching and double-edged implications of the ruling. With the fallout still being weighed, and owing perhaps to the uncertain and complicated impact of the decision, few prominent figures in education have released official comment.  The spokesperson for the School District, Fernando Gallard, deferred comment at last night's special SRC meeting, where the commissioners voted to approve three new charter school applications. (The SRC has released a statement, calling the ruling a "sobering moment"; see below).  A few people, however, did offer early reactions. We are posting their statements and comments here and will update the post with new reactions as they roll in. 

Is Pa. ruling an overdue check on SRC power or a prelude to fiscal instability?
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has delivered a major blow to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission in a decision that’s poised to have far-reaching effects on public schools in the city.  The SRC has been assuming that it has special powers to suspend parts of the school code and charter law based on the legislation that created the state-takeover body in 2001.  In a 4-2 bipartisan decision, the state’s highest court said Tuesday that section of the legislation is unconstitutional, and that the SRC has been overreaching its authority.  In essence, the court lay fault at the feet of state lawmakers for not defining powers more specifically.

Agora cyber charter still mum on layoff numbers
The Agora Cyber Charter School said it decided to lay off employees after “all other options [had] been exhausted.” The total number of layoffs could be as high as 150.
Inquirer by Martha Woodall, Staff Writer. Updated: FEBRUARY 18, 2016 — 1:08 AM EST
Five days after Agora, the second-largest cyber charter school in Pennsylvania, laid off scores of teachers and staffers, it still was refusing to disclose the number of people let go.  The school, which has headquarters in King of Prussia and enrolls 8,500 students across the state, repeatedly has declined to specify a layoff total.  Current and laid-off employees, however, said their tallies showed that more than 100 people lost their jobs, possibly as many as 150.  A spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, which oversees cyber schools, said the schools are not required by law to inform the department of layoffs and furloughs. Nicole Reigelman said that as a courtesy, it is helpful if the department is notified.  "That did not occur in this case," she said, adding that the department was looking into the matter.

Layoffs at cyber charter with York Co. students
York Daily Record Angie Masonamason@ydr.com3:54 p.m. EST February 17, 2016
Agora Cyber Charter School said the decision was made because of financial difficulties and the state budget impasse.
A cyber charter school attended by a few hundred York County students said it has laid off a "substantial" number of employees because of financial difficulties.  Agora Cyber Charter School released a statement saying it has restructured staff, but the school hasn't released an official number of layoffs. The Philadelphia Inquirer cited unnamed staffers who said there were 100 to 150 people affected.  "Unfortunately ... yes, that would be an accurate estimate," Melissa Reese, a spokeswoman for the school, said in an email.  About 325 students from York County school districts attended Agora in 2014-15, according to data available from the state education department. The school has about 8,500 students statewide.  In its statement, the cyber charter blamed Gov. Tom Wolf and the continuing state budget impasse for the layoffs.

Opponents rally against turning Wister into charter school
Parents rally against turning Wister Elementary School in Germantown over to a charter operator
by Dana DiFilippo, Staff Writer. on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016.
Is converting a long-troubled neighborhood school into a charter school the best chance for students' future success? Or is it an unconstitutional revival of school segregation?
Those were the weighty questions that had about 100 parents and activists shouting and applauding at a rally outside Wister Elementary School in Germantown Wednesday morning.  They gathered to back Superintendent William Hite's recommendation that Wister has improved enough in the past year to remain a district school and get extra support to ensure continued progress.  The school's fate has ping-ponged since Hite last year recommended Wister, Cooke Elementary in Logan and Huey Elementary in West Philadelphia for charter conversion.  He later changed his mind on Wister after reviewing data showing it didn't warrant drastic intervention - but the five-member School Reform Commission last month defied Hite and voted to begin the process of turning Wister over to Mastery Charter. A final SRC vote is set for April.

Tom Wolf states his case
Delco Times Heron's Nest Blog by Editor Phil Heron Wednesday, February 17, 2016
There's nothing quite like picking up the phone on a dreary Tuesday afternoon and being greeted with this message:  "Hi, Phil. This is Tom Wolf."  No, it was not a recording.
And it wasn't a fake. The governor was calling, even if he didn't identify himself as such.
I kind of like the idea that Wolf didn't use his title when he greeted me. He campaigned on the idea of being a "different" kind of governor. Well, this unannounced phone call certainly qualifies as that.  I'd like to think Wolf specifically decided to call me to chat. My guess is that he was doing likewise with newsmakers and opinion shapers across the state.  Not surprisingly, he wanted to talk about the state budget. Or rather the lack of one. Wolf has been locked in a standoff with Republican leaders since last summer, unable to agree on spending and the revenue (read tax hikes) to pay for what the governor wants.

Charting a bright future for Pa. children
Centre Daily Times Opinion BY FRANCES WOLF February 16, 2016
Frances Wolf is the first lady of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Impact fee poised to bring in $38 million less than last year
By Laura Legere / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 17, 2016 2:37 PM
Pennsylvania’s shale gas impact fee will likely bring in $38 million less this year than last year because of stubbornly low natural gas prices and fewer new wells to pay the levy, according to projections released Wednesday by the state Independent Fiscal Office.  When the fees are due in April, shale gas well operators are expected to pay $185.5 million for wells drilled through 2015. The annual total will be the lowest, by nearly $17 million, of any year since the state began collecting the fees in 2012, if the fiscal office’s estimates are borne out.  The projections are based on a complete picture of the year’s natural gas production reports and well counts, so the office is fairly confident in its figures.

EPLC’s New Report: “High School Career and Technical Education: Serving Pennsylvania’s Student and Workforce Needs”
This report focuses on and organizes recommendations around several broad issues that are fundamental to improve the effectiveness of Pennsylvania’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) system for secondary students. These are:
  • Leadership and Governance
  • Regional and Local Coordination
  • Building Student and Parent Awareness About Career and Technical Education
  • Relevancy and Rigor of CTE Programs
  • Assuring CTE Opportunities for All Students
  • Accountability and Effectiveness
  • State Funding
The recommendations in this report are intended to provoke discussion and action. The recommendations are all proposed with some specificity about “who” should do “what”. They are intended to assign responsibility and prompt the named entities or groups to take action soon.

North Allegheny schools chief proposes cost-savings measures
Trib Live BY TONY LARUSSA  | Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, 10:39 p.m.
North Allegheny's acting superintendent outlined cost-saving measures and revenue generators on Wednesday night that erase much of the school district's anticipated $3.8 million budget deficit and avoid the need to hike property taxes.  The school board voted unanimously in January to approve a $151.1 million preliminary budget that called for a 3.5 percent increase in the property tax rate.  A major driver in the projected budget deficit is the higher cost of pension and health care benefits, as well as the months-long state budget impasse.  “These recommendations do not include an increase in taxes,” said Robert Scherrer, the district's acting superintendent of schools.
“Our goal throughout the (budget) process has been to identify opportunities for additional revenues and to minimize expenditures in a way that does not diminish the world-class education that we provide our students,” he said.

Erie's school system close to the brink
Erie Times News by Pat Howard 18 Feb 2016
If you haven't had an opportunity to leaf through the Erie School District's PowerPoint presentation on its inexorable financial slide, you might opt for something a bit less depressing.  "Old Yeller," perhaps.  Schools Superintendent Jay Badams and Chief Financial Officer Brian Polito have made the case contained therein to the Erie School Board, to our Editorial Board, and on Wednesday evening to the public. They'll take it to Harrisburg next week.  The best-case scenario projects a 2016-17 budget deficit of $3.04 million. The worst case, probably closer to the mark given the current political dynamics in Harrisburg, predicts $8.9 million in red ink.  And those numbers are only the beginning of an annual trend that before long will lead to the equivalent of bankruptcy and a state takeover. That would be the same state that's driving Erie's school system into a ditch to begin with.  The situation is complicated by the continuing food fight between Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature. But at heart that's an argument over how fast, not whether, Erie's and similarly situated systems go under.  Putting a lot more cash into the pipeline, as Wolf proposes, ultimately won't help Erie if state funding is allocated largely as it has been. That just perpetuates a system in which, in Badams' words, "literally the rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

Erie School Board to hire Long Nyquist and Associates.
By RON LEONARDI ron.leonardi@timesnews.com18 Feb 2016 — Erie Times-News
Erie schools Superintendent Jay Badams warned last week the district could be headed for bankruptcy, which could force the state to take control of the district in the near future.
That dire financial forecast is possible, he said, if the way school districts are funded isn't changed.  In an effort to help the district find state funding, the Erie School Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to hire a Harrisburg-based government public relations firm, Long Nyquist and Associates.  The board approved a 10-month, $65,000 contract, which is scheduled to begin March 1, Badams said.  "The contract will last at least through the next legislative session, which goes through November,'' he said. "The cost will be $6,500 a month to retain their services. We are hoping to gain private funding to offset that cost, so that doesn't become a cost that the taxpayers have to bear.''  Hiring the government relations firm is something Badams said the district needs to "help navigate the legislative landscape in Harrisburg.''

Central Bucks, Council Rock tops in SAT scores
Intelligencer By Gary Weckselblatt, staff writer Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2016 5:30 am
Bucks County's two largest school districts are among the state's top performers in the recently released 2015 SAT scores.  Council Rock North ranks ninth in Pennsylvania with an average composite score of 1735 and Central Bucks East 13th with an average composite score of 1709 for critical reading, math and writing. A little further down the list, those districts again congregate as CB South (1632), CR South (1631) and CB West (1627) finish 39th, 42nd and 43rd, respectively.  The scores "really reflect on our excellent teachers and show that our kids really want to learn and apply their learning in ways that affect their future," said David Weitzel, superintendent of the Central Bucks School District. "It does reflect value on a K-12 education and readiness for college or a career."  Barry Desko, Council Rock's director of secondary education, said while the district doesn't teach to any one specific test, the results "are one more piece in a bigger picture to help us assess how we're doing."  In Bucks County, New Hope-Solebury ranked 18th overall with a score of 1695. Palisades (1609), Pennsbury (1592) and Pennridge (1563) finished among the state's top 100 high schools.

Wilmington school board receives recognition
New Castle News Feb 17, 2016
The Wilmington Area School District’s 2014-2016 school board has been named a D. Richard Wynn Distinguished School Board by the University of Pittsburgh’s Tri-State Study Council.  The board of school directors will receive the award on March 17 at the Tri-State Study Council’s 68th annual banquet.  Tri-State Area School Study Council, which has a membership of more than 100 school districts, helps school districts, intermediate units, vocational technical schools and charter schools to keep pace with the rapidly evolving administrative, legal, and instructional issues of K-12 education and principal certification.  The D. Richard Wynn Award was initiated by Tri-State Study Council to celebrate excellence in board governance. The purpose of this award is to promote the idea that decision-making by the school board and administrators should move from conflict to compromise.  This year, both Wilmington and the Bethel Park School District are the recipients of the award.

Parents, teachers and children rally for public education at schools across the nation
Washington Post By Emma Brown February 17 at 10:57 AM  
Parents, teachers, children and community members rallied in support of public education at schools across the country Wednesday morning, many of them calling for more funding and less testing.  Thousands of people were expected to participate in the “walk-ins” at more than 800 schools in 30 cities, according to the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, which organized the event. The organization is a coalition of groups including the nation’s two largest teachers unions.n   The walk-ins became venues for many different messages including de-emphasizing standardized tests, slowing down charter school growth and ending state takeovers of local school systems, as well as building more community schools, which offer a host of social, emotional and physical health supports.

"The larger goal? To get private access to $500 billion in taxpayer funds spent annually across America on K-12 public schools. Since the 1990s, the federal government has spent $3.7 billion on charter schools, mostly in the last decade. State spending has been harder to pinpoint because charter spin offs have raised multi-millions by selling government-backed bonds for real estate and construction deals - where they own the assets. No matter how you slice it, taxpayer funds increasingly have been shifted from traditional schools to private hands, while traditional schools have been starved of badly needed revenue."
Billionaire-Funded Charter School Juggernaut Hits Roadblock in Los Angeles
Wednesday, 17 February 2016 00:00By Don HazenAlterNet | News Analysis
Over the past decade and longer, there has been a massively funded effort by the wealthiest people in America to replace public education and elected school boards with a privatized charter-school system. Walmart's Walton Family Foundation justcommitted an additional $1 billion to the cause. The result has been a highly successful juggernaut leading to more than 6,700 charter public schools in 42 states and Washington DC, and funded by taxpayers, with nearly 3 million students.  Co-mingling substantially public funds with private dollars, leveraging the advantage of its own set of rules and laws enabled by state legislatures - which eliminated most public accountability - school privateers have run roughshod over school systems in many American cities. New Orleans, Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia are just a small number of urban areas with a heavy presence of publicly funded private charters. Charter advocates and their deep-pocketed investors and supporters, using aggressive lobbying and campaign contributions of many wealthy supporters, have established strong footholds in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, California and many other states. In California, there are now an estimated 500,000 students in 1,200 charter schools.

“Western Region Forum Series” – Thursday, February 25, 2016
Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center100 Lytton Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Continental Breakfast – 8:00 a.m. Program – 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
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:
Karina Chavez
, Executive Director, Pittsburgh Council on Higher Education
Dr. Jeffrey Fuller
, Superintendent, Freedom Area School District
Cheryl Kleiman, Staff Attorney, Education Law Center
Nathan Mains, Executive Director, Pennsylvania School Boards Association
RSVP for the Pittsburgh forum by clicking here.
While there is no registration fee, seating is limited and an RSVP is required.

'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 For more information call 215-504-8545 or send an email to

Blogger note: this conference is SOLD OUT
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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