Thursday, April 28, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup April 28: “We need to fund the formula”

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup April 28, 2016:
“We need to fund the formula”

Rally in Harrisburg with the Campaign for Fair Education Funding on May 2nd 12:30 Main Rotunda!  We're rallying for a permanent fair funding formula + increases to basic education in 2016-17 budget
Public schools in Pennsylvania are a far cry from the “thorough and efficient” system of education promised guaranteed under our state constitution. That’s why we want YOU to join Education Law Center and members of the Campaign for Fair Education Funding in Harrisburg on May 2nd! Buses of supporters are leaving from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia - please register below so we can help you arrive on time for the 12:30 press conference in the Main Rotunda! Questions? Email for more details.

“But the formula is only as good as its funding, the advocates stressed, saying schools across the state are underfunded annually by more than $3 billion.
"We need to fund the formula," said lawyer Deborah Gordon Klehr of the Education Law Center.  "Pennsylvania has the largest funding gap between wealthiest and poorest schools in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education. So a formula is only as good as the funding that goes through it."
School advocates to state: Add cash to new funding formula
by Mensah M. Dean, Staff Writer Updated: APRIL 28, 2016 — 1:08 AM EDT
Buoyed by the end of the state budget stalemate and the creation of a new school funding formula this month, Philadelphia education advocates on Wednesday called on the state legislature to pump $400 million in new money into 2016-17 school budgets.  If the request becomes reality, the city School District would receive 18.9 percent, or about $75 million, of that new funding, said the advocates, who held a news conference in front of the district's North Broad Street headquarters.  The school funding formula, used to determine how much money each district receives from the state, is laudable for allocating funding based on the number of students in each district weighted for factors such as the number of students who are poor, who are learning English, and who have newly enrolled in charter schools, advocates say.

"The problem is that it is only as good as the money it applies to, and it only applies to the new money. There is a lot of locked-in inequity, and until the state starts to put sufficient dollars in, it isn't going to fix the problems that Pennsylvania has." 
Fair-funding advocates praise new formula, but stress the need for more money
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa April 27, 2016 — 7:56pm
A group of advocates Wednesday called on the General Assembly to increase state education funding next year by $400 million.  That is the amount proposed by Gov. Wolf in his budget, but it is likely to get pushback from a Republican legislature that has been loath to raise taxes.  The Coalition for Fair Education Funding praised the legislature's adoption of a state education funding formula in the fiscal code, after five years without a predictable way for distributing education aid. But they declared that this was just a first step in bringing resource equity and adequacy to the state's 500 school districts.   "We have to recognize, as the American poet Jerry Garcia observed once, 'every silver lining has a touch of gray,'" said Jeff Garis of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. "The funding formula that we have, while it is great, ultimately is only going to be as effective as the funding that is put into it."  The advocates plan to descend on Harrisburg on Monday, May 2, the first day of business after Tuesday's primary.

Analysis of 2015 School Funding Impact Plans: The Graveyard of a Lost Year of Pennsylvania Education
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia By Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, Staff Attorney, and James Rathz, David Peters and Maura Douglas, Legal Interns.
An analysis of plans submitted by Pennsylvania school districts last spring, which reported how they would use new state education funding, provides vivid proof of how persistent underfunding has damaged the ability of districts to provide even the essentials of a good education. It is a window into the consequences for students of the failure to carry through on the legislature’s 2008 plan to provide schools with the resources necessary to keep pace with demanding new standards.  Although the state temporarily made meaningful strides to fix its inadequate and unfair funding, progress was reversed in 2011, when the Commonwealth cut education funding by $860 million. The impact from that cut was as foreseeable as it was widespread: Districts eliminated 27,000 jobs and class sizes increased, while test scores and the percentage of high school graduates enrolling in college immediately declined. Moreover, those cuts continue to reverberate five years later, with most districts—particularly the poorest districts—still with less state funding than before the cuts.

NEWS RELEASE: PSBA releases recommendations for ESSA implementation in Pennsylvania
An Every Student Succeeds Act Study Group (ESSA), convened by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), has released recommendations on how the new ESSA should be implemented in the commonwealth. ESSA was signed into law in December 2015 and replaces the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). A report with recommendations was developed by a diverse group of more than 80 school directors, school administrators and subject experts.  All states, including Pennsylvania, are now in the process of crafting new state plans that are expected to be submitted for approval to the U.S. Department of Education in Fall 2016 and take effect beginning in 2017-18.  “We are pleased to make these recommendations on behalf of the participants of the study group,” said PSBA Executive Director Nathan Mains. “The study group, all education experts, had very thoughtful and probing conversation around ESSA implementation. We strongly encourage the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to take these recommendations into consideration as it moves forward with the state’s plan.”
The ESSA has been heralded by many for returning accountability to the states. These changes mean that individual states will bear more responsibility for implementing the law and its new requirements. PSBA convened the study group to begin the process of making recommendations to PDE, Gov. Tom Wolf and the General Assembly.  The report is the result of several weeks of discussion and preparation by study group members, culminating in a two-day meeting held March 2-3, 2016, during which attendees reviewed and discussed the new law in subgroups from four perspectives: assessment, schools identified as being in the “bottom 5%,” educator effectiveness, and charter school issues and solutions.  Within these topics, subgroups developed key areas of recommendations. The full list of recommendations and details for each can be found in the full report online. The goal of the study group and PSBA is that the recommendations will be taken into consideration as PDE begins convening its own study groups on April 28. Highlights from each group are listed below:

PlanCon: Reforming the cost of Pa. education (column)
York Daily Record by Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, Guest Columnist1:34 p.m. EDT April 26, 2016
Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill is a Republican from York Township.
Throughout the ongoing budget debate, you may have seen and heard the acronym PlanCon used in reference to education spending. PlanCon is short for Planning and Construction Workbook, a system by which Pennsylvania’s school districts and career and technology centers are reimbursed by the commonwealth for costs incurred during construction.  Some of you may question the idea of reimbursing schools for construction costs. I’d like to offer some background on the subject.  The commonwealth reimbursing schools in this manner has been going on for quite some time. The origin dates back to the 1950s; however, the modern day PlanCon process is the result of Act 34 of 1973. This legislation placed in statute the process for applying for reimbursement, as well as standards school districts must adhere to in order to be reimbursed.  Why do we choose to reimburse districts? PlanCon is a way to allow poor rural school districts to afford construction; however, all districts were eventually allowed to participate in the program. The General Assembly also believes it is in the best interest of the total education product to offer some sort of incentive, as well as have some control over the landscape. It is important to point out not all construction costs are eligible for reimbursement. The portion being reimbursed must serve an educational purpose.

Poll: Should charter schools be funded by local school tax?
By Jim Flagg | For  Email the author  on April 26, 2016 at 2:24 PM, updated April 26, 2016 at 2:29 PM
"Without the charter schools, we'd have a surplus," Bethlehem School Superintendent Joseph Roy said Monday, attributing a proposed 3.9 percent district tax increase to charter school tuition and contributions to employee pension funds.  Roy's complaint is far from unique. Many school officials lament having to pay for students to go to charter schools, whose tuition is paid by school district taxes without a significant bump in state aid for that expense. For 2016-17, the Bethlehem Area School District will send $26 million to charter schools and nearly $30 million to pension funds.  Charter schools — tax-supported entities that operate independently of most state mandates — are thriving in Pennsylvania. In the 2013-14 school year, state taxpayers spent $1.2 billion to support 129,000 students in both bricks-and-mortar and cyber charter schools.

It's time for a blue-ribbon commission to fix Pa's budget mess: George Wolff
PennLive Op-Ed   By George Wolff on April 27, 2016 at 12:11 PM
George Wolff is founder of the Keystone Transportation Funding Coalition.
Although hard to imagine in today's climate of fiscal austerity, 20 years ago the commonwealth was rolling in cash.   Even though we never used the term, the state was running "structural surpluses" – taxes and other revenue exceeded expenses by hundreds of millions of dollars a year.   The state's two primary pension funds – the Public School Employees Retirement System and the State Employees Retirement System – were well funded with annual returns on investments in the double digits.  Even after fully funding state programs, setting aside hundreds of millions to encourage economic development, investing billions in sports stadiums and convention centers and cutting business taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars, we were still comfortably in the black.   If anyone knew a dot-com bubble was going to burst or the home mortgage market was going to collapse, they weren't telling anyone – yet.  In the glow of those comfortable surpluses, our elected leaders made a series of fateful moves.  The state's elected officials have seen this coming for years, but have failed to come to a consensus to fix it.
They determined that they could drastically reduce the commonwealth's and school districts' contributions to the pension funds, while giving the participants in those funds – including themselves – significant benefit increases.   For a couple of years, the state and school districts paid virtually nothing into the pension funds while benefits were being increased by 25 to 50 percent.

West Jefferson Hills School Board balances preliminary budget with tax hike
Post Gazette By Margaret Smykla April 28, 2016 12:45 AM
A balanced preliminary budget of $47.7 million for the 2016-17 school year that raises taxes for the fourth consecutive year was introduced at Wednesday’s meeting of the West Jefferson Hills School Board. There are no furloughs or program cuts in the plan.  The preliminary budget calls for a real estate tax hike of 0.59 mills, for a new tax rate of 19.628 mills. The increase will generate an additional $806,000 for the district.  The owner of a home appraised at $100,000 will pay $59 more in real estate taxes next year.  Last year, the millage was raised 0.446 mills. For the 2014-15 school year, it was raised 0.488 mills, and for 2013-14 it was raised 0.39 mills.

Voters reject Riverside SD, Carbondale referendums
Times Tribune BY PETER CAMERON, STAFF WRITER Published: April 27, 2016
Voters in the Riverside School District stomped a referendum that would have allowed a tax increase of more than 8 percent to raise money for a district with a “dangerously low” rainy-day fund.  More than 90 percent of ballots cast — representing 3,370 voters — were against the tax increase, while 308 were in favor, according to unofficial results.  Registered voters in Moosic and Taylor, the two boroughs served by the district, were asked to hike school district real estate taxes by an additional 4.47 mills, or 3.93 percent. A mill is equal to $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value.  A “yes” outcome could have resulted in an increase of as much as 8.93 mills, or 8.16 percent, during the 2016-17 school year.  The state Department of Education already approved the district’s application to increase taxes over a predetermined cap, known as the Act 1 Index, giving the school board the ability to enact a 4.46-mill hike regardless of what voters decide.   Superintendent Paul M. Brennan previously called the referendum a “desperation move” from the school district because it has a “dangerously low” rainy-day fund and health insurance reserve.

South Western to tentatively adopt school budget
York Daily Record Staff report 6:15 p.m. EDT April 20, 2016
South Western School District will make a motion to tentatively adopt its 2016-17 budget at its April 27 meeting.  The budget allows for an expenditure level of around $64 million, which represents a 3.48 percent increase over last year's budget, according to a news release from Jeff Mummert, the district's business administrator.  To help fund the budget, the district is proposing to increase real estate taxes 3.22 percent, which equates to an increase of $87.65 for the average homeowner in the district, the release states. This percentage is down from the preliminary budget number of 4.69 percent because the board chose not to approve an exception for retirement and only the excess required special education expenses, Mummert said.

Can we trust the Philadelphia District’s yardstick for school quality?
Kevin McCorry speaks with Tom MacDonald about SPR data on NewsWorks Tonight
There are many reasons to be wary about relying too heavily on the School District of Philadelphia’s main tool for measuring school quality – especially when it comes to making high-stakes decisions about closures, staffing shake-ups and charter conversions.  Presented with a NewsWorks analysis of the publically available results of the first three years of the School Progress Report, top district officials acknowledged that the tool can not be used reliably to evaluate the effectiveness of schools over time.  Because of the way the district has manipulated the inner-workings of SPR each year, leaders say reports should be considered standalone snapshots in time.  Reading the reports, though – which showcase outcomes over years – can leave the public with a much different impression.

Harvard study: Soda tax would make Phila. healthier
Inquirer by Don Sapatkin, Staff Writer Updated: APRIL 27, 2016 — 11:06 PM EDT
Harvard University researchers are projecting major health benefits if Mayor Kenney's proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is enacted.  Within a few years of the three-cents-an-ounce tax's beginning, they forecast, nearly 2,300 diabetes diagnoses would be prevented annually, and eventually, 36,000 people a year would avoid obesity. Over a decade, about 730 deaths would be averted, and close to $200 million saved in health spending.  "It is just a total winner of a policy from a public health perspective," said Steven Gortmaker, who led the analysis, being released Thursday.  The mayor's argument for an excise tax that would add 36 cents to the cost of a can of soda has focused largely on the revenue it could provide for universal prekindergarten and other programs. Health benefits have taken a backseat in his campaign.

Diane Ravitch has a most unusual conversation with a billionaire school reformer
Washington Post By Valerie Strauss April 27 at 3:05 PM 
Regular readers of this blog know Diane Ravitch. The education historian and activist has been the titular leader of the movement against corporate school reform since the publication of her 2010 book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” which details why she stopped supporting No Child Left Behind and standardized test-based school reform. Ravitch’s book popularized the phrase “The Billionaire Boys Club” with a chapter that describes the role of the three foundations that have spent the most money in K-12 education reform: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.  Those three foundations are hardly the only ones in the education reform sector, and there are many other extremely wealthy individuals who have been pouring money into reform projects for years now. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, for example, gave $100 million to the Newark public schools — much of it wasted — and is now planning, with his wife, Priscilla Chan, to open a private, tuition-free school for low-income children in East Palo Alto, Calif., that will integrate health care and support for families with classroom learning.
Whitney Tilson is a billionaire hedge fund manager who has long been involved in school reform. Among other enterprises, he was a founder of Teach For America as well as Democrats for Education Reform.  It turns out Ravitch and Tilson — who hold some vastly different views on many reform issues — communicate every now and then, and recently had a rather unusual conversation about school reform on their respective blogs (hers is here and his is here).  Ravitch posted it all and gave me permission to republish it.

Tennessee cancels standardized testing in elementary and middle schools, citing delayed delivery of exams
Washington Post By Emma Brown April 27 at 5:27 PM 
Tennessee officials announced Wednesday that they are suspending standardized testing for elementary and middle school students for the remainder of the spring, saying that the state’s testing vendor has repeatedly failed to deliver the exams as promised.  High school students will continue with testing, since the vendor did ship exams to all of the state’s high schools, officials said.  Candice McQueen, Tennessee’s education commissioner, also announced that she was terminating the state’s contract with the vendor, Durham, N.C.-based Measurement Inc. Though the company promised to deliver all tests by April 22, and then by April 27, 2 million documents are yet to be shipped, and all of the state’s school districts are missing some testing materials, she said.  “We will not ask districts to continue waiting on a vendor that has repeatedly failed us,” McQueen said. “I’m incredibly frustrated that our educators and students have given so much and yet our vendor has not provided reliability.”

Low Performers Show Big Declines on 12th Grade NAEP Test
Education Week By Liana Heitin on April 27, 2016 4:35 AM
Much like their 4th and 8th grade peers, high school seniors have lost ground in math over the last two years, according to the most recent scores on a national achievement test.  In reading, 12th grade scores remained flat, continuing a trend since 2009.  Perhaps the most striking detail in the test data, though, is that the lowest achievers showed large score drops in both math and reading. Between 2013 and 2015, students at or below the 10th percentile in reading went down an average of 6 points on the National Assessment for Educational Progress—the largest drop in a two-year period since 1994. The high achievers, on the other hand—those at or above the 90th percentile—did significantly better in reading, gaining two points, on average, while staying stagnant in math.  "In the case of reading ... students at the top of the distribution are going up and students at the bottom of the distribution are going down," said Peggy G. Carr, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers NAEP, during an April 26 media call. "I think that's something we need to think about. ... This is a pattern we're seeing in other data."  As for the mathematics average score, "I think the decline is real," she added.

Rally in Harrisburg with the Campaign for Fair Education Funding on May 2nd 12:30 Main Rotunda!
Public schools in Pennsylvania are a far cry from the “thorough and efficient” system of education promised guaranteed under our state constitution. That’s why we want YOU to join Education Law Center and members of the Campaign for Fair Education Funding in Harrisburg on May 2nd! Buses of supporters are leaving from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia - please register below so we can help you arrive on time for the 12:30 press conference in the Main Rotunda! Questions? Email for more details.

Electing PSBA Officers – Applications Due by April 30th
All persons seeking nomination for elected positions of the Association shall send applications to the attention of the chair of the Leadership Development Committee during the month of April, an Application for Nomination to be provided by the Association expressing interest in the office sought. “The Application for nomination shall be marked received at PSBA Headquarters or mailed first class and postmarked by April 30 to be considered and timely filed. If said date falls on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday, then the Application for Nomination shall be considered timely filed if marked received at PSBA headquarters or mailed and postmarked on the next business day.” (PSBA Bylaws, Article IV, Section 5.E.).
Open positions are:
In addition to the application form, PSBA Governing Board Policy 302 asks that all candidates furnish with their application a recent, print quality photograph and letters of application. The application form specifies no less than two and no more than four letters of recommendation, some or all of which preferably should be from school districts in different PSBA regions as well as from community groups and other sources that can provide a description of the candidate’s involvement with and effectiveness in leadership positions. PSBA Governing Board Policy 108 also outlines the campaign procedures of candidates.
All terms of office commence January 1 following election.

Join the Pennsylvania Principals Association at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 21, 2016, at The Capitol in Harrisburg, PA, for its second annual Principals' Lobby Day.
Pennsylvania Principals Association Monday, March 21, 2016 9:31 AM
 To register, contact Dr. Joseph Clapper at by Tuesday, June 14, 2016. If you need assistance, we will provide information about how to contact your legislators to schedule meetings.
Click here for the informational flyer, which includes important issues to discuss with your legislators.

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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