Monday, June 27, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 27: Most PA school districts raising property taxes; PSERS increase cited as major factor

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup June 27, 2016:
Most PA school districts raising property taxes; PSERS increase cited as major factor

PSBA: Join us TODAY for Budget Call to Action Day

Today, Monday, June 27, public education advocates across the state are participating in a Budget Call to Action Day. This is a key day as negotiations head toward a final agreement.  We're asking you to take a minute and make a difference by calling your legislators in the Senate and House of Representatives. Use these talking points to tell them that school districts need a state education budget for 2016-17 that includes: 

• A minimum increased investment of $200 million for the basic education subsidy.Pennsylvania now has a new school funding formula under Act 35 of 2016 that targets funds to support students in every school district. But the new formula alone does not fix our broken school funding system - we need to fund it now.

• A minimum $100 million increase to help school districts cover pension costs. The single largest cost driver in school district budgets is mandated pension costs. Each year the costs continue to climb, taking larger portions of local budgets and pulling money away from classroom funding

Every phone call is important. Join us in this push to increase funding for our public schools.
Click here to find YOUR legislator and his/her contact information.
 Make an impact   CALL TODAY

“Ammerman said the major factor driving tax increases continues to be the state-mandated payments from school districts into the Pennsylvania State Retirement System.  That expense rose by 4 percentage points this year to reach an overall contribution rate of 30 percent of school employees' salaries.  “But in (dollar) terms of the pensions, that (4 percentage points) is closer to a 15 percent increase in that line item,” he noted.”
Survey: Most Pennsylvania school districts raising property taxes
Trib Live BY TOM YERACE | Sunday, June 26, 2016, 11:30 p.m.
The Alle-Kiski Valley appears to be faring better than the rest of the state on property tax increases for the coming school year.  Although three local school districts — Leechburg Area, Apollo-Ridge and Plum — have yet to approve their final 2016-17 budgets, at least half of the Valley's districts will not increase taxes despite wrestling with tighter finances.  It's a different story when looking at the entire state, according to Jeff Ammerman, director of member services for the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. Just how difficult school finances are is more evident, he said.  Ammerman's group just completed a budget survey and found that three-quarters of the school districts in Pennsylvania plan to increase taxes.  “They are basically raising taxes to try to break even,” he said. “They are raising taxes, even though they are cutting staff.”

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Weekend Roundup June 26, 2016:
Cyber charters want to start a conversation with Pa. education officials

Pa. Budget: Where it stands as deadline looms at end of week
Delco Times By Marc Levy, The Associated Press POSTED: 06/26/16, 5:21 PM EDT
HARRISBURG, Pa. >> The start of Pennsylvania state government’s 2016-17 fiscal year is just four days away and key budget legislation remains under negotiation behind closed doors. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature have reported no agreements on spending or how to pay for it, and have not unveiled a bipartisan budget package.  Negotiations continued through the weekend, and lawmakers were to return to the Capitol on Monday, virtually ensuring that a budget will not meet the fiscal-year deadline. Negotiators are tight-lipped, while rank-and-file lawmakers who must vote on it say they are being told little by caucus leaders.  A look at some key topics:

State budget talks inch closer to an agreement; 'the last mile is the hardest mile to get to'
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on June 27, 2016 at 7:11 AM, updated June 27, 2016 at 7:14 AM
2016-17 state budget agreement remained a work in progress going into Monday although legislative leaders hinted a conclusion could come soon.  House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders met twice on Sunday evening, both times coming out suggesting that movement toward a tentative deal was being made.  "As I always say, the last mile is the hardest mile to get to," Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said. "We're going to keep working at it."  Talks are expected to resume Monday, three days before the fiscal year ends.  The biggest issue standing in the way of a deal getting done?  Spending, Corman said.  "For every dollar you spend, you have to have revenue to cover it. We're trying to spend the least amount possible so we don't have to have revenue. They want to spend more. That's the difference," he said following a meeting with Democratic leaders from the House and Senate in the office of House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana.

“With four days until the deadline for a state budget , Gov. Wolf and the Republican-dominated legislature have no deal and no face-to-face talks scheduled.”
As budget deadline nears, no agreement, no talks set
Inquirer by Angela Couloumbis and Karen Langley, HARRISBURG BUREAU Updated: JUNE 27, 2016 — 1:08 AM EDT
HARRISBURG - With four days until the deadline for a state budget - and the memory of last year's impasse still raw - Gov. Wolf and the Republican-dominated legislature have no deal and no face-to-face talks scheduled, and have shown little evidence of the political will for election-year tax hikes.  Legislators left the Capitol on Thursday without even resolving a basic question: how much money they plan to spend in the fiscal year that begins July 1, let alone how much new revenue they need to raise and where it will come from.  Members of the House of Representatives were scheduled to meet Sunday evening to begin positioning a budget bill for a vote - but abruptly canceled the meeting Saturday afternoon, saying they had more work to do.  "The situation is still pretty fluid," Rep. Frank Farry (R., Bucks) said in an interview late last week. "I do feel there is a greater sense of bipartisanship this time around. But I think everything comes down to: What is the tax vote? And who is willing to take it?"

Inquirer editorial: Pa. budget compromises look oddly like progress
Inquirer Editorial Updated: JUNE 27, 2016 — 3:01 AM EDT
There is an unfamiliar atmosphere approaching civility in Harrisburg these days.  Gov. Wolf spent last week saying he isn't asking for hikes in sales or income taxes to balance this year's budget despite having insisted on both last year. This so pleased House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) that he tweeted the self-congratulatory message "Applauding @GovernorTomWolf statement that we've said and done for years: We can balance #PABudget without a broad-based tax increase."  Though somewhat misleading, Turzai's tweet was a grand departure from his antics during the previous budget season, which culminated when he dismissed the House rather than vote on a deal he had agreed to.  Now bills chipping away at the budget and related issues are moving through the legislature without overt power struggles between the Democratic governor and Republican legislative leadership. The legislation is flawed but demonstrates progress where there had been so little.

PA can't afford a repeat of budget stalemate
Lancaster Online Editorial by The LNP Editorial Board June 26, 2016
THE ISSUE: There are signs of progress in the Pennsylvania Legislature toward a state budget for 2016-17. Neither side wants a repeat of last fiscal year’s nine-month impasse, which eventually amounted to very little by the time a budget was passed in March. The deadline is June 30. Both sides realize, especially in an election year, that failure will be costly.  Expectations are not high. That’s the good news for the Pennsylvania Legislature. The bad news is our lawmakers set the bar for progress toward a budget so low last year, that any sort of faint rustling sound coming from inside the state Capitol would be cause for celebration.  Our cynical side says, of course, in an election year, when all state House members and half of the Senate are up for re-election, the Legislature is going to show signs of emerging from its fiscal stupor and do some actual work. It certainly won’t play well to the voters if lawmakers return home to their districts to report, “We’ve done absolutely nothing. Have a nice summer.”  But progress, whatever the motivation, is still progress, and it must be acknowledged and encouraged, if not celebrated.

Drink, smoke, spin — Pa. bets future on sin taxes | Editorial
By Express-Times opinion staff  on June 26, 2016 at 6:00 AM, updated June 26, 2016 at 6:04 AM
If Pennsylvania is to have a balanced, on-time budget, it will be carried into the new fiscal year Friday on the backs of gamblers and smokers.  It won't be the first time the needs of education, social services, healthcare and other state programs have been bolstered by an infusion of sin taxes. What's amazing is how Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican legislative leaders dropped the gloves on their budget priorities so easily, after an epic, nine-month battle over the current-year budget.  An election year will do that.  Earlier this month Wolf played the card that changed everything, dropping his insistence on a broad-based tax increase in return for a $350 million boost in education spending. He also wants a $34 million investment in the fight against opioid addiction, a demand that remains up in the air. But for the most part, this budget battle is showing signs of sweet surrender.

Democrats take leap of faith into budget talks with GOP
Bradford Era by Associated Press Posted: Sunday, June 26, 2016 8:01 pm
HARRISBURG (AP) — It's the big head-scratcher in the Pennsylvania Capitol.
House Democrats this month helped pass bills that advanced a couple long-sought Republican priorities — scaling back traditional public pension benefits and breaking state-control over wine sales — apparently without any assurance that the Legislature's huge GOP majorities will return the favor to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.  With less than two weeks until the fiscal year ends, the question now is what Wolf will get from tax-averse Republicans to advance his efforts to wipe out a damaging deficit and close huge funding inequities between wealthy and poor school districts.  "We're negotiating with them," said House Minority Whip Mike Hanna, D-Clinton. "That's probably the biggest thing in the world. I mean, at this point last year, (House Republicans) had told us we weren't in the room, that they were going to pass their budget with no Democratic input."  Wolf and lawmakers spent much of the last year mired in a bare-knuckled partisan fight over Wolf's first budget, an embarrassing crisis that all sides seem determined to avoid repeating, particularly in an election year.  Legislative leaders and Wolf say there's been a different, more positive tone as they enter the final stretch to the July 1 fiscal-year deadline. But they also so far have failed to reach agreement on basic elements of a budget package, including how much the state will spend and whether taxes will go up to pay for it.

Agora Charter parents' long legal fight ends
Inquirer by Martha Woodall, Staff Writer Updated: JUNE 27, 2016 — 1:08 AM EDT
For 71/2 years, several parents of former students at Agora Cyber Charter School lived under the cloud of a defamation suit that would not go away.  The school's founder, Dorothy June Brown, had sued the parents after they asked questions about operations of the taxpayer-funded school. She said they had made statements implying that she was "corrupt, incompetent, and possibly criminal."  The suit quietly ended 13 days ago when Montgomery County's prothonotary, in a housekeeping move, closed the case because there had been no activity for more than two years.  That was a relief for the parents, who had watched the case drag on even after federal authorities charged Brown with defrauding Agora and three other charters she founded of $6.7 million.

School District of Lancaster budget raises property taxes by 2 percent
Lancaster Online by Kara Newhouse / Staff Jun 25, 2016
The School District of Lancaster adopted a $196 million budget Tuesday that raises property taxes by 2 percent and funds programs board members were prepared to do without just weeks ago.  The spending plan boosts taxes by $55 for the average homeowner, a jump from $2,721 to $2,776 on a $100,000 home. It also relies on a 1.33 percent projected increase in state funding for $781,400 in new revenue.  The final budget represents a $2 million increase over the preliminary version approved by the school board in May. That plan included a conservative 1 percent increase in state funding, reflecting the uncertainty of state funding levels for both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years.

Nominations now open for PSBA Allwein Awards (deadline July 16)
The Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award was established in 2011 by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and may be presented annually to the individual school director or entire school board to recognize outstanding leadership in legislative advocacy efforts on behalf of public education and students that are consistent with the positions in PSBA’s Legislative Platform. The 2016 Allwein Award nominations will be accepted starting today and all applications are due by July 16, 2016. The nomination form can be downloaded from the website.

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:

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