Tuesday, June 28, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 28: "First-draft" state budget passes first test in Pa. House Appropriations Committee with strong bipartisan vote

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PA Ed Policy Roundup June 28, 2016:
"First-draft" state budget passes first test in Pa. House Appropriations Committee with strong bipartisan vote

House panel OKs budget, full chamber to vote Tuesday
Morning Call by Steve Esack Contact Reporter Call Harrisburg Bureau June 27, 2016 11:30 pm
HARRISBURG — The Republican-controlled Legislature began voting Monday night on a $31.5 billion budget that would increase education spending by about $260 million and could put higher taxes on smokers while expanding gamblers' options to the internet.  The 2016-17 budget bill — if it passes muster with the House's large bloc of conservative Republicans and a growing number of conservative senators — would be 5 percent higher than this year's budget, which limped into law nine months late.  Looked at another way, the latest spending plan would be 5.4 percent lower than Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's February budget proposal and about 1.3 percent lower than what he was hoping to get through summertime negotiations.  The House Appropriations Committee overwhelmingly voted to accept the budget about 9:35 p.m. The spending plan now moves to the full 203-member House, where a vote will be held Tuesday. If the House adopts it, the bill would move to the Senate, and if it is not changed, to Wolf.

“The new fiscal year may begin Friday, but Mr. Wolf and legislators blew past that deadline last year — by nine months.  In the House Appropriations Committee meeting late Monday, that recent discord was nowhere to be seen. The committee voted unanimously to amend the spending plan into a bill and then voted 36-1 to send it to the House floor.”
Budget bill clears House committee, but obstacles abound
Post Gazette By Angela Couloumbis & Karen Langley Harrisburg Bureau June 28, 2016 12:25 AM
HARRISBURG — There may soon be a budget bill, but there is no budget deal.
The proposal that cleared the House Appropriations Committee on Monday night calls for the state to spend about 5 percent more next year than it did under this year's $30 billion budget.  The boost in spending would be propped up by legalizing online gambling, loosening the state’s monopoly over the sale of wine, imposing new taxes on tobacco and instituting a tax amnesty program.  But neither the Republican-dominated Senate nor the administration of the Democratic governor has committed to support it.  Jeff Sheridan, Gov. Tom Wolf’s spokesman, said Monday that the governor has not agreed to the plan.  It doesn’t fully fund one of Mr. Wolf’s spending priorities: new dollars for opioid abuse treatment and prevention.  Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, expressed skepticism about aspects of the House plan: “We haven’t finalized anything,” he said, later noting, “There is no sense sending the governor something he doesn’t want, or at least won’t agree to sign.”

"First-draft" state budget passes first test in Pa. House Appropriations Committee with strong bipartisan vote
Penn Live By Charles Thompson | cthompson@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter on June 27, 2016 at 10:43 PM, updated June 27, 2016 at 11:04 PM
The Pennsylvania House Appropriations Committee gave a strong, 36-1 start Monday to what leaders in both parties called a "first-draft" state budget that - barring a major surprise - is likely to be the spending template for the fiscal year starting Friday.  The $31.6 billion spending plan will go to the full House of Representatives for a floor vote Tuesday, and then move to the state Senate.  It is, it's worth remembering, just a start.  The plan unveiled Monday is not an agreed-to package with the sign-off of Gov. Tom Wolf or the state Senate leadership.  Nor is there final agreement on a revenue package needed to bring the plan into balance.  But sources called the House plan a good snapshot of where negotiations stand as all sides hunker down for a final round of talks aimed at trying to produce a completed state budget on or near the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

Pa. House to vote on $31.5B budget with iGaming, tobacco taxes
Trib Live BY BRAD BUMSTED AND CARLEY MOSSBROOK | Monday, June 27, 2016, 11:42 a.m.
HARRISBURG — The House Appropriations Committee on Monday approved a $31.5 billion state budget that raises taxes on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco and relies on new revenue from a proposal for online gaming.  The full House is expected to vote on the package Tuesday. It's not a budget agreed to by Senate Republicans and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. But it is a first step toward meeting a deadline of midnight Thursday for passage of a 2016-17 state budget.  “I think we have an agreement with House Democrats. That doesn't say that everybody is going to vote for this tomorrow,” Rep. William Adolph, R-Delaware County, said Monday. “Quite frankly, I feel a lot better this year than I did last year at this time.”  It's a budget driven by efforts to avoid anything resembling last year's nine-month impasse between Wolf and the GOP House and Senate.  It boosts spending by $1.4 billion, almost 5 percent, but is significantly less than the $33.3 billion sought by the governor.

GOP lawmakers complain about being frozen out of process as 2016-17 budget continues to take shape
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter on June 27, 2016 at 2:22 PM, updated June 27, 2016 at 2:39 PM
A band of fiscal conservative House Republicans, frustrated over being kept in the dark about what is going in budget talks, gathered on Monday morning to call on their leaders to come clean about what's in the 2016-17 state spending plan they are crafting and how they are expecting to pay for it.  With three days until the fiscal year ends, this group of lawmakers criticized the House GOP leaders for being secretive with them about budget details while being more forthcoming with Democratic leaders.

“School officials blamed part of Chester Upland's continually skyrocketing debt on charter schools, which enroll about half of the students in the district.
In 2015, Chester Upland official and state officials sued area charter schools, in an extreme example of a common gripe — that the state's charter law is stacked against school districts.  The district argued that the boatload of money it was sending to charters for special-education students — $40,000 per student — wasn't actually being spent on those students.  Last fall, the two sides settled and signed a new agreement, instituting a lower rate — $27,029 for special-education students — and slightly raising regular student tuition to $10,683. While that contract and fluctuating enrollment ended up costing Chester Upland more in the regular tuition column, the change to special education spending stabilized charter costs and saved the district about $9.5 million in 2015-2016.”
After year of education funding fixes, Chester Upland still running in the red
Prepping seniors to walk the stage for the 2016 Chester Upland School District High School graduation ceremony, social science teacher Sherman Lineberry was all business.  "You really have nothing to do but pay attention," he said into public-address system. "No phones, no earphones, no texting."  On a steamy June morning, more than 200 students in matching black T-shirts practiced proceeding on and off Chester Upland's football field.  Listening to the familiar strains of "Pomp and Circumstance," it was easy to forget Chester's schools almost didn't open this year.  This year, battles in court and in Harrisburg sought to restore the Delaware County district from the clutches of skyrocketing debt. These efforts helped the district squeak by for one more year — but are not enough to put it in the black.

Seeking academic middle: How one group works to boost college completion in Philly
The notebook/WHYY Newsworks BY AVI WOLFMAN-ARENT JUNE 27, 2016
George Washington High School in Northeast Philadelphia has three guidance counselors for 1,700 students. Those seeking individual attention need to be one of two things, said recent graduate Tyreek Thompkins:  Really smart or really troubled.  “The people in the middle are just left there,” said Thompkins.  That’s no fault of the guidance counselors at George Washington, said Thompkins’ classmate Joseph Ware. He knows they’re overextended. Still, Ware can’t help but feel, in his words, “shafted.”  “He was never in his office,” Ware says of his assigned counselor. “When you needed him, he wasn’t there because he always had to deal with another student who needed to graduate rather than helping someone who’s on track to do it.”  Thanks to a modest budget surplus, the School District of Philadelphia will be able to put at least one guidance counselor in every school this September. But years of cutbacks have taken a toll, with outside groups often working furiously to fill in the gaps.

Commentary: SRC is acting as if it's above the law
Philly Daily News Opinion by Lisa Haver Updated: JUNE 28, 2016 — 3:01 AM EDT
Lisa Haver is a retired Philadelphia teacher and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.
AMERICA WAS founded on a system of open government in which all citizens, rich or poor, should have equal access to those who make the laws and should be able to express opinions on those laws before they are enacted. Our nation's founders recognized that power must be divided among branches of government and that there must be checks on power. And when government officials betray the public trust, we can vote them out of office.  But there are no checks on those appointed to govern the School District of Philadelphia and no way to vote them out. The School Reform Commission, which has invoked "special powers" when it sees the law as an impediment to its agenda, is not compelled to follow the basic tenets of democracy.  Consider: To pass a bill, City Council must introduce the bill during a public meeting; advertise it in a major daily newspaper; hold committee hearings with opportunity for public comment before sending it to the full Council; give the public another chance to speak; and no less than two weeks later, vote the bill up or down.  Contrast that with the SRC's power to compose, introduce and vote on a resolution in the same session - with no opportunity for public review or comment. The SRC has not hesitated to use this power, for example, to cancel the teachers' contract and to turn over a public school to a charter company.

Philly school cafeteria workers get pay raise
School cafeteria workers in Philadelphia ratified a contract extension Monday that includes wage increases and a 3 percent bonus.  The standing agreement between Local 634, School Cafeteria Employees Union UniteHere ,and the School District of Philadelphia wasn't slated to expire until next September. The extension inked Monday runs through September 2019.  "At the start of 2016, I made securing new and fair labor contracts for all of our unions a priority," said Philadelphia superintendent William Hite in a statement. "I am proud to announce a ratified agreement with our food service employees and student climate staff."  Over the life of the new deal, the union's lowest-paid workers will see hourly wages climb from $11.13 an hour to $12.85.  "This agreement recognizes our members contributions to the education of our children and guarantees wages and economic improvements over the next three years," said Nicole Hunt, staff organizer for Local 634, in a joint news release with the district.

Millcreek School District expects $3M surplus
By Erica Erwin 814-870-1846 Erie Times-News June 28, 2016 05:32 AM
ERIE, Pa. -- The Millcreek Township School District expects to end this fiscal year with a roughly $3 million surplus and an uncommitted fund balance of $6.4 million, indications that the district is back on solid ground after some financially tumultuous years, district officials said.  "We can now get back to talking about our programs and our kids and raising the instructional level in the classroom," Millcreek schools Superintendent William Hall said.  The surplus -- the third in as many years -- is the result of $500,000 in additional state revenue; health insurance expenses that were less than anticipated; the unexpected absorption of a few positions because of retirement; and a better-than-expected tax collection rate, said Aaron O'Toole, the district's director of finance and accounting.  The surplus also reflects $1.5 million the district expects to receive from the sale of Asbury Woods land.  The surplus and the fund balance were highlights of a year-end presentation O'Toole gave to the Millcreek School Board on Monday that painted a picture of a district in recovery.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Easton teachers' pact expires in 3 days
By Rudy Miller | For lehighvalleylive.com  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on June 27, 2016 at 2:15 PM, updated June 27, 2016 at 3:52 PM
The Easton Area School District teachers contract will expire in three days, according to the teachers union president.  Teachers union President Julia Miles said teachers will continue to work under the terms of the previous deal until a new agreement is reached.  "A strike is not likely to happen," she said Monday. "At this point we will continue on with the old contract."  School board President Frank Pintabone said the district is negotiating four other labor deals in addition to the teachers contract. Much is at stake with the teachers contract, so both sides are proceeding with caution, he said.  "There's no argument," he said. "There's no standstill. That's not what's holding us up."

Moon Area taxpayers will see slight rise in rates for 2016-17 school year
Beaver County Times Online By Katherine Schaeffer kschaeffer@timesonline.com June 27, 2016
MOON TWP. -- Moon Area School District taxpayers will see a .07115 mill increase in taxes next year.  The board voted 7-1 to pass a 2016-17 budget that calls for $75,775,442 in district expenditures and will bump taxes to 19.5576 mills. Board member Jeff Bussard dissented but would not elaborate as to why.  A homeowner paying taxes on a home valued at $148,000, the district’s median, will see an annual bill increase of $105.51.  Even with increased taxes, the district will still operate at a net deficit of $4,874,003, which the district will cover with a loan, Business Manager Chuck Lanna said.    The district started the 2011-12 school year with about $10 million in its general fund. That amount dwindled each year due to former Superintendent Curt Baker and the previous board’s financial mismanagement and overspending, Board President Jerry Testa said.  Testa and Lanna both agreed the district will have to cut costs in coming years to avoid a yawning deficit.  Without any significant reduction in expenditure, the board can expect the annual deficit to remain at at least $5 million, Lanna said.

Peters Township School District adopts budget with tax increase
Post Gazette By Deana Carpenter June 27, 2016 11:04 PM
A $62.4 million budget with a 2.65 mill increase was unanimously approved by the Peters Township school board at its Monday meeting. The increase brings the millage rate in the district to 113.4 mills.  A homeowner who currently pays $2,000 in school taxes will see a $48 increase for the year. Homeowners with a $3,000 tax bill will see an increase of $72 in school taxes.  The board also unanimously approved designating $8.5 million of the district’s fund balance for the purpose of satisfying future debt service obligations and increases in the employer contributions to the Public School Employees Retirement System.  About $4 million will be designated for debt service and $4.5 million to the retirement fund. The district’s remaining unreserved fund balance is estimated at $2,085,686.

Penn Hills approves 2016-17 budget that includes tax hike
Post Gazette By Tim Means June 27, 2016 9:38 PM
Penn Hills school directors approved an $82.6 million budget for the 2016-2017 school year that includes a 1.5 mill increase in real estate taxes bringing the rate to 23.6 mills. The tax increase will generate $3.2 million in new revenue. According to business manager Robert Geletko, the increase means that the owner of a $100,000 house in Penn Hills will pay twelve dollars per month more in taxes next year. The average home in Penn Hills is valued at $68,800. Due to extenuating circumstances, the district was permitted to exceed the state’s Act 1 tax index which would have capped the increase at 0.84 mills.  In addition to the tax hike, the district has budgeted $4,467,433 for student transportation., although a transportation contract has not yet been awarded for the 2016-17 school year. This represents a savings of $1,535,616 over last year and includes a reduction in fuel costs of $750,000. The transportation expenditure is calculated by using the state’s formula as recommended by the auditor general’s office.

Apollo-Ridge School District holds line on property taxes
Trib Live BY GEORGE GUIDO | Monday, June 27, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Real estate taxes will remain the same in the Apollo-Ridge School District for the next school year.  The school board on Monday night approved a $24.1 million budget that keeps the real estate tax rate for Apollo, North Apollo and Kiski Township in Armstrong County at 62.9 mills. Property owners in Young and Blacklick townships in Indiana County will see their real estate taxes remain at 14.9 mills.  School districts that cross county lines have an equalization process that has residents in different counties paying roughly the same amount in property taxes.  The homestead exclusion for qualified properties will be $331.  The budget represents a 2.62 percent increase over the current spending plan.

Jury orders Phila. schools to pay firm $2.3 million in bias suit
Inquirer by Martha Woodall and Jeremy Roebuck, STAFF WRITERS Updated: JUNE 28, 2016 — 1:07 AM EDT
A federal jury entered a $2.3 million judgment against the Philadelphia School District and the late Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman on Monday, finding that she discriminated against a Bucks County company by steering a $7.5 million no-bid contract to a smaller, minority-owned firm that had not sought the work.  Newtown-based Security & Data Technologies Inc. (SDT) filed the racial discrimination suit after, it said, Ackerman and the School District "deselected" it in 2010 for a contract to install surveillance cameras at 19 schools that the state had deemed "persistently dangerous."  The company, which had begun preliminary work, said Ackerman changed course and ordered the emergency contract be awarded to IBS Communications, which was not on a state list of companies eligible for no-bid contracts.

Education Secretary King calls on charters to rethink discipline, reduce suspensions
Washington Post By Emma Brown June 28 at 6:00 AM 
John King Jr. once founded a charter school that aimed to prepare low-income children for college, and it was known both for posting high test scores and for issuing a lot of suspensions.  Now King is U.S. Education Secretary, and he plans to recognize the 25th anniversary of the nation’s charter school movement by calling on charter leaders to rethink their approach to discipline and reduce their reliance on suspensions and expulsions.  Within King’s planned speech Tuesday are echoes of critics who have long accused charter schools of using harsh “no excuses” and “zero tolerance” discipline tactics, which often end up pushing students out and sending them back to neighborhood schools that are responsible for serving any child who shows up.

High Test Scores At A Nationally Lauded Charter Network, But At What Cost?
NPR by ANYA KAMENETZ June 24, 20167:00 AM ET
Since its inception nearly a decade ago in Silicon Valley, Rocketship has been among the most nationally applauded charter networks, hailed as an innovative model of blended learning.  Founder John Danner, who made a fortune in Internet advertising, originally envisioned enrolling 1 million students by 2020, relying on the strength of three pillars — "personalized learning" with software, excellent teachers and parent involvement — to raise the achievement of underserved students.  Today there are 13 Rocketship schools, with 6,000 students, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Nashville, Tenn., and Milwaukee, with one scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., this fall. The students, largely low-income and Hispanic, outperform their peers on state tests.  The school has impressed parents like Letty Gomez, who grew up in East San Jose and whose first-grader attends Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep there.  She says from her very first visit, what she saw was, "Every single teacher and administrator ... motivated the students. They were encouraging the students. I have never seen that on any other campus [where] I myself went to school or that my children had attended." The company says that 91 percent of families return each year.  Yet despite its successes, as Rocketship has pushed to expand, some parents, teachers and community members have objected in public meetings, raising concerns about the school's tech-heavy instruction model, student-teacher ratio, and student health and safety.

Education Bloggers Daily Highlights 6/28/2016

Appointment of Voting Delegates for the October 15th PSBA Delegate Assembly Meeting
PSBA Website June 27, 2016
The governing body boards of all member school entities are entitled to appoint voting delegates to participate in the PSBA Delegate Assembly to be held on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. It is important that school boards act soon to appoint its delegate or delegates, and to notify PSBA of the appointment.
Voting members of the Delegate Assembly will:
1.     Consider and act upon proposed changes to the PSBA Bylaws.
2.     Receive reports from the PSBA president, executive director and treasurer.
3.     Receive the results of the election for officers and at-large representatives. (Voting upon candidates by school boards and electronic submission of each board’s votes will occur during the month of September 2016.)
4.     Consider proposals recommended by the PSBA Platform Committee and adopt the legislative platform for the coming year.
5.     Conduct other Association business as required or permitted in the Bylaws, policies or a duly adopted order of business.
The 2016 Delegate Assembly will meet on Saturday, Oct. 15, at the conclusion of the regularly scheduled events of the main PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference.

Apply Now! EPLC’s 2016-2017 Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program

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:

PA Supreme Court sets Sept. 13 argument date for fair education funding lawsuit in Philly
Thorough and Efficient Blog JUNE 16, 2016 BARBGRIMALDI LEAVE A COMMENT

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