Wednesday, June 8, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 8: PA Charter Law: Lots of complaints, but few solutions

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PA Ed Policy Roundup June 8, 2016:
PA Charter Law: Lots of complaints, but few solutions

Is the Pa. House booze vote a good #PaBudget season omen?: Wednesday Morning Coffee
Penn Live By John L. Micek | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on June 08, 2016 at 7:29 AM, updated June 08, 2016 at 7:34 AM
Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
A funny thing happened on the way to Tuesday's state House vote imposing sweeping reforms on Pennsylvania's Prohibition-Era system for selling wine and spirits.  A heavily divided General Assembly managed to find widespread bipartisan unity on an issue that's defied that sort of agreement for decades.  The Republican-controlled chamber voted 157-31 to approve the legislation, sending it to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.

PA Charter Law: Lots of complaints, but few solutions
Many agree that the charter law should be changed. But political gridlock, powerful lobbies, and scarce funds make that difficult.
The notebook by Dan Hardy June 6, 2016 — 3:36pm
Nearly 20 years after Pennsylvania lawmakers established charter schools, serious concerns about the law’s fairness are still stirring debate. But few prospects for changing it are in sight, even as many school districts’ finances deteriorate steadily, partly due to charter growth.
Problematic consequences of the 1997 law that are widely acknowledged include:
§  The continued financial drain on school districts caused by the growth of charters, which are funded from school district budgets.
§  A charter funding formula that districts say pays charters too much because some parts of it do not reflect actual district or charter expenses.
§  A charter funding formula that charters say pays them too little because it lops off 30 percent of a district’s costs – such as transportation and pre-K that charters don’t incur – before calculating the per-pupil payment.
§  A  formula that doesn’t explicitly provide funds or reimbursements for building purchases and renovations, so charters have to pay for those projects out of operating expenses.
§  An authorizing system considered flawed by charter advocates and school boards, but for different reasons. The advocates find it flawed because only local school boards, which compete with charters for students, can vote to create these schools. The school boards consider it flawed because they are prevented from considering the financial impact of new charters on their districts.
§  Vague criteria for charter renewal and lengthy appeal processes, leading to protracted disputes about closing charters for poor academic performance or mismanagement.
§  A financial formula that gives cyber charters, which are authorized by the state, the same amount per student as brick-and-mortar schools, which results in widely varying per-pupil payments by districts to cyber charters for providing the same educational services to all students.

Blogger commentary: Here’s the game at work.  Two of the state’s major charter operators contributing handsomely to Majority Leader Jake Corman’s fundraiser in Philly tonight; Michael Karp @ $25K and Vahan Gureghian at $10K.  Similar contributions by these two helped derail legislation that would have reformed charter special ed payments last year.

Districts’ only link to cyber charters: Money
Each one pays its own per-pupil charter rate, but oversight of the online schools is solely Pennsylvania’s responsibility.
The notebook by Melanie Bavaria June 7, 2016 — 10:45am
Only a small percentage of U.S. children attend school completely online, but the population that online schools serve has increased dramatically over the last few years and it is projected to continue to climb. In some states, the online charter school industry has seen exponential growth in recent years.  Nationally, about 200 cyber charter schools serve 200,000 students, according to a series of reports published in October by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, Mathematica Policy Research, and the Center for Reinventing Public Education.  As the state with the second-highest cyber charter enrollment, Pennsylvania has 17 percent of the national cyber charter school population, or 35,000 students.
Dismal academic records - However, most of Pennsylvania’s cyber schools have shown consistently dismal academic records. According to the state’s School Performance Profile website, only three — 21st Century, PA Cyber, and PA Virtual — had an SPP score above 60. The state considers 60 and below to be substandard.  None scored higher than 70, which is the state’s minimum goal for all schools, and some scored in the 30s.  A national report on graduation-rate trends in both virtual and brick-and-mortar high schools showed that although overall rates are increasing, 87 percent of virtual schools nationwide have an adjusted cohort graduation rate of below 67 percent, the federal cutoff point for a “low graduation rate high school.”  In fact, the average graduation rate for virtual schools is 40 percent.

Blogger note - The following table was compiled from data on PDE’s website:
Pennsylvania Department of Education
Cyber Charter School Performance Profile Scores
for 2013, 2014 and 2015

A score of 70 is considered passing.  No cyber charter has achieved a score of 70 in any year.  Additionally, most cybers never made AYP under No Child Left Behind during the period 2005 thru 2012.

School                                                                     2013               2014               2015
21st Century Cyber CS                                         6.5                   66.0                69.2
Achievement House CS                                       39.7                37.5                44.8
ACT Academy Cyber CS                                      30.6                28.9                36.1
Agora Cyber CS                                                    48.3                42.4                46.4
ASPIRA Bilingual CS                                            29.0                39.0                38.4
Central PA Digital Lrng Foundation CS             31.7                48.8                39.3
Commonwealth Connections Academy CS      54.6                52.2                48.8
Education Plus Academy Cyber CS                  59.0                50.0                N/A
Esperanza Cyber CS                                           32.7                47.7                31.7
Pennsylvania Cyber CS                                      59.4                55.5                65.3
Pennsylvania Distance Learning CS                 54.7                50.9                49.2
Pennsylvania Leadership CS                             64.7                59.3                54.7
Pennsylvania Virtual CS                                     67.9                63.4                64.6
Solomon Charter School Inc.                            36.9
Susq-Cyber CS                                                    46.4                42.4                45.5

“Who would go to work in a struggling district where the kids lack the resources available in the more fortunate schools, especially knowing their job security now depended on the high stakes test scores of the kids who need the help the most?”
Provide necessary school funding
Centre Daily Times Opinion by Robert Lumley-Sapanski JUNE 6, 2016 11:58 PM
Our state legislators recently took action designed to help school districts with their budgeting issues.  Rather than providing adequate funding (Pennsylvania ranks 46th in state government education funding), they simply made it easier to fire teachers to reduce salary costs.  School districts have long advocated for options to reduce staff during tough economic times but this proposal would use an unproven, complicated teacher evaluation system that includes standardized test scores. Ironically, the new system placed 98.2 percent of teachers in the highest two categories, rendering it virtually useless. Smoke and mirrors instead of adequate funding.  Good teachers remain the key element in providing a meaningful education to our kids and we are already facing a nationwide teacher shortage. This bill would continue to widen the disparity between the well-to-do and the less-fortunate districts.

Fair School Funding
Morning Call Opinion by Bill White Contact Reporter June 7, 2016
The House Education Committee this week voted unanimously for a study on the pros and cons of consolidating some of the state's 500 school districts. The study would be done by the Legislature's Joint State Government Commission and the Independent Fiscal Office.   Now that the state finally has a fair funding formula, signed into law last week, this is another logical step in finding long-term answers for Pennsylvania's school funding woes. It's uncertain whether whatever real savings can be achieved by consolidating school facilities and administrative leadership would be significant enough to counterbalance public opposition to the inevitable loss of school and community identities. But it's certainly worth exploring in depth.     Still, I would argue that the real problem is less institutional than political.

“Now, having heard from state organizations of school business officials and administrators, state-level politicians should start working on making a fair extraction tax part of a long-term, sustainable solution to funding schools and reducing the pressure on local property taxes.”
Editorial: State plays Shell game with taxes
A day after public school business administrators warned that stagnant state funding will result in tax increases and service cuts in 85 percent of school districts, state government leaders celebrated Shell Chemical Appalachia’s announcement that it will build a gas-based petrochemical refinery in Western Pennsylvania.  State politicians won’t come up with enough money for public schools, despite the new formula for school funding that they recently passed, because of the political risk inherent in raising taxes, shifting the tax burden or both.  But for Shell Chemical Appalachia, a division of one of the world’s biggest energy companies, state tax benefits are no problem. To entice the company to build in Pennsylvania, the Corbett administration and the Legislature approved $1.7 billion in tax credits over 25 years — a record level of tax forgiveness that also has been embraced by Gov. Tom Wolf.

“About 100 Erie School District students, parents, teachers and concerned community members were joined by many in the Erie County legislative delegation and the Senate Democratic Caucus for the nearly hourlong rally in the Capitol rotunda. The effort is the latest by district officials to call attention to its multimillion-dollar deficit -- a problem Superintendent Jay Badams has said is the result of chronic underfunding by the state.”
Erie students, teachers rally for funding
By Erica Erwin  814-870-1846 Erie Times-News June 8, 2016 05:32 AM
HARRISBURG -- One by one, the legislators took the microphone to talk about the need for equitable funding for school districts.  But it was a tiny second-grader from Perry Elementary School whose comments drew some of the loudest applause at an Erie School District rally in the Capitol building here Tuesday.  "Please, Harrisburg, understand that school is very important to me and all of us kids," 8-year-old Angellena Velez said, reading from a wrinkled sheet of loose-leaf paper. "Without this funding, our music, our gym and our art class are gone and eventually if nothing is done soon our futures will be gone, too."

Gateway approves staff cuts for 2016-17
Trib Live BY EMILY BALSER  | Tuesday, June 7, 2016, 10:12 p.m.
The Gateway School Board decided Tuesday to furlough five teachers and eliminate other positions for the 2016-17 school year because of a decrease in enrollment.  The board approved the furloughs of the teachers and eliminated their positions along with eliminating 10 part-time teacher aide positions, two full-time security guard positions and one part-time security guard position.  The teaching positions eliminated were: one kindergarten teacher, one physical education teacher, half an English teaching position, a middle school math teacher, half of a music teaching position and a school nurse.  Board President Chad Stubenbort said the teachers who have been furloughed may be able to find other positions within the district based on their certifications and leaves of absence taken by other teachers.

Hazleton Area School District mulls 4-day school week, half-day kindergarten
Out-of-the-box solutions to solve the Hazleton Area School District’s financial woes dominated discussion at a special budget meeting held in the administration building Tuesday night.  Among the possible solutions presented were instituting half-day kindergarten, exploring a four-day school week for students, transportation consolidation and pay-to-play sports.  Director of Elementary and Middle School Education George Donadi gave a presentation comparing and contrasting full- and half-day kindergarten sessions, highlighting research that full-day kindergarten gains are largely negated by the end of first grade.  Not all members of the audience agreed, citing studies pointing to greater life-time impacts of full-day kindergarten, particularly for minority students.

Stroudsburg debates cutting programs to balance budget
Lynn Ondrusek Pocono Record Writer Posted Jun. 3, 2016 at 8:56 PM
With a little less than two weeks before the final budget at Stroudsburg Area School District is voted on, the school board started debating cutting programming to balance the budget, instead of raising taxes.  In an update on the 2016-17 budget, Superintendent Cosmas Curry said taxes would be raised 5.9 mils, which is less than the earlier proposed 6.5 mils. He said the district will see an increase in Farmstead Home Act money. However, there will still be the demotions, furloughing and cuts through attrition of 51 staff positions.  Health insurance is one of the big factors that will keep the budget battle going. Curry said health insurance costs raised $1.3 million this year, and they are factoring in another 8 percent raise for next year.  This has been a key factor in teacher contract negotiations, and the district has offered a cheaper plan to the union that would save the district close to $2 million, said district solicitor Jeffrey Sultanik.

“In the survey, 14 percent of the districts that responded said they borrowed additional money during the crisis. Districts said they borrowed $746 million in new money during the impasse. Fifteen percent said their credit ratings declined during that period, and another 17 percent said they expected their credit ratings to get worse in 2016-17, according to the report.”
Pennsylvania School Districts Face Continued Financial Burdens
Education Week District Dossier By Denisa R. Superville on June 7, 2016 12:54 PM
Pennsylvania school districts continue to believe that more pain awaits them in the 2016-2017 school year, with 46 percent predicting staff cuts, 34 percent projecting class-size increases, and 50 percent a reduction in education programs, according to a new survey by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.  Districts anticipated increases in major areas, including pensions, health care, special education, and charter school tuition costs. And 85 percent of the districts that responded to the survey planned to increase property taxes this coming year. That's up from 71 percent last year. Eighty-three percent intended to rely on fund balance to get through the year.   Pennsylvania school districts have had a roller coaster of a year. Without a state budget for most of the academic year, districts were forced to improvise to make ends meet.

Local school districts to see construction funding
Several local school districts soon will get the state money they’re owed for past school construction, but Pennsylvania still needs billions of dollars to upgrade schools statewide, two senators said Friday.  Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-7, Philadelphia, and Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, the top two Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee, talked about the funding needs Friday with The Times-Tribune editorial board. Earlier, they toured West Scranton High School with district Superintendent Alexis Kirijan, Ed.D., and School Board President Bob Sheridan.  “Far too many school buildings are just not up to snuff,” said Mr. Hughes, the Democratic appropriations chairman.  The senators said the deal that ended the six-month standoff over Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2015-16 budget authorized state borrowing to pay school districts what they’re owed for past school construction. At first, Mr. Wolf vetoed the fiscal code bill that included the borrowing, but later allowed it to become law. The bill allows for borrowing up to $2.5 billion to pay off past school construction costs.  Mr. Hughes and Mr. Blake, the appropriations Democratic vice chairman, said they are unsure when money might flow to local districts that borrowed for construction costs.

Four ways to make Pa. taxes fairer
Philly Daily News by John Baer, Political Columnist Updated: JUNE 8, 2016 12:16 AM EDT
AFTER WRITING recently about a Tax Foundation book on Pennsylvania's taxes, I got lots of input from lots of places.  Most underscored the book's main point: Reform is needed.  So, as Harrisburg works on another state budget, I figured I'd offer some examples of taxes gone awry.

“David Broderic, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said that some teachers will take full-time leave to serve a term as a president of their local chapter of the union. The issue is one that has been dealt with at a local level for a long time and the union has made it practice to reimburse the schools, Broderic said. He said the local chapters "have engaged in that kind of relationship because it's beneficial to the school district and the students who learn there."  Saccone's bill, Broderic added, "is another case of a solution in search of a problem."
Bill would hunt down 'ghost teachers'
Morning Call by Colt Shaw Call Harrisburg Bureau June 7, 2016
HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania lawmaker wants teachers back in their classrooms.
Rep. Rick Saccone, R- Allegheny, introduced a bill that would totally or partially eliminate union leave for all teachers.  One part of the bill would prohibit school districts and unions from negotiating union leave into a contract. Where it does exist, the bill would limit the amount of time and the number of teachers allowed to be on union leave. It also would require teachers' unions to reimburse schools for any salary, benefits and substitute costs related to union leave.  The House Education Committee on Tuesday passed Saccone's bill on a 15-9 vote.  The bill is a measure, Saccone said, that will compel unions to leave educators where they ought to be.  "We've all heard the reports of the ghost teachers … [costing] millions of dollars in mostly our larger schools, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, those kinds of big cities," Saccone said. Rather than teaching "they're out doing political activity for their unions. No taxpayer in this state is going to abide that at a time when we're in tight budgets and the school districts are suffering."

“Kenney has asked Council to pass a 3-cent-per-ounce tax to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten and improvements to parks, recreation centers, and libraries, among other initiatives.
Bass: Kenney has the votes to pass Philly sugary drink tax
Inquirer by Tricia L. Nadolny and Julia Terruso, STAFF WRITERS JUNE 8, 2016 1:08 AM EDT
Less than an hour after saying she planned to introduce a real-estate tax increase, City Councilwoman Cindy Bass pulled the plan late Tuesday, saying Mayor Kenney had secured the votes to pass a tax on sugary drinks.  The deal is surely tentative, but Council sources said members seemed to be coalescing around a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages and diet soda.  Kenney's spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, would not comment, saying that "as a councilman for 20 some years, Mayor Kenney knows how important it is to respect Council's process."  A deal took shape on a day when it seemed that storm clouds had set in over Kenney's proposed sugary drinks tax, when Bass - widely considered a likely supporter of his plan - floated an alternative.

Testing Resistance & Reform News: June 1 - 7, 2016
FairTest Submitted by fairtest on June 7, 2016 - 12:46pm 
Testing controversies continue to produce major news stories across the nation as the grassroots assessment reform movement presses to roll back the pervasive overuse and misuse of standardized exams.

Education Bloggers Daily Highlights 6/7/2016

Black preschool kids get suspended much more frequently than white preschool kids, U.S. survey says
Baltimore Sun by Joy Resmovits June 7, 2016
Schools suspend minority students at much higher rates than their peers, starting from the beginning, preschool.  The Civil Rights Data Collection, a national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, gathered information on more than 50 million students at more than 95,000 schools and found that although suspensions decreased by almost 20 percentage points between the 2011-2012 and 2013-2014 school years, gaps between the suspension rates of different groups remained, according to results released late Monday.   The survey included 1,439,188 preschool students in 28,783 schools. Of those, 6,743, or 0.47%, were suspended once or more than once. Although black girls represent 20% of preschool enrollment, 54% of preschool girls suspended once or more were black. And black preschool children overall were 3.6 times as likely to be suspended as white preschoolers.  The results don't "paint a very good picture,” said Liz King, senior policy analyst and director of education policy at the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights. She called parts of it "startling.”

EPLC's 2016 Report:  High School Career and Technical Education: Serving Pennsylvania's Workforce and Student Needs
Allegheny Intermediate Unit - 475 East Waterfront Dr., Homestead, PA 15120
Coffee and Networking - 9:30 a.m.  Program - 10:00 a.m. to Noon   
 RSVP by clicking here. There is no fee, but a RSVP is required. Please feel free to share this invitation with your staff and network. Similar forums will be held later in the Philadelphia area and Harrisburg. 
An Overview of the EPLC Report on High School CTE will be presented by:
Ron Cowell, President, The Education Policy and Leadership Center
Statewide and Regional Perspectives Will Be Provided By
Dr. Lee Burket, Director, Bureau of Career & Technical Education, PA Department of Education
Jackie Cullen, Executive Director, PA Association of Career & Technical Administrators
Dr. William Kerr, Superintendent, Norwin School District
Laura Fisher, Senior Vice President - Workforce & Special Projects, Allegheny Conference on Community Development
James Denova, Vice President, Benedum Foundation

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.

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:

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