Sunday, July 17, 2016

PA Ed Policy Weekend Roundup July 17: 120 American Charter Schools and One Secretive Turkish Cleric

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PA Ed Policy Weekend Roundup July 17, 2016:
120 American Charter Schools and One Secretive Turkish Cleric



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U.S. Secretary John King wants to hear how Pa. intends to fix its education inequities
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter on July 15, 2016 at 4:07 PM, updated July 15, 2016 at 10:28 PM
U.S. Secretary John King Jr. finds Pennsylvania's 30- to 40-point achievement gap between white students and minority groups National Assessment of Educational Progress scores to be disturbing and wants to know what the state plans to do to narrow it.  The nation's top education official made a rare visit to Harrisburg on Friday to learn where closing the achievement gap fits into the ongoing discussion involving dozens of education stakeholders that began in late April around developing a state plan to implement the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to the 2001 No Child Left Behind.  "The law's success will be in closing those gaps," King told a group of education stakeholders gathered in a large meeting room in Harrisburg Area Community College Midtown. "There are too many students who get to places like Harrisburg Area Community College that ... come and have to take remedial courses."

Wolf secures budget peace, for now, if not campaign promises
The Progress News By MARC LEVY July 15, 2016
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The House of Representatives had just finished voting the final pieces into place for Pennsylvania's 2016-17 budget package, and Majority Leader Dave Reed walked next door in the Capitol to share congratulations with Gov. Tom Wolf.  "So this really can work," a smiling Wolf told Reed when they met Wednesday evening.  A budget package achieved after numerous concessions by Wolf is perhaps the best the Democratic governor can do with Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled Legislature. It also marked a sharp turnaround from the record-setting and damaging partisan budget stalemate of the previous year.  There was no change in strategy or philosophy by Wolf, his spokesman Jeff Sheridan said. Instead, Sheridan characterized the governor's first and second budgets as one continued fight toward the same goal.

Budget a win for schools across state
Centre Daily Times BY PEDRO A. RIVERA, PA Secretary of Education July 15, 2016
The 2016-17 budget provides a significant step forward for Pennsylvania schools. It will help promote student success and improve access to a high-quality education — regardless of a child’s zip code. Working with our partners in the legislature, we are moving Pennsylvania forward by investing in our children.  During the past two years, Gov. Tom Wolf has championed our schools and fought for increased education funding. As a result of his advocacy, this budget provides an additional $200 million in basic education funding, as well as a $30 million increase for early childhood education to preserve the number of slots in proven early learning programs like Pre-K Counts and Head Start, a $20 million increase for special education and a more than $10 million increase for early intervention. This funding will help restore even more districts from the deep funding reductions of 2011.  The new education funding included in this budget will be distributed using the bipartisan fair funding formula, which was signed into law in early June. Prior to the passing of this bill, Pennsylvania was one of only three states that did not have such a formula in place, contributing to massive inequities in schools and hitting the most vulnerable students the hardest.

State budget contains increases for all levels of education
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette July 16, 2016 12:00 AM
Schools across Pennsylvania will get millions in new dollars under a 2016-17 state spending plan that aims to hand out education money more fairly.  But some observers say that while districts are relieved to have avoided a prolonged stalemate this fiscal year — last year, legislators went months past the June 30 deadline to pass a budget — the money still isn’t enough to keep up with the increased costs of running a school system.  “We’re certainly relieved that we have a budget and grateful that they did provide an increase for schools. But we are still falling behind,” said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.  This week Gov. Tom Wolf let the budget, which includes increases of $200 million in basic education funding, $20 million in special education funding and nearly $40 million in higher education funding, become law without his signature. Pittsburgh Public Schools will receive $3 million more in its main pot of education money and more than $263,000 in special education dollars over what it received last year.

The pension loophole: How charters can exploit the state’s “bizarre” payment structure
When charters fail to pay into retirement system, districts are on the hook
WHYY Newsworks by Avi Wolfman-Arent and Dale Mezzacappa July 15, 2016 — 3:23pm
Charters that participate in the state’s teacher pension system are supposed to make quarterly contributions to the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS).  Typically they do--on time and in full.  But in Philadelphia, seemingly every quarter, a handful of charters come up short or fail to make required payments altogether. What happens afterward is an example of the disjointed relationship among the state, its traditional school districts, and its charter schools--a relationship that has come under increasing scrutiny.  “It’s a very odd system,” says Uri Monson, the School District of Philadelphia’s chief financial officer. “Essentially you have what should be a direct transaction between the charter school -- which owes the money -- and the state, through PSERS, which is supposed to collect the money. This bizarre system puts us in the middle of a transaction we have nothing to do with, and forces us to ultimately sort of become the collection agency for the state.”

Budget deal shows Pa. requires more sunshine
Trib Live BY BRAD BUMSTED  | Saturday, July 16, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
There was a time not so long ago when the Pennsylvania General Assembly was a virtual fortress that guarded sensitive information. Getting figures on lawmakers' expenses was like dealing with the Kremlin. Votes on tax hikes and pay raises were held in the middle of the night.  In the 1980s and '90s, lawmakers were sometimes kept up all night. Leadership tried to break them. Rank-and-file legislators often took on a resemblance to zombies. Under the strain of sleep deprivation, some would vote for anything.  A lot has changed since the old days. A lot hasn't.  When a $1.3 billion revenue bill chock full of tax hikes, won approval in the House and Senate last week, it was daylight. Both votes occurred in late afternoon. The roll call votes were immediately available online. The General Assembly's web site ( www.legis.state.pa.us) actually is pretty good. You can search for past bills, track the history of legislation and look at co-sponsorship memos.  But problems with transparency persist. That's the buzz word state pols use to pat themselves on their back for being open with taxpayers.

Inquirer editorial: What made this Pa. budget better
Inquirer Editorial Updated: JULY 15, 2016 — 3:01 AM EDT
The Pennsylvania budget passed a mere 13 days late this week. That's a lot better than nine months overdue, a record that Gov. Wolf and the legislature seared into the books in vitriol earlier this year.  This time, the Democratic governor and Republican-controlled legislature beat low expectations by working together to pass a budget that, though defective, qualifies as both a spending and a revenue plan.  For the revenue, they tapped a few untested and even dubious sources, including a loan from the state malpractice-insurance fund. They also extended the income tax to state lottery winners, authorized a tax amnesty program, guessed that allowing consumers to buy wine in supermarkets would generate additional revenue, and banked on unreliable proceeds from expanded gambling.

DN editorial: Pennsylvania budget deal offers only short-term solutions
Philly Daily News Editorial Updated: JULY 15, 2016 — 3:00 AM EDT
THE AGREEMENT on the $31.5 billion state budget nearly met the July 1 deadline, nine months earlier than last year. That must come as a tremendous relief to school districts and local governments across the state that had to go through 2015 without regular payments of state aid.  Now, they know what they are getting from the state and can plan accordingly. The Philadelphia School District, for instance, will get about $50 million in new money, which it had already penciled in to its budget for the 2016-17 school year.  Passage of the budget and the tax package also restores some of the luster to the political reputations of Gov. Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

SchoolWATCH becomes part of state school code
Beaver County Times By Katherine Schaeffer kschaeffer@timesonline.com Jul 14, 2016
HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s SchoolWATCH database, launched in January 2015, allows parents, students and taxpayers for the first time to easily track and compare school district and charter school spending.    Gov. Tom Wolf approved House Bill 1606 Thursday, making that database a permanent fixture in the Public School Code.  SchoolWATCH and its predecessor, searchable government spending database PennWATCH, provide the public with access to information on about $60 billion in state spending each year, bill author Rep. Jim Christiana, R-15, Brighton Township said.   The state’s public schools spend almost $30 billion in federal, state and local dollars each year, about the equivalent of Pennsylvania's general fund budget.   “The citizens paying the bills deserve to know where their money is being spent,” Christiana said. “Giving the public and the media access to this information is a commonsense transparency booster that will support better decision making.”  SchoolWATCH is modeled after PennWATCH, a publicly accessible database of Pennsylvania’s state government spending and employee salaries the state launched in 2012. 

State funding increases keep Erie school cuts at bay
By Valerie Myers 814-878-1913 etnmyers Erie Times-News July 17, 2016 07:38 AM
ERIE, Pa. -- Erie high schools will remain open, and Erie students will be able to study art and music, play sports and borrow books from the school library, at least this coming school year.  A $3.3 million increase in state basic education funding for the Erie School District and a $4 million emergency allocation from the state will balance the district's 2016-17 budget. And that means no more school closings or program cuts, district Chief Financial Officer Brian Polito said.  But it's a one-time reprieve. The district will be in dire financial straits again next year.  "It will balance our budget this year without any further cuts," Polito said of the additional funding. "Next year, at the start of the year, before any increased revenue or expenses, there will be a $4 million hole to fill. And there will be additional expenses in addition to that $4 million gap. In another year, we'll be looking at another $8 to $10 million deficit."

“Mandated expenses including salaries and benefits were almost always cited as biggest cost drivers across the county, but none more than contributions to the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS), a cost that has more than doubled for school districts in five years (from a 12.36 percent contribution in 2012-13 to 30 percent for 2016-17).”
Almost all Delco school districts raising taxes for 2016-17
Delco Times By Kevin Tustin, ktustin@21st-centurymedia.com@KevinTustin on Twitter POSTED: 07/17/16, 4:56 AM EDT | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
In an early June report on school district budgets the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials reported that 85 percent of school districts across the state planned toe raise their property taxes for the 2016-17 school year.  This is the approximate percentage of Delaware County school districts that have approved tax increases with the adoption of their budgets by the mandatory deadline of June 30.  Twelve of 14 districts in the county have approved a tax increase anywhere from one to 3.62 percent, averaging out to 2.1 percent across the county.  Marple Newtown and Upper Darby opted to hold the line in their budgets.  In addition to a tax increase, 12 districts have also agreed to use some portion of their fund balance to supplement their budgets, collectively totaling $25.85 million. Fund balance use expenditures total two percent of the $1.29 billion operating budgets approved across the county.  Marple Newtown and Haverford will not use any fund balance money.  Here is a look at county school districts’ approved budgets for the new school year, including their tax percent increases:

“Gulen lives in self-imposed exile and gained his green card by convincing a federal judge in Philadelphia that he was an influential educational figure in the United States - a claim further bolstered by 150 charter schools that his following of Turkish scientists, engineers and businessmen now operate in 27 states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”
Turkey's president blames Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric in the Poconos, for coup
Inquirer by Jeremy Roebuck and Martha Woodall, STAFF WRITERS Updated: JULY 15, 2016 — 9:36 PM EDT
Facing a military coup, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan pointed the finger of blame Friday at a former political ally living 5,000 miles away in a gated compound in the Poconos.
Fethullah Gülen, a reclusive Muslim cleric in his 70s and head of a movement based on 26 acres in Saylorsburg, Pa., has been frequent target of the Turkish president, who blames him and his multitude of followers for fomenting revolution in their native country.  “Turkey will not be run from a house in Pennsylvania,” Erdogan said in an apparent reference to Gulen during an interview broadcast Friday on CNN Turk.  But Gulen's followers have long called Erdogan's claims baseless and accused the Turkish president of turning him into a boogeyman for Turkey's problems.  In a statement early Saturday, Gulen denied any involvement in the coup.  “I condemn, in the strongest terms, the attempted military coup in Turkey,” he said, adding later: “Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force … As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt.”

“His followers have also opened many private schools around the globe, including more than 160 science, math and technology-focused public charter schools with different names in numerous states around this country.”
Fethullah Gulen: The Islamic scholar Turkey blames for the failed coup
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss July 16 at 10:17 AM 
The man that Turkey’s leaders have blamed for a failed coup attempt by a group of army officers is an Islamic scholar named Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania and who has inspired a network said to include more than 160 charter schools in the United States.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that the coup attempt on Friday was the work of army officers who are followers of Gulen, who had once been an ally but whose movement has become critical of the increasingly authoritarian regime.  The Gulen movement denied involvement in the coup, but Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Saturday was quoted as saying the United States would support investigations to determine who instigated the attempted coup and where its support originates. He said he anticipates questions will be raised about Gulen.

August 2014: 120 American Charter Schools and One Secretive Turkish Cleric
The FBI is investigating a group of educators who are followers of a mysterious Islamic movement. But the problems seem less related to faith than to the oversight of charter schools.
The Atlantic by SCOTT BEAUCHAMP   AUG 12, 2014
It reads like something out of a John Le Carre novel: The charismatic Sunni imam Fethullah Gülen, leader of a politically powerful Turkish religious movementlikened by The Guardian to an “Islamic Opus Dei,” occasionally webcasts sermons from self-imposed exile in the Poconos while his organization quickly grows to head the largest chain of charter schools in America. It might sound quite foreboding—and it should, but not for the reasons you might think.  You can be excused if you’ve never heard of Fethullah Gülen or his eponymous movement. He isn’t known for his openness, despite the size of his organization, which is rumored to have between 1 and 8 million adherents. It’s difficult to estimate the depth of its bench, however, without an official roster of membership. Known informally in Turkey as Hizmet, or “the service”, the Gülen movement prides itself on being a pacifist, internationalist, modern, and moderate alternative to more extreme derivations of Sunni Islam. The group does emphasize the importance of interfaith dialogue, education, and a kind of cosmopolitanism. One prominent sociologist described it as “the world’s most global movement.”

Coup in Turkey: Is Fetullah Gulen Behind It?
Diane Ravitch’s Blog By dianeravitch July 15, 2016 //
The news channels report that there is a military coup underway in Turkey.
The prime minister accuses Fetullah Gulen of staging the coup “from Pennsylvania.
Gulen sponsors one of the biggest charter chains in the U.S. and is one of the biggest recipients of HB-1 visas for Turkish teachers to staff his charter schools.

Blogger note: Sharon Higgins is a blogger who tracks Gulen schools closely.  Her list shows four Gulen charters in Pennsylvania:
Vision Academy Charter School
Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania Charter School
Young Scholars of McKeesport
Young Scholars of Western Pennsylvania Charter School
Gulen charter school lists
Charter Schools Scandals Blog by Sharon Higgins

Education Policy Featured in a Special Issue of: COMMONWEALTH | A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy
Temple University Institute for Public Affairs July 15, 2016
COMMONWEALTH, published by TU Press, presents a special issue on education policy in Pennsylvania with articles and essays on:
·         Contrasting views on abolishing the property tax to fund schools by a PA Senator (pro) and a Dartmouth College economist (con)
·         What a student-based allocation system for education spending would mean in PA
·         An evaluation of the effectiveness and demographic trends for performance on the Keystone Exams
·         The implications of an aging PA population and PA’s tax structure on public education finance
·         An examination of special education funding in PA

Penn GSE’s John DeFlaminis brings distributed leadership to a struggling district
Penn GSE TEACHING & LEADERSHIP June 14, 2016
In 2014, the York City School District was in crisis. Its budget was busted, and student performance had bottomed out. A proposal to convert the district to all charter schools fizzled, but the glaring problems remained.  Seeking to dramatically change the district from within, administrators and the teachers' union partnered to have Penn GSE’s John DeFlaminis introduce distributed leadership to York schools and help overhaul their curriculum. DeFlaminis has been called the “gold-standard” of distributed leadership, based on his academic research and his experiences implementing the principles when he was the superintendent of the Randnor Township School District.  For the last year, DeFlaminis — executive director of Penn GSE’s Penn Center for Educational Leadership (PCEL) — has been at work in this city of 44,000 people two hours west of Philadelphia. “For the first time, teachers are being treated as lifelong learners,” one York principal said.  Distributed leadership has worked in other tough situations. In the decade since Philadelphia’s Northeast High School adopted its principles, only one teacher has requested a transfer, a turnover rate almost unheard of in the district.


Many ECOT students spend just one hour online for classes each day, state lawyers say
By Patrick O'Donnell, The Plain Dealer Email the author | Follow on Twitter on July 14, 2016 at 9:40 AM
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Many students at the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) online charter school spend just an hour a day online taking their classes, state lawyers said this week, all while the state pays the school as if they were full-time students.  That detail was included in a filing by the state in Franklin County Common Pleas Court Monday as the Ohio Department of Education audits the giant charter school's records. The state wants to see if ECOT's 15,000 students spent enough time on coursework this past school year to merit the $108 million the state paid the school.  Unlike a traditional school, where teachers can take attendance every day, students at online schools like ECOT take classes at home by computer. That makes it hard to measure whether they are actively taking classes, an issue that is becoming increasingly contentious between Ohio's e-schools and the state.  Since charter schools are paid on a per-student basis by the state, there are millions of dollars at stake in determining which kids qualify as attending a school.

“But Pence has a robust record on the issue. As governor, he pushed through the most significant increase in charter school funding in years, according to Chalkbeat Indiana. Pence  worked with the legislature to create a $10 million grant fund that would offer an extra $500 per student to charters that post better outcomes than traditional public schools. And if Pence had his way, the funding would have been even more robust—he initially pitched a $1,500 per charter school student increase.  Pence also gave charter schools access to a $50 million  fund to help cover the cost of loans for school construction or the purchase of educational technology. And he successfully called for lawmakers to raise the $4,800 cap on vouchers for elementary school students. (Now the cap will be dependent on family income and local school spending, as high school vouchers already were.) Pence also persuaded lawmakers to approve bonus pay for highly effective teachers.  Jeanne Allen, the founder of the Center for Education Reform, which supports choice, called Pence, an "outspoken supporter of the critical right of parents to choose the school that is best for their children," in a statement Thursday. “
Indiana's Pence, Trump VP Pick: Pro-School Choice, Anti-Common Core
Education Week Politics K12 Blog By Alyson Klein on July 15, 2016 9:43 AM
UPDATED
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has picked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate, Trump announced on Twitter Friday. So what's Pence's record on education? It's clear the Republican governor has quite a bit in common with the man at the top of the ticket, at least when it comes to school choice and academic standards, in particular.
Common Standards
For instance, Trump campaigned vehemently against the Common Core State Standards. Indiana, under Pence, was the very first state to ditch them. And before that, the state backed out of federally-funded PARCC tests aligned to the standards.    
School Choice Support
Trump has also voiced support for school choice, without getting into specifics about exactly how he'd expand it.

Education Bloggers Daily Highlights 7/15/2016


Apply Now for EPLC's 2016-2017 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program!
Education Policy and Leadership Center
Applications are available now for the 2016-2017 Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP). The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). Click here for the program calendar of sessions.  With nearly 500 graduates in its first seventeen years, this Program is a premier professional development opportunity for educators, state and local policymakers, advocates, and community leaders.  State Board of Accountancy (SBA) credits are available to certified public accountants.  Past participants include state policymakers, district superintendents and principals, school business officers, school board members, education deans/chairs, statewide association leaders, parent leaders, education advocates, and other education and community leaders. Fellows are typically sponsored by their employer or another organization.
The Fellowship Program begins with a two-day retreat on September 15-16, 2016 and continues to graduation in June 2017. Click here to read more about the Education Policy Fellowship Program, or here to see the 2016-2017 program calendar.
Applications are being accepted now.

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.

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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