Monday, August 29, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Aug 29: Ever wonder how we got charter schools in Pennsylvania?

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PA Ed Policy Roundup August 29, 2016:
Ever wonder how we got charter schools in Pennsylvania?

Southeastern PA Regional 2016 Legislative Roundtable: William Tennent High School (Bucks Co.) SEP 22, 2016 • 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Philadelphia City Council

Blogger note:  Have you ever wondered how we got charter schools in Pennsylvania?  Two of the most pressing legislative issues now facing Pennsylvania, charter reform and pension reform, were inextricably linked during the Ridge administration….

“In 2001, Gov. Tom Ridge, desperate to get state charter schools, OK’d legislative leaders’ idea to give state teachers — and themselves, coincidentally — a big pension boost. The sweetener for teachers effectively quelled criticism of charter schools by their Democratic allies, but legislators forgot one small detail: how to pay for this.”
Brian O'Neill: The Pennsylvania pension slow-motion mess
By Brian O'Neill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette August 28, 2016 12:00 AM
I try to be a good citizen so I thought I’d dive again into the murky waters of Pennsylvania’s pension morass.  That was dumb. One could probably explain the foolhardy nature of such a quest by making a pun from “morass,” but let’s not. It should suffice to say that 15 years ago our General Assembly — still America’s Largest Full-Time State Legislature! — made the pension budget hole gape with an overly generous giveaway to teachers and state workers and then five years ago the lawmakers made it a little smaller by ending that deal for incoming workers. But is still large enough to keep biting taxpayers where it hurts.  Most of us haven’t been paying attention, despite ample coverage, but if you’ve found your school property taxes soaring in recent years, what follows are three of the reasons why.

The state is the real culprit in the fallout of rising pension costs, not teachers
Public Source August 27, 2016
After publishing our first story on school pensions last week, some readers felt we had blamed teachers for rising pensions costs and property taxes.  In fact, we made a chart that showed teachers and administrative staff have consistently paid into the pension system. It’s the state that has been less predictable. A decade ago, the statedrastically cut how much it contributed. In 2010, the state changed course and began contributing substantially more each year.  The first Facebook comment on our story was from someone who said they had been a teacher for more than than 37 years, described the amount of extra work that comes with the job.  “I had worked many hours preparing my room and lessons,” she wrote. “They were not in my ‘hourly’ rate. Grading papers and doing work at home.”  She added: “I loved teaching because of the children. I feel that I deserve my pension.”  One commenter came the defense of the teacher, writing, in part, “You deserve your pension because it was part of the compensation your employer offered to pay you in the future in exchange for your work at that time.”  On our website, one commenter wrote, “So when you read this story and then conclude that it's the teachers’ fault, and their pay should be cut, and their pensions gutted. Remember it wasn't them whose fiscal irresponsibility created this situation.”  How the pension system became underfunded is fairly complex, but here are a few key dates:

“The state’s contribution to school pensions doubled from roughly $500 million to $1 billion from 2010 to 2012. It doubled again to $2 billion by 2014. And doubled again to $4 billion this year. Over the next two years, pension costs are expected to slow and only increase about 15 percent.”
Why are your property taxes going up? Blame school pensions
Beaver County Times By Eric Holmberg PublicSource August 29, 2016
The state Legislature has put more money toward education in recent years, but a lot of that new money has paid for pensions.
Pennsylvania legislators about a decade ago passed a law to protect homeowners by limiting property tax hikes to the rate of inflation. Has the law, known as Act 1, worked?  Not for some homeowners. Exceptions were built into the law so school districts could raise property taxes as much as they needed only to cover certain rising costs, like pensions.  As a result, school districts have increased property taxes $465 million above the rate of inflation in the past decade and requested raising property taxes much higher.  What has been driving tax increases? Pensions. A 2010 pension reform law increased how much school districts and the state paid into the underfunded school pension system. That helped the pension fund, but increased the burden on schools. The result?

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup August 28, 2016: Focus on Charter/Cyber Reform

New Report Recommends Reforms to Address Significant Underperformance by Full-Time Virtual Charter Public Schools
National Alliance, 50CAN and NACSA propose specific policy recommendations for states to rein in poor practices in full-time virtual charter public school movement
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 6/16/2016
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN) and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) today released a report providing specific policy recommendations to help states better hold full-time virtual charter schools accountable for student results. While the report notes that some students do well in a full-time virtual charter school environment, too many of these schools are not providing a quality educational program to the vast majority of their students, while enrolling too many who are simply not a good fit for attending a fully online school.  The report, titled A Call to Action to Improve the Quality of Full-Time Virtual Charter Public Schools, builds on previous studies by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), and Mathematica, that found that when compared to their classroom-based traditional public school counterparts, full-time virtual charter schools fail across nearly every metric. For example, in math and reading in a given year, full-time virtual charter school students learn essentially no math and less than half the amount of reading as compared to their peers in classroom-based traditional public schools. When comparing racial makeup, economic background, native language, and taking into account students with special needs, all subgroups performed worse than their classroom-based peers.  “Though some full-time virtual charter schools can effectively serve the unique needs of the students they enroll, overall, these schools are not producing great outcomes,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “A few states have opted to simply ban full-time virtual charter schools, but this solution risks limiting parental choice without giving otherwise high-performing virtual charter schools a chance to operate. This is why we need a better regulatory framework to govern full-time virtual charter schools.”  Currently, more than 180,000 students attend 135 full-time virtual charter schools in 23 states and the District of Columbia. By outlining the problems and offering a roadmap for legislators and authorizers for how best to combat them, the National Alliance, 50CAN and NACSA are calling for an overhaul to policies governing full-time virtual charter schools. Recommendations include:

The Property Tax Prison of Education Funding
Digital Notebook Blog by Evan Brandt Sunday, August 28, 2016
Invisible though they may be to the naked eye, school district borders increasingly trap low-income students in cash-strapped districts struggling to provide the resources available to their wealthier neighbors.  I sometimes wonder how the inherent unfairness that exists in education funding continues without some kind of revolution taking place.  And then I wake up and remember I live in Pennsylvania.  Perhaps because its a bit complicated and takes more than 15 minutes to understand. Perhaps because not enough people feel any kind of connection with those most adversely affected. Or maybe its just the pall of overall apathy.  Usually, people tend to wake up a bit when faced with examples of kids getting the shaft. After all, we all want the best for our children right.  Maybe we need to broaden the definition of "our children" a bit.  Not that we needed any more evidence of the way cleaving to the property tax as the primary funding source for public education undermines students not fortunate enough to live in a wealthy zip code, but there's more anyway. It comes in the form of a new report by an organization called EdBuild, a non-profit national organization dedicating to bringing "common sense and fairness to the way states fund public schools."

Federal judge orders school district to let refugee students attend McCaskey
Lancaster Online by KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer Aug 26, 2016
Refugee students who took School District of Lancaster to court over their school assignment will get to attend McCaskey High School next week.  U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith on Friday ordered the district to enroll the students at its regular high school instead of Phoenix Academy, an alternative school where they said learning is "impossible" because of language barriers. Six refugee students, all with limited English proficiency, sued the district last month over their placement at Phoenix, as well as delayed and denied enrollment.  "We're thrilled the court recognized that the district must provide refugees and English language learners with equal educational opportunities till age 21. That's what this case is all about," said Vic Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which is one of the groups representing the students.  A spokeswoman said the district will comply with the order but did not give further details or comment.

“The state Supreme Court will hear the case Tuesday, Sept. 13 in Philadelphia.
"Let our children have their day in court to fight for their fundamental right to a high-quality public education," Duvall-Flynn said.  The suit was filed in November 2014 by six school districts: Lancaster, William Penn, Panther Valley, Johnstown, Wilkes-Barre and Shenandoah Valley. Co-plaintiffs are the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and NAACP PA.   These schools and groups are being represented in court by the Education Law Center and Public Interest Law Center. “
NAACP PA continues fight against state Department of Education
Penn Live By Candy Woodall | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on August 27, 2016 at 5:50 PM, updated August 27, 2016 at 6:51 PM
Gov. Tom Wolf regularly touts historic increases in state education funding among his successes, but NAACP leaders say the extra $260 million in the 2016-17 is not enough.  However, they're pointing fingers at the General Assembly, not the governor.  The NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference of Branches "remains deeply aggrieved at the failure of the state Legislature to adequately and equitably fund" public education, said Joan Duvall-Flynn, president of NAACP PA. Along with the 2016 election, education funding was one of the top concerns during NAACP PA's quarterly meeting Saturday in Lancaster.

NAACP continues push for school funding changes
Johnstown Tribune Democrat By David Hurst August 29, 2016
It’s been two years since Greater Johnstown and five other poor Pennsylvania public schools filed a lawsuit against the state pushing for an education funding system fix.  But the state’s NAACP leaders haven’t forgotten about it, their president, Joan Duvall-Flynn, said during the association’s annual state conference over the weekend.  “NAACP Pa remains deeply aggrieved at the failure of the state Legislature to adequately and equitably fund a ‘thorough and efficient public education’ for all children in this commonwealth,” Duvall-Flynn said in a release to media following the Lancaster conference. “We believe this stems from a failure to value all citizens the same.”  Greater Johnstown, Lancaster, Wilkes-Barre and three other eastern Pennsylvania schools filed the suit in November 2014 and are currently joined by NAACP Pa and the Pennsylvania Association of Small Schools, arguing that poor urban and extremely rural schools have been saddled by years of funding cuts because they are already dealing with unique challenges.  It’s to the point that the state’s support to some schools doesn’t meet the state Constitution’s education provisions, they argue.  This year’s budget, approved by state officials this summer, allocated approximately $200 million in additional funding dollars – and through a new formula that is aimed at directing new dollars to schools that need it most.  But NAACP Pa leaders say that’s not enough to fix issues created by a “broken system.”

DN editorial: Keystone exams still best way to see whether kids are learning
Philly Daily News Editorial Updated: AUGUST 29, 2016 — 3:01 AM EDT
THE IDEA was hatched during the Rendell administration as a way to increase accountability. The plan was to require that students pass an exam in order to graduate high school.  The idea was embraced by the Legislature and various education interest groups. Ten exams were supposed to be created, but only three were completed: algebra, literature and biology. Students began taking the tests in 2012 and the program was due to go into effect for the class of 2017.  A funny thing happened on the way to implementation. Many students could not pass. Annual pass rates have been below 60 percent for more than half all district and charter schools around the state, with even lower pass rates among poorer students and students of color. "Passing" in this case means "Proficient," the students have shown a firm grasp of the content of the courses.  People began to grumble about the tests, and this year, the Legislature delayed implementation until 2019 and had the Department of Education conduct a policy review of the Keystone exams, as they are called.

Pa. student’s viral speech on transgender bathroom law highlights challenge for school districts
Incoming Emmaus High freshman Sigourney Coyle had already been offered an accommodation to avoid changing in the school locker room when her speech to the school board about transgender inclusive policies went viral.  "I'm here to discuss the letter that [President] Obama sent," she began. "I'm a woman, I identify as a woman, and you can't make me change in front of someone I don't identify with and who is physically male."  In the letter she refers to, often casually referred to as the "transgender bathroom law," the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education assert transgender students are protected by Title IX and provide a framework for how to comply with that new classification.  "A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity," according to the most hotly debated portion of that guidance, kicking off lawsuits around the country.  As those lawsuits work their way through the courts, school districts hoping for a clear answer on how to interpret the mandate are in a bind.

Pa.'s fall legislative races shaping up to feature contests in 124 of the 228 races
Penn Live by Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on August 26, 2016 at 2:36 PM, updated August 27, 2016 at 3:37 PM
*This story was updated to include the Democratic nominee for the 31st state senatorial district who was added to the candidate list on Friday.
Ninety-seven incumbent state House and Senate candidates are virtually assured of victory in the Nov. 8 election because they will have no opponents listed on the ballot.  They include 85 House members – 42 Democrats and 43 Republicans – and 12 senators – five Democrats and seven Republicans.  Seven newcomers also appear to have a likely lock on their bids to get elected to six House and a Senate seat since they too will have no opponents, at least the way it looks on the latest list of candidates on the Department of State website.  As for the remaining 112 in the House and 12 in the Senate that are up for grabs, let the games begin.  The list of candidates is close to being finalized by the Department of State now that deadlines have passed for candidates who won their party's nomination in the April primary to withdraw and for parties to identify a replacement if they chose to do so

Community Schools: Erie schools reopen on positive note
Ge Erie By Valerie Myers 814-878-1913 etnmyers August 29, 2016 04:25 AM
ERIE, Pa. -- After months of doubt about the future of Erie public schools, schools Superintendent Jay Badams is smiling.  Serious financial problems remain, but all 18 Erie schools will open Monday, some in better shape and with expanded services.  Wayne and Pfeiffer Burleigh schools and Edison, McKinley and Emerson-Gridley elementary schools will offer health care, dental care, after-school programs and other services for students and families in partnership with United Way of Erie County. United Way, GE Transportation, Hamot Health Foundation, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and an anonymous donor will fund the initiative over the next three years.  Lead agencies in each of those "community schools" will hire a director and coordinate services.  "We're not starting from zero. A lot of agencies already provide services in our schools, but they're not coordinated," Badams said. "Lead agencies now will coordinate services and take work off principals' shoulders for after-school and other programs. It will bring services into schools where students need and have access to them, and will allow principals and teachers to focus more on educational programs and seeing that fewer kids slip through the cracks."  The new community schools are expected to be up and running by late September. Badams expects high demand for their services. 

In Upper Darby, it's back to school, and racial allegations
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer Updated: AUGUST 28, 2016 — 1:08 AM EDT
On Monday, 12,000 Upper Darby students will head back to class in a district still embroiled in its summer-break drama - one that publicly opened with the surprise ouster of its superintendent and flared into a dispute over alleged racial imbalances that has drawn the attention of the NAACP.  The root of the ruckus, however, goes further back to the past school year, Superintendent Richard F. Dunlap Jr.'s third - and last - at the helm of one of the most diverse districts in the region.  Dunlap had floated a plan that would have relieved class overcrowding at certain elementary schools by assigning children to schools outside their neighborhoods. But after a closed school board meeting July 20, he abruptly left his $194,866-a-year post. Some in the community contended that his proposal, and its potential to change the racial makeup of some mostly white schools in the township, was his undoing.

York Suburban Middle School adds new positions under Fair Funding Formula
Abc27 News By Samantha Galvez Published: August 25, 2016, 6:37 pm
YORK, Pa. (WHTM) – York Suburban School District approved three new positions this year at its middle school with additional funds under the Fair Funding Formula.  The hallways are full; not only with students but smiles.  “We’re happy because students are here, students are engaged,” middle school principal Dr. Scott Krauser said.  The same goes for the back to schoolers, who are seeing fewer faces in the classroom.  “They can’t hide anymore like they used to be able to do in the class of 30 kids. They could kind of sit back and fall away, but they can’t do that anymore and I think they’re enjoying the fact that they can’t do that,” said Alicia Kowitz, head of the middle school Math Department.  The school added those three positions to their math and science programs, scaling back class size to the low 20s. The new formula distributes cash more evenly to schools. Governor Tom Wolf signed the legislation this summer.

Liberty HS Mystery Mailer?
Charter school loan documents give another link to Atiyeh
By Jim Deegan | For Email the author | Follow on Twitter on August 26, 2016 at 2:52 PM, updated August 26, 2016 at 3:05 PM
Innovative Arts Academy Charter School in Catasauqua released loan documents Friday that identify the lender as Charter Solutions LLC, a limited liability corporation at 1177 Sixth St. in Whitehall Township — the same address as Atiyeh's Whitehall Manor.  Atiyeh also is the fledgling school's landlord at 330 Howertown Road in Catasauqua.  The loan documents provide the latest link yet between Atiyeh and the charter school amid a swirling controversy about who's responsible for a mystery mailer that promoted the charter school and denigrated Liberty High School.

Dirty tactics smear efforts of charter schools | Editorial
By Express-Times opinion staff on August 28, 2016 at 6:00 AM
Is this any way to promote a charter school?
The pending debut of the Innovative Arts Academy Charter School in Catasauqua in September might have been uneventful, considering school officials said they had met their goal of enrolling 300 students for the sixth-to-12th-grade school.  Then a newspaper ad in the Morning Call and an anonymous mailer raised the school's profile dramatically. They touted the drug bust of a Liberty High School student last year, asking parents" "Why worry about this type of student at school?" and advising them to "Come visit Arts Academy Charter School."  Reaction to the unsigned mailer, which listed the school's address, was immediate. Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Joseph Roy called it a low blow and an impetus for the Legislature to reform the state's charter school act.  Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a critic of the state's approach to charter schools, said he wants to know who drew up and authorized the promotions. He asked the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General to look into it.

Pennsylvania: Charter Schools Spend Twice As Much on Administrative Costs as Public Schools
Diane Ravitch’s Blog By dianeravitch August 28, 2016 //
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association conducted a study of costs, comparing charter schools and public schools, and concluded that the charter schools have higher salaries for those at the top and spend twice as much on administration as public schools.
Furthermore, the bulk of their revenue–as much as 84%–is taken away from public schools, leaving them in worse condition.

WaPo Editorial: The NAACP’s ill-conceived opposition to charter schools
Washington Post By Editorial Board August 27 at 6:18 PM
“WHEN SCHOOLS get it right, whether they’re traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working and share it with schools across America.” Hillary Clinton was booed at the National Education Association’s summer convention for that self-evidently sensible proposition. The reaction speaks volumes about labor’s uniformed and self-interested opposition to charter schools and contempt for what’s best for children. Now the union has been joined by a couple of organizations that purport to be champions of opportunity.
In separate conventions over recent weeks, the NAACP, the nation’s oldest black civil rights organization, and the Movement for Black Lives, a network of Black Lives Matter organizers, passed resolutions criticizing charter schools and calling for a moratorium on their growth. Charters were faulted by the groups for supposedly draining money from traditional public schools and allegedly fueling segregation. The NAACP measure, which still must be ratified by the board before becoming official, went so far as to liken the expansion of charters to “predatory lending practices” that put low-income communities at risk.  No doubt that will come as a surprise to the millions of parents who have seen their children well-served by charters and to the additional million more who are on charter schoolwaiting lists for their sons and daughters. “You’ve got thousands and thousands of poor black parents whose children are so much better off because these schools exist,” Howard Fuller of the Black Alliance for Educational Options told the New York Times.

“New York City charter schools make up 81 percent of the charter schools in the state. Only 4 percent of New York’s charter students are English Language Learners, as compared with over three times as many — 13 percent — of the 3-8 students in New York City public schools. Fifteen percent of charter students in Grades 3-8 are students with disabilities, as compared with 22 percent of the students in New York City traditional public schools.  These differences in who attends charters are part of a national pattern.
Some of the gaps result from initial enrollment, and some are a result of charter attrition. Then there are differences in the degree of disability—a child with a mild learning disability is very different from one with severe autism or emotional problems. A 2013 study of Philadelphia schools by the Education Law Center provides important insights into distribution patterns by disability in charters— students with multiple disabilities, emotional disabilities, and autism were under-enrolled, with some at nearly half the expected rates.”
Will the thing that charter schools love so much be their undoing?
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss August 26 
John Oliver, on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” did a funny, biting segment on the charter schools, which educate a fraction of American school children — somewhere around 5 percent — but get a great deal more attention from policymakers then the numbers would predict.
Here’s a new look at charter schools from Carol Burris, a former New York high school principal who is now executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education. Burris was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and the same organization named her the New York State High School Principal of the Year in 2013. She has been chronicling botched school reform efforts in her state for years.
In a recent post, she explained why putting the word “public” in front of “charter school” — which are funded with tax dollars but sometimes considered private by courts — is “an affront” to people for whom public education is a mission. In this post, Burris looks at whether charter schools can properly be compared with district public schools — as they often are.

NEW: Southeastern PA Regional 2016 Legislative Roundtable: William Tennent High School (Bucks Co.) SEP 22, 2016 • 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
PSBA website August 25, 2016
Take a more active role in public education advocacy by joining our Legislative Roundtable
This is your opportunity for a seat at the table (literally) with fellow public education advocates to take an active role in educating each other and policymakers.  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, along with regional legislators, will be in attendance to work with you to support public education in Pennsylvania.  Use the form below to send your registration information!

2016 National Anthem Sing-A-Long - September 9th
American Public Education Foundation Website 
The Star-Spangled Banner will be sung by school children nationwide on Friday, September 9, 2016 at 10:00am PST and 1:00pm EST. Students will learn about the words and meaning of the flag and sing the first stanza. This will be the third annual simultaneous sing-a-long event created by the APEF-9/12 Generation Project. The project aims to bring students together – as the world came together – on September 12, 2001.

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

Registration for the PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference Oct. 13-15 is now open
The conference is your opportunity to learn, network and be inspired by peers and experts.
TO REGISTER: See   (you must be logged in to the Members Area to register). You can read more on How to Register for a PSBA Event here.   CONFERENCE WEBSITE: For all other program details, schedules, exhibits, etc., see the conference

REGISTER NOW for the 2016 PA Principals Association State Conference, October 30 - November 1, at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in State College.
The Early Bird Discount Deadline has been Extended to Wednesday, August 31, 2016!
PA Principals Association website Tuesday, August 2, 2016 10:43 AM
To receive the Early Bird Discount, you must be registered by August 31, 2016:
Members: $300  Non-Members: $400
Featuring Three National Keynote Speakers: Eric Sheninger, Jill Jackson & Salome Thomas-EL

PSBA Officer Elections Aug. 15-Oct. 3, 2016: Slate of Candidates
PSBA members seeking election to office for the association were required to submit a nomination form no later than April 30, 2016, to be considered. All candidates who properly completed applications by the deadline are included on the slate of candidates below. In addition, the Leadership Development Committee met on June 24 at PSBA headquarters in Mechanicsburg to interview candidates. According to bylaws, the Leadership Development Committee may determine candidates highly qualified for the office they seek. This is noted next to each person’s name with an asterisk (*).  Each school entity will have one vote for each officer. This will require boards of the various school entities to come to a consensus on each candidate and cast their vote electronically during the open voting period (Aug. 15-Oct. 3, 2016). Voting will be accomplished through a secure third-party, web-based voting site that will require a password login. One person from each member school entity will be authorized as the official person to cast the vote on behalf of his or her school entity. In the case of school districts, it will be the board secretary who will cast votes on behalf of the school board.
Special note: Boards should be sure to include discussion and voting on candidates to its agenda during one of its meetings in September.

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