Thursday, September 1, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Sept 1: Lower Merion SD to appeal court’s tax hike decision

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup September 1, 2016:
Lower Merion SD to appeal court’s tax hike decision

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

Philadelphia City Council

Guest Column: Cyber charter schools: An enormous waste of tax dollars
Delco Times By Lawrence A. Feinberg, Times Guest Columnist POSTED: 09/01/16, 8:02 AM
If it sometimes seems like “tuition-free” cyber charter ads are running non-stop, consider that in just one year your tax dollars paid for 19,298 local TV commercials for Agora Cyber Charter, just one of Pennsylvania’s 13 cyber charters. And far from being tuition-free, total cyber tuition paid by Pennsylvania taxpayers from 500 school districts for 2013, 2014 and 2015 was $393.5 million, $398.8 million and $436.1 million respectively.  Those commercials were very effective, especially if you were an executive at K12, Inc., a for-profit company contracted to manage the cyberschool. According to Agora’s 2013 IRS filing, it paid $69.5 million that year to K12, Inc. According to Morningstar, total executive compensation at K12 in 2013 was $21.37 million.
Not so effective for kids or taxpayers, though. What the ads don’t tell you is that they are paid for using your school tax dollars instead of those funds being spent in classrooms, and that academic performance at every one of Pennsylvania’s cyber charters has been consistently dismal. While the state Department of Education considers a score of 70 to be passing, Agora’s PA School Performance Profile (SPP) scores for 2013, 2014 and 2015 were 48.3, 42.4 & 46.4.
In fact, not one of Pennsylvania’s cyber charters has achieved a passing SPP score of 70 in any of the three years that the SPP has been in effect.

Letter to LMSD community regarding recent court decision
Lower Merion School District Website LMSD Announcements Posted: August 30, 2016
Dear LMSD Community, Yesterday, the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas issued an injunction order that overrules the decision-making authority of the Lower Merion Board of School Directors and could significantly impact the quality of school programs and financial standing of Lower Merion School District. In its decision, the Court stripped the District of the ability to utilize “Act 1” budget exceptions to help cover nearly $4M in mandated costs associated with special education and retirement obligations in the current year’s tax increase. These exceptions were previously approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as required by law. The Court’s decision imposes legal standards upon LMSD that are different than any other public school district in Pennsylvania and makes the District’s budgeting even more challenging by introducing greater uncertainty into the process. The Board of School Directors intends to appeal the decision immediately and will vigorously defend its right – and the right of locally-elected school boards across the Commonwealth – to approve budgets specific to the unique educational needs of local communities. 

“The decision by the court, if upheld, will add to this fiscal uncertainty and further jeopardize educational quality. Under Act 1, it is the Department of Education that has the exclusive responsibility to review and approve requests for exceptions to Act 1’s base limit on school tax increases. The Act 1 exceptions reflect the General Assembly’s recognition that there are some kinds of school district costs that can increase much more rapidly than others, especially in the area of special education and employee pension contributions.  A court of common pleas has no power to issue orders that effectively overturn the Department’s decisions and usurp its authority. The court’s decision incorrectly assumes that the Department does not have critical information it needs to make such decisions, when in fact all relevant information is regularly submitted and available to the Department.”
PSBA Statement on Lower Merion School District tax levy injunction
The injunction issued Aug. 29, 2016, by the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas requiring the Lower Merion School District to lower its tax rate was beyond the court’s authority, and paints an incomplete and misleading picture both of how the Act 1 Taxpayer Relief Act operates to limit school district tax increases and the reasons that school district fund balances are considered to be an important means of maintaining fiscal and educational stability.  he disparity in the financial resources available to school districts around the commonwealth is well known, as is the unpredictability of support from state sources. Last year’s nine-month budget impasse provides a prime example of how important it is for school districts to maintain sufficient financial reserves. In the course of that impasse, it is estimated that school districts statewide were forced to take out loans amounting to more than $1 billion collectively in order to continue operating without state support, with significant unanticipated borrowing costs. A recent study issued by the Center on Regional Politics reports that on average, school districts have unassigned fund balances just above the minimum 5% of budgeted expenditures recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association, enough to pay less than three weeks operating expenses for most. The study further reports that in 2014-15, more than 90% of school districts had unassigned fund balances that were less than half of their state subsidy.
At the same time, employer contribution rates for school employee pensions are higher than ever before, and the continuing suspension of state reimbursement for school construction is forcing districts with deteriorating classroom facilities to fund needed improvements without that support.

Judge orders Pa. school district to revoke tax increase, says it misled taxpayers
Penn Live By The Associated Press on August 31, 2016 at 2:07 PM
NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Education officials fear a judge's decision ordering a suburban Philadelphia school district to revoke its tax hike could lead to lawsuits around Pennsylvania challenging other school districts' tax increases.  "I've never heard of this happening before ... a judge substituting his/her judgment of financial needs of the district in place of locally elected school board members," Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.  He said he anticipates lawsuits against other districts that have healthy fund balances but raise taxes above the maximum amount allowed under state law.  On Monday, a Montgomery County judge ordered the Lower Merion School District to revoke its latest tax increase, saying the district misled taxpayers by projecting large budget deficits when it was socking away millions.  Common Pleas Judge Joseph A. Smyth said in his decision that the district could increase taxes for 2016-17 but by no more than 2.4 percent.  He said he would "leave for another day" the question of refunds and credits for those who already paid their current school tax bills.  The district said Tuesday that it will appeal the decision.

A warning to school boards across Pennsylvania
Delco Times Heron’s Nest Blog by Editor Phil Heron Thursday, September 1, 2016
Some days really important stories get lost in the shuffle.
They aren't especially sexy. They likely will not be splashed all over our front page. They probably won't be "trending," or amass the much-salivated over "clicks."  They are just very, very important, literally the kind of story that could easily fall through the cracks if it were not for newspapers and their traditional role of "watchdogs."  I refer to a story that appeared on Page 4 of Wednesday's paper. It dealt with school budgets and taxes. I know, your eyes are starting to roll back in your head as they glaze over.  Think again.  That might be especially true if you happen to be a school board member - or a property owner who pays the taxes that make up the bulk of school budgets.
Something a Montgomery County judge did should have school board members all across Delaware County waking up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat.

The Goth election - new poll finds Pennsylvanians in a bleak mood: Thursday Morning Coffee
Penn Live By John L. Micek | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on September 01, 2016 at 7:10 AM, updated September 01, 2016 at 8:11 AM
Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
new Franklin & Marshall poll out Thursday finds Pennsylvanians about as chipper as a roomful of Smiths fans at a Joy Division listening party hosted by that guy down the row from you who arrives at work on Monday already praying for Friday to come. From a deeply held conviction that too much power is concentrated in the hands of politicians to the creeping sense that all is simply not right with America, there's enoughennui in the new survey to guarantee full-employment for psychotherapists from now until the end of the world.

Highlands School Board approves 5-year contract with teachers
Trib Live BY LIZ HAYES | Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, 11:20 p.m.
Highlands School District students will return to classes Tuesday without the threat of a teacher strike looming.  The school board on Wednesday unanimously approved the five-year contract that was accepted by the district's 191 teachers Monday.  “This agreement represents a victory for the students and families of the Highlands School District who will be assured of uninterrupted education during the length of this contract,” board President Debbie Beale said. “It will be good to start the school year on a very positive note.”  District Solicitor Ira Weiss said the deal provides average annual raises of 3 percent, or $2,133. The actual amount will vary depending on the year and a teacher's placement on the salary scale.  The average Highlands teacher salary was about $68,000 during the 2014-15 school year, the most recent available from the state Department of Education.  The contract also requires teachers to pay more for health care.

Dads mobilizing to start school year right in Philadelphia and nationwide
What began as a march of protest is transforming into an annual push to have Philadelphia dads walk their children to school Wednesday next week.   The Million Father March is encouraging fathers to take their sons and daughters to school on the first day of classes in Philadelphia on September 7.  David Fattah of the House of Umoja is the nationwide sponsor of the event which has spread far beyond the city.  "The thought behind it is to increase parental involvement in the schools," Fattah said.  Councilman Curtis Jones is a major supporter of the effort.  "What we want to do is encourage fathers and male role models to pick a child, your child hopefully or a neighbor's child and help them for the first day at least of school to let them know that we see you we want you to be successful and when fathers are involved in children's lives all of the outcomes are better," Jones said.  He says involved dads are a big help when boys have questions they don't feel comfortable asking their mom.

“Since 2006 the Charter School Growth Fund has received more than $100 million in funding from the Walton Foundation, the philanthropic organization started by the founders of Walmart, as well as grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”
New fund would direct millions to Camden's Renaissance schools
Inquirer by Allison Steele, STAFF WRITER Updated: AUGUST 31, 2016 — 7:14 PM EDT
George Norcross, the longtime Democratic power broker of South Jersey and chairman of Cooper University Health Care, on Wednesday announced the launch of a $28.5 million fund that will pay for construction and renovation of Camden's Renaissance schools.  Norcross, also an insurance executive, said he would raise $5.7 million from local organizations and individuals, including $1 million from his family, and that the rest of the money will come from 4-1 matching by national philanthropic foundations.  The local fund is being established by the nonprofit Charter School Growth Fund, a national venture capital fund that invests in charter schools.  Hybrids of public and charter schools, Renaissance schools are publicly funded but privately operated. Unlike charter schools, they guarantee seats to every child in the school's neighborhood, and they have contracts with the district mandating services like special education. By law they must operate in new or renovated buildings.

Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade
What Works Clearinghouse Institute of Educational Sciences
Students who read with understanding at an early age gain access to a broader range of texts, knowledge, and educational opportunities, making early reading comprehension instruction particularly critical. This guide recommends five specific steps that teachers, reading coaches, and principals can take to successfully improve reading comprehension for young readers.

“At issue is the portion of the new federal education law that requires school districts to use Title I dollars in addition to — not instead of — state and local money. The outlines of that provision — known as “supplement not supplant” — has been in place for decades, and is meant to ensure that districts don’t underfund schools in poor neighborhoods and then use federal aid to make up the difference.  Many school districts are living up to the law but thousands of high-poverty schools are being shortchanged, receiving less state and local money than more affluent schools within the same district, according to the Obama administration.”
Obama administration to propose rules for how school districts spend money meant for poor kids
Washington Post By Emma Brown August 31 at 8:44 AM 
The Obama administration is expected to release draft rules Wednesday that would govern how school districts allocate billions of Title I dollars meant to educate poor children, one of Capitol Hill’s most hotly debated education issues since Congress passed a new federal education law late last year.  According to a summary of the proposal released early Wednesday morning, the draft rules reflect changes that the Education Department incorporated after its initial proposal received a barrage of criticism, not only from Republicans but also from teachers unions and district and state education leaders.  It’s clear that the changes have not addressed all of those criticisms.  “Schools would be forced to move resources around at the last minute each year to try to meet a federal mandate, rather than doing what is in the best interest of students,” Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said in a statement. “The Every Student Succeeds Act gives states more flexibility so we can create opportunities for all kids, and this proposed rule is not consistent with the law.”

Massachusetts Charter Showdown
Charlie Baker asks progressives to live up to their principles.
Wall Street Journal Aug. 31, 2016 6:46 p.m. ET
Republican Governors who face Democratic legislatures have a tough slog, but one path to political leverage is a referendum at the ballot box. Charlie Baker is using that route in November to override a Massachusetts House that is bought and paid for by teachers unions.  Last October the first-term Governor unveiled a bill to lift the state’s charter-school cap to allow 12 new or expanded charters a year. The bill was focused on districts with student performance in the bottom 25% of the state.  Massachusetts has a better education record than most states, thanks to relative affluence and higher testing standards. But there is a large unmet demand for charters in the state’s low-income districts that have rotten schools. The Bay State currently has a mere 78 charter schools with 40,000 or so students. Yet 32,000 more children are on charter waiting lists; 12,000 are in Boston, or 20% of the city’s public school enrollment.

Are the Republicans Abandoning Public Education?
Education Week Opinion By Marc Tucker on September 1, 2016 6:24 AM
I ask this question, of course, partly tongue in cheek.  I have good friends—including current and former federal and state officials—who are Republicans who continue to be strong supporters of public education.  But I ask it to make a serious point.   The arc of bipartisan support for public schooling began its rise in 1837 when Horace Mann became chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education.  Through the rest of the 19th century, Americans came to take enormous pride in their common schools and to see them as the primary means by which ordinary Americans of modest means who were willing to work hard could vault themselves into the upper reaches of the world's most egalitarian country.  It was a vision shared equally by Republicans and Democrats. 

The Sixth Annual Arts and Education Symposium – October 27, 2016
The 2016 Arts and Education Symposium will be held on October 27 at the Radisson Hotel Harrisburg Convention Center.  Sponsored by the Pennsylvania Arts Education network and EPLC, the Symposium is a Unique Networking and Learning Opportunity for:
·         Arts Educators
·         School Leaders
·         Artists
·         Arts and Culture Community Leaders
·         Arts-related Business Leaders
·         Arts Education Faculty and Administrators in Higher Education
·         Advocates
·         State and Local Policy Leaders
Act 48 Credit is available.
Program and registration information are available here.

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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