Monday, September 26, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Sept 26: Charter Reform Should Protect Taxpayers, not Management Company Profits

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup September 26, 2016
Charter Reform Should Protect Taxpayers, not Management Company Profits

Editorial: Changes needed to charter school law
Beaver County Times By The Times Editorial Board September 25, 2016
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale didn’t mince words last week when he released a scathing 95-page audit report of the Midland-based Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. His message was clear: The state’s charter school law needs to be reformed immediately.
“It should be a clarion call to change the law to make sure that this type of nonsense doesn’t happen again,” DePasquale told The Times.  The “nonsense” he cited in the audit, which covered from May 2011 to March 2016, included numerous administrative failings, multiple conflicts of interest and a culture that enriched a favored few -- all of which traced back to PA Cyber founder Nick Trombetta, who left the school in 2012. Trombetta was indicted by a federal grand jury on several charges in 2013 and is now awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty last month to tax conspiracy as a part of scheme that involved funneling more than $8 million to a company he created to mask earnings from the IRS.  Although Trombetta was not actively involved in PA Cyber’s operation after leaving in 2012, much of the audit findings point to his actions while in charge, including creating multiple spin-off companies and holding overlapping roles in them. All the while, the money that came pouring into PA Cyber as it continued to grow found its way to those other companies in one form or another.

“The Legislature should reform the charter law to ensure that charter schools are held to the same level of accountability as the conventional public school districts from which they draw their funding.”
Editorial: Legislature must revisit charter law
Citing self-dealing, sweeping conflicts of interest, poor record-keeping and questionable governance, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s new audit of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is yet another convincing call for the state Legislature to reform the cyberschool law.  Charter schools are privately operated public schools. They draw their money from the public school districts where their students reside. Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School has students statewide. It has more students than the Scranton School District, about 10,000. During the 2013-2014 school year, it was paid about $118.6 million in public money.  The blistering audit covers a period from May 13, 2011, through March 11, 2016. It alleges that the board had failed to properly oversee business conducted by the school’s founder, board members themselves, family members and related businesses.

Letters: Time for a tougher Pa. charter school law
Inquirer Letter by James Roebuck  Updated: SEPTEMBER 26, 2016 — 3:01 AM EDT
James Roebuck, Democratic chairman, Pennsylvania House Education Committee, Philadelphia
In this year's budget debate, Gov. Wolf, I, and other Democratic legislators pushed for a larger restoration of school funding that had been cut under former Gov. Tom Corbett ("Pa. has more to do on school funding fairness," Aug. 25). That restoration would have sent more school funding through the new, fairer formula.  That formula is the product of difficult, bipartisan compromise. We must restore and increase education funding so the share distributed through the new formula continues to increase.  We also need reform of Pennsylvania's nearly 20-year-old charter school law. That would increase accountability and oversight and provide hundreds of millions of dollars of savings for school districts, especially many lower-income districts such as Philadelphia that were hit hardest by the Corbett-era cuts.  While recent charter school oversight changes are helpful, there is only so much the Wolf administration can do unless the legislature changes the law. I have introduced a strong, bipartisan bill, H.B. 1328, that would do exactly that (  Some charter schools are well-run, but we shouldn't overpay for any of them. In light of reports from the auditor general and last month's guilty plea of former Western Pennsylvania charter school head Nick Trombetta, we need reform like H.B. 1328.

Comprehensive Charter School Reform Legislation
PA House Cosponsorship Memoranda Representative James R. Roebuck, Jr. June 2015
As you are aware, Governor Tom Wolf set forth an ambitious Education funding agenda and as part of his historical proposal he hopes to implement reforms on the charter sector -- specifically, funding for cyber charter schools, which currently receive funding at levels on par with what is spent by a students' home district.  In an effort to build upon the Governors leadership on this issue, I intend to introduce legislation that will make comprehensive changes to the Charter and Cyber Charter School Law.  While I do support charter school entities, I believe major revisions are needed regarding the governance, financing and accountability of these public schools. I believe my legislation, which includes provisions passed in HB 530, coupled with the Governor’s proposal will result in significant savings to our school districts and provide much needed reforms to the Charter School law.

Capitolwire: Auditor General reiterates call for charter school law reform
Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools - By Carley Mossbrook Staff Reporter September 23, 2016
HARRISBURG (Sept. 22) – Pennsylvania’s top fiscal watchdog released another charter school audit Thursday he says bolsters his claims that the commonwealth’s charter school law is in dire need of reform.  In his latest audit, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his office uncovered what he called “intermingled relationships that put individual self-interests above student needs” within three Beaver County schools.  “Our audits of PA Cyber [Charter School], the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School, and, to a much lesser extent, Midland Borough School District, illustrate just how poorly our charter school law is protecting students and taxpayers and ensuring that education dollars help students learn, not help individuals profit,” DePasquale said at a news conference in the Capitol.  DePasquale’s office found that Nicholas Trombetta, superintendent of the school district from 1995 to 2002, founded and served in leadership positions at both PA Cyber and the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School, and founded and served as president of the management company contracted by the schools.

Auditor General Says Charter School Audit Shows Issues Published 09/22 2016 06:47PM
Harrisburg, Pa. -The audits were conducted on the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School and the Midland Borough School District.  Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says that the audits illustrate how poorly the charter school law is protecting students and taxpayers as well as ensuring that taxpayer dollars are being used to help students learn, rather than turning individual profits.  One of the reasons he says that the charter school law needs an overhaul is that the charter school management company was operating without boundaries or accountability to charter school officials or to the taxpayers. The major issues found in the audits include problems with curriculum and the management company and failure from the board and administration to govern.  DePasquale has a special report on charter school law reform where he outlines recommendations on how to improve accountability, effectiveness and transparency. He says his criticisms shouldn't be an indictment on charter schools in general and that there are excellent charter schools and performing arts centers in Pennsylvania.

Auditor General releases charter school audits, calls for overhaul of the law
PSBA Website September 23, 2016
This week state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale held a news conference to once again call for an overhaul of Pennsylvania’s 20-year old charter school law, highlighting recent audits of three charter schools and recommending changes. These changes are in addition to the recommendations he first made in aspecial report issued in 2014. Click here to read the auditor general’s news release that contains links to the individual audit reports of three charter schools.  PSBA believes that this latest audit further underscores the need for reform to the existing charter school law. The association recently released a report examining Pennsylvania charter school revenues, expenditures and transparency. The findings of the report highlight the need for reform and suggest the need for further study into how charter schools are operated.

Blogger note: Congratulations to these folks; this kind of journalism should also be brought to bear on charter schools that use taxpayer dollars.  Statewide, there has been virtually no coverage of charter school board meetings…

“Ultimately, this is about the kind of watchdog journalism that seeks to increase government transparency and hold elected officials accountable for their actions.”
The journalists who evaluated LNP’s coverage described it as an “impressive commitment to follow the school board shenanigans and expand reporting into fiscal audits.”
LNP, staff members receive Pa. NewsMedia Association's G. Richard Dew Award
LANCASTERONLINE | Staff September 25, 2016
LNP and three of its staff members have won the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association Foundation’s most prestigious award for excellence in journalism.  The 2016 G. Richard Dew Award recognizes the news organization, reporters Kara Newhouse and Susan Baldrige, and Opinion Editor Suzanne Cassidy for their coverage of the embattled Manheim Township school board over the past year.  Their articles and editorials shed light on the board’s violation of the state’s open-meetings law, the abrupt and unexplained resignation of a superintendent, and the district’s solid financial picture despite program cuts and deficit warnings.  “We are extraordinarily honored to receive this award,” LNP Executive Editor Barbara Hough Roda said. “It recognizes our newsroom’s commitment to grabbing hold of an important story, digging deeply, reporting thoroughly, remaining tenacious and keeping the public informed every step of the way. 

Rossi blames Christiana for ignoring weak charter school law
Beaver County Times By J.D. Prose September 25, 2016
Democratic 15th Legislative District candidate Mike Rossi is using the state auditor general’s blistering audit of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School to charge incumbent state Rep. Jim Christiana with ignoring pleas over the years to strengthen a weak charter school law.
“He did not fight the fight,” Rossi said Friday, claiming that requests from the public and education officials to legislators, including Christiana, to revamp the charter law “fell on deaf ears.”  Christiana, however, said a desperate Rossi was making “baseless accusations” and simply trying to drum up interest in his campaign. “Rossi’s campaign continues to be a series of baseless accusations to get attention and my voting record doesn’t lie,” the Republican legislator from Brighton Township said.

Video: Parents from across Pa. weigh in on education funding
Keystone Crossroads/WHYY Newsworks BY JESSICA KOURKOUNIS SEPTEMBER 26, 2016
As part of the Keystone Crossroads' continued look at education funding in Pennsylvania, multimedia journalist Jessica Kourkounis set out across the state to speak to parents about how they were feeling.  "I interviewed parents in cities and towns who are from varied circumstances and backgrounds. They are parents of public school children and charter school students. Some of their school's situations are more dire than others but they are all feeling that something needs to be done to address the complicated funding issues facing Pennsylvania. Every parent is looking for the same thing for their children in school; equality, safety, learning and preparation for their children's future."

Erie schools await 'financial watch'
25 Sep 2016 — Erie Times-News by Ed Palattella
The Erie School District has already started to find ways to prevent another crisis in its 2017-18 budget, due by July 1.  It is waiting on the state to make its plans more formal. As of Friday, officials at the 12,000-student district said it had yet to receive a $2 million payment from the state Department of Education.  The payment will comprise the first half of the $4 million in emergency funding that the district is expected to receive from the state this year to alleviate its current budget problems. The district's chronic funding shortfalls have Superintendent Jay Badams again contemplating, in the years ahead, closing the district's four high schools, and sending the students to outlying districts, to offset a possible deficit of $8 million to $10 million in 2017-18 alone.  Receipt of the $2 million, according to district officials, will trigger the process by which the district will officially enter into what as known as financial watch status, in which it will work with the state Department of Education to improve its finances.  State law also requires that, once the district gets the $2 million, the secretary of education, Pedro A. Rivera, will notify the district that it has been "identified for financial watch status."  The district had yet to receive that notification on Friday, said its lawyer, Tim Wachter, who also said the district had yet to receive the $2 million. The district has enough money in its $185.5 million budget to go without the funding for now, officials said.

Refugee students sue for their place in public education
Inquirer by Michael Matza, Staff Writer Updated: SEPTEMBER 26, 2016 — 5:32 AM EDT
From flashpoints around the world - wars in Africa and the Middle East, terrorism in Asia, gang violence in Central America - tens of millions of migrants have run for their lives in just the past few years, creating crises of epic scale for many destination nations.  A small fraction, about 85,000 annually, find a haven in the United States as refugees. Last year, 2,645 were resettled in Pennsylvania, including 510 in Philadelphia. New Jersey became home to 314, 91 of whom moved to the Camden area.  Overall, 40 percent of recent refugees are minors. Many have limited schooling, if any. Many speak little English, if any. And so they can find themselves in another, increasingly troubled place: the intersection of immigration and public education.  Experts say school is invaluable for integrating children into American life. The same experts concede the difficulties, particularly with older youth.  For instance, what should a school district - legally obligated to educate students until age 21 - do with a foreign-born 19-year-old who reads at a fifth-grade level?  That question, among others no less contentious, is being argued in a closely watched legal case pitting the School District of Lancaster against six refugee students.

Fitch Maintains Chester Community Charter School's (PA) Revs on Negative Watch
Yahoo News CHICAGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- September 22, 2016
Fitch Ratings has maintained approximately $52.38 million of charter school revenue bonds, series 2010A issued by the Delaware County Industrial Development Authority, PA (DCIDA) on Rating Watch Negative. The bonds, which are rated 'BB-' by Fitch, were issued on behalf of Chester Community Charter School (CCCS).  SECURITY - The series 2010A bonds are secured by pledged revenues of CCCS, backed by a mortgage on the property and facilities leased by the school and a debt service reserve (DSR) cash-funded to transaction maximum annual debt service (TMADS) of about $4.1 million. Management fee payments to CSMI, LLC (CSMI) are subordinated to the payment of debt service and DSR replenishment.

STEM Education Is Vital—But Not at the Expense of the Humanities
Politicians trying to dump humanities education will hobble our economy
By THE EDITORS | Scientific American October 2016 Issue
Kentucky governor Matt Bevin wants students majoring in electrical engineering to receive state subsidies for their education but doesn't want to support those who study subjects such as French literature. Bevin is not alone in trying to nudge higher education toward course work that promotes better future job prospects. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a former presidential candidate, put it bluntly last year by calling for more welders and fewer philosophers.  Promoting science and technology education to the exclusion of the humanities may seem like a good idea, but it is deeply misguided.Scientific American has always been an ardent supporter of teaching STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But studying the interaction of genes or engaging in a graduate-level project to develop software for self-driving cars should not edge out majoring in the classics or art history.  The need to teach both music theory and string theory is a necessity for the U.S. economy to continue as the preeminent leader in technological innovation. The unparalleled dynamism of Silicon Valley and Hollywood requires intimate ties that unite what scientist and novelist C. P. Snow called the “two cultures” of the arts and sciences.

The Teaching Profession: What School Boards Wish You Knew By: Jordan Catapano
“What are they thinking?” might be something teachers ask about their school’s board of education. At times it might be challenging for teachers to understand what drives the decisions the school board makes; at other times, the school board can seem like a nebulous backroom body of political dealings that puts the teaching profession and actual student learning on the backburner. Because school board meetings typically take place at night – long after teachers and students leave – and because board members typically have jobs of their own that prevent them from regularly visiting during school hours, there might be a feeling of disconnect between teachers, the teaching profession, and their governing boards.  Every school board is different. In an effort to help teachers become more acquainted with boards’ perspectives and decisions, here are a few insights into your average board that may prove helpful.

The comeback of cursive
Trib Live Opinion BY TOM PURCELL | Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, 5:24 p.m.
Get this: After many schools have phased out cursive writing lessons across America, more schools are bringing the lessons back.  As it goes, technology was such just a few short years ago that the emergence of electronic documents — completed on computer keypads — no longer required a handwritten signature.  However, according to The Economist, technology innovations in handwriting recognition are reversing the trend. As more people forgo “clunky” desktop computers in favor of mobile devices, handwriting is now a faster way to input data than keyboards.  “As a result,” reports The Economist, “a number of school boards in America have instigated a return to basics — especially time spent learning longhand.”

Power Lunch: Helen Gym's battle to save Philadelphia schools
Philadelphia Business Journal by Nancy Moses Guest Columnist Sep 22, 2016, 3:55pm EDT Updated Sep 23, 2016, 9:26am EDT
When I met with longtime education activist and new Philadelphia Councilwoman-At-Large Helen Gym, the school year had just started. I wanted to know why anyone would take on public education: Philadelphia’s toughest challenge. What I learned was nothing less than inspirational.
What is your connection to the issue of public education?
My parents were immigrants to this country and they could only provide me with so much. The public spaces – my school, park, and recreation center-- became very vital places for me to access resources that my parents simply could not provide. Later, as a teacher, I found public education totally transformative, exciting, and world-expanding. When I became a parent with three children of my own, I was faced with decisions that became very personal.
I’ve always felt education was a place of incredible possibility, a place that was always challenging and exciting and that exposed me to people who were eternally hopeful.

2016 National Forum on K-12 Philanthropy
Philanthropy Roundtable
Nearly 250 individual philanthropists, family members, private foundation leaders, and experts gathered in California’s Bay Area for The Philanthropy Roundtable’s 2016 National Forum on K-12 Philanthropy. Attendees had the opportunity to tour innovative local schools in Silicon Valley that are pioneering new personalized learning models, and participate in interactive workshops with the field’s leading experts and practitioners. They also heard firsthand from visionary leaders in K-12 philanthropy.

PENNSYLVANIA EDUCATION POLICY FORUM  Wednesday, October 12, 2016  SUBJECT:  EPLC's 2016 Report:  High School Career and Technical Education: Serving Pennsylvania's Workforce and Student Needs
Coffee and Networking - 9:30 a.m.  Program - 10:00 a.m. to Noon   

Technical College High School (Brandywine Campus) - 443 Boot Rd., Downingtown, PA 19335
 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. 
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
Dan Fogarty, Director of Workforce Development & COO, Berks County Workforce Development Board
Kirk Williard, Ed.D., Director of Career, Technical & Customized Education, Chester County Intermediate Unit 

Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 5:30 PM
The Crystal Tea Room, The Wanamaker Building
100 Penn Square East, Philadelphia, PA
Honoring: Pepper Hamilton LLP, Signe Wilkinson, Dr. Monique W. Morris
And presenting the ELC PRO BONO AWARD  to Paul Saint-Antoine & Chanda Miller
of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

The Public Interest Law Center invites you to its 2016 Annual Event: “Of the People, By the People, For the People.” Thursday, Oct 6, 2016 at 6:00 PM
FringeArts 140 N. Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia, PA
Honoring: Soil Generation, Nicholas Chimicles, and Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP

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

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.

REGISTER NOW for the 2016 PA Principals Association State Conference, October 30 - November 1, at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in State College.
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

SAVE THE DATE LWVPA Convention 2017 June 1-4, 2017
Join the League of Women Voters of PA for our 2017 Biennial Convention at the beautiful Inn at Pocono Manor!

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