Thursday, October 27, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Oct 27: Pension reform, charter reform prove elusive for PA Legislature

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3950 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Wolf education transition team members, superintendents, school solicitors, principals, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, faith-based organizations, labor organizations, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup October 27, 2016
Pension reform, charter reform prove elusive for PA Legislature

Blogger note: thanks to everyone who responded to our legislative alerts over the past week or so.  Your advocacy had a significant impact.  Please stay engaged with your legislators as we work towards real charter reform that actually includes accountability and transparency for taxpayer dollars in the next session.

“how it works, what it measures and why it’s important for Pennsylvania’s school districts”
Reminder: November Workshops and Webinar on the New PA School Funding Formula
PASA, PSBA, PAIU, PARSS, the PA Principals Association and PASBO have scheduled nine on-site workshops across the commonwealth and one webcast to provide an in-depth discussion of the new basic education funding formula: how it works, what it measures and why it’s important for Pennsylvania’s school districts. The workshops, funded through a grant from the William Penn Foundation, will be offered at IUs 3, 4, 8, 10, 15, 17, 18, 20 and 24 beginning in November. Click here for workshop dates and details and information about registration. Capacity is limited at all locations, so registration is required and is first come, first served.

“This effort could not have been possible without the strong advocates that we have in principals, superintendents, IU leaders, retired school directors and last but not least school directors.  PSBA will return to the effort of charter school reform in the new session and looks to have multiple bills introduced to affect positive change.  If you would like further information to set the record straight on what is in the bill and what is not, please click here.
Update: Charter School expansion under HB 530
PSBA Website October 26, 2016
Late on Tuesday night the House Rules committee met one last time and PSBA staff was in the capitol continuing to monitor the progress of charter expansion legislation, House Bill 530. Over the past two weeks advocates have generated via PSBA more than 2,000 email messages, 300 calls and texts, and multiple Twitter and Facebook posts all in an effort to oppose the legislation. Today with the Session coming to a close, we are confident that the legislation has been halted.  Over the past two years PSBA has been asking for genuine reform to the state’s outdated Charter School Law and had tried to work with members in the Senate and House of Representatives in hopes of clarifying and addressing many of our concerns. After reviewing this legislation with our Legislative Advisory Committee, it was clear that the final product of House Bill 530 was a step backward for charter accountability and transparency. With multiple threats and publication that indicated the bill was geared up to be considered by the House of Representatives,  PSBA was a leader in pointing out the serious flaws in the legislation.

Setting the Record Straight: Why House Bill 530 is NOT reasonable charter school reform
PSBA Website October 26, 2016
It’s no secret that the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and its 4,500 statewide members are opposed to House Bill 530, legislation purporting to be charter school “reform” that actually does little to provide real change in the way charter schools are operated, funded or held accountable. Instead, it enables the expansion of charter schools with less accountability and oversight, and actually dilutes existing powers of oversight by local school boards while costing them millions of dollars.  It’s been suggested that PSBA has made inaccurate and misleading claims about House Bill 530. PSBA would like to set the record straight. Make no mistake – school boards are very serious about charter school accountability. House Bill 530 does not strengthen accountability and does not contain significant, reasonable reform or relief from increasing charter school costs.  Here’s why:

Pa. legislative leaders say pension reform will not happen this year
Inquirer by Angela Couloumbis and Karen Langley, HARRISBURG BUREAU Updated: OCTOBER 27, 2016 — 1:08 AM EDT
HARRISBURG - Yes to more six-packs of beer on retail shelves. No to pension reform.
That was the state of play shortly before midnight Wednesday as the Republican-controlled legislature raced to push through key legislation before the end of its two-year session.
Senate GOP leaders, looking tired and exasperated, declared as officially dead a bill that would have made controversial changes to the state's debt-plagued pension funds.  "We are exposed," said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R., Centre), who has championed the issue. "The taxpayers of Pennsylvania are exposed."  One proposal that got a final vote: a bill that would allow beer distributors to sell six-packs, growlers, and single cans of beer instead of being limited to cases, 12-packs, and kegs.

Another state pension reform plan bites the dust as the House fails to drum up support to pass it
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on October 26, 2016 at 11:24 PM, updated October 26, 2016 at 11:52 PM
A last-minute effort to make monumental changes to the pension plan that would be offered to future state government and public school employees on Wednesday fell off the rails as the two-year legislative session nears its end.    This inaction kills yet another attempt to address this budget-buster of an issue.   A dejected Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said at 10:40 p.m. that House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, advised him that he couldn't muster enough Republican votes for the pension bill to pass the House. Democrats wanted nothing to do with the plan. Corman was confident he had the votes in his caucus to pass the Senate.  "Obviously we're extremely disappointed," Corman told reporters. "We think this was an opportunity for Pennsylvania to take the lead in pension reform. Pennsylvania could have been the number one pension reform state in the nation. Pennsylvania could have been number one in moving the risk off the books for the Pennsylvania taxpayers."

Pension reform bill fails in PA Legislature
Morning Call by Steve Esack Contact Reporter Call Harrisburg Bureau October 27, 2016
An 11th-hour attempt to make historic changes to state pensions blew up late Wednesday night when the Republican-controlled House could not muster enough votes for passage.  The GOP could not get enough of its 119 members to support the bill in the face of zero support among the chamber's 84 Democrats.  Standing at the top of the Capitol rotunda steps at about 10:45 p.m., Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, declared the bill dead. Corman told reporters that House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, informed him there was not enough support for the bill, and Corman laid the failure at the feet of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who voiced support for the bill but did nothing to turn out votes from his party.  "It effectively ends the discussion on pension reform for this session," Corman said. "Obviously, we are extremely disappointed."  Wolf's spokesman could not be reached.  The legislative session was scheduled to end Wednesday but both chambers plan to return Thursday and for a day or two after the Nov. 8 election. Still, Corman said, he did not expect a different outcome in the GOP's attempt to reduce taxpayer risk by providing most new government workers with pension plans in 2018.

After 11th-hour attempt, lawmakers unable to seal deal on pensions
WITF Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Oct 27, 2016 5:57 AM
 (Harrisburg) -- In the final hours of Wednesday's legislative session, state lawmakers took yet another stab at an overhaul of the commonwealth's heavily indebted state pension system. The issue has long been a legislative priority.  Several previous efforts have fizzled and now, once again, lawmakers were unable to come up with the necessary votes.  Late Tuesday night, the legislature formed a special conference committee that quickly passed a pension proposal on to the House and Senate.  It would have given public employees three different retirement plan options--two hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plans, and a third defined contribution plan, similar to a private 401k.  But party conflicts were apparent even then. The two Democrats on the six-person committee voted against the bill, saying it cut benefits too much and didn't save enough money.  Ultimately, legislative leaders decided not to run it. House Majority Leader, Republican Dave Reed, said the votes just weren't there.  "We got up to 99--probably the closest we've ever come on a pension bill that everybody knew was going to become law," he said. "We were three votes short."

“But that measure "doesn't do anything to reduce that $60 billion liability short term," according to Keystone Crossroads education reporter Kevin McCorry. "And neither does it do anything to reduce the amount of money school districts will need to spend on pensions any time soon." 
$60 billion unfunded liability looms over Pa. as lawmakers move toward pension vote
WHYY Newsworks BY DAVE HELLER OCTOBER 26, 2016 Audio Runtime 3:37
As Pennsylvania confronts an unfunded pension liability of more than $60 billion, pension costs for school districts have grown dramatically every year.  The legislature is moving toward voting on a new public employee pension system.  But that measure "doesn't do anything to reduce that $60 billion liability short term," according to Keystone Crossroads education reporter Kevin McCorry. "And neither does it do anything to reduce the amount of money school districts will need to spend on pensions any time soon."  It would, however, change the system for new hires. "New hires, starting in 2018, would get a hybrid retirement plan," McCorry said.  Gov. Tom Wolf has previously claimed he would sign this sort of bill, but has yet to commit on this specific legislation.  McCorry offered further details in a chat with NewsWorks Tonight host Dave Heller. Listen to their conversation below.

Blogger note: Thanks to Bill Adolph, retiring at the end of this legislative session, for his long time public service
Reprise: By listening, Delco's Adolph helps blue and red Pennsylvania hear each other
In Pennsylvania – a state diverse in geography, wealth, ideology and priority – the gears of the capital often turn only when lawmakers engender confidence across party and parochial lines. For the Philadelphia region, no lawmaker may be more important right now in this regard than state Rep. William Adolph Jr. (R, Delaware County), the sole Philadelphia area lawmaker in a leadership position with the Republican majority.  Sitting in his no-frills office just beyond view of the city skyline, Delco traffic buzzing by strip-mall sprawl, Adolph held forth on political sausage-making:  "It's no different than any other business: You try to build those relationships based upon trust," said Adolph, elected in 1989. "If you're not going to listen to anybody, they're not going to listen to you."

Two Philly schools tapped for turnaround offer study in contrasts
Eleven Philadelphia schools are due for a major overhaul, and the district has hired a consultant to visit each school and hear from local community members about how those overhauls should look.  But if early meetings are any indication, just because schools look the same based on test scores and other dry data doesn’t mean they have similar levels of engagement.  No two schools better exemplify that contrast than Kensington Health Sciences Academy and Benjamin Franklin High School, which held gatherings just a few hours apart on Tuesday evening.  At Kensington, a crowd of more than 150 people packed the small cafeteria and forcefully questioned how outsiders parachuting in for a two-day study could possibly evaluate or understand the value of their school.   At Ben Franklin, 10 people huddled at the front of a massive auditorium.

“Fitch pointed out that the District has to pay charters on a per-pupil basis, but “unlike many other states, the vast majority of local school aid is not distributed on a per-pupil basis and is not directly tied to enrollment.” So the District loses money for the students who leave for charters but does not gain state money for new students enrolled at District schools.  Last fiscal year, 30 percent of the District’s budget went to charter schools, and this amount is expected to increase in future years, according to Moody’s credit opinion.”
District sells, refinances bonds for improvements after Wall Street upgrades risk ratings
Credit agencies say the increased savings from open positions helped boost the financial outlook. They also issued a warning about charter school enrollment's upward trend.
The notebook by Greg Windle October 26, 2016 — 1:48pm
It’s been a good month on Wall Street for the Philadelphia Public School District.
Last Thursday, the School Reform Commission approved resolutions to restructure $1.5 billion in existing bond debt, for a savings of roughly $140 million. The District converted some of its bonds with flexible interest rates into fixed-interest-rate bonds and negotiated lower interest rates for others.  The resolutions also authorized the sale of $250 million in new bonds that will be used to pay for school-related capital projects.  The actions came just weeks after two Wall Street bond credit rating agencies reevaluated the District’s overall financial stability and changed the outlook from “negative” to “stable.”  Uri Monson, the District’s chief financial officer, said the evaluations from the rating agencies make new bonds more attractive to potential investors.  “The ultimate goal is not to be fiscally stable; it’s educational achievement,” said Monson. “But you have to be fiscally stable in order to do the kind of investing we need.”

Why the shine is off the charter school movement
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss October 25 
This is the last of a four-part series on California’s charter schools, often called the “Wild West” of the charter sector. It was written by former award-winning high school principal Carol Burris, who is now executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education advocacy group. She has chronicled many of the glaring problems with the charter school law in California and how students are affected.  Nationwide the charter school sector has grown over the past few decades amid a debate about its virtues and drawbacks — and even whether the publicly funded schools are public or private entities. Some charters are excellent. But as the sector has grown, so have problems that have gone unaddressed.  Ohio and Utah have distinctly troubled charter sectors, as does Arizona, where there are no laws against conflicts of interest and where for-profit charters do not have to open their books to the public. In Michigan, 80 percent of the charters are for-profit. Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale recently declared his state’s charter school law the “worst” in the nation. California has more charter schools and charter school students than any other state in the nation. One billionaire even came up with a secret plan to “charterize” half of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Among the problems:

The era of regulation-driven reform is coming to an end
School reform will not be a priority for the new president
The Economist Oct 26th 2016 | NEW YORK | United States
FOR a president, making education policy can be like running a school with thousands of unruly pupils. He can goad states and coax school districts, offering gold stars to those who shape up. But if a class is defiant he can do little. Just 12.7% of the $600bn spent on public education annually is spent by the federal government. The rest is split almost equally between states and the 13,500 districts. Many presidents end up like forlorn head teachers: America spends more per child than any big rich country but its pupils perform below their peers on international tests. Despite the constraints, George W. Bush and Barack Obama both used the regulatory power of the federal government to spur reform. Through the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, the Republican president launched a flurry of standardised tests, sanctioning schools whose pupils failed to progress. Through his “Race to the Top” initiative, announced in 2009, the Democratic one offered cash to states in exchange for reforms such as higher standards and evaluating teachers based on pupils’ results. Similar policies were implemented by 43 states in exchange for federal waivers from the testing mandates of NCLB. Mr Obama has also championed charter schools, the part-publicly funded and independently run schools hated by teachers’ unions.
But the era of regulation-driven school reform is now coming to an end, for two reasons. The first is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in December as a replacement for NCLB. ESSA hands back power to states over standards and tests, making it hard for a future president seeking to micromanage school reform

U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders show gains on NAEP national science test
Washington Post By Emma Brown October 27 at 12:01 AM 
The nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders have made gains in science, and large racial achievement gaps have narrowed slightly, according to the results of a national science test released Thursday.  In the test administered last year, girls improved faster than boys, narrowing the gender gap at the eighth-grade level and erasing it in the fourth grade.  High school seniors’ science performance has remained flat since the last time the test was administered, in 2009, however, and racial and gender achievement gaps among 12th-graders did not change. The results come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card. The exams — given every two years in math and reading and less frequently in science and other subjects, are widely seen as an important barometer of student performance because they have been given nationwide across a long period of time.

“The results got us wondering about the bigger picture: How well can a multiple-choice and short-answer test assess a subject as complicated as science?
We reached out to science education experts to help us answer that question.”
National Science Test Scores Are Out, But What Do They Really Tell Us?
NPR Heard on Morning Edition by ERIC WESTERVELT and ANYA KAMENETZ October 27, 20164:45 AM ET Listen·2:532:53
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, is called The Nation's Report Card for good reason; the tests are administered the same way year after year, using the same kind of test booklets, to students across the country.  That allows researchers and educators to compare student progress over time. NAEP tests serve as a big research project to benchmark academic achievement in subjects like science, math, reading, writing, civics, economics, geography and U.S. history.  Science results were out Thursday for 4th, 8th, and 12th graders. Among seniors, achievement was flat, and performance gaps by race, ethnicity and gender persisted.  But fourth- and eighth-graders showed modest progress: each up four points since 2009.  That's encouraging to U.S. Secretary of Education John King, who said in a press call, "We're seeing racial achievement gaps in the sciences narrowing in the fourth and eighth grades ... and the gender gaps also are closing."  "All of this means that more students are developing skills like thinking critically, making sense of information and evaluating evidence," King said.

Race to the Top's Impact on Student Achievement, State Policy Unclear, Report Says
Education Week Politics K12 Blog By Alyson Klein on October 26, 2016 4:03 PM
There's no hard-and-fast evidence that Race to the Top, the Obama administration's $4 billion, signature K-12 initiative had a long-term impact on student achievement or state policy, according to a report released Wednesday by the Institute for Education Sciences, the U.S. Department of Education's research arm.  "Differences in student achievement between [Race to the Top] states and other states may be due to other factors and not to the program said Lisa Dragoset, a senior researcher at Mathematica, which performed the evaluation for IES. For example, she said, Race to the Top states differed from other states before receiving the grants in a number of ways, and "other changes that occurred at the same time as [Race to the Top] reforms may also have affected student achievement."  What's more, the report concluded, it is difficult to discern whether Race to the Top had a longterm impact on state policy. While there were differences between states that got the grants and those that didn't, other factors could explain those differences. For instance, some states embraced policies encouraged by Race to the Top even before the grants were allocated. 

1 in 4 U.S. teachers are chronically absent, missing more than 10 days of school
Washington Post By Alejandra Matos October 26 at 12:01 PM 
More than 1 in 4 of the nation’s full-time teachers are considered chronically absent from school, according to federal data, missing the equivalent of more than two weeks of classes each academic year in what some districts say has become an educational crisis.  The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights estimated this summer that 27 percent of the nation’s teachers are out of school for more than 10 days of regular classes — some missing far more than 10 days — based on self-reported numbers from the nation’s school districts. But some school systems, especially those in poor, rural areas and in some major cities, saw chronic absenteeism among teachers rise above 75 percent in 2014, the last year for which data is available.

Oregon weighs whether all kids should get outdoor education
Inquirer by GILLIAN FLACCUS, Associated Press Updated: OCTOBER 26, 2016 7:26 AM
MOUNT HOOD NATIONAL FOREST, Ore. (AP) - Each year, thousands of Oregon parents hug their kids goodbye and send them tramping into the wilderness for up to a week to learn about their state's natural wonders.  The Outdoor School program was groundbreaking when it started more than a half-century ago. Since then, more than 1 million children have enjoyed - or endured - this rite of passage at campsites scattered from Oregon's stormy coast to its towering evergreen forests to its rugged high desert.  At the program's heyday, 90 percent of sixth-graders spent the week testing water samples, studying fungi and digging through topsoil. Today, just half of Oregon's 11- and 12-year-olds take part, mostly through a patchwork of grants, fundraising, parent fees and charitable donations. Caps on property taxes, plus the recent recession, have forced many school districts to scrap the program or whittle it down to just a few days. Now, backers of a statewide ballot measure want to use a slice of lottery proceeds to guarantee a week of Outdoor School for all children. If it passes, the measure would make Oregon the only state with dedicated funding for outdoor education, including students in charter, private and home schools, said Sarah Bodor, policy director for the North American Association for Environmental Education.

Commentary: Yo, Cubs, win World Series for Steve Goodman
Inquirer Commentary By Patrick Carmody Updated: OCTOBER 27, 2016 — 3:01 AM EDT
Even though I was born and raised in Philadelphia, home of the Phillies, who have more losses than any other sports franchise, I'm rooting for the Cubs this World Series. I'm doing this not because of Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, or manager Joe Maddon of Hazleton, or Bill Murray, or the unfortunate Steve Bartman (the guy blamed for the Cubs' failure to get into the World Series in 2003). I'm a Cubs fan this fall because of Steve Goodman.  Who's Goodman? He's the musician who wrote "The City of New Orleans" and the author of the Cubs' fight song "Go Cubs Go."  I was introduced to Goodman in 1980. My father had died suddenly that year and his death at 57 was a shock. He was the type of Phillies fan who could recreate for me the 1964 collapse, game by game. That fall of 1980 proved especially bittersweet as he missed his beloved Phillies win their first championship after 97 years of futility.

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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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