Thursday, December 15, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec 15: K12 Inc. faces challenge from stockholders demanding transparency

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 4000 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 Dec 15, 2016
K12 Inc. faces challenge from stockholders demanding transparency

“Pennsylvania charter schools routinely screen students to eliminate all but a few special-needs students, avoid enrolling students who are new to our country and require instruction designed for students who utilize English as a second language, and students with a disciplinary history. Homeless students are grossly under-enrolled in these schools. Charters are not a real option for the families of many of these students.”
Charter schools aren’t a real option for many families
Post Gazette Opinion by IRA WEISS Oakland December 14, 2016 12:00 AM
The writer serves as the solicitor for the Pittsburgh Public Schools and several other school districts.
I am responding to the Dec. 7 letter from Richard Wertheimer regarding charter schools (“Most Charter Schools Are Public and Help Those in Poverty”). While I agree with Mr. Wertheimer’s comments regarding the U.S. secretary of education designate, Betsy DeVos, and her anti-public school agenda, I think a more expansive and more realistic view of charter schools is in order. Pennsylvania charter schools routinely screen students to eliminate all but a few special-needs students, avoid enrolling students who are new to our country and require instruction designed for students who utilize English as a second language, and students with a disciplinary history. Homeless students are grossly under-enrolled in these schools. Charters are not a real option for the families of many of these students.  The late Hubert Humphrey once said: “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; … and those in the shadows of life — the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”  Public schools serve all students and families facing these issues. Public schools serve all children regardless of condition or circumstance and should not and do not discriminate against those requiring the most help. Such is not the case with most charter schools. They in reality are private schools paid for with tax dollars.  It is time charters live up to the same obligations and rules the public schools follow.

The new shareholder effort is being led by Bertis Downs,  a public school advocate in Athens, Ga., who spent his career providing legal counsel and managing the rock group R.E.M., and who bought K12 stock a few years ago. Asked why he is taking this action, Downs said in an email:
My motivation in filing for this disclosure of K-12’s lobbying activities stems from my overall curiosity and interest as a parent and a shareholder in knowing more about what lobbying is done, whether through ALEC or directly, that leads to the so-called “education reform” laws being passed all over the country. How much does the company spend and how do they spend it and what results do they get for it? And is any of that good for meaningful teaching and learning in our schools? And is it good for the company and its shareholders?
Virtual school operator K12 Inc. faces challenge from stockholders demanding transparency
Washingtton Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss December 14 at 2:44 PM 
Virginia-based K12 Inc. is the largest operator of for-profit charter schools in the country and is a national leader in running online full-time public schools in numerous states. The company, based in Herndon, has long been a target of critics who have questioned the quality of its schools as well as its spending and lobbying practices — and now, the company will face new questions, this time from stockholders.  At a meeting scheduled for Thursday, shareholders are going to ask for a vote on whether the company should be required to publicly disclose details about its lobbying efforts in various states. The Arjuna Capital shareholder resolution asks that K12 prepare an annual report showing:
1.     Company policy and procedures governing lobbying, both direct and indirect, and grass-roots lobbying communications.
2.     Payments by K12 used for (a) direct or indirect lobbying or (b) grass-roots lobbying communications, in each case including the amount of the payment and the recipient.
3.     K12’s membership in and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation.
4.     Description of the decision-making process and oversight by management and the board for making lobbying payments.
At its annual meeting in December last year, investors voted down the company’s plan for executive pay based on a recommendation from Glass Lewis & Co., a governance advisory firm.  Glass Lewis has  endorsed the stockholder initiative being submitted on Dec. 15 at this year’s annual K12 meeting, as has proxy adviser firm Institutional Shareholder Services.

Pennsylvania budget battle takes shape with deficit of $600M projected
Post Gazette By Angela Couloumbis and Karen Langley / Harrisburg Bureau December 14, 2016 1:05 PM
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania is on pace for a $600 million budget shortfall in coming months, but Gov. Tom Wolf hopes to avoid proposing a hike in sales or income taxes next year, administration officials said Wednesday.  Randy Albright, Mr. Wolf’s budget secretary, told reporters at a mid-year budget briefing that the governor would be meeting with Cabinet members to discuss ways to cut costs.  Meanwhile, Republicans who hold commanding majorities in both legislative chambers signaled they are eyeing radical changes to how government operates, including privatizing services and consolidating state departments.  State officials had banked on receiving new revenue this fiscal year from expanding gambling. But legislators have yet to pass a plan — or even devise one — to accomplish that.  If they don’t, the projected $600 million gap in this year’s $31.5 million budget will keep rising. The state’s nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office has said the deficit could reach $1.7 billion in the fiscal year that starts in July.

Pa. budget shortfall grows to $600M: What does it mean for you?
Penn Live By Wallace McKelvey | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on December 14, 2016 at 12:34 PM, updated December 14, 2016 at 3:27 PM
Pennsylvania faces a $600 million-plus budget shortfall that it will have to grapple with in the year ahead, according to the Wolf administration estimates.  That stark reality could mean increased income or sales taxes for residents, although Budget Secretary Randy Albright said it's too early to predict potential solutions in next year's budget. Legislative Republicans have opposed such broad-based tax increases.  "I, as budget secretary, am not one to rule out anything," Albright said, adding that "everything is on the table."  The shortfall will be one matter Wolf discusses at a Cabinet meeting later Wednesday, he said. Various state agencies will be asked to seek out cost savings and scrutinize any further discretionary spending.  Albright said the administration will continue to work to avoid furloughs (beyond the anticipated Labor and Industry ones) and there's little interest in making cuts to items like education or social services, at least for the foreseeable future.  "We aren't interested in cutting services to the people we serve," he said.

Wolf administration pledges to seek spending cuts to fill estimated $600M budget gap
Trib Live by KEVIN ZWICK  | Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016, 8:12 p.m.
Facing a budget shortfall that has grown to more than $600 million, the Wolf administration has pledged to cut agency spending before turning to tax increases to shore up revenue as Republicans clamor for a sweeping restructuring of government services.  Budget Secretary Randy Albright on Wednesday estimated the current fiscal year shortfall has grown to $603 million, up from roughly $500 million projected a month ago by the Independent Fiscal Office. Albright said the administration will first look to restrain or reduce state spending before seeking additional revenues through tax increases.  Gov. Tom Wolf pushed for broad-based tax increases in his first budget, only to have those plans dashed by the Republican Legislature. He is scheduled to announce his 2016-17 budget Feb. 7. The IFO said the state could face a deficit of nearly $2 billion for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Pa. House Majority Leader Dave Reed calls for a redesign of state government in 2017-18
Penn Live By Charles Thompson | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on December 14, 2016 at 2:33 PM, updated December 14, 2016 at 4:27 PM
One of Gov. Tom Wolf's mantras over the last two years has been building a "government that works."  House Majority Leader Dave Reed - weary of a series of post-recession budgets that have, to him, just institutionalized deficit spending - challenged Wolf Wednesday to think more about a governmental makeover as he builds his 2017-18 state budget.  "Government has basically looked the same in Pennsylvania for the last 40 or 50 years," Reed said during a visit to the Capitol's press room. "... We want the budget to look different this year. We think is has to look different."  Reed's comments minutes before Wolf's Budget Secretary Randy Albright delivered the annual mid-year report on the state's finances, which included projections of a $600 million year-end shortfall between expenses and revenues.

Gerrymandering is the wrong way to draw political districts
Lancaster Online by The LNP Editorial Board December 14, 2016
THE ISSUE: Pennsylvania could lose a seat in Congress by the beginning of the next decade. National population shifts will take representative slots to faster-growing states such as Texas and Florida. After the census numbers are published every 10 years, legislators meet in Harrisburg to redraw political districts, including those for Congress. The number of congressional seats in Pennsylvania peaked at 36 in the 1920s and has since declined to 18.
It’s called gerrymandering. We could fill this space a hundred times over explaining how it’s done. But, in a nutshell, politicians get together and, much like a kids’ party magician creating balloon animals, they bend, fold, twist and finagle legislative districts that sometimes barely resemble their original form.  Democrats or Republicans, whichever party happens to be in power, reshape political boundaries to give their party a numeric advantage so they can win elections with little or no opposition. It’s a purely political exercise, and it serves no one.  Pennsylvania is notorious for this. The 7th Congressional District looks like a Rorschach test. It was redrawn by Republicans in Harrisburg to include seven heavily Republican municipalities in eastern Lancaster County that were previously in the 16th District. Their transfer would counter the more Democratic portions of the 7th District, helping to guarantee victory for the GOP. The strategy has worked swimmingly, as Republican Rep. Pat Meehan continues to win easily.

“I’ve never seen our backs up on the wall like this time,” Mr. Lesh said. “Without this revenue, we will lose programs and teachers. The wolf is at the door. The state will come in and they’ll make those hard decisions for us. I’ve got to think of the child, too, who’s entitled to a good education.”
Even with a tax hike, Scranton school deficit remains
Borrowing $10 million and raising taxes 3.8 percent will still leave the Scranton School District with a budget deficit for 2017.  During a budget and finance committee meeting Tuesday, school directors blamed much of the district’s crisis on Harrisburg, while engaging in a passionate debate about whether to raise property taxes.  Board President Bob Sheridan said the district should not pass its burden onto taxpayers, while Bob Lesh, committee chairman, argued that the board must think of the city’s 10,000 students.  The tax hike and borrowed money leave the district about $5 million short for next year.

State sets date for Ambridge teachers to return to work
By Katherine Schaeffer December 14, 2016
AMBRIDGE -- Ambridge Area School District teachers must end their strike and return to the classroom Wednesday, Jan. 4, whether or not the teachers union and the district have agreed on a contract, the state Department of Education has ruled.  The education department determines the maximum amount of time a teachers union can strike based on the school district's ability to complete the 180 classroom instruction days Pennsylvania law requires before June 15.

Study: Giving children computers has little impact on school performance
The study did show an unexpected benefit: a slight increase in social activity — online and in real life.
Post Gazette By Jeff Guo / The Washington Post December 14, 2016 12:52 PM
For better or for worse, homework has gone online. Children these days conduct research on the Internet, post messages to classroom discussion boards or complete Web-based learning programs. The Federal Communications Commission warns that students who don’t have fast Internet connections “are at a disadvantage relative to their connected peers,” which is one reason the government recently decided to spend billions a year helping low-income households hook up to broadband.  It’s hard to deny the importance of building digital skills. But computers are not just productivity machines - they are also portals to distraction. There is the question of the teenage attention span: If fully-grown adults struggle to stay focused in front of a Web browser, how can we expect this of kids? Every moment spent playing “Candy Crush” or checking Facebook or spamming Instagram is time taken away from physical activity, or, you know, sleep.
And so, computers can sometimes feel like a necessary evil. Parents fret: Do the costs of having children use a computer at home outweigh the benefits?  Several years ago, economists conducted a fascinating and first-of-its-kind experiment to answer that question. Some of the latest results from that project, which were released Monday in a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, show that the benefits of having a computer at home are subtle and somewhat counterintuitive.

DeVos v. Blaine
The new education secretary and the school voucher debate by Peg Tyre Dec 5
Bright is made possible by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 
In1875, a former newspaper publisher turned Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives named James G. Blaine proposed a constitutional amendment banning the use of public money for parochial education. At that time, immigrants from Germany, Ireland and Poland were swarming into New York, Boston and other east coast cities. Eyeing the political might of the fast-growing number of Catholic voters, the then-mayor of New York City, Fernando Wood, obtained $1.5 million in state funding to support Catholic schools.  But supporting Catholic schools with public money was a hard sell for the wealthy Protestant establishment, which saw it as a dangerous weakening of one of the key principals enshrined in the Constitution. President Ulysses S. Grant demanded separation of church and state in all matters related to education and called for public schools “unmixed with atheistic, pagan or sectarian teaching.” Blaine’s amendment codified those sentiments. “No state shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.”
The measure failed in Congress but 36 states adopted the so-called Blaine Amendments that prohibited the use of public funds to support parochial schools.

Democratic senators press Trump’s education pick Betsy DeVos to pay years-old $5.3 million fine
Washington Post By Danielle Douglas-Gabriel December 14 at 9:40 AM 
A group of Senate Democrats is urging President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to pay $5.3 million in fines imposed on her political action committee for campaign finance violations in Ohio eight years ago.   “As secretary of education, Betsy DeVos would be responsible for overseeing the nation’s student loan program, including ensuring that students repay their loans, so it’s troubling that she has blatantly ignored her own PAC’s debt to the people of Ohio,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). “When a student borrower defaults, it has serious ramifications that haunt that student for years — yet when DeVos’s PAC defaulted on its fine for violating the law, they just walked away.”  Udall, along with Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), sent DeVos a letter this week requesting she pay the millions of dollars in fines and late fees ahead of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Representatives for DeVos, a conservative who has pushed to expand taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Who Is Betsy DeVos?EWA Radio: Episode 102
Education Writers Association DEC 13, 2016 EMILY RICHMOND  audio runtime 22  minutes
Veteran education reporters from the Detroit Free Press and The Washington Post discuss Betsy DeVos, the billionaire school choice advocate nominated by President-elect Donald Trump. David Jesse of the Detroit newspaper sheds light on DeVos’ Michigan track record on legislative causes, and what is known about her tactics and negotiating style. Plus, he explains how DeVos’ strong religious beliefs have influenced her policy agenda. Emma Brown of The Washington Post details why Trump’s proposal for $20 billion in school vouchers might be a tough sell, even to a Republican-controlled Congress. And she sheds light on the potential for the next administration to dismantle President Obama’s education initiatives, including scaling back the reach of the Office for Civil Rights at the Education Department.

DeVos is in Neverland on school reform: Column
We can't just believe in the magic of the free market.
USA Today Opinion by Marcus D. Pohlmann 6:06 a.m. EST December 14, 2016
Marcus D. Pohlmann, a professor of political science at Rhodes College, has written extensively on race, poverty and urban education.
Philanthropist Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of Education, is a longtime advocate for charter schools, school vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. She has told Philanthropy magazine her vision of school reform success: “That all parents, regardless of their ZIP code, have had the opportunity to choose the best educational setting for their children.” Hard to argue with such an ideal.   But DeVos has never held public office or worked in public education, and she sent her children to private Christian schools. Her advocacy career suggests it would be hard to find anyone more passionate about steering public dollars away from public schools.  Setting aside concerns about whether part of her motivation could be to use tax dollars to advance religious education, it’s important to ask at least three questions before spending billions of federal dollars on her school choice plan:
1.     Will these choices be real for the students who need them most?
2.     How certain are we that such educational options will actually deliver the desired educational enhancement?
3.     Is her model the most fruitful way to offer educational quality to those who cannot afford such choices?

Blogger note: Have an opinion about the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education?  Call these three senators today.
1. Senator Lamar Alexander, Chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
Washington, D.C. Phone:(202) 224-4944
2. Senator Toomey's Offices
Washington, D.C. Phone: (202) 224-4254
Senator Casey is a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
3. Senator Casey’s Offices
Washington, D.C. Phone: (202) 224-6324
Toll Free: (866) 802-2833

PHLpreK Now Enrolling!
Philadelphia Mayor's Office of Education
Did you know that quality early childhood education sets our children up for success? It reduces the need for special education, raises graduation rates, and narrows the achievement gap. These benefits ripple throughout our schools, neighborhoods, and local economy.
That’s why the City of Philadelphia is expanding free, quality pre-K for 6,500 three- and four-year-olds over the next five years. In fact, the first 2,000 pre-K seats are available now. Families should act fast because classes begin on January 4th at more than 80 locations.
Please help us spread the word. Parents/caregivers can call 844-PHL-PREK (844-745-7735) to speak with a trained professional who will help them apply and locate quality pre-K programs nearby.  For more information, visit

Pennsylvania Every Student Succeeds Act Public Tour
The Department of Education (PDE) is holding a series of public events to engage the public on important education topics in Pennsylvania.  The primary focus of these events will be the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal education law signed by President Barack Obama in late 2015. A senior leader from the department will provide background on the law, and discuss the ongoing
development of Pennsylvania’s State Plan for its implementation, which will be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in 2017.  Feedback is important to PDE; to provide the best avenue for public comment as well as provide an opportunity for those who cannot attend an event, members of the community are encouraged to review materials and offer comments at
Upcoming Public Events:
Friday, December 16- Philadelphia- 11:00 am- Community College of Philadelphia
 Community College of Philadelphia
 Bonnell Building, Bonnell Auditorium, Room BG-20
 1700 Spring Garden Street  Philadelphia, PA  19130
Wednesday, January 4- Quakertown- 5:30 pm- Bucks County Free Library
Bucks County Free Library Quakertown Branch
401 West Mill Street Quakertown, PA  18951
Tuesday, January 10- Scranton- 4:00 pm- Career Technology Center of Lackawanna County
Career Technology Center of Lackawanna County
3201 Rockwell Avenue Scranton, PA  18508

“The “Success Starts Here” campaign is a multi-year statewide effort to share the positive news about public education through advertising, web, social media, traditional media and word-of-mouth with the goal of raising understanding of the value of public education in Pennsylvania. The campaign is led by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, but relies on the support of a wide variety of participating organizations.”
Share Your School’s Story: Success Starts Here Needs You!
Success Starts Here needs you! Show your support by sharing stories, using social media and applying window clings to all of your school buildings. Below are some links to resources to help you help us.
Not sure where to start? This simple tool kit will provide to you everything you need to get involved in the campaign, including ways to work with the media, social media tips, a campaign article to post, downloadable campaign logos, and photo release forms.
We know you have great stories, and it’s easy to share them! Just use our simple form to send your success story to be featured on our website. Help spread the word about how Success Starts Here in today’s public schools.
All school entities have been sent a supply of window clings for school building entrances. Need more? No problem! Just complete the online order form and more will quickly be on their way to you.

PASBO is seeking eager leaders! Ready to serve on the board? Deadline for intent letter is 12/31.
PASBO members who desire to seek election as Director or Vice President should send a letter of intent with a current resume and picture to the Immediate Past President Wanda M. Erb, PRSBA, who is chair of the PASBO Nominations and Elections Committee.

PSBA Virtual New School Director Training, Part 1
JAN 4, 2017 • 6:30 PM - 9:00 PM
The job of a school board director is challenging.  Changing laws, policies, and pressures from your community make serving on your school board demanding, yet rewarding at the same time.  Most school directors – even those with many years of experience – say that PSBA training is one of the most important and valuable things they have done in order to understand their roles and responsibilities.  If you are a new school board director and didn’t have the opportunity to attend one of PSBA’s live New School Director Training events, you can now attend via your computer, either by yourself from your home or office, or with a group of other school directors.
This is the same New School Director Training content we offer in a live classroom format, but adjusted for virtual training.
Part 1
·         Role and responsibilities of the school board director.
·         How to work with PSBA’s member services team.
·         Your role as an advocate for public education.
·         The school board’s role in policy.
(See also: Part 2, Jan. 11Part 3, Jan. 18)
Fee: $149 per person includes all three programs. Materials may be downloaded free, or $25 for materials to be mailed to your home (log in to the Members Area and purchase through the Store/Registration link).
Register online:

PSBA Third Annual Board Presidents Day
JAN 28, 2017 • 8:00 AM - 3:00 PM Nine Locations Statewide
Jan. 28, 2017 (Snow date: Feb. 11, 2017)
Calling all school board presidents, vice-presidents, and superintendents — Join us for the 3rd Annual PSBA Board Presidents Day held at nine convenient locations around the state.
This is a day of meeting fellow board members from your area and taking part in thought-provoking dialogue about the issues every board faces.  PSBA Past President Kathy Swope will start things off with an engaging presentation based on her years as board president at the Lewistown Area School District.  Bring your own scenarios to this event to gain perspective from other districts.  Cost: $109 per person – includes registration, lunch and materials. All-Access Package applies.  Register online by logging in to the Members Area (see the Store/Registration link to view open event registrations,

NSBA Advocacy Institute 2017 -- Jan. 29-31, Washington, D.C.
Join school directors around the country at the conference designed to give you the tools to advocate successfully on behalf of public education.
  • NSBA will help you develop a winning advocacy strategy to help you in Washington, D.C. and at home.
  • Attend timely and topical breakout sessions lead by NSBA’s knowledgeable staff and outside experts.
  • Expand your advocacy network by swapping best practices, challenges, and successes with other school board members from across the country.
This event is open to members of the Federal Relations Network. To find out how you can join, contact Learn more about the Advocacy Institute at

Register now for the 2017 NSBA Annual Conference 
Plan to join public education leaders for networking and learning at the 2017 NSBA Annual Conference, March 25-27 in Denver, CO. General registration is now open at A conference schedule, including pre-conference workshops, is available on the NSBA website.

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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