Tuesday, January 24, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup Jan 24: Property tax elimination plan doesn’t work for taxpayers or schools

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, Instagram and LinkedIn

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup Jan 24, 2017
Property tax elimination plan doesn’t work for taxpayers or schools

It's National School Privatization Week: Ask your members of Congress to stop the takeover of your public schools today.
Network for Public Education

Full Membership List for PA State House Committees
General Assembly Website January 23, 2017

Here’s a list of phone numbers for all members of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee, which is scheduled to vote on Betsy DeVos’ nomination on Tuesday January 31.

Proposal to 'eliminate' property taxes concerns Bucks, Montgomery school officials
Bucks County Courier Times By Gary Weckselblatt, staff writer January 23, 2017
As they wrestle with budgets for the 2017-18 school year, business administrators have been told by the state group that represents their interests to prepare a separate spending plan — one that significantly limits property taxes.  The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials is also advising its members to contact state lawmakers about legislation that's expected to be submitted as soon as this week to eliminate most property taxes in favor of increased sales and income taxes.  That measure, sponsored by state Sen. David Argall, R-29, of Berks and Schuylkill counties, has bipartisan support and failed in the last legislative session by one vote.  On his website, in an audio link from December, Argall said, "The issue I hear the most about is property tax elimination. I hear it in Schuylkill County. I hear it in Berks County. I hear it every single day. ... I don't believe that people want their property taxes reformed. I don't think that people want their property taxes tweaked. I don't think they want their property taxes temporarily reduced. They want them eliminated. The know that the property tax system is old. It's archaic. It's rotten at the core. The only way to fix it is to eliminate it, and that is our number one goal for next year."  That goal has education advocates in a panic as Argall's co-sponsorship memoranda states that the new plan will go into effect July 1.

Property tax elimination plan doesn’t work for taxpayers or schools
PSBA Policy Brief January 2017
The truth is that it is not a panacea for taxpayers or school districts. Instead, the elimination of the property tax merely serves to create additional, higher tax burdens for other taxpayers and destabilize funding for public education. The General Assembly is expected to again consider The Property Tax Independence Act, a proposal to eliminate property taxes and shift a significant burden of funding public schools onto other taxing mechanisms, including higher personal income taxes as well as a higher sales tax with an expanded base of what goods and services are subject to tax. The proposal also includes a referendum component.

The 'machine' keeps tight hold on school property tax | Guest column
Lehigh Valley Live By Express-Times guest columnist  Brian Fake on January 22, 2017 at 6:30 AM, updated January 22, 2017 at 9:32 AM
These past few days we've seen a lot of media coverage that paint the Property Tax Independence Act in a negative light. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this is, perhaps, a coordinated effort to control the narrative before any action is taken by the Pennsylvania Legislature.  Make no mistake, the elimination of school property taxes is a huge paradigm shift, which seeks to change a form of taxation that has been around in one form or another since the 17th century. Changing the method of funding education via school property taxes requires a thorough vetting process, debate and discussion. This act would replace the school property tax with personal income and sales taxes, and increasing the number of products and services subject to the sales tax.  Recent articles have taken a heavy slant against eliminating the school property tax. Journalistic objectivity appears to have taken a back seat to forces seeking to control the narrative.  These forces -- well-funded, well-oiled machines behind the legislative curtain --  are a cause for concern. They wield a lot of control over some (but not all) legislators, making them deaf to the cries of constituents and blind to what is happening in the communities they represent.

Forum set on proposal to alter local school funding in Pa.
Monday 7:00 p.m. The Blue Heron Events Center, 407 S. Washington St., Greencastle, Pa.
Herald Mail Media by Jennifer Fitch Jan 22, 2017 Updated Jan 22, 2017
GREENCASTLE, Pa. — James Winslow feels a potential shift in how Pennsylvania residents pay for public schools is well-intentioned, but he fears that local control could be lost in the process.  A first-term Greencastle-Antrim School Board member, Winslow has been monitoring speculation that the legislature might again push to eliminate school districts' property taxes in favor of higher sales and personal-income taxes.  Some political watchers say the strong Republican majority (at a six-decade high in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives) might allow for the so-called Property Tax Independence Act to pass this year after earlier failures. They question whether Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf would sign the measure into law.  "The issue I hear most about is property tax elimination. ... They want them eliminated, (and) they know the property-tax system is old, it's archaic, it's rotten at the core. The only way to fix it is to eliminate it," said state Sen David Argall, R-Schuylkill/Berks.  Local property taxes provide roughly half of Greencastle-Antrim School District's annual revenue, or $19 million.  Winslow said not being able to directly tax homes and businesses would tie the hands of the community's school board members. Instead, they would be confined to receiving the dollar amount allocated by the state.

Pa. Education Secretary visits East Penn, says education remains Gov. Wolf's "No. 1 agenda item"
Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera visited East Penn School District on Monday and said education remains Gov. Tom Wolf's top priority.
Andrew Wagaman Contact ReporterOf The Morning Call January 23, 2017
Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera, during a visit Monday to Eyer Middle School, touted a proposed new school accountability system that would rely less on standardized tests. Meeting with a small group of East Penn School District administrators, school directors, teachers and students, Rivera also addressed the potential elimination of the school property tax, the future of the new basic education funding formula, and racial incidents in schools across the state.  Rivera said education remains Gov. Tom Wolf's "No. 1 agenda item" and promised that yet another challenging budget season will not deter the administration from fighting for more education funding.  "We went from being one of three states in the country without a formula to now having one of the more comprehensive and thoughtful formulas," Rivera said. "But the formula only makes a difference if there's an investment into the program. That's what our continued advocacy is all about."

WATCH: Governor Wolf’s Message on the Inauguration and Making Progress in Pennsylvania
January 20, 2017 By: Governor Tom Wolf
Two years ago today, I was sworn in as your 47th governor of Pennsylvania. On that day, I vowed to restore the billion dollar cuts to education and to take a different approach for Pennsylvania. Together, we are making progress on that promise.  We have restored the cuts to our schools, worked with law enforcement and medical professionals to expand treatment and tackle the heroin and opioid crisis, legalized medical marijuana, reformed our liquor system, and expanded health care to nearly 700,000 people.  On a national level, today also marks the inauguration of President Donald Trump. And no matter who you voted for, every one of us must recognize the reality that too many middle class and working class families are hurting.  I’ve traveled to every corner of Pennsylvania — from Hazelton to Connellsville, Edinboro to Norristown, to inner cities and rural counties — to listen to you.  And what I’m hearing is that the economy isn’t working for you and that you’re looking to your elected leaders to act.

Prominent Philadelphia charter players have varying opinions of DeVos
Some declined the opportunity to comment on her nomination at all.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa January 23, 2017 — 6:23pm
Some of the most prominent charter proponents in Philadelphia don’t have an opinion they are willing to share about Betsy DeVos, President Trump's nominee to be the U.S. secretary of education.  Those who did have something to say were not all unabashed fans.  DeVos, a billionaire and major donor to mostly Republican and conservative causes who has never been an educator, is not only a staunch supporter of charter expansion, but also strongly favors vouchers for children to attend private and religious schools.  Calls from the Notebook since DeVos' confirmation hearing to several charter operators and advocates asking for their opinion on DeVos and their hopes for her leadership were either not answered or answered with a preference not to comment. Among those contacted were Mark Gleason of the Philadelphia School Partnership; Mike Wang of PSP's lobbying arm, Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners; Scott Gordon of Mastery Charter School; and Marc Mannella of KIPP Philadelphia. A few others offered opinions – some strongly in support, but not all.

County schools to look at costs of absorbing Erie students
Districts to pay for study on how closing of high schools would affect them
Go Erie By Valerie Myers valerie.myers@timesnews.com January 24, 2017
Erie County's school districts are taking a look at what Erie School District financial troubles might cost them.  Erie school officials have said they might be forced to close all four city high schools as early as 2018-19 without additional state funding. Erie's 3,000-plus high school students, by state law, then could attend public high schools of their choice in other Erie County school districts.  Those districts are hiring the Pennsylvania Economy League to study what the costs beyond city limits, for 12 other public school districts, might be. The Pennsylvania Economy League researches and analyzes public policy issues.  "We're trying to be proactive," Millcreek schools Superintendent William Hall said.  The Millcreek Township School Board on Monday voted unanimously to participate in and provide financial data for the study.  "We're keeping our fingers crossed and believe that the state will have to do something, that it cannot let (the Erie School District) collapse; that would be catastrophic," Hall said. "But we have to be proactive. We have to be prepared to have our own voice in this and be in a position to send our own fiscal response to the state."  The Erie School District is seeking $31.8 million in additional state funding to erase its deficit, repair schools and improve educational programs.

“He said seeking the exception is a "safety net" to protect the district against the uncertainty surrounding the possible passage of House Bill 76, in which lawmakers in Harrisburg are seeking to eliminate property taxes as the main revenue source for funding school districts.  Should it pass, districts would be reliant on sales tax and local income tax to pay for their needs.  "We're talking about a complete shift in how school districts are funded," Kovalchik said.”
Northampton Area school board passes preliminary budget
Morning Call by Kevin Duffy January 23, 2017
Did Northampton Area school directors pass a preliminary budget?
Northampton Area School District directors approved a preliminary budget and tax increase for 2017-18 while not knowing if property taxes will remain their primary funding source going forward.  The board voted to go beyond the Act 1 index of 3.1 percent — the average allowable limit for school districts to raise taxes — by seeking exceptions that would enable it to impose a 3.47 percent tax increase.  The preliminary budget calls for a $102.8 million spending plan, up 3.96 percent from $98.9 million in 2016-17.  About $3.6 million would be carried over from the current year to balance next year's budget, finance director Terry Leh said.  Superintendent Joseph Kovalchik stated that, as in each of the last several years in which the board voted to seek exceptions and go beyond the cap, the district has no intention of raising taxes by that much.

Preliminary budget projects tax increase for Penn Hills schools in 2017-18
Post Gazette By Tim Means January 23, 2017 10:03 PM
The preliminary budget for the 2017-18 school year in Penn Hills includes an increase in the real estate tax rate of 1.65 mills from the current rate of 26.30 to 27.95 mills. The proposed tax increase will exceed the state’s Act 1 index and the school board approved a resolution indicating it will request permission from the PA Department of Education for an exception to the index. The Act 1 index applicable to Penn Hills as calculated by the Pennsylvania Department of Education is 3.5 percent. The proposed millage represents a 6.3 percent increase. A Penn Hills resident, who owns a home with a value of $100,000, would see an annual increase in the tax bill of $164.96.  The preliminary budget projects revenues of $84.8 million and expenses of $87.2 million for an overall deficit of $2.1 million. David Roussos, business manager for the school district, said revisions to the preliminary budget will be made and he hopes to present a balanced budget by May for approval by the school board in June.

Pennridge High School sued for race and sex discrimination
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer  @Kathy_Boccella Updated: JANUARY 11, 2017 5:07 PM
The National Women’s Law Center has joined a lawsuit by a former Pennridge High School student alleging that the Bucks County district discriminated against her by not coming to her aid when classmates called her racist and insulting names, harassed her, and sexually propositioned her. She was 14 at the time, and the only African American student in ninth grade.  The original lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court was dismissed in October by Judge Mitchell Goldberg. However, he allowed the student, Modupe Williams, now 19, to file an amended complaint, which Pennridge is also seeking to dismiss. On Jan. 19, the Women’s Law Center and Williams’ lawyer filed an opposition to the district’s motion.  Williams’ suit alleges that she was called "bitch" and the N-word and other vulgarities on many occasions, received harassing phone calls, and was tormented in and out of school, all of which she and her mother, Deborah, reported to school authorities. The suit contends that administrators did nothing to stop the behavior, and told Modupe Williams to go to another school if she did not like Pennridge.

Amanda Wolfgang’s AP Biology class had fun in the mud! A visit to Chincoteague Bay Field Station was an invaluable field experience in ecology, biology, marine science, and environmental science. While staying at the station, students participated in a variety of field activities ranging from various classes in coastal and wetland ecology to maritime forest ecology. Students even had the opportunity to participate in an oceanography research cruise where they observed and researched various aspects of the ocean and all the creatures that live within.

HELP Committee won't hold second hearing for DeVos
The Hill BY REBECCA SAVRANSKY - 01/23/17 01:39 PM EST 221
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions won't hold a second hearing on Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's nominee for Education secretary.  "The committee will not be holding a second hearing on the Education Secretary nominee," an aide to committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in a statement.  "Betsy DeVos has already met with each committee member in their offices, spent nearly an hour and a half longer in her Senate hearing than either of President Obama’s education secretaries, and is now answering 837 written questions — 1,397 including all the questions within a question — that Democrats have submitted for her to answer."  The statement was a response to a letter sent to Alexander by Senate Democrats requesting that the committee hold a second confirmation hearing for DeVos.

Education secretary nominee shows lack of experience and knowledge
By Maureen Downey   The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 12:00 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017
Many believe that public schools will be under siege or underwater if Betsy DeVos wins confirmation to lead the U.S. Department of Education, which is likely to occur this week.
The Michigan billionaire and school choice champion has no education training, did not attend public schools or send her own children — making her a departure from prior U.S. education secretaries who had long years in the profession and a strong commitment to public education. (Nor has she ever taken out a federal student loan for herself or her children.)  Her responses at a contentious Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday ranged from “Interesting,” to “That is something we can discuss.” DeVos offered that she would end “one-size-fits-all” instruction, which can be translated to let’s privatize schools rather than figure out and fund innovation in existing schools.

Blogger note: House Speaker Mike Turzai and House Majority Leader Reed are listed among the signers of this letter.  Betsy Devos’ American Federation for Children contributed $1.2 million to PA’s Students First PAC in 2012, with $50,000 then going to The Friends of Mike Turzai and $50,000 going to the PA House Republican Campaign Committee.  DeVos has made public statements making it clear that she unabashedly expects returns on her campaign contribution investments.

Covering DeVos
The problematic media coverage of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos — and how to make it better.
Kappan Online By Alexander Russo January 2017
Right after the presidential election, mainstream journalism went through an intense period of self-reflection and decided – among many things – that reporters and editors should try to check their liberal biases at the door and do a better job of covering people who weren’t like them. But that doesn’t seem to have happened yet – at least not looking at much of the national coverage of the Betsy DeVos nomination that we’ve seen since Thanksgiving.  Instead of giving readers a full, helpful understanding of the nominee and her background, national outlets including Politico, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, and (especially) the New York Times have cherry-picked storylines that put DeVos in a negative light and written about DeVos’s ideas and efforts using fraught, charged language.  Most of all, the coverage so far has largely missed the chance to help readers understand people and ideas from parts of America that aren’t dominated by the white, college-educated, liberal elite “bubble” that is so familiar to most education reporters.  Why all these issues? One reason may be that journalists have decided that DeVos’s policy ideas and nontraditional background represent such a serious departure that they don’t warrant the usual approach. For fear of “normalizing” a nontraditional nominee, education journalists may be taking a more aggressive approach to covering the process.

Will Betsy DeVos change education as you know it? Probably not — but your state lawmakers could
Chalkbeat BY GRACE TATTER  -  JANUARY 19, 2017
The confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the federal education department made Betsy DeVos the new face of American education policy.  But the most important upcoming decisions about schools won’t come from the Trump administration, and they won’t be made by DeVos, who faces a confirmation vote on Jan. 31. They’ll happen a lot closer to home, in the state legislatures that have long been the main drivers of education policy.
U.S. lawmakers already empowered states to control more of their school policies through the federal education law passed last year. And DeVos said she would stay the course, emphasizing that states should decide whether to take up even her favorite education policy, school vouchers.
Here’s where states still have the most influence, even if DeVos might have some sway.

Betsy DeVos’ Big Education Idea Doesn’t Work
She embraces an outmoded version of school choice without government interference—even though the movement she claims to champion has realized that model is bunk.
Slate.com By Sarah Carr January 23, 2017
Of all Betsy DeVos’ stated priorities as America’s presumed next education chief—and there have not been very many—her desire to let parents pick the best schools, public or private, for their children remains one of the most consistent and emotionally resonant.
At her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Trump’s nominee for secretary of education told senators: “My orientation is around parents and children. When parents choose charter schools, they are doing so because they think it’s a great choice for their children.” “Parents,” she said, “no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning fits the needs of every child.” If you have a kid in school, that’s an easy sentiment to nod to. It’s also, if it’s poorly applied, an outdated and potentially destructive one—especially, the evidence tells us, when it comes to educating the children of lower-income families.

Federal Tax Credits for K-12 Scholarships are Coming. Is Your State Ready?
Education Commission on the States January 2017
This is a guest blog post by Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a distinguished senior fellow at the Education Commission of the States. 
The seventh annual National School Choice Week is here, and it has special resonance, and prominence, this year. That’s because President Donald Trump has made expanding school choice the centerpiece—really the only piece—of his education agenda.  Those of us in Washington, D.C., will likely spend the next several months obsessing about how he and his team plan to turn his $20 billion school choice promise into a legislative proposal. But it’s not too soon for policymakers in the states to start debating the details—because they may be the ones tasked with figuring them out.  That was my takeaway of an event I moderated last week at the Hoover Institution. We gathered a panel of policy wonks to discuss three major options for a new federal push on school choice: a competitive grant program, akin to Race to the Top; making Title I and special education dollars portable, including to private schools; or revising the federal tax code to support “tax credit scholarship programs” in states that have them.

6 Key Federal Policy Areas to Watch Under Trump
New stance on federal role augurs sweeping changes
Education Week By Alyson Klein January 23, 2017
President Donald Trump said less about education on the campaign trail than almost any major-party nominee in recent history, except for a high-profile proposal on single issue: school vouchers. But his ascendance to the White House could upend K-12 education in ways that are felt from the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington to urban schools that serve big numbers of immigrant students.  In his unconventional bid for president, Trump—a real estate developer and TV personality who had never held public office—promised he would deport millions of immigrants, eliminate or scale back the Education Department, and create a $20 billion school voucher program.  After his election, he picked as education secretary a school choice advocate and Republican mega-donor, Betsy DeVos, who seems likely to help him try to deliver on that voucher promise.  And in his inaugural address Jan. 20, Trump did little to allay the anxieties of those concerned about his view of the nation’s public school system, decrying “an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”

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. He has stated that he will OPPOSE this nomination.
3. Senator Casey’s Offices
Washington, D.C. Phone: (202) 224-6324
Toll Free: (866) 802-2833

DELCO Education Funding Press Conference Fri, January 27, 2017 10:00 AM – 10:30 AM EST
by Delaware County Intermediate Unit
This press conference will discuss some of the key cost drivers school districts and the state of Pennsylvania face concerning education and offer some possible solutions to the burdens school districts and taxpayers face. It will focus primarily on pensions, cyber charter schools, and special education funding. Speakers will include several superintendents and school board members. Interested individuals from the public are welcome to attend.
Details and Registration here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/education-funding-press-conference-tickets-30894052944

Tuesday, January 24, 6:00pm - 7:30pm
Community College of Philadelphia 1700 Spring Garden Street 19130  Bonnell Building (Large Auditorium BG-20) Entrance Between Spring Garden and Callowhill  on  N. 17th
Hosted by:
Councilmembers Helen Gym, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, Jannie Blackwell
Dr. William R. Hite, Superintendent, Philadelphia School District
Faculty and Staff Federation, Community College of Philadelphia
Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC)
United Voices for Philadelphia
For more info, or to reserve free childcare for ages 3 and up,
Contact: Office of Councilmember Helen Gym 215-686-3420

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, https://www.psba.org/members-area/store-registration/)

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 Jamie.Zuvich@psba.org. Learn more about the Advocacy Institute at https://www.nsba.org/events/advocacy-institute.

Register for the 2017 PASA Education Congress, “Delving Deeper into the Every Student Succeeds Act.” March 29-30
Offered in partnership with PASA and the PA Department of Education March 29-30, 2017 at the Radisson Hotel Harrisburg - Camp Hill, PA .    Approved for 40 PIL/Act 48 (Act 45) hours for school administrators.  Register online at http://www.pasa-net.org/ev_calendar_day.asp?date=3/29/2017&eventid=63

PA Educational Technology Exposition & Conference (PETE&C), February 12-15, Hershey Lodge and Convention Center.

PASBO 62nd Annual Conference, March 21-24, David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh.
Register now for the 2017 NSBA Annual Conference March 25-27 Denver
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 https://www.nsba.org/conference/registration. 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!

Save the Date 2017 PA Principals Association State Conference October 14. 15, 16, 2017
Doubletree Hotel Cranberry Township,  PA

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