Sunday, January 29, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup Jan 29: School Leaders Statewide Raise Concerns with Funding, Cost Drivers & Property Tax Elimination

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 29, 2017
School Leaders Statewide Raise Concerns with Funding, Cost Drivers & Property Tax Elimination

Mark Twain: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

Just a heads-up that the PA Ed Policy Roundup may be posting intermittently between now and Wednesday.

Suburban Philly lawmaker looks to slow down Pa. House fast-track on bills: Friday Morning Coffee
Penn Live By John L. Micek |  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on January 27, 2017 at 7:21 AM, updated January 27, 2017 at 8:23 AM
Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
If, like us, you're a big fan of political arcana, then you probably took note of the procedural gymnastics that took place in the state House earlier this month when the Republican-controlled chamber quietly did away with a key, post-pay raise era reform.  Namely, lawmakers voted to spike a decade-old requirement that the chamber wait 24 hoursbefore casting a final ballot on bills that had been amended by the Senate.  They replaced it with the same, six-hour cooling off period required on the other side of the Capitol.  Backers said it was simply a move to make sure the two chambers were playing by the same ground rules.  Critics, quite sensibly, pointed out that the matter was less about lawmakers' convenience, and more about making sure the public had a chance to adequately vet legislation before it was ushered into law.  Enter state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, who's introduced a non-binding resolution requiring the House to return to the 24-hour waiting period that seemed to be working so well before the House went and tinkered with it.
"This [new] rule will be the most damaging around budget time," Vitali said in an e-mail. pointing out that House and Senate leaders aren't above sneaking shady language into "large, budget-related bills that many rank-and-file members and the public would find highly objectionable."

Delco educators say property tax reform will shift burden, not eliminate it
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer  @Kathy_Boccella Updated: JANUARY 11, 2017 5:07 PM
At a meeting of Delaware County educators Friday, the Haverford School District superintendent criticized a property tax elimination proposal gaining traction in Harrisburg as merely a “tax shift,” and warned that it would leave Pennsylvania taxpayers holding the bag for $2 billion that businesses would no longer have to pay in real estate levies.  “The truth is, this isn’t a tax elimination – it’s a tax shift, a shift which may not provide reasonable and realistic relief,” said Superintendent Maureen Reusche.  With Gov. Wolf set to release his proposed 2017-18 budget on Feb. 7, about 80 school board members, superintendents, and other administrators gathered at the Delaware County Intermediate Unit in Morton to air their grievances about education funding and their struggles in the face of key costs – many out of their control – that are pounding their budgets.  Looming large among their concerns: the Property Tax Independence Act, which would fund education by raising the state sales tax  from 6 percent to 7 percent while expanding it to cover items such as groceries and clothing, and increasing the earned income tax. The bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate  this session.

“When there is a special education student attending charter schools, the costs rise for public school districts. “Pennsylvania school district special education enrollment declined by 3.1 percent while charter school special education enrollment soared 242.3 percent,” she said. “Special education enrollment at cyber charters alone has increased 493.5 percent.”
Education advocates oppose property tax elimination proposal
Delco Times By Kathleen E. Carey, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 01/27/17, 9:11 PM
MORTON >> Public education officials on Friday asked the state Legislature to reject a proposal that would eliminate the property tax and looked at charter school funding and pension reform among potential panaceas.  “The current property tax elimination proposal... is both irresponsible and inequitable for taxpayers, students and schools,” Maria Edelberg, executive director of the Delaware County Intermediate Unit, said. “It is more responsible for taxpayers and school districts and our elected representatives to consider the factors that are driving school district budgets instead of who divvies out the money.”  She said the U.S. Congress should fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act at 40 percent as crafted in 1975, contrasted with the federal allowance of 16 percent currently.  Interboro Superintendent Bernadette Reiley also outlined a case to revisit cyber charter funding.  “In Delaware County, 11 out of 15 school districts have seen an increase in cyber charter tuition between 2011 and 2016,” she said. “Our school districts sent nearly $18.8 million to cyber charters in 2015-16.”

Tax-shift proposal worries Berks County public school leaders
Reading Eagle By David Mekeel Friday January 27, 2017 12:01 AM
Dr. Randall Grove knows what it looks like from the outside.  The Conrad Weiser School District superintendent is aware that it appears public school districts across Pennsylvania have been getting record amounts of state funding in recent years. But looks, he said, can be deceiving.  The impression many have, Grove said during a press conference at the Reading School District administration building Thursday afternoon, is that state dollars are keeping up with rising, mandated costs such as pension contributions and cyber school tuitions. But it's not even close, he said, and continued uncertainty about future state funding levels have school officials fearing the worst.  "Many schools are facing the very real prospect of making cuts in areas we feel are vital to our mission of educating the whole child," Grove said.  Schools need more money, he said, and need to know their sources of cash are steady.  Grove was one of four local superintendents, along with the business manager from each of their districts, who participated in Thursday's joint press conference. Representatives from the Berks County Intermediate Unit were also present.  The group's message was twofold: the need for continued state funding increases and concern about proposals to eliminate school property taxes.

“Over the last few years, districts’ operating budgets have ballooned to cover costs associated with contributions to employee pensions, charter and cyber charter payments, health-care costs and special-education spending -- and districts have had to shift funds to finance those expenses.”
Beaver County school administrators express funding concerns
Beaver County Times By Katherine Schaeffer January 26, 2017
CENTER TWP. -- School districts across Beaver County will have to cut programming and services if the state doesn’t contribute its fair share of funding and address cost drivers, administrators say. School administrators from Aliquippa, Beaver Area, Big Beaver Falls Area, Hopewell Area, New Brighton Area, Rochester Area, South Side Area and the Beaver County Career and Technology Center met Thursday morning at the Beaver Valley Intermediate Unit to express concerns and emphasize the partnerships that exist among the county’s school districts ahead of 2017-18 state budget discussions.  The meeting was organized in part by Pennsylvania schools circuit rider Thomas Zelesnik, a former executive director of the BVIU, before Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf gives his third budget address Feb. 7. A circuit rider is an advocate for fair school funding, and the position is sponsored by the Philadelphia-based William Penn Foundation, a nonprofit organization.  Without a state funding increase this year, districts will be forced to consider cutting programming, increasing class sizes and scaling back on career-readiness and technology initiatives, Beaver Superintendent Carrie Rowe said. 

“Thomas Zelesnik – a “circuit rider” whose job includes meeting with school officials about funding through a program run by various education advocacy groups – said the average Pennsylvania district receives 37 percent of its funding from the state. The nationwide average is 47 percent.  The GOP-controlled state legislature has opposed increases in state sales and income taxes proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, the last two years to help pay for budgets that would have increased money for education beyond those ultimately passed by the Legislature. Wolf said he doesn’t plan to seek increases in those taxes in his budget proposal for next year.  Zelesnik also said the major cost drivers for districts – contributions for employee pension contributions, payments to charter schools, special education and employee health insurance – are outside districts’ control.”
Washington County area school chiefs talk funding
Washington County Observer Reporter By Gideon Bradshaw January 24, 2017
Central Greene School Board member Beth Hellems told other area school officials Tuesday recent closures of coal mines complicate the district’s already tough financial position.
“It’s a very tough call. We’re in an economically depressed area, and we’re seeing all of our programs and staff be eliminated because we just don’t have the money,” she said Tuesday.
Hellems, of Waynesburg, was one of about a dozen school officials – mostly superintendents – and advocates who met at the headquarters of Intermediate Unit 1 in California to discuss ongoing financial challenges faced by districts and their implications for students.  With Pennsylvania ranking 46th in the percentage of funding the average school district receives from the state, educators have long argued the amount of new revenue flowing to districts from state sources isn’t adequate to cover rising costs, many of which are outside local officials’ control.
Administrators from Greene, Washington and Fayette counties, the area the intermediate unit serves, highlighted program and staffing cuts they said will come without a boost in funding from the state.

“Argall’s proposal also has the potential to lock in the funding disparity between rich and poor school districts with the difference being that instead of wealthy districts funding their own higher spending through their property taxes, the entire state would be paying for it under the “dollar-for-dollar” replacement provisions of the bill, according to Nester’s analysis.  An Associated Press analysis of state data found that more than 70 percent of school property taxes were collected by the wealthiest half of school districts in 2014-15.  That means that a wealthy district like Lower Merion, which funds a higher level of spending mostly out of its own property tax pockets, would instead enjoy the same level of spending but now at the expense of all personal income taxpayers in Pennsylvania.  And none too soon, given that the high commercial and industrial property tax revenues on which districts like Lower Merion and Spring-Ford depend would be gone.  “No more King of Prussia Mall, no more Glaxo, Merck or Wal-Mart paying the bills,” said Nester.”

Pottsgrove SD analysis shows hidden snags in Pa. school property tax elimination bill
Times Herald By Evan Brandt, on Twitter
POSTED: 01/28/17, 9:29 PM EST | UPDATED: 5 HRS AGO
LOWER POTTSGROVE >> Most polls show voters in favor of any effort in Harrisburg to enact property tax reform, or eliminate them completely.  With legislators once again raising the hope it will be adopted this session, Pottsgrove School District officials putting together another budget took the time to see what that would look like had last year’s school tax elimination bill been adopted.  And what they found is that there are indeed lots of devils in those details.  “A lot of people hear ‘property tax elimination’ and they think boom, their bill goes away, they save a lot of money and that’s it,” Pottsgrove Business Manager David Nester told the board Tuesday.
“But it’s not that simple,” he said.

Senate Co-Sponsorship Memoranda
Senate of Pennsylvania Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session
Posted: January 17, 2017 09:59 AM
From:    Senator Robert M. Tomlinson
To:        All Senate members
Subject:Freeze on Property Taxes for Senior Citizens
Please join me in co-sponsoring legislation to provide a real estate tax freeze for senior citizens age 65 and older.
This legislation was cosponsored last session by Senators McIlhinney, Argall, Scavello, Greenleaf, Brewster, Teplitz, Ward, Pileggi, Vogel, Kitchen, Tartaglione, Vulakovich, Alloway, Costa, Boscola, Williams, White, Baker, Stefano, Hutchinson, Rafferty, Reschenthaler and Fontana as Senate Bill 537.

Skyrocketing pension costs a 'huge, huge burden' for schools
York Daily Record by Angie Mason amason@ydr.comPublished 8:31 a.m. ET Jan. 25, 2017 | Updated 9:36 a.m. ET Jan. 25, 2017
As local school district officials work on budgets for next year, one expense continues to climb — even higher than once expected.  State-required pension contributions remain one of the biggest, if not the biggest, expenses increasing in school district budgets, according to some local officials. Even if they didn't spend more on students, most districts would still see expenses grow by hundreds of thousands of dollars due to pension costs alone.  For example, Dallastown Area School District's pension contribution was $766,000 in 2009-10, less than a percent of district expenses. This year, the cost is estimated at around $7.6 million, or 7.4 percent of expenses, according to documents on the district website.  That's a trend seen statewide, as the required contributions escalated rapidly to make up for years when schools and the state were not paying enough to properly fund the system.  And while the rate of increase has slowed in the past year or so, it's still taking up a big chunk of schools' resources. Because the districts' contributions have escalated, schools across the state have had to cut programs and personnel, raise taxes, drain fund balances or do all of those things.

How Easton's new charter school will revamp landmark building
Rudy Miller | For By Rudy Miller | For  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on January 29, 2017 at 7:22 AM, updated January 29, 2017 at 7:23 AM
New windows and a remodeled entrance are proposed at the rear of the Easton Arts Academy Charter Elementary School.  Improvements to the building at 30 N. Fourth St. were endorsed by the city's historic district commission and approved by city council last week. Alloy 5 Architects released some renderings after the meeting.  The school at the former Express-Times building is slated to open in the fall, pending some final city approvals.  "We have over 290 kids signed up already," said Thomas Lubben, who is opening the school. "We're getting a lot of students from the Poconos."  The publicly-funded school was approved by the Easton Area School Board in November. The board reluctantly approved the charter, fearing the district would waste resources trying to fight it.

EDITORIAL: School officials concerned about Trump nominee to head Education Dept.
Delco Times EditorialPOSTED: 01/28/17, 11:17 PM EST | UPDATED: 28 SECS AGO
The first week with President Donald Trump in the White House has many people nodding affirmation.  Others are shaking their heads, wondering what the next four years will bring.
Some folks are taking to Twitter and Facebook to express their happiness, or their displeasure at the controversial president’s actions. Others just smile in joy or grumble in disgust.  But to two school boards in the region, President Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has raised concerns that go beyond shaking their heads.  The Pottstown School Board last week took the unusual step of passing a resolution opposing the appointment of DeVos and urging the Senate to reject her. A vote on the nomination is expected Tuesday.  In Delaware County, the Radnor Township School Board discussed a similar measure but rejected it, voting along party lines.  Pottstown’s board approved the resolution 7-1 with one member absent and one abstaining on the grounds a local board has no business weighing in on a federal appointment.
Board member Emanuel Wilkerson championed the proposed resolution to the board as a necessary stance to protect the future of public schools, particularly in financially stressed places like Pottstown. Elected to the school board while a senior at Pottstown High, Wilkerson’s passion for local schools is matched only by his enthusiasm for politics and public service.

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.

More Discouraging USED Appointments
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Friday, January 27, 2017
The Trump Department of Education continues to shape up as a place that is, perhaps, more about patronage than education.  Today we have word from the Huffington Post that a memo from Jason Botel (another supremely reformy appointment as Senior White House Adviser for Education) that the following folks have been brought into the department:

What DeVos Should Have Said
Donald Trump's education secretary nominee is being considered by the Senate. by John Stossel | January 25, 2017
Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, probably survived the grilling she got from angry Democrats last week.  When Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) demanded she promise not "to privatize public schools," DeVos replied, "Not all schools are working for the students."  When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked her to make "universities tuition free," DeVos replied, "I think that's a really interesting idea (but) there's nothing in life that's truly free."  Those answers were fine. I suppose it's important for a nominee to be polite.  But what I wish she'd said was: "No, Sen. Murray, I won't promise not to privatize! Didn't you notice the mess government schemes create? Many government-run schools are lousy! Private is better!"

“At the hearing, Senator Tim Kaine (wow, seems like a long time since we were thinking about Tim Kaine) asked whether DeVos would insist upon “equal accountability” for all schools that receive federal funding “whether public, public charter or private.”  “I support accountability,” said the nominee. This went on for some time, but she just would not go for that “equal.”  Finally, Kaine volunteered that he thought all schools that receive taxpayer funding should be equally accountable, and he asked if DeVos agreed.
“Well, no,” she replied.”
The Trump War on Public Schools
New York Times by Gail Collins JAN. 27, 2017
One of the most disturbing things about the Trump administration is its antipathy toward public schools.  Perhaps you remember the president’s mini-rant in his inaugural speech about an “education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”  Well, Trump’s choice for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is responsible for Michigan’s charter school boom, which currently costs the state about $1.1 billion a year. A 2014 investigation by The Detroit Free Press found myriad examples of “wasteful spending and double-dipping.” Thanks in large part to DeVos’s lobbying in the Legislature, there’s virtually no oversight. So much for the young and beautiful students.  Take that for a rant.
DeVos is stupendously rich, and a longtime crusader for charters, vouchers and using federal funds for religious education. She was once the Michigan Republican state chairwoman, a fact completely unconnected to the $200 million or so her family has donated to the party. She’s used all that clout to make Michigan a model of how not to improve public education.

Yes, Betsy DeVos Deserves the Third Degree From Democrats
Her ideas are no less dangerous to the American project than Ben Carson and Jeff Session's.
BY GRAHAM VYSE January 25, 2017
Betsy DeVos’s Senate confirmation hearing last week was, by most accounts, a train wreck. The education secretary nominee aired extreme views that alarmed public education advocates, but she also showed an unfamiliarity with basic policy issues. So it came as no surprise when Democrats demanded a second hearing for thebillionaire Republican donor, ostensibly because they want more time to vet her potential conflicts of interest. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who chairs the education committee, denied their request. On Tuesday, he took to Medium to accuse Senate Democrats of “grasping for straws.”  “Few Americans have done as much to help low-income students have a choice of better schools,” wrote Alexander, who served as education secretary under President George H.W. Bush. “She is on the side of our children. Her critics may resent that, but this says more about them than it does about her.”  For an education expert widely regarded as thoughtful on these issues, Alexander’s article is remarkably disingenuous, complete with straw-man arguments and unfounded characterizations of the Democratic opposition to DeVos.

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

Ron Cowell at EPLC always does a great job with these policy forums.
RSVP Today for a Forum In Your Area! EPLC is Holding Five Education Policy Forums on Governor Wolf’s 2017-2018 State Budget Proposal
Forum #1 – Pittsburgh Thursday, February 23, 2017 – Wyndham University Center – 100 Lytton Avenue, Pittsburgh (Oakland), PA 15213
Forum #2 – Harrisburg Area (Enola, PA) Tuesday, February 28, 2017 – Capital Area Intermediate Unit – 55 Miller Street (Susquehanna Room), Enola, PA 17025
Forum #3 – Philadelphia Thursday, March 2, 2017 – Penn Center for Educational Leadership, University of Pennsylvania, 3440 Market Street (5th Floor), Philadelphia, PA 19104
Forum #4 – Indiana University of Pennsylvania Tuesday, March 14, 2017 – 1011 South Drive (Stouffer Hall), Indiana, PA 15705
Forum #5 – Lehigh Valley Tuesday, March 28, 2017 – Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit #21, 4210 Independence Drive, Schnecksville, PA 18078
Governor Wolf will deliver his 2017-2018 state budget proposal to the General Assembly on February 7. These policy forums will be early opportunities to get up-to-date information about what is in the proposed education budget, the budget’s relative strengths and weaknesses, and key issues.  Each of the forums will take following basic format (please see below for regional presenter details at each of the three events). Ron Cowell of EPLC will provide an overview of the Governor’s proposed budget for early education, K-12 and higher education.  A representative of The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will provide an overview of the state’s fiscal situation and key issues that will affect this year’s budget discussion. The overviews will be followed by remarks from a panel representing statewide and regional perspectives concerning state funding for education and education related items. These speakers will discuss the impact of the Governor’s proposals and identify the key issues that will likely be considered during this year’s budget debate.
Although there is no registration fee, seating is limited and an RSVP is required.

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 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

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 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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