Sunday, February 12, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 12: PA Manufacturers Assoc.: The property tax elimination fallacy

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 Feb 12, 2017
PA Manufacturers Assoc.: The property tax elimination fallacy

This afternoon at 3 pm on PCN:
EPLC's "Focus on Education" TV Program on PCN - this Sunday, Feb. 12 at 3 p.m. 
Part 1: Guest will be: Pedro A. Rivera, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education
Part 2: Guests will be:
Dr. Mark DiRocco, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators
Jay D. Himes, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials
Dolores M. McCracken, Vice President, Pennsylvania State Education Association
Mark B. Miller, President, Pennsylvania School Boards Association

The property tax elimination fallacy
City and State By: CARL A. MARRARA FEB 9, 2017 AT 6:19 AM
Carl A. Marrara is the vice president of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association
I would like to focus on the most important fact about the “property tax elimination” bill being proposed in Harrisburg: Senate Bill 76 and House Bill 76 do not eliminate property taxes. The legislation only attempts to eliminate school property taxes – maybe, eventually, in exchange for a 40 percent hike in the state personal income tax and a steeper, broader sales tax – meaning Pennsylvanians will now have to pay tax on most food, clothing and services such as legal fees, dry cleaning, childcare and much more.  Pennsylvanians will face a higher overall tax burden while still paying property taxes. Counties and municipalities also assess property taxes, which comprise 31 percent of all property tax collections; these taxes would remain. Moreover, school property taxes would not be eliminated entirely in most districts. School property taxes would continue to be collected until all local school debt is paid in full – leaving property taxes in effect in some school districts for the indeterminate future while those residents would also pay the higher state income tax and the higher, broader sales tax.  Currently, 98 percent of school districts carry debt, meaning only 10 out of 500 of them could immediately eliminate school property taxes under the new law.

School Funding Advocate Praises Budget Plans
Sanatoga Post by Andrea Sears, Public News Service for The Post Publications
HARRISBURG PA – Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget 2017 Pennsylvania state budget, unveiled Tuesday (Feb. 7, 2017), is balanced through cuts and consolidations. The $32.3 billion spending plan would attack looming budget deficits with more than two-billion dollars in cuts and efficiency measures. But it also calls for increased education funding.  Deborah Gordon Klehr, director of the Education Law Center, praised the proposed $75 million increase in early childhood education, and extra funding for early intervention, as “crucial investments.”  Although spending increases for grades K-through-12 are appreciated, she added, they fall short of what’s needed. “The governor’s proposed increase of $100 million in basic education, and $25 million in special education funding, will not be enough to allow schools to close long-standing resource gaps,” Klehr noted. Closing those, she added, would require an extra state investment of almost $3 billion over time.  Klehr reported Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the nation for state share of education funding, and still has the largest difference in funding between wealthy and poor school districts. “Taking all of that into consideration, we’re hopeful we can work with the governor and the General Assembly to ensure that the budget gets us closer to closing that gap,” she explained.

Phillips-Hill: Wolf budget a good starting point (column)
York Daily Record Opinion by Kristin Phillips-Hill 12:39 p.m. ET Feb. 9, 2017
State Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill is a Republican from York Township.
Gov. Tom Wolf wrote the headline for his budget address a few weeks ago when he decided not to pursue broad-based tax increases. The hard-working taxpayers of Pennsylvania have themselves to thank for the choice he made.  Members of the General Assembly heard loud and clear from constituents when the governor showed his appetite for taxes during his two prior budget speeches. Tuesday’s address was a welcome change from previous years. With an estimated $3 billion structural deficit, the governor is taking a different tack, one clamored for by House Republicans, and finally acknowledging the fiscal realities we face.  While his proposal provides a better starting point than the first two years of his administration, one constant – increased overall spending – remains. His $32.34 billion proposal includes tax hikes and exceeds the rate of inflation. The governor is again asking more of the Pennsylvania taxpayer before addressing some shortcomings in Harrisburg.

“In the contest for students, one of the most cost-effective moves for public school districts is to expand offerings in online learning. According to Harner, Quakertown has to pay about $12,000 for a student who leaves for a cyber-charter, yet the district can teach that same child online for about $3,000.”
Public schools step up fight to win back charter students
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer  @Kathy_Boccella | Updated: FEBRUARY 12, 2017 — 6:08 AM EST
When Quakertown Community School Superintendent Bill Harner realized his district was shelling out $250,000 a year in tuition reimbursements for 17 students studying dance at a performing arts charter in nearby Allentown, he came up with a battle plan.  The Upper Bucks district, he decided, would beat the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts at its own game.  “We will have a brand-new dance studio," said Harner, who has counted more than 20 applicants for a program that, he vows, will put the district "on the map for dance." And he isn't finished. To enhance the drama program, a “black box” theater, a bare-bones performance space, is being built. Declared Harner: “We love competition.” Each year, Quakertown Community spends about $2 million on students who choose to attend charters rather than their public schools. As tuition payments to charters bite ever deeper into the budgets of virtually every district in the region, some are beginning aggressive campaigns to win kids back. Their strategies range from direct-mail marketing, to boisterous “back-to-school” rallies with bouncy castles, to pricey new programs such as all-day kindergarten.

Feinberg said he started paying attention to DeVos long before she emerged nationally as President Donald Trump’s choice for education secretary. The U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed her this week, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the decisive tie-breaking vote, after a contentious round of hearings.  Feinberg noted DeVos' generous donations to political candidates who support school choice.  The American Federation for Children, of which she is a former chairwoman, has made contributions to school choice PACs in Pennsylvania.
DeVos spurs hope, fear over possible charter school growth in Pennsylvania
Meadville Tribune By John Finnerty CNHI News Service February 11, 2017
HARRISBURG — More Pennsylvanians already attend charter schools than students in most other states. With Betsy DeVos leading the U.S. Department of Education, school choice proponents hope — and critics fear — their numbers will rise.  DeVos is an advocate for, and generous donor to, school choice causes. Her home state of Michigan is one of eight with more charter schools than Pennsylvania.  Lawrence Feinberg, a longtime school board member in Delaware County, said at a minimum DeVos can use the bully pulpit of her new post to encourage states to develop rules more friendly to charters.  That worries him.  While charter schools themselves must be nonprofit, Pennsylvania law allows them to hire for-profit management companies. It's hard to tell how those companies spend money, how much goes to education and how much money goes into the pockets of executives.  Betsy is fine with that,” Feinberg said. “I see education as a public good — not as something to wring money out of."

Local educators skeptical of Trump’s pick for secretary
Local educators unsure of new secretary
Observer Reporter By Gideon Bradshaw February 10, 2017
Some local public education officials are skeptical of the country’s new education secretary.
Betsy DeVos was confirmed Tuesday by the Senate despite two GOP lawmakers – amid widespread criticism from education advocates and other activists – siding with Democrats in opposing the appointment.  DeVos, a billionaire political donor to Republicans, is a leading supporter of privately run charter schools and voucher programs that allow private schools to receive public funding.  Carmichaels Area Superintendent John Menhart said he will take a “wait-and-see” approach to DeVos and her plans. He added cyberschool options are more prevalent in urban school districts as compared to his rural district in the eastern part of Greene County. “How much money is it going to cost us?” Menhart said, adding charter schools – which a public school district must reimburse for students attending – are not as prevalent in the eastern Greene County school district as in Pittsburgh.  Menhart said some students with truancy issues leave their district to attend cyberclasses, with most eventually returning and, in some cases, dropping out of school.

Blogger comment: PLANCON provides funding for public school construction for buildings that are owned by the public.  Let’s hope that PLANCON doesn’t turn into another vehicle for public funds being used to enrich charter school  private management company owners.
PA Senate GOP Website February 10, 2017
WHAT:          The PA Public School Building Construction and Reconstruction Advisory Committee will hold its next public hearing to continue discussion and receive testimony related to the state’s reimbursement program for school districts for costs associated with construction and reconstruction and lease of public school buildings (commonly known as PlanCon). The Committee was established pursuant to Act 25 of 2016 to review and make recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly.
WHO:             PlanCon Committee, co-chaired by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne and House Education Committee Chairman Stan Saylor. This hearing will be held in the district of PlanCon co-chair Representative Saylor.
Tentatively scheduled to testify include:
·         Mike Wang, Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners
·         Jonathan Cetel, Executive Director, PennCAN
·         Naomi Johnson Booker, Vice President, Board of Trustees, Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and CEO, Global Leadership Academy Charter School in Philadelphia
·         Anthony Pirrello, Vice President, Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools Board of Trustees, and CEO, Montessori Regional Charter School in Erie
·         Dave Steele, PE, ACEC/PA Vice Chair of Facilities Committee, Vice President, Urban Engineers, Inc.
·         John Luciani, President, First Capital Engineering
·         Scott A. Deisley, Superintendent, Red Lion Area School District 
Monday, February 13 at 11:00 a.m. 

Red Lion Area High School, 200 Horace Mann Avenue, Red Lion, PA 17356

At Meredith, a kindergarten lottery stirs worries - and larger issues
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Staff Writer  @newskag | Updated: FEBRUARY 12, 2017 — 5:00 AM EST
In the dead of winter, in the middle of the night, parents lined up last year to assure their kindergarteners would have a seat at Meredith Elementary, the well-regarded, increasingly crowded public school at 5th and Fitzwater.  To avoid a repeat of that scene and its associated concerns, the Philadelphia School District will switch later this month to a kindergarten lottery for Meredith, prompting panic - and some controversy - in a neighborhood where many paid hefty premiums to buy or rent for the express purpose of sending their children to that school.  It’s a thorny situation, involving issues of school capacity and parents’ wishes, of equity and of who belongs at the school. And it’s one that is likely to play out often in the next decade, as more families choose to stay in the city and send their children to public schools.  “A lot of this is getting attention at Meredith because Meredith is one of the best public schools in the city,” said Joan Maya Mazelis, a Meredith parent and sociologist. “But this is not a Meredith problem. It’s a citywide issue.”

Erie schools start waiting game on funding
GoErie By Ed Palattella February 12, 2017
The Erie School District has entered another season of extreme uncertainty.
As it did a year ago, the district is unsure whether it will need to make massive cuts, starting July 1, to avoid a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.  The district was hoping to get aid — or at least get a sense of what that aid might be — from the proposed 2017-18 state budget that Gov. Tom Wolf presented on Tuesday.  With Wolf's proposal silent on specific relief, the district must plan for the 2017-18 school year while dealing with a series of questions.  Will budget negotiations in Harrisburg, between the Democrat Wolf and the GOP-controlled General Assembly, yield additional annual funding?  If so, will that amount approach the $31.8 million that the school district has requested in its state-mandated report to the state Department of Education?

Former senator Jane Earll lobbying for Erie School District
GoErie By Ed Palattella February 12, 2017
The Erie School District has a familiar person making its case for additional state funding in Harrisburg. Jane Earll, the former state senator from Erie, is lobbying on the district's behalf.
Earll works for RooneyNovak Group LLC, a Harrisburg-based government-relations firm that started representing the Erie School District in November for $6,500 a month for 13 months, ending Dec. 31, according to district records. The district can end the contract with a 30-day notice. The School Board approved the hiring under the condition that the district use no tax revenue to pay RooneyNovak, according to board records. The district is using grant money, Erie schools Superintendent Jay Badams said. The Erie School District's hiring of a lobbying firm is not new. The district a year ago hired another Harrisburg government-relations firm, Long, Nyquist and Associates, for a 10-month contract at $6,500 a month. That contract — which Badams also said was funded with grant money — started in March and ended Nov. 30.

Require bids on bus pacts
Gov. Tom Wolf could have had the Scranton School District in mind when he proposed a state budget last week calling for a $50 million reduction in student busing subsidies. The budget would still provide virtually $500 million for student transportation, but Mr. Wolf said funding should be reduced because of falling fuel prices and fewer students riding buses. Budget Secretary Randy Albright said the reduction will provide incentives to reward efficiency and boost competition and that school districts should be required to put bus contracts out to bid. The Scranton School Board in 2016 violated internal bidding policy to award a four-year busing contract extension to DeNaples Transportation. School officials praised the DeNaples service, but the absence of transparency about the extension created doubt about its propriety. Scranton’s contract extension blunder became more apparent when state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale reported last spring that taxpayers in 19 districts, including Scranton, Dunmore and Valley View, paid $55 million more for busing services than the state reimbursement formula covered because they failed to solicit bids for busing contracts. Dunmore sought bidding for its busing pact in 2015 after a state audit.

Pat Toomey calls opposition to Trump's cabinet picks a 'disgrace' - he needs to look in the mirror: Friday Morning Coffee
Penn Live By John L. Micek | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on February 10, 2017 at 8:08 AM, updated February 10, 2017 at 8:26 AM
Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
I'm going ask you, this morning, to consider the case of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
During the presidential campaign, when he faced a challenge from Democrat Katie McGintyToomey remained admirably independent.  He criticized Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, withheld his endorsement and said he'd have to see clear and convincing evidence before he could consider voting for the tangerine-coiffed real estate mogul. Then, on Election Day, with his victory over McGinty seemingly assured, Toomey cast his independence to the wind and announced just a couple of hours before the polls closed that he'd fallen into line for his party's nominee.

Betsy DeVos Made Me Want To Run For School Board
NPR by ANYA KAMENETZ February 12, 20176:41 AM ET
Early one morning, the week before Betsy DeVos' confirmation as education secretary, 23-year-old Allison Kruk was dropping her boyfriend off at the Philadelphia airport when she decided to swing by the office of her United States senator and give him a piece of her mind.  Kruk was a Hillary Clinton supporter, and the nomination of DeVos, "just felt like a low blow," she says. "I had been calling and emailing and writing letters about how I thought she was incredibly incompetent, regardless of your position on school choice."  Kruk spent two and a half hours in the office of Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., before she was finally escorted out by security, but not without an official audience scheduled on the Monday before the vote.  Over the weekend, she collected 11,000 signatures on a petition from educators all over the state, plus letters from parents and teachers, all of which she hand-delivered.  When Toomey nevertheless cast his vote for DeVos, Kruk's reaction was immediate: She decided to run for school board.

Prominent DeVos critics urge protesters: Don’t block her way into public schools. She needs to see them.
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss February 10 at 5:33 PM 
With dozens of protesters standing at the front of Jefferson Academy in Washington, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tried to enter a side door of the school but was blocked Friday by a few people who held signs and shouted, “Shame, shame.”  Along with the protesters outside, some staff members at Jefferson were none too happy about the DeVos visit, wearing black in protest and saying they didn’t want their students used as a photo opportunity for the controversial secretary.  DeVos was confirmed Tuesday in the Senate after Mike Pence became the first vice president ever to break a tie for a Cabinet nominee. She is the most polarizing education secretary in history because of the deep divide in philosophy about public education between her supporters and her critics. Her backers see her as a champion of school choice and alternatives to traditional public schools, while opponents say her decades of advocacy work show that she wants to privatize the public education system.  After her entrance to Jefferson was blocked — she did eventually make it in another way — some public figures who have been among her biggest critics urged that she be let into public schools. Why? Because they say DeVos needs to see how they work.

Beware of Trump and DeVos’ grand plan to privatize public education
To Betsy DeVos, school choice is not simply the inherent right that every parent has to choose their child’s educational setting, it is all about requiring taxpayers to pick up the tab for that parent’s private individual choice, regardless of whether the parent chooses a public school, a charter school, a nonprofit private school, a religious school or even a fly-by-night online virtual school.  Historically, the United States has devoted itself to a comprehensive system of public schools, locally controlled and funded by public resources. Parents who didn’t want their children to attend the public schools, could, of course, pay for them to go to a private school.  But DeVos and her associates in the corporate education reform movement have been working hard to undermine that historic concept and replace it with one in which public funds are used  to subsidize whatever “choice” a parent makes for their child.

U.S. Public Schools Are Not Failing. They’re Among The Best In The World
Huffington Post by Steven Singer  02/03/2017
Singer is a husband, father, teacher, blogger and education advocate.
Everyone knows U.S. public schools are failing.  Just like everyone knows you should never wake sleepwalkers, bulls hate red and Napoleon was short.  Wrong on all counts. Waking sleepwalkers will cause them no harm – in fact, they’re more likely to harm themselves while sleepwalking. Bulls are colorblind; they’re attracted to movement. And Napoleon was 5’7”, which was above average height for Frenchman during his lifetime.  So why do we believe that American public schools are doing such a terrible job?  Because far-right policymakers have convinced us all that it’s true.  It’s not.  Let me repeat that in no uncertain terms – America’s public schools are NOT failing. They are among the best in the world. Really!

“In other words, more than 9 out of 10 House races were landslides where the campaign was a foregone conclusion before ballots were even cast. In 2016, there were no truly competitive Congressional races in 42 of the 50 states. That is not healthy for a system of government that, at its core, is defined by political competition.  Gerrymandering, in a word, is why American democracy is broken.”
Gerrymandering is the biggest obstacle to genuine democracy in the United States. So why is no one protesting?
Washington Post By Brian Klaas February 10
Brian Klaas is a Fellow in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and author of The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding & Abetting the Decline of Democracy.
There is an enormous paradox at the heart of American democracy. Congress is deeply and stubbornly unpopular. On average, between 10 and 15 percent of Americans approve of Congress – on a par with public support for traffic jams and cockroaches. And yet, in the 2016 election, only eight incumbents – eight out of a body of 435 representatives – were defeated at the polls.  If there is one silver bullet that could fix American democracy, it’s getting rid of gerrymandering – the now commonplace practice of drawing electoral districts in a distorted way for partisan gain. It’s also one of a dwindling number of issues that principled citizens – Democrat and Republican – should be able to agree on. Indeed, polls confirm that an overwhelming majority of Americans of all stripes oppose gerrymandering.  In the 2016 elections for the House of Representatives, the average electoral margin of victory was 37.1 percent. That’s a figure you’d expect from North Korea, Russia or Zimbabwe – not the United States. But the shocking reality is that the typical race ended with a Democrat or a Republican winning nearly 70 percent of the vote, while their challenger won just 30 percent.  Last year, only 17 seats out of 435 races were decided by a margin of 5 percent or less. Just 33 seats in total were decided by a margin of 10 percent or less.

New PSBA Winter Town Hall Series coming to your area
Introducing a new and exciting way to get involved and stay connected in a location near you! Join your PSBA Town Hall meeting to hear the latest budget and political updates affecting public education. Enjoy light hors d’oeuvres and networking with fellow school directors. Locations have been selected to minimize travel time. Spend less time in the car and more time learning about issues impacting your schools.
6-6:35 p.m.         Association update from PSBA Executive Director Nathan Mains
6:35 -7:15 p.m. Networking Reception
7:15-8 p.m.         Governor’s budget address recap
Monday, February 20     Forbes Road Career and Technology Center, Monroeville
Tuesday, February 21    Venango Technology Center, Oil City
Wednesday, Feb 22       Clearfield County Career and Technical Center, Clearfield
Thursday, February 23   Columbia Montour AVTS, Bloomsburg
Monday, February 27     Middle Bucks Institute of Technology, Jamison
Tuesday, February 28    PSBA, Mechanicsburg
Wednesday, March 1     Bedford County Technical Center, Everett
Thursday, March 2         West Side CTC, Kingston

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.
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.

Register for the 2017 PASA Education Congress, “Delving Deeper into the Every Student Succeeds Act.” March 29-30

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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