Monday, February 27, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 27: Continued responses to Sen. Eichelberger’s comments on inner city kids

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 27, 2017:
Continued responses to Sen. Eichelberger’s comments on inner city kids

"Inner city schools," however, have not failed the children of this Commonwealth. The Legislature has.  It is the Legislature that has the constitutional duty to support and maintain a thorough and efficient system of public education, yet refuses to ensure that all public schools have enough resources to educate our children.  It is the Legislature that argued to Pennsylvania courts that no individual child in the Commonwealth has a right to a sound education, and that the only responsibility the state has is to simply unlock school doors and turn on the lights.  It is the Legislature that has perpetuated a system where 418 of the Commonwealth's 500 school districts have inadequate funding.”
Eichelberger's remarks on schools revealed a deeper truth - they're still underfunded: Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg
PennLive Op-Ed  By Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg on February 24, 2017 at 8:15 AM, updated February 24, 2017 at 8:23 AM
The fastest way to find an underfunded school in Pennsylvania is a simple one: look for the presence of black and brown children.  That uncomfortable reality is worth remembering amid the furor over recent comments made by Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.  According to published reports, Eichelberger recently suggested that students of color should be steered toward less intensive academic tracks, implying that those children are less capable of advanced academic success, higher education, and the career paths that follow from it.  The stereotypes underlying Eichelberger's comments are as demeaning as they are worn.  They are whispered in conversations between friends, given as justifications by state senators, and even were uttered from the bench by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who suggested that similar stereotypes were reason to find even the mildest affirmative action policies unconstitutional.

“If nothing else, this episode has been a “teachable moment” for Mr. Eichelberger, bringing him up to speed on issues central to the committee he chairs.”
Seeking personal best: Sen. Eichelberger’s stumble is a teachable moment
Post Gazette Editorial By the Editorial Board February 26, 2017 12:00 AM
With just a couple of sentences, a Blair County lawmaker last week managed to impugn inner-city students, the public schools that teach them and the value of career and technical education programs. State Sen. John Eichelberger, a Republican, should know better. He chairs the Education Committee.  “They’re pushing them toward college, and they’re dropping out,” Mr. Eichelberger said in remarks initially reported by the Carlisle Sentinel. “They fall back and don’t succeed, whereas if there was a less intensive track, they would.” By less intensive, he meant career and technical education.   He later said his remarks were taken out of context and insisted that he was blaming the schools that failed to educate inner-city children, not the students themselves. He also said he believes all children should pursue whatever ambitions they have. It’s good to hear the senator expand on his comments, for the issue he raises is crucial to secondary education and the future of the American workforce.

Senator looks to oust Eichelberger as chairman
Philadelphia’s Hughes outraged by Blair senator’s take on ‘inner city’ programs
Altoona Mirror by RUSS O'REILLY Staff Writer FEB 23, 2017
An effort may be brewing in Harrisburg to remove Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, from his new position as education committee chairman because of comments he made during a town hall meeting  Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said Eichel-berger displayed ignorance and bias with regard to inner-city education.  At the town hall meeting in Carlisle, the Carlisle Sentinel quoted Eichelberger for a Feb. 16 story.  “He (Eichelberger) moved into a critique of Pennsylvania’s ‘inner city’ education programs, positing that money was being misspent on pushing minority students from high school into college instead of into vocational programs,” the Sentinel reported.  The story included a direct quote from Eichelberger: “They’re pushing them toward college and they’re dropping out. They fall back and don’t succeed, whereas if there was a less intensive track, they would.”  Hughes was outraged by Eichelberger’s comments, and he told the Mirror on Wednesday that he believes there is enough support to successfully remove Eichelberger as education committee chairman.  “We are looking internally at what our actions are. What’s clear to me is there are several areas of education policy that he is deficient in — especially around equity of funding, which, all things considered, in education policy is the most important thing that the committee has to address,”Hughes said.  Eichelberger said the news story took his comments out of context.

Kenney Calls Pa. Senator’s “Inner City” Comment “Racism”
Kenney and other Democrats are outraged at Republican Sen. John Eichelberger’s claim that some city students need “less intensive” programs.
Philly Magazine BY CLAIRE SASKO  |  FEBRUARY 24, 2017 AT 9:18 AM
Last week, Pennsylvania senator and Education Committee chair John Eichelberger reportedly claimed that students in some “inner city” neighborhoods need “less intensive” programs. This week, Mayor Jim Kenney called that comment “racism,” according to the Inquirer  “That is the basic problem in school funding in Pennsylvania: We go to Harrisburg, hat in hand, to beg for money from those men —those white men — who think our kids can’t succeed,” Kenney said at a City Hall roundtable on early literacy, according to the newspaper.  Last week, the Carlisle Sentinel reported that Eichelberger, a Republican from Blair County, claimed during a town hall in Carlisle that state funding was being “misspent” on students in public schools in cities like Philadelphia, where instructors are “pushing [students] toward college, and they’re dropping out. They fall back and don’t succeed, whereas if there was a less intensive track, they would.”  Eichelberger said such students should be encouraged to pursue vocational programs, according to the Carlisle Sentinel.

Top lawmaker: Pushing 'inner city' kids to college is a waste
Philly Daily News Attytood by Will Bunch , Daily News Columnist @will_bunch Updated: FEBRUARY 26, 2017 — 7:56 AM EST
Suddenly in the winter of 2017, politician town halls are a thing. The simmering anger from the divisive 2016 election now has hundreds of people crowding meeting rooms for the handful of Congress members and other elected officials brave enough to face the public -- and raging against those like Pa. Sen. Pat Toomey who prefer to conduct that kind of business by phone. And here's the thing: When elected officials do interact with the actual public, they tend to say the darnedest things.  Take Pennsylvania state Sen. John Eichelberger, from Blair County in the mostly rural central part of the Keystone State.  Please.  It's a pretty safe bet that most people in Philadelphia have never heard of Sen. Eichelberger. But he's a pretty powerful guy these days. As Senate Republicans have established a super-majority that now gives conservative lawmakers remarkable sway over what comes out of Harrisburg, the three-term senator rose this year to the influential position of chairman of the Senate Education Committee.  That means Eichelberger instantly becomes a player in the long-running battle to fix Philadelphia's cash-strapped public schools, which have struggled to balance its budget and to offer its kids essentials like textbooks, school nurses, or guidance counselors. This comes during a decade when education aid from Harrisburg has plunged and lawmakers have also promoted a charter-school funding formula that puts public districts like Philadelphia at a financial disadvantage.

“One of the problems is that Pennsylvania is one of 12 states that have no limits on donations to PACs or individual candidates. If you represent a cause and have access to a lot of cash, whether you’re a PAC or a private citizen, you can fund a candidate who you believe is “sympathetic” to your situation. It’s buying influence, and there’s nothing illegal about it.”
Campaign finance reform needs to become a reality in Pennsylvania
Lancaster Online Editorial by The LNP Editorial Board February 25, 2017
THE ISSUE - According to a report that first appeared in The Caucus, LNP Media Group’s weekly government watchdog publication, special interest groups spent about $147 million in Pennsylvania on the 2016 elections. Campaign finance records indicate some 84,000 separate expenditures during the last election cycle, with single donations well into six figures. As The Caucus reported, interest groups represent, among other matters, public education, medical malpractice claims and automobile insurance.
Yes, $850,000 buys a lot of gavels. That’s how much an organization called the Committee for a Better Tomorrow gave to Democrat Kevin Dougherty’s campaign for state Supreme Court. He won.  The question is, what else does $850,000 buy?  In this case, the committee represents the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, which opposes rules that tighten restrictions on malpractice cases, including a cap on damage awards. You see the connection, and a myriad of potential conflicts.  As The Caucus reported, state law prohibits judges from soliciting donations. So other people do it for them. A donor doesn’t leave a wheelbarrow full of cash in front of a judge’s door. The money goes to a political action committee and then to the campaign.  And we’re not picking on Dougherty or judges in general. Right or wrong — and we believe wrong — this is how politics and elections work in Pennsylvania. And it needs to change.  Dougherty might have been the top recipient of PAC money in the last election cycle, with a total of more than $2.7 million, but he had bipartisan company on the top 10 list: Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro at $1.8 million; Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati at $1.49 million; and Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai at $1.34 million, to name a few.

Fair DistrictsPA forum takes on Gerrymandering
Chester County Times By Eliza Mohler, Staff Writer, The Times Feb 23rd, 2017
WEST CHESTER – Political strategist Karl Rove once said, “He who can control redistricting can control Congress.” At her presentation Wednesday at Henderson High School, Fair Districts PA Chair Carol Kuniholm used this quote to illustrate the consequences and effects of gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and across the United States.  Gerrymandering is the manipulation of voter district lines to benefit one party or group over another. While the practice has been happening for centuries, the new technology behind data mapping makes it even easier to accomplish today.  “This is a nonpartisan issue,” Kuniholm said. “Voters are not parties, they are people. In the traditional way of gerrymandering, they are left out of the picture.” She then explained different methods of gerrymandering, reviewed a brief history of gerrymandering in the sixth and seventh districts in Pennsylvania, and outlined proposed legislation that is intended to stop the practice in the Commonwealth, which is a large political swing state.  Kuniholm’s talk was attended by a full house in the Henderson auditorium and was presented by Fair Districts PA and the League of Women Voters of Chester County. Both groups strive to change the map drawing process for state and congressional districts in Pennsylvania.

EDITORIAL: It’s time to fix mess of redistricting
Pottstown Mercury Editorial POSTED: 02/24/17, 9:42 AM EST | UPDATED: 1 DAY AGO
To the victor goes the spoils. It’s an old saying, but never more accurate when it comes to the way Pennsylvania’s Congressional districts are drawn.  Consider, for instance, the 7th Congressional, which covers a swath of southeastern Pennsylvania. Pat Meehan has been the 7th District congressman since winning office in 2010. You might remember that’s also the year Democrat Joe Sestak gave up the seat to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. Meehan rolled to an easy win, just as he has in to successive elections since.  The 7th District was once considered a toss-up after Sestak ended Curt Weldon’s 20-year reign in Washington. But something changed.  That something is called redistricting. Done every 10 years supposedly to reflect changes noted in the census, it instead usually reflects partisan politics and those in control making sure things remain that way.  Don’t automatically shovel the blame on Republicans. Democrats have been guilty of doing the same thing when they hold the reins of power.  The 7th District is now a bizarre amalgam of suburban Philadelphia. It covers the bulk of Delaware County, but it now zigs and zags to include five different counties, including small parts of Berks, Chester, Montgomery and even a sliver of Lancaster counties.

Baer: The gerrymander slayer: Meet PA's grandma on a mission
Philly Daily News by John Baer, Political Columnist Updated: FEBRUARY 26, 2017 5:26 PM EST
CAROL KUNIHOLM of Exton, a 61-year old grandmother of three, is on a mission most view impossible: Get gerrymandering out of Pennsylvania politics.  She's a Mount Vernon, N.Y., native who grew up as "the poorest kid in a pretty wealthy community" with good schools that she says shaped her life. She has a Penn PhD in American literature, and worked as a youth pastor with at-risk kids in Philly's Kensington neighborhood. She and her husband have three grown children. He works for the American Bible Society in Philly's historic district.  Now she's running Fair Districts PA, an effort aimed at ending gerrymandering - the practice of politicians drawing congressional and legislative district lines to protect themselves by diminishing or extinguishing electoral competition.  Pennsylvania is routinely ranked among the nation's most gerrymandered states.  For more than a year, Kuniholm's been pushing electoral reform hard on social media and at public meetings. She's talking and working with state lawmakers and groups affiliated with the effort, including the Committee of Seventy, Common Cause, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, and the Commonwealth Foundation.

“The property tax measure under consideration would divert school costs from property taxes to sales and income tax increases without changing the distribution of resources –meaning that poorer taxpayers would support lavish spending in wealthy districts without seeing more money for their own schools. The tax credit program, called the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) is called "vouchers lite" by opponents.”
Philly community action meeting draws hundreds
Councilwoman Gym's event sought to channel protesters' energy into action.
The notebook by Greg Windle February 24, 2017 — 5:51pm
"Behold the face of true democracy.”
The shout came from one of more than 500 activists packed into the Arch Street United Methodist Church during the first break at City Councilwoman Helen Gym’s Thursday night community action meeting, attended by both veteran activists and those inspired by the election results to get involved in local politics for the first time.  The meeting, called “Beyond the Protests,” sought to channel the energy of those protesting President Trump into organizing around specific political causes.  Attendees first entered the church to a crowded room full of tables run by 20 local organizations representing progressive causes from immigration reform to racial and economic justice – some newly formed and others that have been around for years.  Participants came from 20 zip codes, and by the end of the night they had donated more than $18,000 to the organizations and made more than 1,700 commitments to volunteer.  At the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ table, the union distributed “Know Your Rights” information sheets for undocumented students and families in both English and Spanish. They also handed out a sheet on state legislation that the PFT is organizing to oppose: the elimination of property taxes and increasing the amount of money in the program that gives tax credits to businesses for donating to organizations that give students scholarships to private and parochial schools. 

Local officials critical of education funding
Williamsport Sun Gazette by MEGAN E. BLOOM Reporter FEB 26, 2017
School districts in Lycoming County are in line to receive increases in basic education and special education funding under Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget for 2017-18, but not enough to balance the rising costs of retirement, health care and general expenses that administrators cannot control, local school officials say.  “The state is not keeping up with its obligation, and it is affecting local taxpayers,” said Christina Bason, Montoursville Area School District superintendent.  Montoursville’s proposed state allocation is $6.99 million in basic education funding, a $332,000 increase from the 2016-17 allocation  of $6.66 million, according to the state Department of Education. Special education funding would see a $14,000 increase from $1.23 million to $1.25 million in the next school year.  Mandated costs  Two mandated costs are retirement and cyberschools which continue to rise. In 2006, Montoursville paid $509,350 in retirement and in 2016, $3.17 million, according to Bason.  For cyberschools, the district paid $70,900 in 2006 and $270,800 last year, she said. If a student leaves the district to learn online, the district loses some basic education funding while it still has to pay for that student’s education.  With rising costs, the community has to pick up the slack with real estate taxes. She said the community pays for 56 percent of the overall cost of the district’s operations, while the state pays 42 percent and the federal government contributes the remaining 2 percent.

Letters to the Editor: Don’t give up on students ‘left behind’
Delco Times Letter by Barbara Scott, Nether Providence POSTED: 02/24/17, 8:20 PM EST
To the Times: In Senator Toomey’s op-ed (2/17) about the new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, he tells the story of his childhood experience transferring from public school to a private, church-related high school. He implies that opportunity saved his education. He goes on to argue that Betsy DeVos wants to give every child the same sort of opportunity, and declares: “DeVos refuses to give up on any child.”  The flaw in Secretary DeVos’ plan, of course, is that there will be millions of children left behind in the “failing schools” when the wealthier students use their tax credits to fund private, church-based schools. The students left behind – the ones who expected a decent, secular, public education funded by the taxes all of us pay, the same decent, secular, public education we have offered for generations past – those students are the ones Betsy DeVos appears to be perfectly willing to “give up on.” Those students are the backbone of this country, and giving up on them is giving up on our future.

No more school taxes? The prospect worries DV officials
The legislature's proposed new law will unfairly penalize fiscally prudent districts like DV
Pike County Courier By Anya Tikka PUBLISHED FEB 23, 2017 AT 1:39 PM
“With the elimination of property taxes comes the total elimination of taxing authority by locally elected school boards and a total undercutting of local control. As a result, locally elected school board members will be rendered useless.”
MILFORD — The state legislature's proposal to eliminate school property taxes across the state is worrying Delaware Valley School District officials.  “They’re talking about ending school property taxes, and replacing them with higher income and sales taxes," said Superintendent John Bell. "These are big issues, and there are lots of ramifications.”  He said the law will, in the long run, hurt those most vulnerable. And, he said, the district will lose control of its revenue. If the law is passed, the result will be deteriorating school buildings, causing health and safety hazards, and eventually cutbacks of both staff and teachers, said Bell. It will decide how much a school district will get in state aid based on their last known baseline — that is, the 2016-17 budget — which he said will unfairly penalize fiscally prudent districts.  DV has not raised property taxes for the last seven years out of ten.  “It’s going to come to haunt us, in respect we’re going to have low baseline," Bell said.

“Brewster co-sponsored the bill last year because taxpayers wanted tax reform, he said. Now, he hopes that it will start what he said is an important conversation about how to improve school funding and maintain the stability of the public school system.”
Movement to eliminate school property taxes pushes for support in Western Pennsylvania
Pocono Record By Jamie Martines and Brian Rittmeyer, The Valley News-Dispatch Posted Feb 25, 2017 at 7:50 PM
TARENTUM, PA. (TNS) Local supporters of eliminating school property taxes think spending by districts is out of control: Schools are overstaffed, class sizes are too small and pensions are too big.  They say the responsibility to pay for those costs falls on homeowners — an expanding, aging population who increasingly cannot afford to stay in their homes.  "But I want to stress the word 'everybody' — not just the property owners, everybody — has the responsibility," said Catherine Fike, a resident of Westmoreland County's Southmoreland School District who is working to raise local support for legislation to abolish school property taxes.  Complaints about high taxes to fund schools and discussions about how to address them aren't new.  The Property Tax Independence Act was most recently introduced in both the state House and Senate in the 2015-16 session.  The legislation proposed eliminating school property taxes on residential and commercial property and recovering that revenue — about $14 billion per year, according to the state Independent Fiscal Office — by raising the sales tax and personal income tax across the state. School districts could continue to collect property taxes to pay off existing debt under the proposal.

State Sen. Blake to introduce pension reform
A local lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that could give school districts pension relief.
At his annual legislative breakfast Friday, Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, told attendees his plan would save schools $80 million immediately.  While Blake is still finalizing details, he may introduce the plan as early as next week. The plan includes refinancing state pension debt, moving the retail portion of the state’s liquor control board to the pension portfolio and offering new employees a defined contribution 401(k) plan or the current option, a defined-benefit plan. The changes would shift risk away from taxpayers and would affect both the Public School Employees’ Retirement System and the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System.

Dilemmas arise as enrollment drops in Westmoreland County school districts
Trib Live by JAMIE MARTINES  | Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, 2:30 p.m.
Pennsylvania's population is aging and shrinking, a two-decade trend that has resulted in enrollment drops at all but one of Westmoreland County's 17 school districts.  But that doesn't translate into proportionately lower expenses, experts say.   “Just because you have declining enrollment doesn't mean you can save a couple million dollars here or there,” said Jonathan Johnson, senior policy analyst at the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, an agency providing policy research for the General Assembly. School officials worry because the number of students impacts how much state funding districts receive. Fewer students could mean less money, and it's not easy to adjust spending to compensate, officials say. While the state funding formula includes a provision that assures schools receive no less money than they did the previous year, even if enrollment declines, it adds nothing to offset rising expenses.

RTM wrestles with bottom line
Delco Times By Leslie Krowchenko, Times Correspondent POSTED: 02/26/17, 11:31 PM EST
UPPER PROVIDENCE >> The message was clear Saturday from those attending the first of four Rose Tree Media School District budget process taxpayer forums.  Make sure the budget decisions made by the school board have as little impact on students as possible.  In a new approach, approximately 65 residents shared their ideas to help set priorities in developing the 2017-2018 budget. The procedure was introduced by Dr. Harris Sokoloff of the Penn Project for Civic Engagement and facilitated by moderators from the organization.  “Your comments will serve to advise the school board on ways to address the budget gap,” he said. “This is not easy work.”

Cheltenham says goodbye to same old classrooms, hello to hands-on learning
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer  @Kathy_Boccella | Updated: JANUARY 11, 2017 — 5:07 PM EST
The year that Colin McCarthy spent at the Philadelphia Navy Yard with high school seniors from some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods turned out to be far more than just a quirky pit stop in a mid-career conversion from marketing executive to public schoolteacher.  As McCarthy watched students ditch the timeworn desk rows and math drills of a traditional high school to work around a conference table on long-term, community-oriented projects, such as bringing solar power to their learning space, he grew convinced he was seeing the future of American education. And he became an evangelist.  “I want to be the Johnny Appleseed of project-based learning,” said McCarthy, 49, who now is spearheading an ambitious $350,000 foundation-backed program to bring the innovative approach to Montgomery County's Cheltenham School District next fall. He envisions it becoming a showcase for other schools in the region.

Commentary: Philly's underfunded schools, undervalued teachers
Inquirer Opinion By George Bezanis Updated: FEBRUARY 27, 2017 — 3:01 AM EST
George Bezanis is a social studies teacher at Central High School. He serves as the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' representative at Central, and is a leader of the union's Caucus of Working Educators. 
This week, a billboard is scheduled to go up on southbound Interstate 95 before the Center City exit with the words "Welcome to Philadelphia: Where we don't value our public school children. 5-plus years without a raise for our teachers."  The message will be signed "with love," and be accompanied by photos of School Reform Commission member Bill Green, Superintendent William R. Hite, and Mayor Kenney.  The thousands of dollars needed for this project were crowdsourced in just five days with an average donation of under $30 from teachers, parents, and public school advocates throughout the city. What has driven educators to shame our public officials into action? Why have things gotten so desperate?

Betsy DeVos is Michigan's worst export: Sam Inglot
PennLive Op-Ed  By Sam Inglot on February 26, 2017 at 9:00 AM, updated February 26, 2017 at 9:02 AM
Sam Inglot is deputy communications director at Progress Michigan, a progressive communications hub and government watchdog group. 
Watching Betsy DeVos' face plastered across every TV and website for weeks on end as she slogged her way to become Secretary of Education was like reliving a nightmare we've experienced in Michigan for years. And it's a something that folks in Pennsylvania should wake up to as well.  When a friend on the East Coast sent me the piece written by Matthew Brouillette, formerly of the Commonwealth Foundation, the Betsy DeVos he was describing was not the DeVos I knew.  Brouillette said DeVos "has fought to improve conventional public schools while simultaneously expanding alternative school options."  That came to news to me, as someone who was born and raised in Michigan and attended public schools in the Great Lakes State my entire life, I've only known and seen how DeVos's name is held in contempt when crossed with public education.  I then realized I knew little about Commonwealth Foundation, and after a quick search, it all became clear.

Is anti-Trump wave spurring candidates for school, council seats?
Inquirer by Maria Panaritis, Staff Writer  @panaritism | Updated: FEBRUARY 26, 2017 — 3:27 PM EST
Bucks County Democratic Party Chairman John Cordisco is planning a municipal-election assault on nearly two dozen GOP-leaning towns in his suburban Philadelphia battleground.  And, like other Democratic leaders across the politically crucial suburbs, he is gunning to capitalize on a wave of anti-Trump activism. He has hired a new staffer to help candidates collect nominating signatures to appear on ballots for local school district and municipal races.  Turnout at recent petition events has been high, even in Republican towns, he said.  “We have all hands on deck,” said Cordisco, whose county leans Democratic in voter registration but whose local offices remain dominated by Republicans. “I’m truly excited.”  Normally, Democrats stay home for the low-turnout races upon which Republicans, who control Washington and Harrisburg, have built their electoral power.  But local Democratic chiefs say this year is different: A slew of liberal candidates and volunteers have come forward to say they will run for school board, council, and supervisor seats.  In some GOP-dominated towns, Democrats already have full slates of candidates, two weeks before the March 7  deadline to get on the ballot.

H.R.610 - To distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools. 115th Congress (2017-2018)
Sponsor:           Rep. King, Steve [R-IA-4] (Introduced 01/23/2017)
Committees:      House - Education and the Workforce
Latest Action:    01/23/2017 Referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. 

How Citizens United gave Republicans a bonanza of seats in U.S. state legislatures
Washington Post By Nour Abdul-Razzak, Carlo Prato and Stéphane Wolton February 24
This week, federal election commissioner and former commission chair Ann Ravel publicly announced her upcoming resignation. She didn’t mince words: “The mission of the FEC is essential to ensure a fair electoral process. Yet since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, our political campaigns have been awash in unlimited, often dark money.”  Citizens United is one of the most controversial Supreme Court rulings of recent years. Issued in 2010, it establishes that “outside spending” in elections qualifies as constitutionally protected speech, effectively removing restrictions that date back to 1947. As a result, corporations and unions have the right to spend unlimited (and largely undisclosed) amounts of money advocating in favor of or against specific candidates. Many, including President Barack Obama, have disagreed with the decision. During the past presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly endorsed this view, referring to the super PACs which emerged as a result of Citizens United as a “total phony deal.” Calls for change have also come from others within the Republican Party.  Could President Trump lead an effort to reform campaign finance? There’s one challenge: Our recent research shows that Citizens United has earned Republicans a substantial number of state legislative seats.  Our research focuses on state legislative elections because we can more easily isolate the effect of Citizens United compared with other factors that influence election outcomes at various levels (such as the popularity of the president). Before 2010, 23 states had bans on corporations and union funding of outside spending. As a result of the court’s ruling, these states had to change their campaign laws. We can then compare the changes before and after Citizens United in these 23 states with the same changes in the 27 states whose laws did not change. The effect of the court’s ruling is then simply the differences between these two before-and-after comparisons.

DeVos praises virtual schools, but new research points to problems
A new study adds to the body of research showing that online-only schools don’t serve low-performing students
The Hechinger Report by NICHOLE DOBO February 22, 2017
It was the best of times and the worst of times for virtual schools, which allow students to go to school without ever stepping into a school building.  Online schools received yet another hearty endorsement last Friday from the new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who doubled down on her opinion that these schools should expand – without any hint that she recognizes there are serious quality-control issues.  Meanwhile, an important study published last week in Education Researcher added to the growing pile of research that reveals that online-only schools tend to attract and harm the most vulnerable students. The study from RAND Corporation and New York University found that Ohio students with low test scores who enroll in online-only schools tend to fall even further behind. High-performing students fare better, but they still do worse than they would have done if they had not enrolled in a virtual school, according to the study.  The findings for the lowest achieving students are particularly troubling considering the high stakes for children who are already on the edge of failure. And, as it turns out, low-performing students tend to be drawn to cyber charter schools, the study found.  “If that’s a population they want to serve, then they need to design a system that is better for [those] students,” said Andrew McEachin, of RAND Corporation, an author of the new report.

Actually, Betsy DeVos, There Is Such A Thing As A Free Lunch
For many children, that free lunch at school is the only meal they will eat that day.
Huffington Post By Caroline Bologna02/24/2017 01:17 pm ET | Updated 1 day ago
When Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, she began her remarks with a brief introduction.  “I’m Betsy DeVos. You may have heard some of the ‘wonderful’ things the mainstream media has called me lately,” she said. “I, however, pride myself on being called a mother, a grandmother, a life partner, and perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”  While DeVos’ “free lunch” statement was a joke meant to make her right-wing audience chuckle and to highlight the price tag on government programs, her choice of words was very troubling to many parents, educators and child welfare advocates.  Because the fact of the matter is, for millions of children in the United States ― all of whom she’s pledged to serve as education secretary ― there is such a thing as a free lunch. And the important role it plays in their education and well-being is no laughing matter.

What happened when one school banned homework — and asked kids to read and play instead
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss February 26 at 12:48 PM 
Mark Trifilio, principal of the public pre-K-5th grade Orchard School in Vermont, sat down with the school’s 40 educators last summer to discuss the soon-to-start new school year and homework — how much kids were getting and whether it was helping them learn.  Trifilio had been pondering the issue for some time, he said, concerned that there seemed to be an uneven homework load for students in different classrooms within the same grade and that the differences from grade to grade didn’t make sense. He had looked up research on homework effectiveness and learned that, generally, homework in elementary school isn’t linked to better academic performance — except for after-school reading.  So at that meeting with teachers, he proposed an experiment: stopping all homework in every grade and asking students to read on their own at school — or, if they were not ready to read on their own, to do it with a parent or guardian. He said he was surprised when every one of them — classroom teachers as well as those who work with special-education students and English-language learners — signed on to the idea.  “All 40 voted yes,” he said, “and not just yes, but a passionate yes. When do you get 40 people to agree on something?”
So they instituted the policy, as this page on the school website shows:
No Homework Policy
Orchard School Homework Information
Student’s Daily Home Assignment

1. Read just-right books every night —
(and have your parents read to you too).
2. Get outside and play —
that does not mean more screen time.
3. Eat dinner with your family —
and help out with setting and cleaning up.
4. Get a good night’s sleep.
What’s the result?
Six months into the experiment, Trifilio says it has been a big success: Students have not fallen back academically and may be doing better, and now they have “time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions.”

Briefing: Public Education Funding in Pennsylvania Tue, February 28, 2017
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM EST Strath Haven Middle School 200 South Providence Road Nether Providence Township
By Public Interest Law Center along with Delco Indivisible and Moving the Needle/Indivisible Swarthmore Education Committees
Join attorney Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg for a briefing on:
·         the basics of education funding
·         the PA school funding lawsuit
·         the property tax elimination bill and how it would affect school funding
This presentation will be followed by a discussion on how we can mobilize to protect public education in PA.

Public Education Funding Briefing; Wed, March 8, 2017 8:30 AM – 10:00 AM at United Way Bldg in Philly
Public Interest Law Center email/website February 14, 2017
Amid a contentious confirmation battle in Washington D.C., public education has been front and center in national news. But what is happening at home is just as--if not more--important: Governor Wolf just announced his 2017-2018 budget proposal, including $100 million in new funding for basic education. State legislators are pushing a bill that would eliminate local school taxes by increasing income and sales taxes. And we at the Law Center are waiting on a decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as to whether or not our school funding lawsuit can go to trial.   How do all of these things affect Pennsylvania's schools, and the children who rely on them? Come find out!   Join Jennifer Clarke, Michael Churchill and me for one of two briefings on the nuts and bolts of how public education funding works in Pennsylvania and how current proposals and developments could affect students and teachers. (The content of both briefings will be identical.) 
The briefings are free and open to the public, but we ask that you please RSVP. 

Briefing: Public Education Funding in Pennsylvania March 15, from 5:30-7:00 p.m.,
On March 15, from 5:30-7:00 p.m., join attorneys Michael Churchill, Jennifer Clarke and Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg for a briefing on public education.
Topics include:
·         the basics of education funding
·         the school funding lawsuit
·         the property tax elimination bill and how it would affect school funding
1.5 CLE credits available to PA licensed attorneys.

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 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 #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

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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