Monday, February 6, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 6: While you’re busy redialing Sen. Toomey about DeVos, PA is busy expanding its supervoucher program that diverts tax $ to unaccountable private & religious schools by $75 million. Call your legislators to oppose HB250.

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup Feb 6, 2017
While you’re busy redialing Sen. Toomey about DeVos, PA is busy expanding its supervoucher program that diverts tax $ to unaccountable private & religious schools by $75 million.  Call your legislators to oppose HB250.

Announcing the Governor’s 2017-2018 Budget Address
Governor Wolf’s Blog February 03, 2017 By: The Office of Governor Tom Wolf
Today we’re announcing the date and time of the governor’s biggest policy speech of the year — the annual Budget Address.  On Tuesday, February 7th at 11:30 AM, Governor Tom Wolf will deliver his Budget Address to a joint session of the General Assembly at the State Capitol in Harrisburg.  Here are all the ways you can follow the speech on Tuesday:
·         Watch the address on Facebook Live at
·         Watch the live stream on
·         Follow @GovernorTomWolf on Twitter, where we’ll be live-tweeting the speech
In addition to updating Pennsylvanians on the state of the Commonwealth, the governor’s address will lay out his budget plan for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

PSBA State Budget Update webinar – an inside look Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 5:30-6:15 p.m.
Get an immediate, exclusive look at the 2017-18 state budget proposal and what it could mean for your district. In this complimentary, members-only webinar, Gov. Wolf will send a special message to school directors in a video. PSBA’s Assistant Executive Director for Public Policy John Callahan will follow with a live overview of the budget proposal and will take questions. Click here to register today for the webinar on 

Pa. school survey paints bleak budget picture
Delco Times By Evan Brandt, on Twitter POSTED: 02/04/17, 11:10 PM EST
A survey of Pennsylvania school districts released last week indicates many sinking districts are now “treading water” thanks to the “life vest” thrown to them with the $200 million increase in education funding last year. But as mandated costs rise, they are waiting to see if Gov. Tom Wolf’s next budget can put public education on solid ground.
School officials across the state are casting a wary eye toward Feb. 7 and hoping they will be thrown a fiscal lifeline.  On Tuesday, Gov. Wolf will release his budget plan for the coming fiscal year, a plan that must contend with a $700 million shortfall under expected 2016 revenues and a $3 billion gap for the coming fiscal year.  That’s not a promising foundation for increased funding for public education, which is bad news for districts where, according to a new statewide survey, property taxes are rising, along with class sizes, while reserve funds and staff levels are falling and academic programs are being cut.

Blogger note: Pennsylvania and its 500 school districts are paying $5.9 billion in combined retirement fund contributions this year, about a six-fold increase since 2010.  From 2008-09 to 2014-15 total net statewide 500 districts pension payments have skyrocketed from $231M to $1.03B  From 2008-09 to 2014-15 total pension payments for Delaware County’s 15 school districts have skyrocketed from $27M to $121M.  None of the "pension reform" legislation being considered by the legislature would address these costs in the short term. At the same time, the legislature is considering expanding its EITC/OSTC tax credit programs by diverting an additional $75 million to unaccountable private and religious schools. If they can find $75 million for that, how about using it to provide $75 million in property tax relief to offset these pension increases?
Skyrocketing pension costs a ‘huge, huge burden’ for Pa. schools
Delco Times By Angie Mason, The Associated Press POSTED: 02/04/17, 5:49 AM EST
YORK, Pa. >> 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.

Constituents: We don't feel we're getting through to Toomey
Despite universal opposition from Democrats and at least two Republican U.S. senators, billionaire conservative donor Betsy DeVos is edging closer to becoming the country's next education secretary.  Across Pennsylvania, educators, activists and voters are attempting to halt the nomination through the only avenue available — convincing GOP Senator Pat Toomey to vote against DeVos.  For the last two weeks, Toomey's offices have been experiencing the highest sustained volume of calls, emails, faxes, and letters of the senator's entire tenure.  Because of the barrage, most of the thousands of calls received at the senator's seven offices -- six in Pennsylvania, one in Washington D.C. — go to voicemail, and the voicemailboxes are nearly always full.  Each office has five phone lines, but Toomey spokesman Steve Kelly said even with all hands on deck, it's been difficult to keep up.  Asked how many calls have been received and what they were about, the office declined to reveal any numbers or records.  Kelly noted, "Senator Toomey is very much aware of the magnitude of the call volume and receives a roundup of constituent communications and their positions."  That hasn't seemed to make much of a difference, though.

Blogger opinion: if the PA Legislature wants to help school districts control costs they should consider passing legislation that would require parents seeking cyber education for their kids to enroll in school district cyber programs if they exist, instead of throwing tax dollars at chronically underperforming cyber charter schools.
Cyber charter school enrollment falling among Lancaster and Lebanon county students
Lancaster Online by JEFF HAWKES | Staff Writer Feb 1, 2017
Cyber charter schools aren’t attracting local students like they used to.  At the same time, more students here are opting to take online courses offered by their home district.  And that’s saving school districts money.  Enrollment in cyber charter schools peaked at 1,720 Lancaster and Lebanon county students in the 2014-15 school year.  Enrollment has since fallen to 1,384 pupils, or about the same level as seven years ago, according to Intermediate Unit 13 data.  Cyber charters are privately run online schools that bill school districts for each student enrolled. Cyber charters are popular choices of homeschooled students. Fourteen cyber charters operate in Pennsylvania.  The decline in local cyber charter enrollment comes as more districts are beefing up their online offerings, many of them through Lancaster-Lebanon Virtual Solutions, an alternative to cyber charters the intermediate unit launched in 2011.  In the first year, 12 local school districts joined Virtual Solutions, and 496 students took at least one online class, said Colette Cairns, education innovation specialist for IU 13.  Currently, Cairns said, 15 districts participate and 1,106 students are taking at least one class. A total of 564 are full-time online students.

Editorial: Pa.’s property tax ‘reform’ bill falls short
Delco Times Editorial POSTED: 02/04/17, 11:07 PM EST | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
The property tax reform legislation proposed in the state Senate is the supposed answer to more than three decades of debate and wishful thinking among many in Pennsylvania.  But if the measure proposed by Schuylkill County Republican state Sen. David Argall passes, local taxpayers may find themselves in worse shape than before.  The bill would not eliminate the property tax in every school district, and the added tax burden in income and sales tax shared by all would send more tax dollars to richer districts than poor ones.  In districts that currently have existing debt, which includes many in the growing suburbs of southeastern Pennsylvania, where school construction has been a necessity, school property taxes would not be eliminated. Under Argall’s bill, as much property tax as is necessary to pay down existing debts would remain until it was all paid.  As one district business manager explained recently, the annual debt payments for projects of the past few years add up to about $5 million, or 8 percent of the proposed $66.4 million budget for 2017-2018. That means about 15 to 20 percent of the current school property tax levy would remain for the property owners in that district.  Another issue is that the bill eliminates property taxes for businesses and industries as well as homeowners. The millions of dollars that come into local school district coffers from a large pharmaceutical company or a major manufacturer will go away. Instead, those dollars will come out of the pockets of working taxpayers and consumers in the form of increased income tax and higher sales taxes.

Lehigh Valley school leaders: Ending property tax will have 'unintended consequences'
Sarah M. Wojcik Contact Reporter Of The Morning Call February 2, 2017
Public education leaders highlight funding challenges as state considers eliminating school property taxes  Lehigh Valley education leaders say they'll need the public on their side if they want to win some of the toughest battles they've faced in Harrisburg in years.  Among the fights is looming state legislation that could wipe away school property taxes, instead funding public education with higher sales and income taxes.  Advocates praise the legislation as a way to rescue homeowners from rising school taxes. But critics say that ridding districts of the steady revenue stream would introduce uncertainty, burden the working poor and allow businesses to avoid contributing to the tax base.  Stacy Gober, chief financial officer at the Bethlehem Area School District, said lawmakers already know where district leaders stand on the issue.  "They don't want to hear from us anymore," Gober said during a gathering of area school officials at Salisbury School District on Wednesday. "They want to hear from individuals."

"The proposal does not address the true cost-drivers of public education spending — pensions, charter tuition payments, special education costs and health care," Robinson said. "All are costs out of the control of the local school board."
Plan to eliminate property taxes gives Lehigh Valley school officials nightmares
Andrew Wagaman Contact Reporter Of The Morning Call February 4, 2016
The school property tax may be on the outs, exciting taxpayer associations but terrifying school officials.  Most Lehigh Valley school districts rely heavily on property taxes — much more so than districts statewide, on average.  That's why district officials are worried about a movement to eliminate the tax that has been gaining momentum in the Legislature since the election.  Buoyed by a coalition of taxpayer associations, state Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, is expected to reintroduce a bill he sponsored in 2015 that died on a tie-breaking vote cast by Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, Argall's office confirmed last week. He and others have said changes in the Senate this term — two newly elected senators have said they will support the bill — make passage more likely.  Paying careful attention will be school directors and administrators from 15 Lehigh Valley school districts which, a Morning Call analysis found, derive at least half of their revenues from property taxes. With those taxes come stability and certainty, said John Vignone, director of business administration for the Parkland School District, which claims a region-high 71 percent of its total funding from the property tax.

“Of primary concern to school directors is loss of local control over public schools, and shift to unstable and volatile funding sources.  Noting that property taxes comprise the majority of funding for Pennsylvania school districts and approximately 78 percent of Haverford’s revenue, the resolution states that “property taxes collected locally stay in the community where they are levied and enable locally determined and consistent delivery of educational programming that would be undermined and disrupted if funds were to flow through the state.”
Haverford school board denounces property tax elimination bill
Delco Times By Lois Puglionesi, Times Correspondent POSTED: 02/05/17, 10:49 PM EST
HAVERFORD >> School directors voted unanimously to adopt a resolution stating opposition to a proposed property tax elimination bill.  The resolution addresses alleged flaws in Senate Bill/House Bill 76, also known as the Property Tax Independence Act, which proposes to eliminate school property taxes, effective July 1, except to cover costs of existing debt.  SB 76 calls for replacing these funds, expected to total $14 billion statewide this year, through an increase in Personal Income Tax from 3.07 percent to 4.95 percent, and an increase in the Sales and Use Tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. Additionally, sales tax would be applied to more goods and services, including food and clothing items, nonprescription drugs, home health care services, daycare, legal services and more.  Proponents say SB 76 would end an archaic and regressive tax system that forces many Pennsylvania residents, especially senior citizens, to lose their homes.  Although it was greeted with initial skepticism, SB 76 came one vote shy of winning Senate approval in 2015. State Sen. David Argall, R-29, plans to reintroduce the bill this legislative session. 

Radnor Residents Encouraged to Join RTSD School Board in Opposing Elimination of School Property Tax
Radnor Township School District website February 1, 2017 
At a special board meeting on January 31, the Radnor Township School District Board of School Directors unanimously voted to adopt a resolution opposing legislation that would eliminate school property taxes and urged Radnor residents to take action to support the cause.   The proposal is currently being considered by state legislators and, if passed, has the potential to leave schools dramatically underfunded by eliminating school property taxes and replacing them with increases in personal income tax and sales tax, which are subject to shortfalls during economic downturns.  Many organizations beyond those in public education are also opposed to the elimination of school property taxes.

TESD Encourages Resident Involvement in Opposing School Property Tax Elimination
Tredyffrin/Easttown School District website January 24, 2017
At the January 23, 2017 School Board meeting, the Tredyffrin/Easttown School Board adopted a resolution opposing legislation that would eliminate school property taxes. This proposal is currently being considered by state legislators and, if passed, has the potential to leave schools dramatically underfunded by eliminating school property taxes and replacing them with increases in personal income tax and sales tax, which are subject to shortfalls during economic downturns.

“Lastly, our school board members live among us, and their property values are to a large part determined by the quality of the schools they are responsible for. Their meetings are public and nearby. The Legislature in Harrisburg is totally opaque. The “leadership” determines what will come to a vote without the public or even our own legislators knowing what is in a bill.  Giving the Legislature, which is so egregiously profligate with our money, total control over local school funding is idiocy, to say nothing of the hugely shifting burdens to the average family struggling to make ends meet.”
Giving state control of school funding is idiocy
Bucks County Courier Times Letter by Peter LaMontagne February 5, 2017
It would be nice if we all could enjoy the benefits of government and have someone else pay for them. Harrisburg (including our own representatives) is singularly incompetent at managing money. Lawmakers voted themselves huge unfunded pensions and are incapable of coming up with a budget on time, and what they produce is bungled and hugely in the red.  So they wish to eliminate some (not all) of the property taxes that support our schools. What they are doing is transferring the tax burden without honestly explaining what they are proposing. Have you noticed your representatives have not sent you a mailer discussing whose tax burden will increase and whose is lightened?  Of all the taxes we pay, the property tax is the hardest to evade. The wealthy can game the income tax and the sales taxes, but not property taxes. So lawmakers intend to increase two taxes that can be evaded and eliminate the one that cannot. The focus in the newspapers is on residential property taxes, but the big giveaway is to commercial property owners. Like us all, they benefit from government services but now pay few of the costs, shifting the tax burden to the great majority of us who do not own commercial properties.

Time to end 'open checkbook' for local schools | Letter
Express-Times Letters to the Editor  by John Kardelis on February 03, 2017 at 12:18 PM
I see that that Lehigh Valley education leaders are not in favor of losing the open checkbooks they have over the property owners of the state. They say changing the the way school districts are funded will hurt the poor. What about all the homeowners who never had any children, or elderly people who can't afford to stay in their homes because of increasing school property taxes?  It's about time the poor people who keep having all the kids -- and get more tax breaks and assistance the more kids they have -- start paying some of the burden. Harrisburg legislators are the last people I want to give more tax revenue to handle, but homeowners need a break now.  Any school administrator who sent out letters with taxpayer money, asking the public to tell state representatives to vote against eliminating school property tax, should be terminated. Their huge salaries are a big part of the problem with the school system. It should be up to the taxpayers how much money a school spends on ball fields, pools and building upgrades that are done, not just a few on a school board. The open checkbook has to close once and for all.

Cambria County educators want funding
WeAreCentralPA By Lindsey Kennett | Published 02/03 2017 07:01PM
Johnstown, Cambria County, Pa.
The Campaign for Fair Education Funding is working to make sure that schools in the state get the money they need and that the funding is sustainable from year to year.  "We know we're not going to get $400 million per year. So what they're asking for is at least make it so that it's sustainable, so they can do better planning. Because right now, it's all unknowns," said Dr. Michael Thew, Circuit Rider for the Campaign for Fair Education Funding.  Speakers at the event say they're grateful for the funding schools in the state have received in the past couple years, but they want to make sure they continue to get adequate funding in the future.

Official stumps in Johnstown for change in school funding
Trib Dem By Mark Pesto February 3, 2017
State officials should make the formula that determines school district funding permanent, an official from a statewide education nonprofit said Friday afternoon at Greater Johnstown High School.   Campaign for Fair Education Funding circuit rider Michael Thew said the Basic Education Funding Commission formula that now determines how much state money each Pennsylvania school district gets, can change every time a new state budget is adopted. That means district officials don’t know how much funding they’ll receive – and thus can’t prepare their own budgets – until after the state budget is released, Thew said.  That potentially can jeopardize extracurricular activities, or even necessities like school buses, he said.  The problem is exacerbated when passage of the state budget is delayed, as it was last year, Thew added.

Proposal to change school funding in Fox Chapel rapped
Post Gazette By Rita Michael February 3, 2017 12:00 AM
Calling it a “money grab” by the state, a loss of local control of schools and the end of quality public education, officials at a standing-room-only crowd at Fox Chapel Area High School Tuesday night said a proposal to change how Pennsylvania schools are funded is a bad idea. The proposal in the Legislature, which would significantly reduce school property taxes while raising other levies, also got a frosty reception in Peters on Monday night.  At an emergency public meeting called by Fox Chapel District Forum, letters, phone numbers and websites were distributed so taxpayers could let their state representatives know they are opposed to legislation that would fund Pennsylvania schools by adding 1 percent to the state sales tax (as well as adding taxes to food, clothing and other goods and services) and raising the state income tax 4.95 percent, from 3.07 percent, according to the Associated Press.  The forum is an organization obligated to act in the best interests of children, said Elizabeth Klamut, president of the group. “This legislation is obviously not,” she said. “Hence the calls, emails and texts inviting you to this emergency meeting.” A vote could come as early as February or March, so parents were encouraged to contact their senators and representatives right away.

A month in, Philly pre-K faces a paradox: high demand and empty seats
A month after it began Philadelphia's pre-K program still has 500 unfilled seats, but officials and advocates praise the city's progress and say open slots don't indicate soft demand.  About 1,500 of the 2,000 slots made available through the city's sweetened beverage tax have been claimed, according to the Mayor's Office of Education. Another 600 children have applied to the PHLpreK program, but have yet to enroll at a specific early child care center.  Many of those families are stuck on waiting lists or still shopping around. Right now the city is trying to readjust its distribution of new pre-K seats so that centers with backlogs can take on more students. "There are a lot of kids on waiting lists at different providers," said Mary Strasser, acting director for the city's pre-K initiative. "That's part of our rightsizing process. And we're making those adjustment today and early next week." The coexistence of both empty seats and overflow may be difficult to reconcile, but research suggests the tricky economics of pre-K make it tough to match supply and demand. Families tend to prefer sites that are close to home or work, and are unlikely to stray even a short distance for higher-quality centers.

“However, the biggest source of upward pressure on the budget for many years has been state-mandated rises in pension payments.  To underscore that point, she said if the amount the district paid in pension costs in 2009-10 had remained stable, the employer contribution would have cost Wallingford-Swarthmore about $13 million over the intervening years.  Instead, the district has had to shell out about $51.3 million for those costs during that period.”
Wallingford-Swarthmore staring at 3 percent tax hike
Delco Times By NEIL A. SHEEHAN, Times Correspondent POSTED: 02/04/17, 5:05 AM EST
NETHER PROVIDENCE >> Property owners in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District will fork over an additional 3 percent in school taxes beginning July 1 if a proposed 2017-18 budget secures final approval.  District Business Manager Martha Kew said an average taxpayer would experience an increase of $228 during the next fiscal year under the plan.  But it was another possible development – this one on the state level – that was a more urgent topic of discussion at the school board’s most recent meeting.  Superintendent Lisa Palmer expressed concern about the ramifications of legislation under consideration in Harrisburg that would result in a seismic shift in the way school districts across the commonwealth are funded. For Wallingford-Swarthmore, the effects would likely be negative, she said.  “It would have an immediate and dramatic impact on our district and our programs,” Palmer said.  The legislation calls for replacing most school property taxes with increases in both the state personal income and sales taxes, she said, adding county, municipal and school taxes covering outstanding debts would be retained. This would result in the district seeking to pay for 2017-18 costs with funding at 2016-17 levels.
“Under this legislation, that revenue (the 3-percent tax hike, generating an additional $2 million) would not be there,” Palmer said.

School reserves a factor in state budget debate
By Evan Brandt, The Mercury POSTED: 02/05/17, 9:43 AM EST | UPDATED: 17 HRS AGO
While a survey released last week shows many school districts draining their reserve funds to keep their heads above water, others are sitting on a pile of cash in reserves in excess of $56 million — and some of them are right here in southeastern Pennsylvania.  Reserves, or “fund balances,” will be a key piece on the chessboard of budget negotiations with some districts expending their entire fund balances to meet payroll and other expenses, while others may have to defend their practice of raises taxes while their reserve funds are flush.  First some basics. Fund balances are split into two different categories with “assigned” fund balances being used for specific purposes, like capital projects.  For example, for several years the Pottsgrove School District has been diverting surplus cash into a fund designed to help cover skyrocketing pension costs.  And then there are “unassigned” fund balances, essentially left over money from previous years that can be used as the school board chooses.  During the nine-month budget impasse, 80 percent of the 361 of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts responding to a statewide survey reporting tapping reserves to meet payroll and cover other recurring costs.

School choice: Eyes wide open
Hall, Hodes and Dupuis are members of The American Association of University Women State College, which is part of a nationwide network of about 1,000 branches that are dedicated to advancing equity for women and girls.
In the Centre Region, both charter and cyber charter schools operate while families in rural school districts may have no charter schools operating in their districts. The majority of these schools are for-profit entities, although some charter schools are operated by nonprofit organizations such as churches and grassroots community organizations.  With the appointment of Betsy DeVos as the new secretary of education under President Trump (not confirmed), the charter school movement in K-12 education now finds itself with a prominent advocate. DeVos also is a strong advocate for vouchers, which use tax dollars to subsidize private schools, including the religiously affiliated.  Pennsylvania’s charter school law, first passed in 1997 and revised in 2004, was intended to be a guide for the optimal relationship between charter schools and their host school districts. While the law states that school districts have oversight responsibility for the charter schools under their jurisdiction, in practice this has not been the case, particularly for cyber charters.  The charter school law was initially designed on the ideal of cooperative relationships between charter schools and districts, with the Department of Education serving as the mediator. Conflicts between the two entities are to be resolved in Harrisburg.

Richman confirmation hearing for Philly SRC seat is Tuesday
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa February 3, 2017 — 11:10am
Estelle Richman, Gov. Wolf's nominee for the School Reform Commission, has been making the rounds in Harrisburg and will have her confirmation hearing before the state Senate on Tuesday, she confirmed.  Richman said that she had met with 10 members of the Senate Education Committee and will meet with the rest on Monday, plus Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and President Pro Tem Sen. Joe Scarnati.  The hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m.  The SRC has recently undergone a major shift in membership, with three of its five members being replaced. Mayor Kenney named Joyce Wilkerson to the SRC after Marjorie Neff resigned and picked Christopher McGinley to replace Sylvia Simms, whose term expired. Wolf chose Wilkerson to be the new chair.  If confirmed, Richman will replace Feather Houstoun, who served for six years on the commission.  Major votes on new charter school applications are coming up next week, and many charter renewals are also due for a vote. The previous membership of the SRC was sharply divided on the future of charter schools.

Hundreds rally in Media to opposed DeVos pick
Delco Times By Leslie Krowchenko, Times Correspondent POSTED: 02/05/17, 10:51 PM EST
MEDIA >> The person they were addressing was not within earshot, but those assembled at the Delaware County Courthouse Sunday afternoon hope he heard them.  Several hundred teachers, parents, public school employees, union leaders and community members gathered to urge Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to vote “no” on the nomination of Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of Education. Speakers included PSEA Vice President Dolores McCracken and southeast region President Korri Brown, Upper Darby School District employee Denise Kennedy, representatives of local SEIU and the United Steelworkers Union, as well as state Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161, of Swarthmore.  “This is not about us – this is about the children of Pennsylvania who Pat Toomey is turning his back on,” said McCracken. “If she (DeVos) is confirmed, I’d like to see her come to the Chester Upland School District and tell everyone she is the right person for them.”

Philadelphia educators out in force against DeVos; 1 raises $30K for the cause
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Staff Writer  @newskag | Updated: FEBRUARY 3, 2017 — 10:04 AM EST
Jessica Tilli’s days are packed as a teacher leader at Meredith Elementary School in South Philadelphia, but she spends spare minutes calling, emailing and even faxing lawmakers to stop what she believes is a looming crisis for the children she teaches.  “I really can’t believe that an incompetent billionaire is buying oversight of 50 million schoolchildren,” said Tilli.  Progressives of all stripe have mounted an all-out attack on the nomination of President Trump’s nomination of prominent Republican donor and school-choice and voucher advocate Betsy DeVos as education secretary.   In Philadelphia, teachers have taken her selection particularly seriously.  Tilli has long been passionate about public education, she said, but has no experience planning protests. Still, she’s scheduled one for Friday after school, and expectshundreds to converge outside Sen. Pat Toomey’s Philadelphia office to publicly demand he vote against Trump’s pick, who has never attended or sent children to a public school.

Gerrymandering reform gaining grassroots momentum
Bill White Contact Reporte rOf The Morning Call February 1, 2017
Grassroots support growing for ending gerrymandering
"Nothing's riding on this except the, uh, First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country."
— Jason Robards, as Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, talking to Woodward and Bernstein in "All the President's Men."
Pennsylvania government hasn't been offering us a lot of good news.  So as I watched the Fellowship Hall at First Presbyterian Church of Allentown filling up and overflowing for last Friday night's program on "Gerrymandering and How to Create Fair Districts in Pennsylvania," I was particularly encouraged. I estimated the crowd at close to 400 people, and I suspect most of them departed that night with new determination to do their part to change the way election districts are drawn in our state.  Of all the good government reforms that have been floating around Harrisburg, this probably is the most important. And it's on the clock, since the Legislature's failure this session to pass a bill would guarantee that nothing changes until 2031.  How important is it that we transform this system from an incumbent protection plan to a way of legitimately adjusting for population changes every 10 years?  Well, there's nothing riding on this except, uh, democracy, government accountability and the ability of people to choose their elected representatives instead of the other way around.

“Here’s why: the United States educates everyone. Most other countries do not.  We have made a commitment to every single child regardless of what their parents can afford to pay, regardless of their access to transportation, regardless of whether they can afford uniforms, lunch or even if they have a home. Heck! We even provide education to children who are here illegally.  That can’t be said of many countries with which we’re often compared – especially countries comparable to the U.S. in size or diversity. So from the get-go, we have an advantage over most of the world.”
U.S. Public Schools Are Not Failing. They’re Among The Best In The World
Huffington Post by Steven Singer  02/03/2017 03:30 pm ET | Updated 19 hours ago
Steven Singer  Steven 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! 

How to watch Betsy DeVos' final confirmation vote
Elissa Robinson , Detroit Free Press 3:28 p.m. ET Feb. 3, 2017
Betsy DeVos' final confirmation vote
What: Betsy DeVos, a West Michigan native, was tapped by president-elect Donald Trump to be Secretary of Education in his cabinet. A final vote to confirm her is expected to come Tuesday, with the outcome resting on a razor-thin margin.
When: Tuesday, possibly mid-day.
Where: Washington, D.C.
Watch: The final vote can be viewed on this page as the event nears.
Livestream: Watch here on the U.S. Senate committee's website. Watch here on YouTube.

“Rock is an active philanthropist in education reform. From 2006 to 2008, Rock contributed $16.5 million to Teach for America. He also donated $1.5 million to Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), the country’s largest network of charter schools.”
Silicon Valley Investor Arthur Rock Joins Eli Broad In Concern On Betsy DeVos As Education Secretary
Forbes by Angel Au-Yeung ,   CONTRIBUTOR FEB 3, 2017 @ 02:44 PM 
A day after billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad came out against Betsy DeVos's nomination as Secretary of Education, prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist Arthur Rock expressed his concerns. Rock, who was an early investor in Apple, has long been a backer of charter schools. Rock told me in an email that "answers to many of the questions raised in [DeVos's] confirmation hearings [make me] wonder about her knowledge of the education problems facing our country.” On Friday morning, the Senate voted along party lines and advanced DeVos towards a final confirmation vote, which is expected to be next Monday.  Rock supports not-for-profit charter schools, and said he is not a fan of for-profit charters. "Betsy DeVos has not to my knowledge expressed her views on this subject," Rock said in his email. "For profit charters have a very poor record of achievement in comparison to public not for profit charters. So, if she is for all kinds of charters I would urge my senators to vote against her. If she is in favor of just non-profit public charters, I am willing to give her a second chance to answer questions from the committee [where] she might not get stage fright.”

Author Stephen King, a Maine resident, tweeted to his 2.8 million followers: “Thanks to Susan Collins for saying ‘No’ on Betsy DeVos. Notice that it's possible to be a good Republican and still say no to Donald Trump.”  A final vote is expected Tuesday, and as it stands, Vice President Mike Pence is expected to be summoned to the Capitol to push DeVos over the top. DeVos cleared a key procedural hurdle Friday morning.
DeVos opposition snowballs into avalanche
Parents, teachers, celebrities redouble efforts to sink nomination.
Politico By CAITLIN EMMA and AUSTIN WRIGHT 02/03/17 08:25 PM EST
Adversaries of Betsy DeVos are mounting a furious last-minute bid to sink her nomination for Education secretary, with tactics that include a “tie-breaker telethon” in Alaska, a flood of emails to U.S. senators and celebrity appeals to millions of Twitter followers.   Teachers unions and a ragtag assemblage of other opponents are bombarding congressional offices with tens of thousands of phone calls and more than 1 million emails — a massive but almost certainly doomed effort to vanquish one of President Donald Trump’s most controversial Cabinet picks. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, said on Twitter that the last three days had “been the busiest in Capitol switchboard history” by “almost double.” He urged opponents of DeVos to “keep it up.”  The campaign kicked into high gear this week after two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced their opposition, leaving the charter schools advocate hanging by a 50-50 thread. Just one more “no” vote and DeVos is done — a prospect that seems tantalizingly close for Democrats but that GOP leaders say they’re confident won’t happen.

How Betsy DeVos Became Trump's Least Popular Cabinet Pick
NPR by ANYA KAMENETZ February 3, 20179:31 AM ET
Of all President Donald Trump's Cabinet choices, only one currently seems at serious risk of being denied confirmation by the Senate.  The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary is a question mark after two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced they plan to vote against her.  The Senate cut off debate today after a procedural vote. Assuming no other GOP defectors, and no Democrats who cross over to support her, this could place Vice President Mike Pence in the unprecedented position of casting a tiebreaker vote early next week to push the president's nominee through. Jeff Sessions' confirmation as attorney general is also being held up so he can vote for DeVos from his current post as a senator from Alabama.

Here’s How Much Betsy DeVos And Her Family Paid To Back GOP Senators Who Will Support Her
It’s good to be a donor.
Paul Blumenthal Money in Politics Reporter, The Huffington Post 02/02/2017 07:22 pm ET
WASHINGTON ― The nomination of billionaire heiress Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education is one vote shy of failing in the Republican-controlled Senate. One thing that could come to her aid is that she and the entire DeVos family are massive Republican Party donors who helped fund the election of the remaining senators who will decide her fate. Big donors often get positions in government, ambassadorships or ceremonial titles, but rarely do they come as big as DeVos. Sitting Republican senators have received $115,000 from Betsy DeVos herself, and more than $950,000 from the full DeVos clan since 1980. In the past two election cycles alone, her family has donated $8.3 million to Republican Party super PACs.

Betsy DeVos’s School Frenemies
Eli Broad and some charter advocates sell her out to the unions.
Wall Street Journal Opinion Feb. 2, 2017 7:32 p.m. ET
Teachers unions are still hoping to block Betsy DeVos’s nomination as Education Secretary on the Senate floor. And they’ve found some unlikely charter-school allies who hope to buy political protection by throwing Mrs. DeVos to the wolves. The union abetters are self-serving and short-sighted.  Unions are trying a divide-and-conquer strategy by pitting charter-school supporters against vouchers. Mrs. DeVos has championed all forms of school choice because she understands the key to improving schools is to break the union’s government monopoly. Yet many charter backers view vouchers as a threat, and some oppose private-school choice for ideological reasons.  On Wednesday philanthropist Eli Broad, one of the nation’s biggest charter-school funders, sent a letter to Senate leaders opposing Mrs. DeVos’s confirmation. The letter parrots the union talking points about the grave threat Mrs. DeVos poses to public schools.  Proclaiming himself a “big believer in high-quality public schools and strong accountability for all public schools,” Mr. Broad expresses “serious concerns about her support for unregulated charter schools and vouchers.” He warns that Mrs. DeVos could undo “much of the good work that has been accomplished to improve public education for all of America’s children.”

DeVos represents all that is wrong with charter movement
Opinion by Tony Lux Chicago Post-Tribune February 4, 2017
Tony Lux is a retired superintendent of Merrillville schools and an Indiana Coalition for Public Education board member.
As the nomination of Betsy DeVos to lead the U.S. Department of Education slogs its way through the legislative vetting process, it is clear that she represents all that is wrong with the charter/voucher movement. DeVos is woefully unqualified and unprepared to lead the Education Department. DeVos has no direct experience at any level of public education. Her only true experience is using her family wealth to influence legislation aimed at expanding and protecting charter and voucher schools in Michigan and across the country. She brings the flaws of the charter/voucher movement into clear focus.  First are the incessant false claims that public education is failing and ineffective. The alternative facts presented are that U.S. education does not measure up to education in other nations. Not only does the U.S. continue to improve in international measures, but while the U.S. educates its entire student population regardless of geography or poverty, the same cannot be said of many of the so-called top performing nations to whom the U.S. is compared. In fact, when poverty is taken into consideration, the U.S. leaps to the top of international comparisons.  Even if credence is given to the idea that some other nations' students test higher, none of those countries endorse school choice. Instead, they value and ensure quality in all of their public schools.

Pro-DeVos ads air, saying ‘liberal’ critics are full of ‘rage and hate,’ as anti-DeVos protests are held
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss February 4 at 5:02 PM 
The unlikely battle over the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as President Trump’s nominee for education secretary is becoming even more pitched in the final days before a Senate vote with the airing of hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertisements attacking “extreme liberals” full of “rage and hate” who oppose her while protests against her were being staged around the country. The controversy over the nomination of DeVos, a Michigan billionaire, is the most ferocious of any education secretary in the nearly 40-year history of the Education Department, and of any Trump nominee — and it is only likely to deepen until there is a vote early next week on the Senate floor. The vote stands, it is believed, at 50-50, including two Republicans who have come out against DeVos despite enormous pressure from the GOP to support her. If no senator changes position, Vice President Pence would have to break the tie to confirm her.  Republican leaders and a White House spokesman said they are sure she will be confirmed, but her opponents are still hoping to persuade one Republican senator to switch sides this weekend. Senate offices — in Washington and in the states — have been swamped with phone calls and emails —  in some cases unprecedented numbers.

Ospreys surpass 500 nests in N.J., survey finds
The New Jersey osprey comeback story added another happy chapter in 2016, a study released by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation (CWF) of New Jersey finds.   Highlights of the 2016 Osprey Report, which provides the number of nesting pairs, active nests, and nest productivity for the raptors throughout New Jersey, include 515 active osprey nests.  The survey examined nearly 80% of the osprey population. Researchers determined the outcome of 376 nests, which produced 670 young ospreys.  Only 50 osprey pairs remained in the state during the early 1970s, nearly eradicated due to pesticide use and habitat loss.    “At the beginning of nesting surveys each year, I attempt to speculate on how well ospreys are doing. I started this year by simply saying that I’m optimistic for the positive outcome of the nesting season. Well, ospreys made my speculation seem quite dismal," said CWF Habitat Program Manager Ben Wurst.  "I’m astonished by their continued growth while living in very close proximity to humans. I’m thankful for all support that we receive to help carry out this project to monitor and manage ospreys.”

City of Philadelphia Hiring: Join the PHLpreK team! The Mayor’s Office of Education in Philadelphia is hiring a Pre-K Initiatives Director.
Learn more and apply here:

Drexel University Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day will be held on February 11 from 10:00AM-2:00PM at the ExCITe Center

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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