Thursday, March 2, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup March 2: There are just 8 certified school librarians left in the School District - down from nearly 200 25 years ago

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup March 2, 2017:
There are just 8 certified school librarians left in the School District - down from nearly 200 25 years ago

The PA Department of Education Appropriations hearings are:
March 6th 10:00 AM House Hearing Majority Caucus Room, Main Capitol 140
March 7th 10:00 AM Senate Hearing Hearing Room 1, North Office Building

“There are just eight certified school librarians left in the School District — down from nearly 200 25 years ago. In a nation where urban libraries often fall victim to budget cuts, experts say Philadelphia’s may be the worst school library situation in the United States.  Children who attend schools with libraries and certified librarians fare better academically than those who do not have access to them, research shows. They are most important to children living in poverty.”
Phila. school libraries are disappearing — this group fights the trend
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Inquirer Staff Writer  @newskag | Updated: MARCH 1, 2017 — 1:52 PM EST
On the ground floor of Blankenburg Elementary is something most city schools can only dream about: a functioning school library.   Principal Kelly Parker’s budget is just as tight as anyone’s. Blankenburg, at 4600 W. Girard Ave., does not have a music program or an abundance of extracurricular activities.  But it has a room with thousands of books, where, on a recent day, a third-grade class sat rapt on a colorful rug, listening to a librarian teach them about figurative language.  “We could never, ever afford this on our own, and I know how fortunate we are,” Parker said. “Schools that don’t have this are at a real disadvantage.”  The library is open thanks to the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children, a nonprofit that organizes, reopens, and runs libraries in city public schools — free. Since 2009, it has opened 13 in the Philadelphia School District. It also runs the library at Global Leadership Academy, a charter school.

Gerrymandering battle draws a crowd in Pa.
Could a citizens' group defy tradition and change Pennsylvania politics?  Fair Districts PA, which has taken on the issue of gerrymandering in state political boundaries, is at least making some noise.  Fair Districts PA is a coalition of groups that includes the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and the conservative Commonwealth Foundation among others.  When it called a meeting at Upper Dublin High School in Montgomery County last week, more than 600 people showed up.  Not only that, they listened intently to a 40-minute presentation by Carol Kuniholm of the League of Women Voters on the harmful effects of how political parties draw district lines to gain advantage.  One example she cited was Montgomery County, which has enough people to merit its own congressional representative.  "Your county should have one congressional district, and your congressman should be thinking about nothing but you," she said. "Instead, you have five congressional districts, and I promise your congressmen are not thinking about you."

Blogger note: CSMI is owned by Vahan Gureghian, who has been a major PA GOP campaign contributor over the years and a major influence on PA charter school policy….

“The school is managed by CSMI, the education management company that runs the Chester Community Charter School. The Chester school was among a number of schools recently scrutinized by Pennsylvania’s auditor general.”
N.J. directs Camden Community Charter School to close by June 30
Inquirer by Maddie Hanna, Trenton Bureau  @maddiehanna | Updated: MARCH 1, 2017 — 7:57 PM EST
The state Department of Education has denied the renewal application of Camden Community Charter School and directed it to close by June 30.  The charter school, which opened in 2013 and says it serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade, was not renewed, the department said Wednesday, because of its low academic performance.  In a letter to the president of the school’s board of trustees, Kimberly Harrington, the state’s acting education commissioner, said the school’s performance on the PARCC assessments “strongly suggests that the school is not offering its students a high-quality education.”  With an exception for middle-grades math, the school's student growth scores on the test last year “were the lowest of all charter schools in Camden." Over the last two years, Harrington's letter said, the proportion of students who met or exceeded grade-level expectations on a PARCC test in both subjects and grade levels "have ranked no higher than the bottom sixth percentile in the state."  No more than 13 percent of students in elementary grades at the charter school and 15 percent of students in middle grades have met grade-level expectations in any one subject during the last two years, the letter said. Camden Community Charter School was also considered low-performing prior to the PARCC test, the letter said.  The school enrolled 679 students in the 2015-16 school year, according to Department of Education data.

Reprise 2013: The Selling Out of Camden's Schools: Part I
Jersey Jazzman Blog THURSDAY, MARCH 28, 2013
Now that the state has officially taken control of Camden's schools, what changes are we likely to see? What's in store for the city's children and their schools?
The best place to find an answer may be right down the Delaware River. A charter school made famous in Chester, PA is setting up shop in Camden.

State Revenue $32.9 Million Less Than Anticipated In February, Down $449.7M For FY
PA Capitol Digest by Crisci Associates March 1, 2017
Pennsylvania collected $1.9 billion in General Fund revenue in February, which was $32.9 million, or 1.7 percent, less than anticipated, Secretary of Revenue Eileen McNulty reported Wednesday.  Fiscal year-to-date General Fund collections total $18 billion, which is $449.7 million, or 2.4 percent, below estimate.

Pa., N.J. among brokest U.S. states
Inquirer by Joseph N. DiStefano , Staff Writer  @PhillyJoeD | Updated: MARCH 1, 2017 — 6:28 AM EST
New Jersey has to pay an extra 1 percent interest every time it borrows money because its finances are so bad, notes Tom Kozlik, muni bond analyst, in a report to clients at PNC.
Only Illinois is worse: it has to pay a whopping 2.25% extra to borrow money. Pennsylvania is third-worst, at 0.7% extra, compared to AAA-rated states like Delaware.  Pennsylvania and New Jersey are also among 11 states whose ratings Moody's is threatening to cut again, according to PNC's report, which joins data from credit agencies and research groups.  New Jersey and Illinois have the worst-funded pensions in the U.S., with just 41 and 42 cents invested and expected to accrue to their respective public-pension funds, for every $1 they expect to have to pay.  The same two states also have the biggest combined pension, public worker medical benefits, and debt-service burden: they are the only states where those three expenses add up to more than one-third of the yearly revenues. Not counting salaries.  Pennsylvania has the third-worst-funded pensions, with just 60 cents on the dollar. Pension, benefit and debt charges for Pennsylvania are higher than the U.S. average but still within the big-state mid-range, about the same as Califronai and Texas.  Pennsylvania has the second-worst state budget deficit, with a shortfall of $2.3 billion over two budget years. Only New York is worse, down $4.5 billion for three years. At least New York's pensions are fully funded. Oregon and Virginia also have big budget gaps.

Thackston charter hires former York City superintendent in staff shake-up
York Dispatch by Alyssa Pressler , 505-5438/@AlyssaPressYDPublished 1:40 p.m. ET March 1, 2017 | Updated 11 hours ago
·         The charter school has fired its business manager and hired a part-time CEO.
·         This decision comes as the charter school is under scrutiny by the York City School District.
·         Carlos Lopez, a former school superintendent and now part-time CEO, has been working with Helen Thackston.
Recently notified that it was at risk of losing its charter, Helen Thackston Charter School fired its business manager in the past week and hired a former York City School District superintendent to assist the principal.  According to school solicitor Brian Leinhauser, Thackston's business manager and human resources director Kimberly Kirby recently was relieved of her duties, although he said he was not at liberty to discuss the details of the decision.  Additionally, Leinhauser said the charter school board has decided to hire Carlos Lopez as the school's part-time CEO. Lopez was superintendent of the York City School District from 2001 to 2005, when he left to become principal of a charter school in Allentown.

Rejection of plan frustrates Erie School District
'A fool's errand,' Badams says as staff prepares for massive cuts.
GoErie By Ed Palattella / March 1, 2017
The Erie School District didn't know what would occur after it sent its plan for financial recovery to the state Department of Education.  But the district was not expecting what happened Monday.  The department rejected the plan, primarily because the district said it would need an additional $31.8 million in annual state funding to stay solvent and improve programs and buildings.  Erie schools Superintendent Jay Badams said the denial of the plan stung because the Department of Education never told the district to exclude a request for additional state funding — despite the district's repeated interactions with department officials and despite the extensive news media coverage of what would be in the plan, including the request for $31.8 million.  The Erie School District had been working on the plan since September. The district submitted the plan Dec. 6.
"A fool's errand," Badams said Tuesday.  Had the district known not to include a request for additional state revenue, Badams said, "we would have submitted a very different plan."

Erie School District speeds up schools consolidation plan
Badams: State's rejection of plan means changes to come sooner.
GoErie By Ed Palattella Posted at 12:01 AM Updated at 5:34 AM
The Erie School District had always planned to consolidate schools no matter how much additional funding the district received from the state.  But the district had hoped to proceed gradually with the consolidations and school closings, mainly to give students and parents more time to plan.  The district has scrapped the incremental approach.  Superintendent Jay Badams said the state's rejection of the district's financial recovery plan on Monday has left the district with little choice but to consolidate its high schools and close two elementary schools starting in the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins July 1.  Learn more about the Erie School District's reorganization plan at  The building changes, he said, would save the district at least $4 million and help eliminate a projected $10 million budget deficit in 2017-18.  "We don't have any options," Badams said.

Read by 4th is asking Philadelphians to complete a survey
Parents and non-parents are eligible to participate. The deadline is March 19.
The notebook by Darryl Murphy March 1, 2017 — 4:11pm
Read by 4th has partnered with BeHeardPhilly to launch a survey about views on how children become successful readers and learners. This survey, which is for all Philadelphians, not just parents, takes less than five minutes to complete. Anyone completing the survey is eligible to win a $20 gift card from a raffle. The link is Read by 4th Survey, and it is open until March 19. Read by 4th is a citywide coalition whose goal is to get all schoolchildren reading on grade level by 4th grade. Studies show that students who reach this benchmark are much more likely to be successful in school, go on to college, and have better life outcomes.

Philadelphia teacher puts up billboard criticizing district
Delco Times By The Associated Press POSTED: 03/02/17, 5:39 AM EST
PHILADELPHIA >> A Philadelphia teacher has put up a billboard criticizing city and school district officials.  WPVI-TV reports that George Bezanis, a Central High School teacher, crowdfunded more than $5,000 to erect the ad on Monday. The billboard flanks Interstate 95 and reads “Welcome to Philadelphia, where we don’t value our public school children.”  The ad says teachers have gone more than five years without a raise. A photo of Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney is featured prominently on the billboard along with an image of superintendent William Hite Jr. and a School Reform Commission representative.  Bezanis says that Philadelphia public schools are underfunded and teachers need fair contracts.  A district spokesman says it will try to work out a contract that puts students first.

“Sunshine takes in cast-offs from Olympia and other Orlando high schools in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Olympia keeps its graduation rate above 90 percent — and its rating an “A” under Florida’s all-important grading system for schools — partly by shipping its worst achievers to Sunshine. Sunshine collects enough school district money to cover costs and pay its management firm, Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS), a more than $1.5 million-a-year “management fee,” 2015 financial records show – more than what the school spends on instruction.”
Hidden dropouts: How schools make low achievers disappear
York Daily Record by Heather Vogell and Hannah Fresques, ProPublica Published 10:35 a.m. ET Feb. 21, 2017 | Updated 8:08 p.m. ET Feb. 21, 2017
Tucked among posh gated communities and meticulously landscaped shopping centers, Olympia High School in Orlando offers more than two dozen Advanced Placement courses, even more afterschool clubs, and an array of sports from bowling to water polo. U.S. News and World Report ranked it among the nation’s top 1,000 high schools last year. Big letters painted in brown on one campus building urge its more than 3,000 students to “Finish Strong.”  Olympia’s success in recent years, however, has been linked to another, quite different school 5 miles away. Last school year, 137 students assigned to Olympia instead attended Sunshine High, a charter alternative school run by a for-profit company. Sunshine stands a few doors down from a tobacco shop and a liquor store in a strip mall. It offers no sports teams and few extra-curricular activities. Sunshine’s 455 students – more than 85 percent of whom are black or Hispanic – sit for four hours a day in front of computers with little or no live teaching. One former student said he was left to himself to goof off or cheat on tests by looking up answers on the internet. A current student said he was robbed near the strip mall’s parking lot, twice.

“Allowing taxpayers to select from a menu just might be the way to go. Imagine the wonderful school systems, safety services and road maintenance we can have if all taxpayers were allowed to pay only for what they personally use or value. School choice is a concept most all can rally around. We have a number of options for families in Iowa. But while no one would likely be excited about helping to pay for my friend’s private golf course membership, he’s not excited about paying for anyone’s private school education.”
Imagine vouchers for other public services
Des Moines Register David Wilkerson, Adel, Letter to the Editor5:07 p.m. CT Feb. 28, 2017
Living in Des Moines allows for seniors, like my friend, to purchase a public golf course pass at a very reasonable price. The three city courses offer varying degrees of difficulty and make for enjoyable experiences. But my friend has noticed some “issues” from time to time. Since they are public facilities, anyone can play these courses. Pace of play is occasionally slow. Golf etiquette escapes some people. And while adequate, the clubhouses don’t have the high-quality amenities.   The push for vouchers, a.k.a. education savings accounts, for parents seeking taxpayer assistance for use in paying for private school or homeschool costs has my friend wondering if this might not apply to his situation on the golf course. There are some beautiful private courses in the Des Moines area. And my friend believes there are many city services he pays for that he doesn’t always benefit from. There are roads he doesn’t drive, he’s never needed the services of the fire department, police have never been called to assist at his home. So my friend is wondering if he might be able to get a tax credit or voucher, which he could use to upgrade his golf experience.

Just What IS A Charter School, Anyway?
NPR by CLAUDIO SANCHEZ March 1, 20176:18 AM ET
We're all familiar with the term "hidden in plain sight." Well, there may be no better way to describe the nation's 6,900 charter schools.  These publicly-funded, privately-run schools have been around since the first one opened in St. Paul, Minn., in 1992. Today, they enroll about 3.1 million students in 43 states, so you'd think Americans should know quite a bit about them by now. But you'd be wrong.  "Most Americans misunderstand charter schools," was the finding of the 2014 PDK/Gallup poll on public attitudes toward education. The survey found broad support for charters, but also revealed that 48 percent of Americans didn't know charter schools were public. Fifty-seven percent thought they charged tuition. And nearly half thought charters were allowed to teach religion.  Now that the Trump administration has made school choice a cornerstone of its education policy, we thought it would be worth exploring how charter schools work, who runs them, how they're funded and whether they work better than the traditional public schools they're often competing against.

Trump’s first school visit as president will be to a Catholic school in Florida
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss March 1 at 3:48 PM 
In the newest expression of his commitment to expanding school “choice,” President Trump is making his first official visit to a school Friday — to a Catholic school in Florida.  Trump will stop at St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, where several hundred students attend with help from a tax credit scholarship program that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has praised in her declarations about the value of school choice.  Trump himself referred to the program in his address Tuesday night to Congress when he spoke glowingly about one of his guests, Denisha Merriweather, who attended a private school with help from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarships program for students from low-income families. She is now in graduate school.  Trump has repeatedly expressed his interest in expanding school choice, which includes voucher and tax credit programs that use public dollars to fund tuition and other educational expenses at private and religious schools. Opponents say these programs violate the constitutional separation between church and state and harm traditional public education systems where the vast majority of America’s schoolchildren are enrolled. But they have grown substantially in the past decade, and DeVos has been a leader in the choice movement for decades.

Trump’s Call for School Vouchers Is a Return to a Campaign Pledge
New York Times By YAMICHE ALCINDOR MARCH 1, 2017
President Trump, returning to a promise that won him cheers on the campaign trail, signaled in his first address to Congress on Tuesday that he will move aggressively to allow more public school students to use tax money to pay for tuition at public charter schools, private schools and even religious schools.  At rallies last year across the country, Mr. Trump said over and over again that he would use the nation’s schools to fix what he described as failing inner cities and a virtual education crisis that most hurts black and Hispanic children. In North Carolina, he called school choice “the great civil rights issue of our time.” In Florida, he declared that “every disadvantaged child in this country” should have access to school choice.  And, at a Washington gathering of conservatives, he said that under his administration, “money will follow the student to the public, private or religious school that is best for them and their family.” In his speech on Tuesday, Mr. Trump reiterated those pledges, and in doing so backed his controversial education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who has built her career on promoting voucher programs.  “I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children,” Mr. Trump said during the joint session of Congress, to applause from many Republican lawmakers. “These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.”

Measure to Overturn ESSA Accountability Rules Introduced in Senate
Education Week Politics K12 Blog By Andrew Ujifusa on March 1, 2017 11:08 AM
A measure to block the Obama administration's regulations governing accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act was introduced on Tuesday by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee.  Senate Joint Resolution 25, if it's approved, would mean the end of regulations finalized late last year that govern state plans and issues ranging from testing opt-outs to school turnarounds. The House of Representatives approved a similar measure last month. In addition, not long after President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January, his administration paused these regulations.  If the Senate passes Alexander's resolution and Trump gives the thumbs-up, the Obama-era rules for accountability and state plans would have no force, an alarming prospect for Democrats in Congress and civil rights advocates, who say these regulations include crucial protections for disadvantaged students. However, congressional Republicans and some school groups have supported the move, saying that state K-12 leaders and schools need more flexibility, and that the U.S. Department of Education can still provide nonregulatory guidance and technical assistance to states seeking more clarity or other help with accountability provisions of the law. 

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
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 #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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