Wednesday, March 22, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup March 22: Fifty Education Groups Tell Congress: Reject GOP Health Care Bill

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup March 22, 2017:
Fifty Education Groups Tell Congress: Reject GOP Health Care Bill

Vote expected tomorrow: Call your Congressman’s office today to let them know that Pennsylvania could lose over $140 million in reimbursement for services that school districts provide to special education students; let them know how this would impact your students, district and taxpayers

Letter to Congress from 50 Education Groups:

Fifty Education Groups Tell Congress: Reject the GOP Health Care Bill
Education Week Politics K12 Blog By Alyson Klein on March 22, 2017 6:36 AM
Some fifty education groups are urging lawmakers to vote against the American Health Care Act, better known as the GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare to the haters. 
The reason? The bill, which is being pushed by both President Donald Trump and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., the speaker of the House, would make changes to the way that Medicaid is funded. It would base state allocations in part on how many people they have from a particular population. Proponents say this will help states be more creative with their Medicaid dollars, but the education groups argue that it will lead to significant cuts, to the tune of $880 billion over time.
Why do education groups care about Medicaid? Schools receive about $4 billion a year from the program, or more than a quarter of what they current get in Title I money for disadvantaged students. That makes Medicaid the third largest federal program for K-12 schools.  The dollars are generally used to help cover the cost of providing services to Medicaid eligible students in special education. That can mean anything from wheelchairs to speech therapy. Districts will need to make up for the cuts to Medicaid by either raising taxes, cutting services for general education students, or both, the groups who signed the letter contend. What's more, school districts may be forced to cut mental health services and lay-off employees (including school nurses), the groups write.

PP4C: What’s at stake for kids if ACA is repealed?

How Medicaid, CHIP, and the ACA Cover Pennsylvania’s Children

“Forgive us, Sen. Argall, if we distrust leaders in a state Capitol that sold us a state lottery in the 1970s as a means to eliminate poverty among the elderly (ha!), casino gambling that promised massive property tax relief (haha!) and a $2.3 billion transportation bill that produced one of the highest gasoline taxes in the nation from a Republican governor who promised he’d never raise taxes.”
MULLANE: With schools, you pay for what you get
Intelligencer by JD Mullane March 21, 2017
Are your school property taxes too high?
When I asked several colleagues and friends, the response was generally, “Have you lost your marbles? Of course, they’re too high.”  Which might be why a proposal reshaping how Pennsylvania funds school districts by significantly limiting property taxes seems like a good idea. Property tax relief? Who doesn’t want to pay lower taxes?  But under the proposal, the only thing lowered on taxpayers would be the boom. It doesn’t lower the $14 billion annual cost of public education in Pennsylvania. It just shifts the costs, like a shell game.  That the plan maintains the status quo on education costs is probably why its sponsor, state Sen. David Argali, R-29, of Berks and Schuylkill counties, has bi-partisan support to shift funding away from property taxes.  Instead of taxing your quarter-acre lot in the suburbs, Pennsylvania would get the money by hiking the state income tax from 3.07 percent to a whopping 4.95 percent, and raising the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent.  The sales tax would be expanded to items now exempted, such as groceries, beer and death. So if you eat, drink or die in the commonwealth, you will be taxed.  But wait! There’s more!  The dough formerly raised through local property taxes, instead of staying in your school district, would go to Harrisburg. What if H-burg is stingy and shortchanges your school district, what to do? Why, under the new arrangement, the school board can dig deeper into your pockets by hiking the earned-income tax, if it’s approved by voters in a referendum.

“The NAACP Pa. holds the position that schools do not underperform, children do. Many of Pennsylvania’s children score low on state mandated tests (underperform) because the Pennsylvania legislature does not provide sufficient funds for their schools to have resources such as libraries, guidance counselors, programs and essential curricula offerings - all needed for students to meet performance scores mandated by the State Board of Education. Schools that “under-serve” students are forced into these situations of despair by our senators and state representatives through the budgets they pass and how state funds are distributed across the school districts.”
Letter to the Editor: NAACP seeks clarity on senator’s remarks
Delco Times Letter by Joan Duvall Flynn POSTED: 03/21/17, 9:00 PM EDT
Joan Duvall-Flynn is President, NAACP Pa.
To the Times:
The NAACP State Conference of Branches has scheduled an appointment with Sen. Eichelberger, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee to discuss reactions to his West Pennsboro town hall remarks as well as his overall vision for education in Pennsylvania.
NAACP Pa. expects that the senator could be genuinely imperceptive as to the cause for outrage at the thoughts he shared with his Cumberland County constituents. We know that the senator is elected by a district population that is over 95 percent white, with the exception of Blair County at 77 percent. We know as well that although they tend to serve children who are over 50 percent poor, the schools in his legislative district have populations that are over 90 percent white.  Whether or not it should, these demographics cause people to question the integrity of the senator’s intentions. Why were minority, “inner-city” school children the topic of any of the senator’s remarks in such a venue? It was of no apparent service to the constituents present. However, it certainly, thoughtlessly or by goal, planted a perspective about “underperforming schools,” where they are, who attends them, and what it cost to fund them, in the minds of the voters who attended that town hall.

Gerrymandering: For fair fights: Redraw boundaries to kill off ‘safe seats’ for any
Post Gazette by THE EDITORIAL BOARD MAR 22, 2017
Democrats have used redistricting to their advantage. Republicans have, too. For a change, why not draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts in a way that benefits the people of Pennsylvania instead of one major political party or the other?  That’s the vision of Fair Districts PA, an effort supported by the League of Women Voters, the government watchdog group Common Cause and other civic and political organizations. Fair District PA’s recipe for change is a state constitutional amendment that would put the redrawing of congressional and legislative boundaries in the hands of an “independent citizens commission.”  Leading an appropriately bipartisan charge on this issue in the General Assembly are Sens. Lisa Boscola, D-Lehigh, and Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, who have sponsored legislation for an 11-citizen panel to be made up of Republicans, Democrats and citizens registered with neither party. Under the bill, commission members could not be elected officials or party officials or work for officeholders. Unsurprisingly, the pair’s colleagues aren’t rushing to support the legislation.

Pittsburgh board to designate community schools, but which one is a mystery
By MOLLY BORN Pittsburgh Post-Gazette MAR 21, 2017
The board of the Pittsburgh Public Schools will not vote Tuesday night on whether to designate at least one district building as a “community school,” after the issue was withdrawn from the agenda. A spokeswoman for the district said late Tuesday afternoon that the issue was off the board’s agenda. She later said the committee reviewing the applications from schools interested in the designation wanted more time to consider the pitches.  Before the latest development, the agenda still did not identify which school or schools could be chosen as district buildings that house social service and other programs for students and the neighborhood, a concept lauded by Superintendent Anthony Hamlet and the board majority.  A 26-member committee made up of foundation, government, union and community representatives received 21 applications from schools. That committee reviewed the applications and was to recommend which schools deserved the designation as a community school.

“That’s roughly a third of the legislature’s annual budget.”
Your legislature's big, fat slush fund
Philly Daily News by John Baer, Political Columnist Updated: MARCH 21, 2017 4:28 PM
I bet it won’t surprise you to know that even as your legislature gets set to trim state government costs in the face of a $3 billion budget deficit, it continues harboring its own big, fat slush fund.  A laughable (or cry-worthy) legislative “audit” released Monday shows $118 million sitting in legislative reserve funds as of the end of fiscal 2016.   That’s roughly a third of the legislature’s annual budget. It’s also $18 million more than the previous year’s reserves. And the legislature’s on track to get a further $313 million-plus in the coming year.  For comparative purposes, the state’s entire $32 billion general fund has a “rainy day” reserve totaling $245,000.
Think something’s askew here? Read on.

Editorial: Return cash slush fund to budget
You have to hand it to the state Legislature for innovative budgeting. Or, perhaps it’s that members don’t understand the definition of budgetary “balance.” Even though the Pennsylvania Constitution requires a balanced budget, the Legislature has managed to concoct a deficit and a surplus at the same time.  The Wolf administration has shrunk the prison system and proposed the consolidation of six state agencies into two as a means of reducing expenses, while advocating tax reform and a long overdue tax on gas extraction to increase revenue. Those proposals aim to use both sides of the ledger to reduce the yawning, state-accumulated budget deficit of about $3 billion.  Meanwhile, incredibly, the state Legislature has accumulated a $118 million surplus in its own operating accounts as of June 30, the end of the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The total includes $56 million for the 203-member House, or more than $275,000 per member; $23 million for the 50-member Senate, or $460,000 per member, and $39 million for legislative agencies.  The Legislature’s operating budget for the fiscal year was $321 million.

Pa. is home to some of the most generous people in the world - lobbyists: PennLive Letters
Penn Live Letters to the Editor  by DON SHERIDAN, Cresson Township, Cambria County  on March 21, 2017 at 9:45 AM, updated March 21, 2017 at 10:21 AM
Pennsylvania legislators would never be influenced by campaign contributions. Their votes are not for sale no matter how much money greases the rails to re-election or goes secretly into private coffers.  As an example, I submit the fact that Pennsylvania is the only gas producing state that does not tax the industry.  A cynic might think this is because the gas industry has "donated" millions and millions of dollars to our politicians.  You fools.  We cherish this distinction of being the only state not to enforce a tax, and we want to keep this prominence.  It is Pennsylvania's one true claim to fame. After all, we are only about number five (although we are trying to climb here) in corruption so we need something that sets us apart from the other states.  It follows then that Pennsylvania is home to some of the most generous and giving people in the world.  Yes. I am talking about lobbyists and special interest people who cheerfully give these millions and millions of dollars year after year to our legislators knowing that this money will not influence or sway any votes in Harrisburg. Such charity should not go un-noted.

Pennsylvania education secretary calls on DeVos to 'reverse course' on proposed cuts
Beaver County Times By J.D. Prose March 21, 2017
Pennsylvania’s secretary of education has asked his federal counterpart to “reverse course” on proposed cuts and reiterated that Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration remains “steadfast in its opposition” to the budget reductions suggested by President Donald Trump.  “Here in Pennsylvania we have seen firsthand the consequences of budgets that indiscriminately reduce or eliminate education programs,” state Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera told U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in a March 17 letter. “Our schools are still recovering from the state-level cuts made under the previous gubernatorial administration.”  Besides opposing education funding cuts, Rivera told DeVos that the Wolf administration “rejects the notion of shifting funds from already under-resourced public schools to fund vouchers for private education.”  In a statement last week, Wolf warned of the impact Trump’s budget would have on Pennsylvania and asked the state’s congressional delegation “to carefully review the devastating cuts in this proposal and help stop them.”

Conservative groups sue school district over transgender student
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer  @Kathy_Boccella | Updated: MARCH 21, 2017 — 3:45 PM EDT
The Boyertown Area School District was sued Tuesday by a high school student and his parents who say his “bodily privacy” was violated when he saw a transgender student -- identified as female in the filing -- undressing in the locker room as he also was changing.  Two conservative faith-based organizations, Alliance Defending Freedom and Independence Law Center, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It claims the Berks County school district did not notify parents or students that it was allowing transgender students at Boyertown Area High School to use restrooms and locker rooms matching their chosen gender identity. Rather, the suit charges, the district “secretly opened” its sex-specific restrooms and locker rooms to students of the opposite sex.  According to the filing, the student complained to school officials, who informed him that students who “subjectively identify themselves as the opposite sex” can choose which locker room they use. When the student twice asked school officials to protect his privacy, he was told he must “tolerate” it and make changing with students of the opposite sex as “natural” as can be, the suit said.

Student sues Berks Co. school over transgender policy
WITF Written by MARIA DANILOVA/Associated Press | Mar 21, 2017 3:46 PM
 (Washington) -- A high school student on Tuesday sued his school district, which covers parts of Berks and Montgomery counties, saying its transgender-friendly policy constitutes sexual harassment and a violation of privacy.  The action, filed Tuesday with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal court, comes a few weeks after the Trump administration rescinded Obama-era regulations that had instructed schools to allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms in line with their expressed gender identity as opposed to their sex assigned at birth.  In October, the plaintiff, a high-school junior identified as Joel Doe, was changing into gym clothes in the boys' locker room before the mandatory PE class when he saw a student, wearing shorts and a bra, according to the lawsuit. The second student had recently begun transitioning from female to male, said Kellie Fiedorek of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group representing the student who brought the suit.

Pa. school district sued for allowing transgender student to use locker room
An 11th-grader is suing his Pennsylvania school district after it allowed a transgender student to change in the boys' locker room.  It is the first case in Pennsylvania where the student filing the complaint is not himself transgender, but rather is responding to the presence of a transgender student in a sex-segregated space, according to the plaintiff's attorneys.  The plaintiff, who chose to remain anonymous, is alleging that the school district violated his constitutional right to privacy and broke sexual harassment law enshrined in Title IX when it permitted a transgender male to use the boys' locker room.  "Students from all walks of life find it deeply humiliating and offensive to be forced to share these facilities with members of the opposite sex," said Kellie Fiedorik, an attorney with the conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom and co-counsel for the plaintiff. "These voices must be heard. And today we stand for them."

How Pa. teachers' pension fund beat the markets in 2016
Inquirer by Joseph N. DiStefano , Staff Writer  @PhillyJoeD | Updated: MARCH 20, 2017 — 12:31 PM EDT
The $50 billion-plus Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System brought in more money than it paid out last year.  That is news, considering how much it costs: State and local taxpayers paid $4.2 billion last year, including a 30 percent surcharge on public-school payrolls, to keep the plan solvent into the far future.  But for calendar year 2016, PSERS also made more than expected from its investment portfolio, the largest in the state -- $4.8 billion in net investment profits. PSERS scored big on U.S. and foreign stocks, energy and utility-builder funds, gold and other commodities, even bonds.  "All the buckets did well," says James H. Grossman Jr., chief investment officer for the Harrisburg-based system.  Unlike the complex state workers (SERS) and Philadelphia City pension portfolios, with their mixes of public and private investments  -- or the Montgomery County plan, which consists mostly of Vanguard index funds -- PSERS in 2016 significantly beat its long-term annual benchmark, with returns topping 10.7 percent (the PSERS long-term target is 7.25 percent a year.)  Our sharp readers might not think those results so impressive. Didn't the Standard & Poor's 500 return 12 percent last year?  PSERS has its own $3 billion portfolio focused on the S&P 500 stocks. It returned 14 percent in 2016, beating the index, and Vanguard's big 500 fund.

Key Democratic senator outlines a case against school vouchers
Washington Post By Emma Brown March 22 at 7:00 AM 
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a key Democratic leader on education policy, made her case against private-school vouchers in a 20-page memo to her Senate colleagues Wednesday, arguing that “school choice” sounds good in theory but falls short in practice.  President Trump has promised to pour billions of dollars into expanding choice initiatives, including taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a longtime advocate for such efforts, arguing that they provide poor children with life-changing opportunities.  But voucher programs too often fail to hold private schools accountable for their students’ performance, fail to serve children in rural areas, and fail to protect the rights of students with disabilities and other vulnerable young people, wrote Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.  School choice is a “false choice,” she wrote, arguing that the way to provide children with a better education is to invest in public schools instead of private alternatives. “The only true student and family agenda is one that delivers on the idea that every child, parent, and family should have the choice to attend a high-quality public school.”

Community Schools: Understanding Why City Connects Works
City Connects Blog March 2, 2017 by Alyssa Haywoode
We’ve known that students who participate in City Connects during elementary school do well on middle school assessments of academic achievement. However, we know less about why that’s true.  What leads to the academic gains that City Connects provides?  New research is shedding light on this question by looking at the impact of three things: how elementary school academic skills, elementary school thriving skills, and the amount of time spent in City Connects affect academic achievement.  These research findings will be presented tomorrow at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness.  One of the research papers that will be presented asks whether an additional year of City Connects boosts students’ academic outcomes. This paper will be presented by Diego Luna Bazaldua, a post-doctoral researcher who is part of an independent evaluation team of faculty and researchers within the Center for Optimized Student Support at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.

PSBA Advocacy Forum and Day on the Hill APR 24, 2017 • 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Join PSBA and your fellow school directors for the fourth annual Advocacy Forum on April 24, 2017, at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Hear from legislators on how advocacy makes a difference in the legislative process and the importance of public education advocacy. Government Affairs will take a deeper dive into the legislative priorities and will provide tips on how to be an effective public education advocate. There will be dedicated time for you and your fellow advocates to hit the halls to meet with your legislators on public education. This is your chance to share the importance of policy supporting public education and make your voice heard on the Hill.
“Nothing has more impact for legislators than hearing directly from constituents through events like PSBA’s Advocacy Forum.”
— Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Senate Appropriations Committee chair

Visit the Members Area of PSBA’s website under Store/Registration tab to register.

Education Roundup: Recruitment fair for Black male educators March 25
Philly Trib by Ryanne Persinger Tribune Staff Writer Mar 13, 2017
The annual Career Fair for Black Male Educators for Social Justice will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, March 25, at Mastery Charter School’s Shoemaker Campus, 5301 Media St.

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 #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

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

The 2017 PenSPRA Symposium  Keeping Current: What’s New in School Communications April 7th Shippensburg
Join PenSPRA Friday, April 7, 2017 in Shippensburg, PA    9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with evening social events on Thursday, April 6th from 5 - 8 p.m. at the Shippensburg University Conference Center
The agenda is as follows: Supporting transgender students in our schools (9 am), Evaluating School Communications to Inform Your Effectiveness (10:30 am), and Cool Graphics Tools Hands-on Workshop (1:15 pm).

The $150 registration fee also includes breakfast, lunch and Thursday’s social!   You can find more details on the agenda and register for the Symposium here:

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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