Friday, March 3, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup March 3: The biggest factor in rising property taxes is how stingy the state is with education aid

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 4050 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Wolf education transition team members, superintendents, school solicitors, principals, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, faith-based organizations, labor organizations, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup March 3, 2017:
The biggest factor in rising property taxes is how stingy the state is with education aid

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

Also, on March 20th at 10:30 AM a joint Public Hearing by the PA House and Senate Education Committees is scheduled regarding the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Hearing Room #1, North Office Building

On Friday, March 3, PCN-TV Will Air a "Marathon" of EPLC Education Policy Forums Held This Week in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia
EPLC is hosting education policy forums as opportunities to get information about what is in Governor Wolf's proposed education budget for 2017-18, the budget's relative strengths and weaknesses, and key issues.  This week, PCN-TV covered the first three EPLC forums, held in Pittsburgh, the Harrisburg Area and in Philadelphia.  Each of the forums takes the following basic format (please see below for regional presenter details). Ron Cowell of EPLC provides an overview of the Governor's proposed budget for early education, K-12 and higher education. The overviews are followed by remarks from a panel representing statewide and regional perspectives concerning state funding for education and education related items. These speakers discuss the impact of the Governor's proposals and identify the key issues that will likely be considered during this year's budget debate.
Airing at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, March 3
Education Policy Forum #1 - Pittsburgh (at the Wyndham University Center in Oakland)
Ron Cowell, President, The Education Policy and Leadership Center
Dr. Linda B. Hippert, Executive Director, Allegheny Intermediate Unit #3
Cheryl Kleiman, Staff Attorney, Education Law Center
Ashley Lenker White, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, PA School Boards Association
Patrick T. O'Toole, Ed.D., Superintendent of Schools, Upper St. Clair School District
Brett Lago, Director of Business Affairs, Penn-Trafford School District
Airing at 11:35 a.m. on Friday, March 3
Education Policy Forum #2 - Harrisburg (at the Capital Area Intermediate Unit in Enola)
Ron Cowell, President, The Education Policy and Leadership Center
Mark D. DiRocco, Ph.D., Executive Director, PA Association of School Administrators
Ashley Lenker White, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, PA School Boards Association
Jodi Askins, Executive Director, PA Association for the Education of Young Children
Jeffrey S. Ammerman, PRSBA, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, PA Association of School Business Officials
Airing at 1:55 p.m. on Friday, March 3
Education Policy Forum #3 - Philadelphia (at the Penn Center for Educational Leadership)
Ron Cowell, President, The Education Policy and Leadership Center
Donna Cooper, Executive Director, Public Citizens for Children and Youth
Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director, Education Law Center
Sean Crampsie, Lobbyist/Social Media Information Specialist, Pennsylvania School Boards Association
Samuel Lee, Ed.D., Superintendent, Bensalem Township School District
All programs are available on PCN Cable Network or online through a subscription to PCN Select. Visit the PCN-TV web site for more information.

“The biggest factor in rising property taxes is how stingy the state is with education aid,” Feinberg said. “If the state were funding schools at the level of other states, you wouldn’t see the kind of outcry around property taxes.”  School boards like Haverford Township's are forced to raise property taxes to cover rising pension obligations, among other costs, because the state isn't doing its part, he said.  Pennsylvania contributes about 37 percent of school costs. The average among all the states is closer to half.”
Study: Pa. is 'Wild West' of property taxes
The report from EdBuild found that an absence of state guidance results in little relationship between tax burden and ability to pay. Proposed legislation would eliminate property taxes altogether, but would not solve the inequity problem.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa March 2, 2017 — 10:52am
Pennsylvania’s system for funding schools is among the most inequitable in the country, with wide disparities in spending among districts.  Now, a new report finds that the state is also in a class by itself when it comes to local property taxes, the primary source of education funding. First, Pennsylvania’s average effective property tax rates are among the highest of the states studied. And second, they vary widely from district to district in a way that has no logical relationship either to residents’ ability to pay or a community’s ability to raise revenue.  “Pennsylvania is the Wild West of local school taxes,” said Zahava Stadler of EdBuild, a nonprofit focused on education inequity and school funding. Stadler, a co-author of the report, attributed the inconsistencies to a total lack of state guidance to local districts regarding property tax rates.  Many other states set parameters in an effort to avoid having property taxes overburden local residents and to assure that schools get the resources they need.  But in Pennsylvania, the report found “a tax effort landscape that mirrors the state’s anything-goes policy environment. Overall effective property tax rates for education do not clearly correlate with any indicator of district affluence.”

“Like all states, Pennsylvania's public schools are funded at the federal, state, and local level. However, the state's relative share of contribution to education funding is 37.6 percent - far below the national average. Consequently, local governments and taxpayers are largely funding public education without adequate support from the state.  This payment structure fails to ensure that every student/prospective employee has access to high-quality teachers, materials, rigorous classes, tutoring, or other skills he or she needs to graduate career ready.”
Commentary: Workforce wins with investment in education
Inquirer Commentary By Michael K. Pearson and Tomea Sippio-Smith Updated: MARCH 3, 2017 — 3:01 AM EST
Michael K. Pearson is the president and CEO of Union Packaging. Tomea Sippio-Smith is the K-12 policy director at Public Citizens for Children and Youth.
On Monday, Pennsylvania legislators will begin their annual scrutiny of the Department of Education at budget hearings. They should be grappling with the fact that the impact of the priorities they set will go far beyond the confines of a classroom.  Today's employers demand competent, highly skilled workers. Although most of Pennsylvania's children attend public schools, far too few of the schools are preparing students to meet these demands.  Many of our students are not entering the job market workforce ready. Of the 428 employers who participated in the 2016 Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry's Workforce Development Survey:  93 percent noted some difficulty in recruiting qualified candidates.  76 percent describe the readiness of the labor force to meet their needs as fair or poor.  73 percent of the time job applicants were underqualified for open positions.  The state's economic solvency relies on its large and small businesses' ability to recruit and retain a talented workforce. From a purely economic standpoint, it is cost-effective for businesses to conscript local employees for their staffing needs.  Public schools provide the business community's largest and most easily accessible pool of raw human capital. Currently, at the student level, neither the state's investments nor the business community's input have consistently produced the highly skilled applicants we require.

Blogger note: School Based Access funds (PA’s name for Medicaid in schools) flowing to schools and IUs is significant. $143 million in School Based Access funds were received in 2014-15 (most recent complete data). About $12 million of the $143 million goes to preschool early intervention. The balance goes to school age special education.  Those dollars reimburse schools for covering the cost of services to students in special education who are eligible for Medicaid, including speech therapy and occupational therapy.

“But advocates fear such changes could eventually lead to diminished financing for Medicaid, said Bruce Lesley, the president of First Focus, a nonprofit organization that aims to make children and families a priority in budget decisions.  And that in turn might have serious ramifications for school districts, according to AASA, the School Superintendents Association. Schools receive roughly $4 billion from Medicaid a year, or more than a quarter of the amount of funding districts get under the federal Title I program for disadvantaged children.
Those dollars reimburse schools for covering the cost of services to students in special education who are eligible for Medicaid, including speech therapy and occupational therapy.  "Schools are an ideal place to offer health care services because they are where children are almost every single day," said Sasha Pudelski, the assistant director of policy and advocacy at the AASA.”
Districts, Advocates Warily Await Health-Care Law Overhaul
Key K-12 issues in ACA debate
Education Week Politics K12 Blog By Alyson Klein February 28, 2017
Few people may associate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—sometimes derided as "Obamacare"—with school districts and school-age children.  But scrapping the ACA or revamping it significantly, a long-standing Republican priority, could have serious implications for everything from student mental-health services to the hiring of substitute teachers.  At this point, it's unclear just how Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress and the White House for the first time in more than a decade, will proceed. President Donald Trump campaigned on getting rid of the ACA, but has also said he'd like to keep some of its most popular parts, including allowing young adults to remain on their parents' insurance. He vowed earlier this year to work toward the goal of "insurance for everybody."  Since the 2016 election, GOP leaders in both chambers have been wrestling with ideas for changing, repealing, and replacing the law, which was enacted in March 2010.

Erie schools prepare for consolidation, cuts to eliminate deficit.
Go Erie By Ed Palattella Posted Mar 2, 2017 at 2:00 AM
The Erie School District made sure its state-mandated financial recovery plan was about money.  But it also made sure the plan was about equity.  Neither emphasis gained support from the state Department of Education.  The plan, which the department rejected on Monday, used boldface type in its 48-page main section to point out that, "on a per-pupil basis, the district spends less than 89 percent of all school districts in the Commonwealth."  The plan listed a lack of fairness as the main reason for the disparity. It said the district is not getting what it should in annual state funding.  Taking into account "percentages of students living in poverty as well as those requiring language support and special education services," the plan said, "Erie is currently underfunded by $38 million a year."  Education Secretary Pedro Rivera saw the situation differently.  In rejecting the district's request for an additional $31.8 million in annual state aid, Rivera said the amount was unjustified, and that the department had no authority to allocate additional funding. Rivera did not mention fairness or address the Erie School District's contention that it is underfunded.

State, Erie School District split over taxes
Education Department wants bigger hike, but not School Board.
Go Erie By Ed Palattella Posted at 12:01 AM
The state Department of Education is advising the Erie School District to consider raising property taxes by a significant amount, though the suggestion, for now, appears unlikely to get much support.  "At this point in time, I don't seen anyone voting for a large tax increase," School Board President Frank Petrungar Jr. said.  "I know the state is going to continue to push us," he also said. "I don't know where it is going."  Education Secretary Pedro Rivera criticized the lack of major local tax increase when he rejected the Erie School District's plan for financial recovery earlier this week.  The plan included the possibility of a minimal tax increase for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which starts July 1.  After one of their most intense debates over the plan, the school directors in November agreed, if necessary, to approve a tax increase that would raise an additional $189,000 a year. Such a hike would add another $8.31 to the annual school tax bill for the owner of a home assessed at $100,000. The increase would be in place over five years.
The school directors said they did not want to increase taxes more than that amount because of the tax burden on residents of the city of Erie, who also have high municipal tax bills.

“Major expenditure increases over the current year include contributions to the state’s retirement program (PSERS) by $2.6 million, salaries at $2.3 million and charter school tuition at $1.9 million. Expenditures, overall, are up $10 million.”
U.D. schools looking at a $7.2 million deficit in ‘17-’18 budget
By Kevin Tustin, on Twitter POSTED: 03/02/17, 9:26 PM EST | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
Upper Darby >> A look at the 2017-18 Upper Darby School District budget shows a $7.18 million deficit in an approximately $200 million budget.  At the first public preview of an early budget during the school board’s Feb. 28 finance and operations committee meeting shows the biggest shortfall in a budget since the 2013-14 fiscal year budget process, which had a $9.7 million gap. Program or faculty cuts, tax increases and fund balance usage were not identified.  District Chief Financial Officer Patrick Grant could not provide specifics on the budget because this was just a look at the numbers so far.  “This is not a preliminary budget,” said Grant. “In the formation that we’ve provided you here, we’re still working on estimates and have a number of unknowns that we’re still working through.”  Expenditures are looking at $199.5 million over $192.3 million in revenues at all levels. Strategies are being created to find savings in areas like supplies awards and the district’s cyber school operations.

“The company’s CEO is Vahan Gureghian, a Main Line lawyer and prolific political donor.”
Potential litigation, but few answers in case of Camden charter school directed to close
Inquirer by Maddie Hanna, Trenton Bureau  @maddiehanna |  pdated: MARCH 2, 2017 — 6:50 PM EST
A day after the state directed the closure of the Camden Community Charter School, relatives picking up children Thursday had not yet heard of the decision.  “I’m speechless,” said Mohamed Diaby, whose 8-year-old daughter, Fatou, attends the North Camden school, which Diaby described as new and secure. “What’s going to happen?”  Apart from a statement released by the school Thursday that it was considering its options, “including pursuing litigation,” answers were few.  The state Department of Education announced Wednesday that it had not renewed the school’s charter for academic reasons. The school's performance on the PARCC assessments — including low growth scores and share of students meeting grade-level expectations — “strongly suggests that the school is not offering its students a high-quality education,” acting Education Commissioner Kimberly Harrington wrote in a letter to the president of the school’s board of trustees, Edmond George.  Harrington directed the school to close by June 30. The school, which serves kindergarten through eighth grade, enrolled 679 students in the 2015-16 school year.
George called the state’s decision “extremely disappointing and completely unwarranted” in a statement sent Thursday from a personal email account of Max Tribble. CSMI, the education management company that manages the Camden school, lists a senior vice president and chief communications officer by that name. The company also manages the Chester Community Charter School in Pennsylvania and the Atlantic City Community Charter School. Tribble did not respond to a subsequent phone message.

Blogger note: Pennsylvania law allows tax credit scholarship organizations to keep 20% of the donations of diverted tax dollars.
“Arizona law allows the group to keep 10 percent of those donations to pay for overhead. In 2014, the group used that money to pay its executive director $125,000. His name? Steve Yarbrough. Forms filed by the organization with the I.R.S. declare that he worked an average of 40 hours per week on the job — in addition, presumably, to the hours he worked as president of the State Senate.”
Arizona Shows What Can Go Wrong With Tax Credit Vouchers
New York Times by Kevin Carey MARCH 2, 2017
Steve Yarbrough is one of the most powerful men in Arizona. As president of the State Senate, he has promoted a range of conservative policies, including a tuition tax credit system that provides over $100 million per year to finance vouchers for private schools.  In his speech to Congress this week, President Trump singled out a young woman who attended private school using a tax credit-financed voucher. The president urged Congress to pass legislation that would provide similar benefits to millions of students.  But Mr. Yarbrough is not just a champion of tax credit vouchers. He also profits from them personally. The story of how that happened raises questions about President Trump’s campaign promise to spend $20 billion to increase school choice. There’s a strong chance that he’ll do that through tax credit vouchers — a mechanism that Betsy DeVos actively campaigned for before she became Mr. Trump’s education secretary.

Two Possible Paths for a Tax-Credit School Choice Plan in Congress
Education Week Politics K12 Blog By Andrew Ujifusa on March 2, 2017 8:00 AM
Of the various school choice bills that might enter the arena in Congress, creating tax credits to fund private school choice might be the most logical, and it's one of the options the Trump administration is considering.  There's already a recent blueprint for such tax credits in the form of a 2015 bill, the Educational Opportunities Act, written by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Rokita reintroduced a version of that legislation on Feb. 6. And in his address to Congress Feb. 28, President Donald Trump specifically urged lawmakers to take up school choice legislation to help disadvantaged children, which could impact the policy specifics of any tax-credit bill.  But here's a major X-factor for creating federally backed tax-credit scholarships: Congress probably wouldn't use the House and Senate education committees to advance any tax-credit scholarship plan, according to two people we talked to. And it likely wouldn't be proposed in a standalone bill. There are probably two feasible paths for Washington to create a federally backed tax-credit program.

“Citing data from the 2015-2016 school year, the court said that nearly half of the state's African American students and more than a third of its Hispanic students are not proficient in reading and math. More than a third of students who receive free and reduced lunch are also not proficient in those essential subjects, the court said.  The court also said the plaintiffs had provided evidence establishing a link between funding levels and student performance.”
Kansas Isn't Spending Enough On Its Schools, State's High Court Says
NPR by BILL CHAPPELL March 2, 201712:47 PM ET
In Kansas, the state's public school finance system "is not reasonably calculated to have all Kansas public education students meet or exceed the minimum constitutional standards of adequacy," the Kansas Supreme Court says.  The court ruled Thursday in a a much-watched case about state obligations to provide public education that was originally filed by four school districts — including Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools — back in 2010.  With the decision, the court also gave state lawmakers time to devise a new school financing system, setting a deadline of June 30.  From today's ruling: "Plaintiffs have shown through the evidence from trial—and through updated results on standardized testing since then—that not only is the State failing to provide approximately one-fourth of all its public school K-12 students with the basic skills of both reading and math, but that it is also leaving behind significant groups of harder-to-educate students."

Kansas Supreme Court Says State Education Spending Is Too Low
New York Times By MITCH SMITH and JULIE BOSMAN  MARCH 2, 2017
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the state’s spending on public education was unconstitutionally low, dealing a new blow to Gov. Sam Brownback, who is facing a rebellion from his own Republican Party over his trademark tax-cutting doctrine.  In a unanimous ruling, the court said black, Hispanic and poor students were especially harmed by the lack of funding, pointing to lagging test scores and graduation rates. The justices set a June 30 deadline for lawmakers to pass a new constitutional funding formula, sending them scrambling to find more money to pay for a solution.  This is the second time in about a year that Kansas’ highest court has ruled against the state’s approach to paying for schools, just as Mr. Brownback finds himself wrestling with growing budget deficits and as his relations with fellow Republicans have deteriorated to new lows.

Arnold Schwarzenegger breaks down gerrymandering
Princeton Election Consortium  February 22nd, 2017, 10:56am by Sam Wang
Video Runtime 1:32
Schwarzenegger gives an amusing and substantively sound take on gerrymandering:
His solution is a citizens’ commission to take redistricting out of the hands of legislators. As I have analyzed (see page 1296), the California Redistricting Commission has done a good job of creating competitive races where none existed before.  A commission-based approach has the advantage that it can potentially address a wide variety of offenses: partisan gerrymanders, uncompetitive districts, and racial packing. The key is to write the law with care. For example, in combating partisan gerrymandering, specifying compact districts is not as useful as it sounds unless partisan symmetry is also included as a criterion.

Wisconsin Has Taken Its Partisan-Gerrymandering Case to the U.S. Supreme Court—Here’s What Happens Next
Brennan Center for Justice by Thomas Wolf February 24, 2017
With today’s filing of a notice of appeal by the State of Wisconsin, the U.S. Supreme Court may be poised to take its first look at the constitutionality of politically driven line-drawing in more than a decade.  The notice of appeal—filed this afternoon in Whitford v. Gillseeks the Court’s review of a recent 2-1 ruling that Wisconsin’s 2011 state assembly redistricting plan was a partisan gerrymander that violated both the First and the Fourteenth Amendments. The 116-page majority opinion described the gerrymander as “an aggressive [one]” that guaranteed a Republican majority in the state assembly “in any likely electoral scenario.”  The panel’s ruling for the plaintiffs was a signal event. It marked the first time in more than three decades that a federal court ruled for the plaintiffs in a partisan-gerrymandering suit after a full trial. It also dealt a critical blow to a very particular kind of gerrymander—call it “extreme seat-maximization”—that emerged in Wisconsin and a handful of other states in the most recent redistricting cycle. And the panel cited as “corroborative evidence” a new social-science measure—the “efficiency gap”—which a team of academics developed to respond to suggestions from several Supreme Court Justices that “partisan symmetry” could be used to police gerrymandering.

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.

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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