Thursday, April 13, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup April 13: #HB97 Charter Reform on Tuesday’s House Education Cmte Meeting Agenda

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup April 13, 2017:
#HB97 Charter Reform on Tuesday’s House Education Cmte Meeting Agenda

Monday April 17th is the last day to register to vote in the May 16th primary election

Editorial: Property tax idea chancy
Few prospects are more alluring to many Pennsylvania property owners than eliminating the school property tax.  The state pays far too low a percentage of public school costs, only about 36 percent, leaving it to local school districts to cover the rest through property taxes. And because state lawmakers have broken the public school pension system and refuse to fix it, they maintain that reliance on property taxes and the leading cost driver that ensures higher local taxes. mall wonder, then, that many taxpayers endorse an initiative led by Republican state Sens. David Argall and Mike Folmer to eliminate most local school property taxes.

Pennsylvania’s empty promise on property tax reform
Don’t be duped: school property tax reform won’t lower taxes
Post Gazette Opinion by IRA WEISS  2:00 AM APR 13, 2017
Ira Weiss, the founder of Weiss Burkardt Kramer LLC, serves as the solicitor for the Pittsburgh Public Schools and several other school districts 
It happens every spring, when the governor’s budget address spurs the Pennsylvania General Assembly into action. Like the sophisticated signaling network that enables plants to green and flower with the season, a perennial topic stirs within lawmakers and they begin to nurture the idea that resonates so well with their constituents: “Let’s repeal the school property tax!”  And the buzz begins.  This would be amusing to witness if the consequences of property tax “reform” weren’t so alarming and if the possibility of passage weren’t so real: The bill by state Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, failed by only one vote last year, and in the November election, the GOP widened its majority control of both the House and Senate. I use scare quotes with the word because it’s not reform in the typical definition of improving upon a social, political or economic practice. Instead, this vow to relieve taxpayers’ burden for the commonwealth’s public schools is mere rhetoric, an empty promise.  The school property tax elimination bill gaining momentum at the Capitol — HB/​SB 76 — would not deliver true tax elimination for most taxpayers. In fact, under the Property Tax Independence Act, you could end up paying more money to Harrisburg — in sales, personal income and, yes, even property taxes.  That’s because the bill would not eliminate municipal or county property taxes, and school districts could continue to collect real estate taxes to pay off existing debt, which is typically issued as 20-year bonds. An analysis by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials found that only 2 percent of school districts could totally cut their tax levies.

HB97 Charter Reform on House Education Committee Meeting Agenda on Tuesday

“Balancing the charter appeal board.  – This is the group that can certify or override the decision of the local district. HB 97 would like to "balance" this group by adding more charter people, including switching the parent seat to a parent of a charter student seat. The resulting board would be far more charter-friendly. This would be the group that could tell taxpayers in your district that they are going to help support a charter school even though they and their duly-elected school board rejected it.”
PA HB97: Charter Reform Sort of Revisited
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Pennsylvania charter law is rather a mess. In April of 2016,  State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a blistering report, dubbing PA charter law the "worst in the nation." There have been occasional legislative attempts to address the issue, but these bills have often confused "reform" with "give charters more freedom and opportunities to suck up public tax dollars."  Harrisburg has a history of using charter reform as a fig leaf to cover up charter giveaways. Early egregious attempts included a bill that would have taken a swipe at cyberschool funding but also would have made all sorts of folks authorizers of charter schools, making it infinitely easier to launch one in PA. There was an attempt to fix things, sort of,  back in 2015-2016 with proposed HB 530, a bill that public school organizations like the school board association declared a non-starter because it loosened accountability on charters, allowed the state charter appeal board to overrule local districts, and didn't address the out-of-control costs of charters in Pennsylvania. The reasons to oppose the bill were many. The bill passed both the house and senate, but was ultimately a victim of the Great Budget Snafu of 2016 and was last seen disappearing into the rules committee in June of 2016.   Now it's back.

 “Pennsylvania school districts are indeed facing hard choices. We can only hope that state funding keeps pace with the increase in costs, that charter schools are held accountable and not permitted to proliferate, and that relief from pension, health care and construction costs is forthcoming. Are you hopeful?”
Louis M. Shucker: Painful choices ahead for school districts
Berks & Beyond Louis M. Shucker Wednesday April 12, 2017 12:01 AM
Louis M. Shucker is an attorney in private practice and a former member of the Schuylkill Valley School Board.
A coalition of organizations led by Temple University's Center on Regional Politics, or CORP, released a report in March with ominous overtones: "Hard Choices Ahead: The Financial Future of Pennsylvania School Districts." The study examines the fiscal condition of all 500 school districts for the period 2015-16 through 2019-20. Considered are the revenues by major category, the expenditures by major category and the resulting shortfalls/surpluses for each district.  CORP concluded that projected budget shortfalls will require program cuts, higher taxes or a combination of the two for the vast majority of school districts.  "In short, the hard choices most districts have faced in the recent past will continue, making a decade of fiscal stress the 'new normal' for public schools, teachers, students and their families," the study said.  The study also analyzes the actual spending and revenues of districts between 2009-10 and 2014-15. Local revenues, overwhelmingly raised through property taxes, were the main and only stable source of increases in funding education during this period, growing a total of $2.5 billion over six years and providing 90 percent of the increases in school revenues.

Controller: Philly schools lack adequate staffing, per state
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Staff Writer  @newskag | Updated: APRIL 12, 2017 — 11:33 AM EDT
Some Philadelphia School District schools are understaffed and risk losing federal grant funding as a result, City Controller Alan Butkovitz found in an audit released Wednesday.  Schools that educate large numbers of students living in poverty - like those in the district - receive extra funding through a federal program known as Title I. To meet Title I requirements, schools must have adequate staff as defined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.  Butkovitz's office tested 23 schools for compliance. Seventeen of those lacked proper staffing.  The school district has struggled with filling vacancies, in part because of a teachers' contract that has gone unsettled for nearly four years.  Frankford High, Benjamin Franklin High, Bartram High, Ethan Allen Elementary, and Huey Elementary had the highest ratios of non-compliant staff, Butkovitz said.  "The school district puts itself at risk for the possible loss of much-needed educational dollars when it does not follow guidelines," Butkovitz said in a statement. "The grant funding requirements are specific in that all schools receive comparable money for the number of students it educates."

Staff shortages could jeopardize District's Title I aid, city controller warns
Dale Mezzacappa April 12, 2017 — 6:16pm
City Controller Alan Butkovitz has found that several Philadelphia schools last year failed to reach staffing levels required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and some of its federal aid could be in jeopardy as a result.   According to the audit, in 2015-16 the District fell short by 48 staffers in 17 schools under requirements meant for receiving funds under Title I, which is the main federal program targeted toward at-risk low-income children. The school district receives more than $110 million a year in Title I funds.  The District has initiated a new hiring push this year and for the past several years has had trouble filling all of its vacancies. The School Reform Commission and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers have been unable to reach a new contract agreement since 2013, and wages have been frozen for nearly five years.

Erie Pennsylvania's Schools Are a Canary in the Coal Mine of Education
The Progressive by Jeff Bryant April 12, 2017
Jay Badams has reached the limits of his patience.
As superintendent of Erie, Pennsylvania schools since 2009, he’s dealt with the chronic underfunding of his schools for years. Every year, he and his staff grapple with ever more painful budget cuts. He and his staff are sick and tired of meetings on what to cut next. Should it be libraries? Athletics? Art and music programs? His repeated appeals to state lawmakers to come to Erie's rescue have had little effect.  When Badams and his colleagues calculated the district's budget this past spring, they found that closing four of the district’s high schools could save two to three million dollars.  But the decision to consider closing Erie public high schools is more of an "ethical decision" rather than just about the dollars and cents, Badams tells me in a phone conversation.  Because many of the school districts that surround Erie are so much better funded, students from the closed Erie high schools could transfer to schools offering a far better educational experience. The neighboring Harbor Creek district, for instance, spends $1,360 more on each student than Erie can.

Franklin Regional mulls max tax hike for 2017-18 budget
Trib Live by PATRICK VARINE  | Wednesday, April 12, 2017, 5:57 p.m.
Members of Franklin Regional's finance committee plan to ask the school board to raise taxes by the maximum allowed under state law as the district seeks ways to reduce a projected $1.2 million deficit in its 2017-18 budget.  Some minor changes — $180,000 less than expected in insurance costs, $35,000 less than expected in fuel costs — made a dent in the deficit unveiled in late March. Other numbers, including federal and state fund allocations, have not been finalized.  But in order to pay the district's annually increasing share of retirement pensions — it comprises nearly half of next year's increased spending — finance director Jon Perry recommended the tax hike.

Highlands slices, dices $2M in expenditures as it tries to balance budget
Trib Live by TOM YERACE | Wednesday, April 12, 2017, 11:45 p.m.
Highlands School District officials continue to whittle possible expenditures from budget requests as the June deadline for a budget passage draws closer.  Business Manager Jon Rupert said the district has cut more than $2 million in expenditures from “wish list items” that the various departments were asked to provide.  He said more cutting likely will occur before the board has a preliminary budget proposal to consider.  In February, he said the district could be looking at a $1 million budget shortfall, which was based on the early requests and revenue projections.  But Rupert said that since February, the district has received $274,000 in additional funds due to reimbursements from the state for the state's share of pension and Social Security costs.

Please take this 5 minute survey to improve PA schools
Youth United for Change and the Education Law Center April 2017
This is a short survey developed by Youth United for Change and the Education Law Center, which we're asking community members statewide - including students, parents, school staff, and others connected to public schools - to complete. The survey asks respondents to share their story to inform legislators about what their school/district needs and how cuts to education have impacted their education. While we'd prefer responses by April 30th, the survey will remain live at least until June. We'd be incredibly appreciative if you could share the survey with your networks - by including the link in your monthly newsletter, sharing via your social media postings, or as its own e-blast - to help as many people as possible share their stories. We expect the survey will take respondents less than 5 minutes to complete and can be completed anonymously
Access the survey here:
Questions or comments? Contact Michaela Ward at / 267-825-7710 or Alia Trindle at / (215) 534-1314.

Differential Access to Books and School Librarians in Pennsylvania
Center for Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis Blogs from CEEPA APRIL 12, 2017 ~ DR. ED FULLER
While there is not voluminous evidence about the relationship between access to librarians and student achievement, the extant research does suggest a positive relationship such that students that have access to a school library staffed by a qualified librarian tend to have greater achievement as well as growth in achievement, even after controlling for other factors (Krashen, Lee, & McQuillan, 2012; Lance, & Hofschire, 2012; Lonsdale, 2003; Subramaniam, Ahn, Waugh, Taylor, Druin, Fleischmann, & Walsh, 2015). Moreover, this finding is strongest for students living in poverty since they tend to have less access to books at home and increasingly have less access to books through public libraries (Krashen, 2010; Park & Yau, 2014; Pribesh, Gavigan, & Dickinson, 2011). Further, Constantino (2005) notes that many students in affluent communities have access to more books than students living in poverty have access to through all sources in aggregate. Finally, access to libraries and librarians has also been found to be positively associated with children engaging with literature, developing hobbies, and developing social skills (Jones, 2009).  In the study attached below, I examine access to books at home and access to school librarians for Black, Hispanic, and White students in Pennsylvania.

School officials seek answers on safety of Mariner East 2
State Impact BY JON HURDLE APRIL 7, 2017 | 3:53 PM
Pipeline advocates and emergency responders sought to allay continuing concerns about the safety of the planned Mariner East 2 line near schools during a recent meeting in Delaware County, calming some worries but failing to convince critics that their children will be safe when the pipeline is built.  As Sunoco Logistics presses on with construction of its cross-state natural gas liquids pipeline, officials at the Rose Tree Media School District held a “safety summit” on March 31 to discuss how to respond to different threats including the possibility of a leak or rupture in the line, which is planned to run about 650 feet from an elementary school in the district.  The event, organized by the district’s superintendent, Jim Wigo, was attended by about 40 people including representatives of Sunoco and two other nearby school districts plus emergency responders from municipal and county levels, township officials, representatives of local police and fire departments, council members, and representatives from the Delaware County homeland security department.  Wigo said he called the meeting to discuss safety and security issues at the 450-student Glenwood Elementary School in Middletown, and wanted to learn how the school’s emergency-response plan, now being rewritten, would be affected by the pipeline.

Ambridge school board, teachers meet for contract arbitration
Beaver County Times By Katherine Schaeffer April 12, 2017
AMBRIDGE -- The Ambridge Area School District and its teachers union met with a panel of arbitrators Wednesday morning in hopes of breaking a more than 2-year-long contract bargaining stalemate.  If all goes well, Wednesday's arbitration hearing could result in a contract. If not, another teachers strike could be on the horizon.  The hearing is part of a process called last best offer nonbinding arbitration, which requires the district and the union to submit what they deem their last best contract offer to a panel of three arbitrators: one selected by the district, another selected by the union and a third, neutral arbitrator chosen by the other two.  Ambridge’s 189 teachers have been working under the terms of an expired contract since June 30, 2015, and the two sides have been bargaining since January 2015.  They have been unable to reach an agreement on salary increases and a health insurance plan, two issues that resulted in a 3-week-long teachers strike from Dec. 13 to Jan. 4. The strike extended the school year into June and eliminated spring break for the district’s 2,500 students.

Haverford forms committee to study inclusivity
Delco Times By Lois Puglionesi, Times Correspondent POSTED: 04/12/17, 8:35 PM EDT | 
HAVERFORD >> Schools Superintendent Maureen Reusche announced at last week’s school board meeting that officials have established a new committee that will help take a look at issues related to inclusivity and sociocultural identity.  Made up of teachers and administrators from across the district, who Reusche did not identify, the committee will initially focus on transgender students’ needs and best ways for the district to meet those needs, Reusche said.  The overarching goal is to “to ensure our district is inclusive, welcoming and safe for all our students,” Reusche said. Professional consultant Jeanne Stanley has been retained for this purpose.
Communications Coordinator Anna Deacon said the committee will meet for the first time next week and “will have more information to share at a later date.”  Jean Lutes, a member of Havertown Area Community Action Network, which called for the district to adopt a formal transgender policy, said later that “we are thrilled by this news, and we’re hopeful that this new committee will work together to formulate a clear, coherent policy to protect transgender students. We see this as a great sign that our district is committed to providing the best possible educational environment for all students. We’re especially grateful to the administrators and teachers from across the district who have volunteered to take on this extra work.”

Virtual Schools Expand Despite Poor Performance, Lack of Research Support, and Inadequate Policies
Key Takeaway: Policymakers should focus on improving academic performance, promoting needed research, and developing policy in critical areas before permitting more virtual schools.
National Education Policy Center April 11, 2017
BOULDER, CO (April 11, 2017) – Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2017, a three-part report released today by the National Education Policy Center, provides a detailed inventory of full-time virtual schools in the U.S. and their performance, an exhaustive review of the literature on virtual education and its implications for virtual school practices, and a detailed review and analysis of state-level policymaking related to virtual schools.  The growth of full-time virtual schools is fueled, in part, by policies that expand school choice and that provide market incentives attractive to for-profit companies. Indeed, large virtual schools operated by for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) now dominate this sector and are increasing their market share.  Although virtual schools benefit from the common but largely unsupported assumption that the approach is cost-effective and educationally superior to brick and mortar schools, there are numerous problems associated with virtual schools. School performance measures, for both full-time entirely virtual and full-time blended virtual schools, suggest that they are not as successful as traditional public schools.  The virtual education research base is not adequate to support many current virtual school practices. More than twenty years after the first virtual schools began, there continues to be a deficit of empirical, longitudinal research to guide the practice and policy of virtual schooling.  State policymaking in several key areas – such as accountability, teacher preparation, and school governance – continues to lag.

Maryland General Assembly passes bill limiting hours of testing in schools
Ian Duncan Contact Reporter The Baltimore Sun April 10, 2017
With unanimous votes in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, the General Assembly passed a bill that would limit how many hours of standardized testing school students can be made to undergo each year.  The bill would cap testing at 2.2 percent of overall classroom time in a year — about 24 hours in elementary and middle school and 26 hours in high school.
The state teachers union argues that students are required to take too many tests, costing them hundreds of hours of time that could otherwise be spent learning over the course of their school careers. The Maryland State Education Association supported the bill.  "Educators applaud legislative leaders in both parties for coming together to establish a common sense safeguard against over-testing in our schools," Betty Weller, the association's president, said in a statement. "This means our kids will have more time to learn important well-rounded skills, and our teachers can get back to why they went into the profession in the first place: inspiring their students to love learning."

DeVos announces Education Department hires
By Emma Brown and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel April 12 at 6:17 PM 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday announced the names of personnel who will serve in key leadership positions at the Education Department, a move that comes after she spent the first two months of her tenure operating with a skeletal beachhead team.  Serving as chief of staff is Josh Venable, who worked on former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign and for Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. DeVos served on the board of the foundation, which sought to export the Florida model of education restructuring to other parts of the country.  DeVos’s senior counselor is Robert Eitel, who has been working on the beachhead team while on leave from his job as general counsel for Bridgepoint Education, an operator of a for-profit college that was recently investigated by the department. The Education Department’s inspector general determined in February that Bridgepoint owes the department a $300,000 fine for miscalculating the refund of federal aid provided to students, according to a regulatory filing. The company can appeal the inspector general’s audit, but department officials have said Eitel will have no role in the matter because he has recused himself from all matters related to the company.

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

PSBA Spring Town Hall Meetings coming in May!
Don’t be left in the dark on legislation that affects your district! Learn the latest from your legislators at PSBA Spring Town Hall Meetings. Conveniently offered at 10 locations around the state throughout May, this event will provide you with the opportunity to interact face-to-face with key lawmakers from your area. Enjoy refreshments, connect with colleagues, and learn what issues impact you and how you can make a difference. Log in to the Members Area to register today for this FREE event!
  • Monday, May 1, 6-8 p.m. — Parkway West CTC, 7101 Steubenville Pike, Oakdale, PA 15071
  • Tuesday, May 2, 7:30-9 a.m. — A W Beattie Career Center, 9600 Babcock Blvd, Allison Park, PA 15101
  • Tuesday, May 2, 6-8 p.m. — Crawford County CTC, 860 Thurston Road, Meadville, PA 16335
  • Wednesday, May 3, 6-8 p.m. — St. Marys Area School District, 977 S. St Marys Road, Saint Marys, PA 15857
  • Thursday, May 4, 6-8 p.m. — Central Montco Technical High School, 821 Plymouth Road, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462
  • Friday, May 5, 7:30-9 a.m. — Lehigh Carbon Community College, 4525 Education Park Dr, Schnecksville, PA 18078
  • Monday, May 15, 6-8 p.m. — CTC of Lackawanna Co., 3201 Rockwell Avenue, Scranton, PA 18508
  • Tuesday, May 16, 6-8 p.m. — PSBA, 400 Bent Creek Boulevard, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
  • Wednesday, May 17, 6-8 p.m. — Lycoming CTC, 293 Cemetery Street, Hughesville, PA 17737
  • Thursday, May 18, 6-8 p.m. — Chestnut Ridge SD, 3281 Valley Road, Fishertown, PA 15539
For assistance with registration, please contact Michelle Kunkel at 717-506-2450 ext. 3365.

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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