Sunday, April 2, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup April 2: Community Schools: Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup April 2, 2017:
Community Schools: Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?

“Unfortunately, under current law, private/religious schools that receive EITC/OSTC vouchers are allowed to discriminate against students for any reason, including disability, race, socio-economic status and religious affiliation. Students don’t have increased school “choice” unless a private school chooses to enroll them.  In addition, the vast majority of funding for private/religious school vouchers flows into large urban areas of the state, which are home to most of PA’s private/religious schools. Rural communities receive very few dollars from the EITC/OSTC programs.  To put the PA House’s proposed EITC/OSTC funding increase in perspective, Governor Wolf’s 2017-18 budget proposes a $100 million increase in Basic Education Funding for 1.7 million students who attend public schools. The PA House voted for a $55 million in increase in voucher funding for private/religious schools that educate 250,000 students.”
HB250: Increasing EITC/OSTC vouchers hurts PA taxpayers
Chambersburg Public Opinion Online Opinion by Susan Spicka 10:23 a.m. ET March 31, 2017
Increasing taxpayer-funded vouchers for private/religious schools has emerged as a top budget priority for state lawmakers.  Recently, the PA House approved legislation (HB 250) that would provide $55 million in new funding for private/religious school vouchers through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. This 44% increase would bring total funding for vouchers in PA to $180 million/year.
The EITC and OSTC programs allow businesses to divert their tax payments away from the state and into private/religious schools. These programs have virtually no fiscal or academic performance accountability standards and there is no evidence that they have contributed to improved student achievement in PA.
The EITC/OSTC programs do, however, come at a steep cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers. Every tax dollar that is sent to private/religious schools through the EITC/OSTC programs creates a hole in the state budget that must be filled by hard-working Pennsylvanians.
In order to pay to for $55 million in new private/religious school voucher funding in the 2017-2018 budget, state lawmakers will need to either raise new taxes or cut programs and services from the budget that benefit Pennsylvanians.

Reprise: Pa. should prioritize public education students (letter)
York Daily Record Letter by Eric Wolfgang 4:29 p.m. ET Feb. 6, 2017
As Pennsylvania faces continued budget challenges for the coming fiscal year, every dollar matters, particularly for students in our public schools. Yet, legislators are trying to tinker with the budget in a way that would negatively impact public schools across the commonwealth. House Bill 250 would add $50 million (to $175 million) to the existing Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and $25 million (to $75 million) to the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs.  The state is challenged to close an estimated $716 million revenue gap on this year’s budget, and is looking at a growing structural deficit at nearly $3 billion. Now is not the time for the General Assembly to redirect tax dollars into programs that largely benefit private, nonpublic schools.  These programs shift limited state funds away from public school districts by siphoning valuable dollars from the general fund, via tax credits, that could otherwise be used for public schools. As a result, millions of dollars will not be available to fund the basic education subsidy that goes to school districts to provide instruction and educational services for the 1.8 million students in public schools.  Further, the EITC/OSTC programs fail in transparency and oversight. They are unaccountable because there is no mechanism in place to evaluate the performance of scholarship recipients. In fact, the OSTC law prohibits state administrators from requesting any information related to academic achievement, making it impossible to measure the effectiveness of the program.

“Under the radar, from Union City, N.J., and Montgomery County, Md., to Long Beach and Gardena, Calif., school systems with sizable numbers of students from poor families are doing great work. These ordinary districts took the time they needed to lay the groundwork for extraordinary results.  Will Ms. DeVos and her education department appreciate the value of investing in high-quality public education and spread the word about school systems like Union? Or will the choice-and-vouchers ideology upstage the evidence?”
Community Schools: Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?
New York Times David L. Kirp APRIL 1, 2017
TULSA, Okla. — The class assignment: Design an iPad video game. For the player to win, a cow must cross a two-lane highway, dodging constant traffic. If she makes it, the sound of clapping is heard; if she’s hit by a car, the game says, “Aw.”   “Let me show you my notebook where I wrote the algorithm. An algorithm is like a recipe,” Leila, one of the students in the class, explained to the school official who described the scene to me.  You might assume these were gifted students at an elite school. Instead they were 7-year-olds, second graders in the Union Public Schools district in the eastern part of Tulsa, Okla., where more than a third of the students are Latino, many of them English language learners, and 70 percent receive free or reduced-price lunch. From kindergarten through high school, they get a state-of-the-art education in science, technology, engineering and math, the STEM subjects. When they’re in high school, these students will design web pages and mobile apps, as well as tackle cybersecurity and artificial intelligence projects. And STEM-for-all is only one of the eye-opening opportunities in this district of around 16,000 students.  Betsy DeVos, book your plane ticket now.

Betsy DeVos’s Many Choices
An important education speech that deserves wider notice.
Wall Street Journal March 30, 2017 7:34 p.m. ET
Appeared in the Mar. 31, 2017, print edition.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave her first big policy speech on Wednesday, and you probably didn’t read about it because the media barely covered it. The speech discussed the evidence that school choice can improve the lives of millions of students, but that’s so much less important than, you know, how Sean Spicer answered questions at the White House press gaggle.  Speaking at the Brookings Institution, Mrs. DeVos discussed her support for the many varieties of education choice and how they can help the many varieties of children and families: “Open enrollment, tax credits, home schools, magnets, charters, virtual schools, education savings accounts and choices not yet developed all have their place, but no single one of these is always the right delivery method for each child.”  This is welcome modesty from a federal government that has for years tried to find the single education model, or single reform, that could be replicated everywhere. That top-down approach may have fit the U.S. society and economy of 120 years ago, but it doesn’t work now. Mrs. DeVos’s entire speech is worth reading, but with that one insight she is off to a fine start.

“Unlike school districts, the Legislature has no policy that limits the size of its surplus as a percentage of its total budget and has declined to enact caps as recommended by auditors in prior years. The most recent surplus figure represents about 32 percent of the Legislature’s budget.”
PA Legislature sitting on a $118 million surplus
Beaver County Times Editorial By Calkins Media April 2, 2017
All the talk in Harrisburg these days is about the state’s budget deficit, estimated by some to be as high as $500 million, or possible even higher.  But there is a surplus in Harrisburg these days, even though no one wants to touch it.  It’s the surplus generated over the years by our own state Legislature. According to an audit report released recently by the Legislative Audit Advisory Commission, lawmakers are sitting on a surplus of $118 million -- $56 million in the House, $23 million in the Senate and $39 million spread among various legislative branch agencies. It grew by 18 percent, approximately $18 million, in the past year.  The surplus is on top of an overall legislative budget of $321 million that includes $275 million for salaries and benefits, nearly three-fourths of the budget, according to the report. The second category was leases at $10.8 million.

“Senate Bill 22, introduced by Sens. Lisa Boscola, D-18, and Mario Scavello, R-40, is one of several bills calling for a change in the way electoral boundaries are drawn that have been referred to the State Government Committees. Fair Districts PA is supporting SB 22 and a soon-to-be introduced companion bill, House Bill 722, Kuniholm said.  Under SB22, a Redistricting Commission comprised solely of independent citizens would be established to include four individuals registered with the largest political party in the state; four registered with the second-largest party; and three “with affiliations that are not of either of the two largest parties.”
The commission would develop a preliminary plan for congressional and state legislative districts and hold public hearings, after which it would vote on the plan. Seven votes, with at least one from each of the commission’s subgroups, would be needed for approval.”
SB22: Ambler Borough Council passes anti-gerrymandering resolution
Resolution calls for end to politically-motivated redistricting
Ambler Gazette By Linda Finarelli @lkfinarelli on Twitter  Mar 30, 2017 Updated Mar 30, 2017
AMBLER >> A statewide effort to end gerrymandering in Pennsylvania was reflected locally March 21 when Ambler Borough Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of establishing an independent citizens redistricting commission.  Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating electoral district boundaries for political advantage by the party in power, in essence providing legislators control over who votes for them rather than letting voters determine who is placed in office.  Ambler joined 16 other municipalities that passed the resolution, according to the website of Fair Districts PA, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit leading the effort to change the way legislative boundaries are drawn.  Ambler resident Olivia Castello, who introduced the resolution to borough council, wrote in an email that gerrymandering “disenfranchises me and other Pennsylvanians when our districts are not as competitive as they should be.”  Noting legislation has been introduced in Harrisburg to amend the state constitution to reform the redistricting process by “using fairness and sound methodology in a nonpartisan fashion,” the resolution supports having districts drawn by an independent citizens redistricting commission.

Op-ed: Pennsylvanians' growing sentiment to make elections fair
There were no pitchforks or torches when I attended a public forum earlier this month at Chestnut Hill United Church about how Pennsylvanians could — just maybe — restore some fairness to the political process.  Currently, lines are drawn by a politically embedded committee of five, including the majority and minority leaders of the Pennsylvania House and Senate. Boundaries change roughly every decade, on the heels of the national census. Ideally, districts are to contain about the same population and be geographically “compact and contiguous.”   Not surprisingly, career politicians have engineered the process to work to their own benefit through a process known as gerrymandering. It consists of dividing geographic areas into representative districts that advantage one party or group over another. The term originated in 1812. A journalist with The Boston Gazette noted that a Massachusetts electoral district had taken on the shape of a salamander to benefit Gov. Elbridge Gerry. Soon, gerrymander was in common use.

North Allegheny: Let's End Gerrymandering - April 3rd 7:00 pm
Public Meeting Hosted by Fair Districts PA Monday, April 3 at 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM EDT
Carson Middle School, 200 Hillvue Ln, Pittsburgh, PA 15237
Carol Kuniholm, Chair of Fair Districts PA, will give an informational presentation about the impact of extreme gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and the effort to create an independent citizens commission to reform the redistricting process. There will be time for Q and A and also opportunity to meet and network with local Fair Districts PA organizers.

New PA budget power broker Saylor weighs in on taxes, schools, gambling
Philly Daily News by John Baer, Political Columnist Updated: MARCH 31, 2017 — 2:49 PM EDT
Whether you’ve heard of him previously or not, you’re likely in the coming months to become highly familiar with state Rep. Stan Saylor (R., York County).   Elected by House GOP members as the new state House Appropriations chairman, he replaces former Delco Rep. Bill Adolph, who retired after last session. As such, Saylor’s now a key player in all things budget, including Philadelphia schools, taxes, and overall spending. The budget’s due June 30. Saylor’s clout and input has statewide significance.  He’s 62 and and was first elected to the legislature in 1992. Like many House colleagues from rural areas, he’s very conservative: past winner of the American Conservative Union’s Defender of Liberty Award, past Statesman of the Year Award winner from Pennsylvanians for Right to Work.

New arts-focused charter to recruit students beyond East Allegheny district
By Elizabeth Behrman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette April 2, 2017 12:10 AM
The new Westinghouse Arts Academy Charter School, which this fall will take up residence in the former Westinghouse Elementary School in Wilmerding, will have room for 750 students.  But only about 1 percent of the students who enroll there will come from the East Allegheny School District, which approved the performing arts high school’s charter in February.  In what some charter school law experts called an “unusual” compromise, the charter school agreed to cap the number of students it takes from East Allegheny at 10. Instead, the school will recruit arts students from other school districts across Allegheny County and beyond. Given the popularity of Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 and the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, both of which attract hundreds of applicants each year, the new arts-focused high school is likely to be an appealing option for residents outside the city school district or for parents who don’t want to drive their child to Beaver County.

Spring-Ford district in holding pattern on transgender policy
By Eric Devlin, The Mercury POSTED: 04/01/17, 2:31 PM EDT | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
ROYERSFORD >> Spring-Ford School District officials are taking the wait-and-see approach when it comes to adopting a policy for transgender students.  After two major lawsuits against Pennsylvania school districts involving transgender students have been filed, including one against the Boyertown Area School District, Spring-Ford is waiting for the courts to make a decision before it changes school policy.  In Western Pennsylvania, three transgender students are suing the Pine-Richland School District to allow them to use the bathrooms they want, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Meanwhile in our area, just the opposite is happening, as a student is suing the Boyertown Area School District for failing to restrict the use of its bathrooms and locker rooms to either male or female students.  Following the advice of Solicitor Mark Fitzgerald and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Spring-Ford officials said they are waiting for a legal ruling before they make any decisions.  “We will continue to do everything we can to accommodate all of our students,” said board Vice President Tom DiBello. “We’re in a wait-and-see situation unfortunately.”

Millcreek 2017-18 school budget work in progress
School district administrators are recommending a 1.1 percent tax increase, but that could change before final budget adoption in May.
Go Erie By Valerie Myers  April 2, 2017
Millcreek Township School District has a $3.2 million surplus going into the 2017-18 school year. 
But that doesn’t mean that school property taxes won’t increase.  District administrators this past week recommended a 1.1 percent tax increase. The increase would cost district taxpayers an additional $15 for each $100,000 of their home’s assessed value.  Using surplus money instead to cover a projected $1.46 million operating deficit for 2017-18 would put the district in the red by at least double that amount in 2018-19, said Aaron O’Toole, school district director of finance and operations. The district would be spending money that would not be replaced by revenues.

DeVos to Use State Accountability Plans to 'Encourage' School Choice
The Education Department is clarifying recent comments from Betsy DeVos, who said accountability plans could be a mechanism for pushing states to provide educational options for parents and children.
US News By Lauren Camera, Education Reporter | March 30, 2017, at 6:24 p.m.
The Department of Education’s approval of state accountability plans will not hinge on whether they include school choice policies, but Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will use the process as an opportunity to “encourage” states to adopt those policies, a department official clarified Thursday.  “She will certainly encourage states to think boldly and embrace school choice and provide more options for students,” an Education Department official says. “There is a distinction between encourage and compel. This administration will encourage states to embrace choice and share best practices, but that’s not compulsion.”  The department official continued: “[The Every Student Succeeds Act] is being implemented based solely on what’s being required by law, and stating anything to the contrary is taking out of context the secretary’s remarks. There’s a distinction between compelling and encouraging, and she’s always been consistent that ESSA will be implemented as Congress intended.”

“Private schools, including religiously based ones, are not legally obliged to admit or enroll students.  They have the choice to decide which students they prefer and do not have to explain their reasoning.”
The masquerade of school choice: a parent’s story
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss April 1 
President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos say their primary focus in education policy will be to expand school choice, providing alternatives to traditional public schools. DeVos has been clear about her view of traditional public schools, calling them “a dead end” in 2015 and this past week saying that student outcomes at U.S. schools are so bad that she isn’t  “sure how they could get a lot worse.”  Though championed by Trump and DeVos, school choice is highly controversial around the country. Choice supporters say that parents have a right to send their children to any school they want and the public should pay for it, especially for those families fleeing troubled traditional public schools. Supporters of the traditional system say that charter and voucher schools don’t on average perform any better than public schools, and often do worse; are not held to the same standards; are not transparent about their operations; often pick and choose the students they want; and drain vital resources from traditional schools that accept all students.  For those who support school choice, Arizona is seen as a big success, with virtual schools; hundreds of charter schools. which are funded by the public but operated privately; magnet schools; and private and religious schools, which enroll students with public dollars made available through tax credit and voucher-like programs. Some 20 percent of Arizona’s students are educated through school choice programs, most of them in charter schools.

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.

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:

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

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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