Monday, June 5, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 5: 47 PA Senators Cosponsor Legislation to End Keystone Exams as Grad Requirement; No short term relief for school districts/taxpayers under SB1 proposed pension bill

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup June 5, 2017:
47 PA Senators Cosponsor Legislation to End Keystone Exams as Grad Requirement; No short term relief for school districts/taxpayers under SB1 proposed pension bill

Public hearing on graduation requirements as tools for assessments and accountability June 5th 10 am Capitol
Senate Education Committee Meeting MONDAY - 6/5/17 10:00 a.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building

“Budget season is headed toward its June 30 deadline with school districts submitting plans for spending millions in public dollars and Harrisburg staring down a $3 billion deficit predicted in the state budget.  In the meantime, the use of the year-old Fair Funding Formula for only 6 percent of the Commonwealth’s entire education budget makes an attempt at fairness almost invisible to the 130 school districts identified as being underfunded.”
Editorial: Schools take on fight for fair funding in Pa.
West Chester Daily Local POSTED: 06/04/17, 11:05 PM EDT | UPDATED: 3 HRS AGO
The Pottstown School District in Montgomery County and Southeast Delco in Delaware County are just two examples of the inequity in school funding in Pennsylvania. In an issue that won’t go away, officials, staff and even students in those districts are becoming increasingly frustrated and are working to take action.  Last week, both were sites of organized press conferences to put pressure on state legislators urging that “fair funding” be more than just words.  Pottstown has become in recent years a poster child for differences in school funding between rich and poor districts. With that distinction has come a leadership role, too. The district is at the forefront of action to raise awareness about school funding gaps and remedies needed to address them.
Last week, Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez led a special Superintendent’s Forum focusing on the question — “Why Are My Taxes So High?”  The next morning the school was the Montgomery County location for a series of statewide press conferences calling attention to Pennsylvania’s rank as the worst in the nation for the gap between funding for rich and poor schools. In another of the press conferences, a group gathered at the Southeast Delco Kindergarten Center to turn up the heat on state officials.  “We know public education is under attack and we know we have to fight back,” Pottstown School Board member Ron Williams said at the Pottstown forum.

“For the life of me, I can’t figure out the whys and the hows,” William Penn School Board Vice President Rafi Cave said, “how the Pennsylvania General Assembly could maintain and support a system that boasts the worst funding disparity from wealthy to poor districts in the entire country and why it’s OK for students in schools just a few miles apart, even in the same county, to receive more than $5,000 less than another student.”
Delco officials call on state to adequately fund public schools
By Kathleen E. Carey, Delaware County Daily Times POSTED: 06/01/17, 9:25 PM EDT
DARBY TOWNSHIP >> William Penn Schools Superintendent Jane Harbert says she lies awake at night grappling with a teacher’s complaint that the duct tape binding classroom books is failing. Rose Tree Media Superintendent James Wigo says the only time state legislators will care is when wealthier districts reach that point.  “We are all destined to the same fate,” Wigo said Wednesday at a press conference staged by the Campaign for Fair Education Funding at Southeast Delco’s Kindergarten Center attended by several Delaware County superintendents and school board members.  One of the main messages was how Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the United States for the state’s share of education funding as the state pays for 37 percent of educational costs. Advocates say in a state with such difference among districts coupled with mandates and various funding pressures such as limited resources due to socio-economics or aging populations, this percentage is no where near enough.  “For the life of me, I can’t figure out the whys and the hows,” William Penn School Board Vice President Rafi Cave said, “how the Pennsylvania General Assembly could maintain and support a system that boasts the worst funding disparity from wealthy to poor districts in the entire country and why it’s OK for students in schools just a few miles apart, even in the same county, to receive more than $5,000 less than another student.”

The next 26 days
Education Voters PA Posted on June 5, 2017 by EDVOPA
Decisions PA legislators make in the upcoming weeks will have a lasting impact on PA’s public school students. From now until June 30th, when the state budget is due, lawmakers will be passing legislation and cutting deals as they determine how much state funding our children’s school districts will receive.  We need to be ready to make regular calls to state lawmakers until the budget is passed. Lobbyists for special interest groups will be in the Capitol every day pressuring lawmakers to support legislation that will siphon money out of public schools and into private pockets.  Lawmakers need to hear from their constituents to be reminded that voters back in their districts expect a budget and policies that will support strong public schools.
To get ready to make these calls, click HERE to find your state lawmakers’ phone numbers and put them in your cell phone or write them down near your home phone. These calls only take a few minutes and as few as 5 phone calls to a lawmaker’s office about a specific issue can have a significant impact on the decisions s/he makes.

“The bill would produce no short-term savings for the state or school districts, both which are straining under a sharp increase in pension obligation payments in recent years, in part to make up for years of delinquent payments.  If anything, pension obligations under the bill would rise slightly in the first 15 years, actuaries say. The bill would reduce retirement benefits for most new hires after 2018, while the amount that future employees pay into the system would increase under most scenarios, according to a report by the Independent Fiscal Office, a nonpartisan legislative agency that reviewed actuarial analyses of the legislation.
Long-term savings were projected to be minor.”
Senate GOP advances new effort to overhaul pension benefits
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The Pennsylvania state Senate began advancing legislation Sunday night in the latest Republican effort to overhaul retirement benefits in Pennsylvania’s two big debt-saddled public pension systems.  The bill passed a committee vote on a near-party line basis in the Republican-controlled Senate, hours after a draft of the legislation became public. Senate officials hope that months of closed-door negotiations will result in speedy approval by the GOP-controlled House and Senate later this week, and a signature by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
Wolf’s office said he supports the bill and its goals of continuing to pay down the pension debt on the current schedule, reduce pension fund investment fees and shift investment risk away from taxpayers.  A full Senate vote was expected Monday.  Senate Republicans have tried unsuccessfully for four years to end or reduce the traditional pension benefit for future state government and public school employees in favor of a 401(k)-style benefit. The bill would create a hybrid plan, and give future hires a choice of either that or a plan made up entirely of a 401(k)-style benefit.

“Many school districts across the state are draining reserves, letting class sizes grow above optimal levels, or scrimping on maintenance or other costs as a result.  This bill, according to an analysis by the state's Independent Fiscal Office, will only shave $1.4 billion off a cumulative tab projected at about $215 billion through the next 30 years. That's a break to taxpayers of less than one percent, with costs actually ticking up in the near term. “
Pa. pension bill passes Senate Appropriations Committee; floor vote set up for Monday
Penn Live BY CHARLES THOMPSON Updated on June 5, 2017 at 1:11 AM Posted on June 4, 2017 at 11:20 PM
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 18-8 Sunday to move a new pension bill to the full Senate floor that appears to reflect a lowest common denominator for passage on this thorny issue.  The bill has strong support from Republican majorities, some key Democrats, and Gov. Tom Wolf, and appears to have even won a stony silence from some key public sector unions that would ordinarily be a focal point for opposition.  But outside observers reached Sunday were skeptical that it will do anything to help the pension pneumonia that has racked the health of state and school district budgets for the last six years.  "I just don't think it's a serious effort at pension reform, and certainly not the one that taxpayers have been looking for," said Richard Dreyfuss, a former human resources chief at Hershey Foods who has advocated for a full transition to a defined contribution plan.  "When you look at the math, it clearly has a minimal - if any - impact."

“Legislative Republicans unveiled a new pension reform plan Sunday that achieves one major political goal, but does nothing to address the budget-crushing pressures facing Pennsylvania's public schools and taxpayers now.”
New Pa. pension proposal barely moves needle on costs; carries modest cuts in benefits for future hires
Penn Live BY CHARLES THOMPSON Updated on June 4, 2017 at 9:15 PM Posted on June 4, 2017 at 6:19 PM
Legislative Republicans unveiled a new pension reform plan Sunday that achieves one major political goal, but does nothing to address the budget-crushing pressures facing Pennsylvania's public schools and taxpayers now.  The bill also does nothing to correct what is now widely-seen as a major policy error in 2001 that set the stage for the current problems.  The instant reviews were poor from some prominent observers of Pennsylvania's pension mess.  Barry Shutt, a state retiree who has tried to raise visibility on the issue through a pension debt clock at the Capitol, called it "another kick the can down the road (plan designed to provide political cover) until they, including the Governor, are out of office."  Supporters, however, said the plan will, by creating a new pension system for state workers and public school teachers hired after 2019, achieve a major goal by reducing the risk of new pension cost spikes.

Pennsylvania Legislature starts to move big pension 'reform' bill
A Senate panel voted Sunday night to change pension benefits for all new school employees and most state workers after 2018.
Steve Esack Contact Reporter Morning Call Harrisburg Bureau June 5, 2017
The Legislature began moving a bill Sunday night to drastically change retirement benefits for most state employees and all school employees hired after 2018.  The bill seeks to reduce the long-term risk associated with taxpayers bailing out the state’s two debt-ridden pension plans in bad economic times.  The bill would move affected workers from a fully backed taxpayer-funded pension plan in which retirements benefits are guaranteed regardless of Wall Street performance to a so-called hybrid plan. That hybrid would keep about half of workers’ pensions in the taxpayer-backed guaranteed plan. The other half would go into a corporate-style 401(k) plan that goes up and down with the market, reducing taxpayer exposure by more than 50 percent.  New workers could also elect to have all retirement benefits placed into a 401(k) instead of one of two hybrids.

Pa.’s pension vacuum needs turned off (column)
York Daily Record Opinion by Rep. Kate Klunk 5:02 p.m. ET May 31, 2017
State Rep. Kate Klunk is a Republican from Hanover.
I can hear it from Southern York County and every other corner of the state. It’s the sucking sound of Pennsylvania’s pension vacuum that slurps up 60 cents of every new tax dollar sent to Harrisburg. That’s 60 cents of every new dollar not being used for core functions of government, such as educating our students, improving our transportation infrastructure or reducing taxes. When the General Assembly returns to session this week, members are expected to take up a pension reform bill. Before we get into details of the bill, let me explain why the state can no longer kick the pension can down the road.

PSBA hopeful for positive action on long-overdue pension reform
PSBA Website by Nathan Mains, PSBA Executive Director POSTED ON JUN 3, 2017
Think of our current pension crisis like a large iceberg. We've seen it for more than a decade giving us ample time to make course adjustments as a state to bypass the danger ahead. Unfortunately, little has been done in that time. The S.S. Pennsylvania is now scraping the side of that iceberg, and we will be for the next decade or more, meaning year after year of increased pension costs for public schools.  While it's too late to completely avoid the pension crisis, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) remains hopeful that legislation expected to be considered next week will at least help keep the iceberg from gouging a financial hole that sinks every school district in the state and might veer the ship away years earlier.
Here are some basic facts behind the pension crisis to put it into perspective:
·         Beginning July 1, 2017, the annual employer contribution rate that must be paid by school districts will jump to 32.5%. Put another way, for every dollar spent on salaries, schools will pay 32.5 cents toward pensions.
·         Since 2009-10, pension costs have increased by $2.2 billion or 434%.
·         If nothing is done, by 2021-22, schools will be paying $5 billion a year into the pension system.
The reasons why we are here are many – artificial caps on pension contributions, expanding benefits for employees, economic downturn. How we got here is not as important as where we are headed and what decisions need to be made to help with the overwhelming financial burden districts are facing for the foreseeable future.

State Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19, said that 46 fellow senators, or all but three of his colleagues, support abolishment of the Keystone Exams as a graduation requirement. Several times, he regularly referred to Keystone tests as “absurd.”
“This bill ends the graduation test,” Dinniman said, referring to proposed legislation he supports in the state Senate. “Any one test should not be the determining factor for graduation. I’m not sure that anyone gets anything out of the Keystones.”  Dinniman, who is a member of the state Senate Education Committee, said that $1.3 billion has been spent on the Keystones, and some students do not have access to a biology text book or labs.
Keystone Exams get a failing grade locally
West Chester Daily Local By Bill Rettew Jr., POSTED: 06/03/17, 9:42 PM EDT |
WEST CHESTER >>The Keystone Exams are getting a failing grade from both school administrators and students.  Not a single presenter at a meeting Friday at West Chester University spoke favorably of the exams that are scheduled to require students to earn a passing grade to graduate from high school.  Speakers included, school administrators, students, parents, test givers and elected officials.  West Chester Area School District Superintendent Dr. James Scanlon has fought graduation tests on the state and federal levels.  “I understand that the intent is accountability, but this is just not a good way to measure student progress,” Scanlon said.
Scanlon said he favors accountability.  “I believe in very high standards for our students,” Scanlon said. “I do believe that tests can be a good thing. But not the way we are being forced by the state and federal government to give them.”  The state graduation test requirement was pushed back a couple of years. As it now stands, students from the Class of 2019 will be required to pass Keystone Exams in reading, biology and algebra.  “Even a straight ‘A’ student who doesn’t do well on the Keystones won’t receive a diploma, under state law,” Scanlon said.

Blogger note: This bill has not been formally introduced yet.  Here is the cosponsorship memo outlining the major points of the proposed legislation:
PA Senate Cosponsorship MEMORANDUM
Posted:            April 20, 2017 04:17 PM
From:               Senator Andrew E. Dinniman and Sen. John H. Eichelberger, Jr.
To:                   All Senate members
Subject:           Elimination of Keystone Exams
As Majority and Minority Chairman of the Senate Education Committee we are requesting your co-sponsorship of a bill that does the following:
First, our bill eliminates the Keystone Exams or any composite of these exams from being taken or used as a high school graduation requirement. Even the Department of Education (PDE) has stated that the "Keystone Exams are not a good predictor of college and career readiness".
Second, the bill says that in terms of federal accountability required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the curriculum aligned Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) can be used to fulfill that requirement or the SAT can be substituted by an aligned vocational test, an aligned GED test, or the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVB) test. We also note the need for a test for students with severe cognitive disabilities. The Keystone Exams would not be available for the purpose of accountability.
Third, any test used shall not take more than two days of instructional time and it shall be scored and returned to the school entity within 30 days.
Fourth, accountability results shall be used as part of a comprehensive plan for a multi-faceted, holistic, and rigorous approach to determine teacher evaluation and school performance, which would need to be included in any ESSA plan.
Fifth, the bill guarantees the right of parents to be notified of their right to opt their children out of any accountability test (a right recognized in the ESSA legislation). It also requires notification of the specific basis upon which an opt-out request can be made and states the obligation of school districts to respect parental rights concerning decisions with regards to their own children. Some school districts have created road blocks to recognizing parental rights.
Please join us in sponsoring this legislation.

School breakfast: as integral as reading time
A critical investment for Pennsylvania
Post Gazette by  ERIKA FRICKE 12:00 AM JUN 4, 2017
School districts have a simple, low-tech tool in their arsenal that can help increase student test scores and attendance and decrease behavior problems and trips to the school nurse: school breakfast. Reviews of hundreds of research studies confirm what adults who interact with children already know — test scores, concentration, behavior and memory are all improved among students that eat breakfast in the morning.  Close to 40 percent of the children in Allegheny County qualify for school meal support. Breakfast is technically available to most students in Allegheny County at low cost or, for eligible students, completely free. (Only one district, West Jefferson, does not provide breakfast.) But that doesn’t mean eating in the morning is easy.  Breakfast is typically served in a brief period before school. Just-on-time arrivals can mean students arrive before the official school day, but too late for breakfast. Far-flung cafeterias create another barrier. Many adults still remember the pain of deciding whether to hang out with friends before school or get their bellies filled, at the risk of identifying as “in need.” Ultimately, in order to ensure students don’t sit in class hungry, we must reimagine breakfast as part of the school day — as integral as recess, lunch or reading time. How that looks in each school building, however, is different.

“The ethics law should be tightened or, better, replaced with a gift ban such as Gov. Wolf signed the day he took office for those under his jurisdiction.  Even if pols give away what’s given to them, they benefit from sharing what isn’t theirs to share.  Plus, gifts suggest being on the take. They create an appearance of conflict and greed. They further erode trust in public service — which, in Pennsylvania, can often fade to a faint notion.”
Pennsylvania public officials take gifts because they can
Philly Daily News by John Baer, Political Columnist Updated: JUNE 4, 2017 — 2:48 PM EDT
I always enjoy the annual state Ethics Commission filings showing gifts, travel, and whatnot taken by our public officials.  First, I savor the comic value of putting in the same sentence “our public officials” and “ethics.”  But I also like to remind folks that our ethics law isn’t a window into our ship of state — it’s a screen door on a submarine.  It’s full of holes, reliant on the honesty of those filing. There’s no limit to what they can take, so long as they admit taking. There’s no way to know if filings are accurate or complete. And they don’t have to report gifts from friends as long as the “friend” isn’t a lobbyist.  The law is so lax that we’re a national leader (finally in something!) at making our electeds gifted.

Freeport Area School District takes unusual actions to avert layoffs, tax increase
Trib Live by GEORGE GUIDO | Monday, June 5, 2017, 12:31 a.m.
Real estate taxes will stay the same in the Freeport Area School District next year.  But it took some unusual steps to make that so.  The school board approved a preliminary budget of $30.78 million that keeps the real estate tax rate for Armstrong County property owners at 61.2 mills and for those in Buffalo Township in Butler County at 142.6 mills.  The average household in Freeport and South Buffalo will pay $1,985 in property taxes, while the average Buffalo Township household will pay $2,932 because the counties assess property differently.  The school district had to do several things to balance the budget and avoid a tax hike:
• A retirement incentive program will have six educators calling it quits at the end of the school year. That will save the school district $440,000 for the 2017-18 school year and $1.3 million over three school years.
• 18 teachers will have new roles in the district to prevent layoffs, and four programs will be eliminated.
• Superintendent Ian Magness will have his pay frozen at $148,000 for the next school year, a savings of $69,000 in salary and benefits.
But Magness, in what amounted to a paperwork move, had to resign effective June 30 to make the wage freeze happen because it would have violated his contract. The school board immediately inked him to a new five-year contract, starting July 1, that pays him $148,000 in its first year.

Lancaster County school districts' savings funds are difficult to justify as taxes keep rising
Lancaster Online Editorial The LNP Editorial Board June 4, 2017
As last week's Sunday reported, Lancaster County school districts grew their general fund balances by nearly $75 million over five years while their tax rates climbed an average of 9 percent. The 17 public school districts that serve Lancaster County, including Octorara Area, had total general fund balances of $210 million in 2015-16, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. That was an increase of 55 percent from 2010-11, a five-year period in which nearly all school boards raised taxes.
If you’re reading this and doing the math in your head, trying to figure why your taxes keep going up while school districts are stashing money, at least there’s comfort in knowing you’re not alone. We’re with you, and so are the many LNP readers who write us in regular intervals about crippling property taxes.  “At this rate, it won’t take long for my lifetime of work retirement savings to have a net balance of zero,” writes Jim Murphy, of Millersville.  “So I guess all the seniors will wind up on the street at the rate things have been going in the last decade,” laments Ken Beck, of East Lampeter Township.  And from James McCall, of Manheim Township: “There are more and more people living on low, limited or fixed incomes. We struggle to make ends meet. Every year the cost of what we need to buy goes up.”  There are plenty more where those letters came from. We only went back 10 days into the archives.  Other than commiseration, there isn’t much more we can offer in the way of relief.

Pa. Senate should not approve bill allowing school employees to carry firearms on school property: Willis R. Kocher
PENNLIVE OP-ED By Willis R. Kocher Posted on June 4, 2017 at 8:30 AM
Willis R. Kocher writes from Mechanicsburg. 
As a retired public school high school teacher with thirty-three years of experience working in the class room, I must oppose the pending legislation in the Pennsylvania Senate, bill 383, known as the "school safety" bill. If passed and signed by the governor, it would enable the state's teachers and other staff members such as administrative employees as well as maintenance workers, the legal right to carry firearms as a means of protecting our school children while on school property. Pennsylvania has approximately five-hundred public school districts. If passed, the state legislature would give the individual school boards the authority to act upon the gun issue. The pending legislation would require the school boards to properly train, certify and license each staff member before granting them the authority to use deadly force with a gun. Of course, the financial costs to the boards must be considered. It is my opinion, that such authority is questionable, at best. One might ask, with so-called "firearms training," should parents and guardians of the children be expected to feel comfortable knowing their school personnel have firearms on school property where their children are attending.  As stated, I think not.

Their view: Education key to success for all
TIMESLEADER OP-ED by Bill Jones - Guest Columnist POSTED ON JUNE 3, 2017 
Bill Jones is president and CEO at United Way of Wyoming Valley.
And just like that, it is over.  After seven years of taking my two daughters to high school, coordinating after school plans to keep up with their busy schedules, attending as many of their school activities as I could, watching them strive to do their best, and asking them every single night how their day had gone, my days as a parent of a high school student are suddenly over.  Our baby graduated and life for her and our family will forever be different. It is not a shock to anyone who knows me that I am not nearly as ready for this change as she seems to be. My wife and I will be “empty nesters” this fall.  For most people, graduation is one of life’s most memorable milestones and is a great time to reflect on successes that have been achieved or obstacles that have been overcome. Yet, graduation is not an educational finish line. Rather, it is the new starting line for success as an adult.

OPED: Why do billionaires love charter schools?
York Dispatch by Harold Meyerson, Los Angeles Times (TNS)2:58 p.m. ET June 1, 2017
The billionaires, apparently, we shall always have with us — even when we decide how to run the state-funded schools where they rarely send their own kids.  In the Los Angeles school board elections earlier this month, a number of billionaires, including Eli Broad, Netflix founder Reed Hastings and two Walton family siblings, poured millions into the campaigns of two charter-school advocates.  These billionaire-sponsored candidates defeated two badly outspent opponents who took a more cautionary stance on expanding charters, lest they decimate the school district’s budget.

“Lincoln Learning Solutions, which was formed in 2005, develops online curriculum for institutions such as the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.  According to the company’s website, annual revenues are about $60 million. The website also said the company employs 300 full- and part-time staffers and employs a “vast network of course developers, content specialists and educational consultants throughout the world.”
Lincoln Learning Solutions lays off 34 employees
Beaver County Times By Jared Stonesifer Jun 2, 2017
ROCHESTER -- Lincoln Learning Solutions has laid off 34 workers from its headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue in Rochester.  Company spokeswoman Christina Zarek confirmed Friday the layoffs happened because of “typical economic and business considerations.”
“About three years ago, Lincoln Learning Solutions placed an emphasis on building efficiencies in every department. At the same time, we increased our complement of employees, mostly so we could complete several larger projects in a timely fashion,” Zarek said. “The confluence of the efficiencies kicking in and the projects being completed allowed us to do more with less and begin to rightsize the organization.”  Zarek said the layoffs impacted a “range of departments” and were announced May 31. She said the affected employees will be paid through June 15.

LETTER: Legislators get lifetime health care
Pottstown Mercury Letter by Larry Cohen Schwenksville POSTED: 06/03/17
I recently read with interest state Sen. Bob Mensch’s (R-24th Dist.) dire portrayal of the commonwealth’s 2018 budget. In the article, Sen. Mensch bemoaned the fact that public pensions and Medicaid are the two “fastest cost accelerators” affecting the budget.
Earlier in May, I attended an event in which the senator all but blamed teachers’ pensions for Pennsylvania’s budget woes. His position is hypocritical. Pennsylvania lawmakers start at a minimum pay of $85,339, the second highest among state legislatures nationwide and almost double the mean salary of Pennsylvania teachers. With 10 years of service, they can retire at 55 and start drawing generous monthly pension benefits. Perhaps the senator can propose a reduction in his own pension to help meet the budget shortfall.  States that expanded Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), including Pennsylvania, were fully funded by the federal government through 2016. Washington still pays 90 percent of costs after 2019. For many Pennsylvanians, the ACA is their only lifeline to medical care. Legislators, however, have access to lifetime health care. Sen. Mensch implicitly wants beneficiaries thrown off Medicaid. Maybe he can drop his own access to lifetime health care first.

“If the teachers vote for unionization, New Foundations would be the fifth charter school in the district where teachers and professional staff are represented by the Alliance for Charter School Employees. The charters include Olney Charter High School, which approved its first contract in May.  …The K-8 charter was founded by Stadelberger and Sheryl Perzel, wife of former Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel. Sheryl Perzel stepped down from the New Foundations board in 2005.”
High school teachers at New Foundations Charter seek union
Inquirer by Martha Woodall, Staff Writer  @marwooda | Updated: JUNE 2, 2017 — 4:50 PM EDT
Teachers at New Foundations Charter High School in Northeast Philadelphia want to unionize. More than 90 percent of the 53 teachers and professional support staff at the charter have signed cards saying they want to be represented by an affiliate of AFT Pennsylvania and have asked the National Labor Relations Board to schedule an election.  The documents were delivered to the NLRB’s regional office in Philadelphia on Friday, union officials said.  Teachers said they want to have a greater voice in the school’s operations, including seeking a  consistent curriculum, a recognized salary schedule, improved job security, and full participation in the state pension system for school employees.  “I’m organizing because my family deserves a raise, and my students deserve more resources to realize their dreams,” said Zach Riegler, a ninth grade social studies teacher.  Paul Stadelberger, CEO at New Foundations, could not be reached for comment,

“Much of the increase in spending is driven by factors beyond the district’s control: increased district contributions to the teachers pension fund; the increased cost for employee health plans and a rise in the cost of charter schools, due mostly to projected increases in enrollment.”
Editorial: Philly School budget has pluses, but fiscal woes are on the horizon
by The Daily News Editorial Board Updated: JUNE 2, 2017 — 3:01 AM EDT
The most dramatic thing about next year’s budget for the Philadelphia School District is that there is no drama.  No proposed tax increases.  No painful cuts. No shouting. No protests.
All was relatively calm when the School Reform Commission approved the $2.9 billion budget last week.  The district even added 76 new teaching positions, plus counselors and bilingual aides for students who are learning English. Those investments should help Superintendent William Hite meet his goal of improving academic performance in the schools.  What wrong with this happy picture? According to the district’s own five-year plan, next year will be the last the district runs in the black. After that, and for the next four years, the deficit will grow and grow until – under one gloomy scenario — it tops out at $905 million in 2022.  The district’s problem is a simple one: Its revenue is expected to grow at any average of just under 2 percent a year going forward, while its expenses are expected to rise at an average of 4 percent a year. In the diplomatic language of the budget document, this creates a “structural imbalance.”

“The department is committed to upholding the goals of the Basic Education Funding Commission, which found that the allocation of basic education funding needs to allow for accountability, transparency and predictability.  “To realize these goals, the department calculated the factors and indexes in the student-weighted basic education funding formula using the data available as of the first day in June immediately preceding the fiscal year in which funding is distributed. This practice will continue moving forward to enable school districts to more accurately predict the basic education funding they will receive throughout the year.  “However, in an effort to use the most accurate data possible, the department will permit corrections to the individual data sets as more accurate data for those sets becomes available.”
$613K in funding restored to HASD
Standard Speaker BY JILL WHALEN / PUBLISHED: JUNE 3, 2017
The Pennsylvania Department of Education restored $613,000 in Basic Education Funding to the Hazleton Area School District, according to state Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-116, Butler Twp.  The cuts to the district’s 2016-17 budget were the result of an inaccurate recalculation under a state formula that determines basic education funding awards.  “After fighting for the restoration of these funds for months, I am absolutely thrilled that I was able to get this money put back into our current budget,” Toohil said.  She sent letters to Gov. Tom Wolf requesting the funds since the cut was based on an incorrect estimate of the district’s poverty level.  The funds were restored Friday.

Students use cellphones in school to text, bully, plan fights, and sometimes learn
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer  @Kathy_Boccella | Updated: JUNE 2, 2017 — 1:39 PM EDT
Once banned by most school districts, cellphones now are as much a part of the class day for many students as No. 2 lead pencils were for their parents.  Teachers put them to use as metronomes in music classes, for instance, and give quizzes through a popular app called Kahoot! Parents text their kids to ask when they’ll be home or remind them to walk the dog when they get there.  Administrators, though, have become alarmed by students' increasing use of smartphones to bully one another during school hours, to engage in escalating disputes, and even to arrange fights that are then filmed and posted to social media.  Cellphones played a critical role in the May 3 brawl at Cheltenham High School that produced seven injuries, four arrests, and days of heated news coverage. According to the prosecution at a Family Court hearing for three of the students taken into custody, the fight was planned and recorded on cellphones.  The incident dramatized a question confounding school officials virtually everywhere: when, if at all, to allow the use of mobile devices by students who can’t seem to live without them?

NPE and Charter Schools
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Sunday, June 4, 2017
The Network for Public Education has issued a clear, concise and pointed statement about charter schools in the US, and it's worth your eyeball time.*  The statement is useful if you have been trying to explain to friends or civilians why, exactly modern charter schools are such a contentious concern. It nails some of the fundamental problems of the charter industry:
We believe that taxpayers bear the responsibility for funding those schools and that funding should be ample and equitable to address the needs of the served community. We also believe that taxpayers have the right to examine how schools use tax dollars to educate children.
Most importantly, we believe that such schools should be accountable to the community they serve, and that community residents have the right and responsibility to elect those who govern the school. Citizens also have the right to insist that schooling be done in a manner that best serves the needs of all children.
The NPE statement addresses in simple, clear, non-hyperventilating language, the fact that charter schools simply are not public schools. This does not make charter schools a Terrible Evil Thing, but it gets at the heart of the great charter bait-and-switch. Charters repeated pitch themselves as free public schools, and the public takes them at their word, only to be shocked later when some charters won't take all students, make operators rich, and engage in all manner of bizarre shenanigan. "Wait! How can they do that-- aren't they a school??" Modern charters have worked hard to be seen as public schools, rather than what they are-- private schools funded with public tax dollars.

“Nearly 450,000 children use public funds to pay for private education nationwide. Heritage would like to see all 800,000 school-age children of active-duty families eligible for the same, including in states that don’t allow private-school choice. About 750,000 of those children attend Defense Department-run schools on base or local public schools off base, according to a policy brief the foundation published Friday. “That’s a lot of kids,” Burke said.”
As Trump pushes school choice, Heritage wants to let 800K military kids use public dollars for private education
Washington Post By Emma Brown June 2 at 12:00 PM 
The conservative Heritage Foundation is pushing to allow 800,000 military children to use federal tax dollars for private education, a proposal that comes as President Trump seeks to make good on his promise to dramatically expand school choice nationwide.  Under the Heritage proposal, military children would be able to elect to leave their public schools and instead receive a lump sum — an “education savings account” — that they could put toward private school tuition, tutoring or online school.  The proposal would require redirecting money from $1.3 billion in “impact aid” funds that currently go to support public school districts near military bases and tribal lands, spending that has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. But Lindsey Burke, an education policy analyst at Heritage, argues that it is a way to support military families — a matter of national defense, she said — and would dramatically expand the universe of private-school choice.

Secretary DeVos Set to Testify on Education Budget Tuesday, June 6, at 10:00 am 
NSBA Email June 2, 2016
 U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will be testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services, Education and Related Agencies this Tuesday, June 6, at 10:00 am Eastern.  You can watch the hearing online here.  Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), a former history teacher, is chairman of the Subcommittee; and, former school board member, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), is ranking member.
Secretary DeVos will be reviewing the Administration's Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the Department, and has stated that the request "fulfills [the] promise to devolve power from the federal government to parents and students."  Key concerns regarding the budget request are the proposal for $1 billion in new FOCUS grants that would fund school choice and proposed program eliminations and reductions of more than $3.5 billion.
"NSBA is committed to keeping public schools as a top priority in ... budget deliberations," stated Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA Executive Director and CEO. "The Association will vigorously oppose the cuts proposed by the Administration."  NSBA's statement regarding the budget request is available here.  An analysis of the proposed budget is posted here.
NSBA urges Congress' bipartisan efforts to avert further across-the-board budget cuts to education in Fiscal Year 2018 and future fiscal years that impact the success of our students, school districts and communities. For the FY 2018 budget, there are two major issues: 1) preventing another round of across-the-board budget cuts (sequestration) governed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, and 2) prioritizing federal investments in Title I, special education (IDEA), and related education programs.

Apply Now for EPLC's 2017-2018 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program!
Education Policy and Leadership Center
Applications are available now for the 2017-2018 Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP).  The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). Click here for the program calendar of sessions.  With more than 500 graduates in its first eighteen years, this Program is a premier professional development opportunity for educators, state and local policymakers, advocates, and community leaders.  State Board of Accountancy (SBA) credits are available to certified public accountants. Past participants include state policymakers, district superintendents and principals, school business officers, school board members, education deans/chairs, statewide association leaders, parent leaders, education advocates, and other education and community leaders. Fellows are typically sponsored by their employer or another organization.  The Fellowship Program begins with a two-day retreat on September 14-15, 2017 and continues to graduation in June 2018.

Nominations for PSBA Allwein Advocacy Award due by July 16th
The Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award was established in 2011 by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and may be presented annually to the individual school director or entire school board to recognize outstanding leadership in legislative advocacy efforts on behalf of public education and students that are consistent with the positions in PSBA’s Legislative Platform.  In addition to being a highly respected lobbyist, Timothy Allwein served to help our members be effective advocates in their own right. Many have said that Tim inspired them to become active in our Legislative Action Program and to develop personal working relationships with their legislators.  The 2017 Allwein Award nomination process will begin on Monday, May 15, 2017. The application due date is July 16, 2017 in the honor of Tim’s birth date of July 16.

Pennsylvania Education Leadership Summit July 23-25, 2017 Blair County Convention Center - Altoona
A three-day event providing an excellent opportunity for school district administrative teams and instructional leaders to learn, share and plan together
co-sponsored by PASA, the Pennsylvania Principals Association, PASCD and the PA Association for Middle Level Education
**REGISTRATION IS OPEN**Early Bird Registration Ends after April 30!
Keynote speakers, high quality breakout sessions, table talks on hot topics, and district team planning and job-alike sessions will provide practical ideas that can be immediately reviewed and discussed at the summit and utilized at the district level.
Keynote Speakers:
Thomas Murray
, Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools, a project of the Alliance for Excellent Education
Kristen Swanson, Director of Learning at Slack and one of the founding members of the Edcamp movement 
Breakout session strands:
*Strategic/Cultural Leadership
*Systems Leadership
*Leadership for Learning
*Professional and Community Leadership 
CLICK HERE to access the Summit website for program, hotel and registration information.

Save the Date 2017 PA Principals Association State Conference October 14. 15, 16, 2017
Doubletree Hotel Cranberry Township, PA

Save the Date: PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference October 18-20, Hershey PA

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