Thursday, June 8, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup June 8: Rising pension costs, higher charter school payments eating up increases in property tax revenue

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup June 8, 2017:

School districts reaching a 'tipping point' on being able to deliver quality education
Penn Live BY JAN MURPHY Updated on June 7, 2017 at 3:35 PM Posted on June 7, 2017 at 3:15 PM
The bleak picture painted by a recent statewide survey on the 2017-18 school district budget outlook looks a lot like ones produced from the same survey done in the past few years.  In the 332 school districts that responded to the survey, budgetary challenges are causing seven in 10 districts to look at property tax increases for next year. In many cases, that is accompanied by furloughs, program cuts, delayed textbook purchases, postponed maintenance projects, and dipping into reserve accounts.  "Given where we are in state budgets and given the amount of mandated costs we have, we can't do anything different than we've done over the course of the last seven state budgets," said Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, which sponsored the annual survey along with the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.  Property tax increases are being eaten up by rising pension costs, special education spending, and higher charter school tuition payments, Himes said. That often leaves districts with only the increases in state subsidies to pay for the other expenses districts incur.

How Pennsylvania school districts are trying to balance the books for next year: By slashing staff, hiking taxes
Ellwood City Ledger By Katherine Schaeffer Calkins Media Jun 6, 2017
As Pennsylvania’s school districts prepare to approve final budgets for the 2017-18 school year, many have confronted the need to raise taxes and make cuts to personnel or programs “just to keep their heads above water,” according to a report released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. The findings, based on May survey responses from about two-thirds of the commonwealth’s school districts, show that school boards and administrators have chosen to take such measures in attempt to keep pace with rising state-mandated costs and inadequate state funding. The report's release comes a little more than three weeks ahead of the state’s June 30 deadline for school districts to adopt general-fund budgets for the 2017-18 school year.

Blogger note: Please consider asking your state senator to cosponsor legislation being proposed by Senators Browne and Vulakovich that would establish a Charter School Funding Advisory Commission.  This would be similar to the Basic Education Funding Commission and Special Education Funding Commission, both of which did good bipartisan work.
Cosponsorship MEMORANDUM Posted: April 25, 2017 03:46 PM
From:                Senator Patrick M. Browne and Sen. Randy Vulakovich
To:                    All Senate members
Subject:            Charter School Advisory Commission
In the near future, Senator Vulakovich and I will introduce legislation to establish a Charter School Advisory Commission to review and make recommendations concerning charter and cyber charter school funding.  This commission will consist of members of all four caucuses, including the majority and minority chairs of the Appropriations and Education Committees, two members appointed by the House and Senate majority leaders and one member appointed by the House and Senate minority leaders and the Secretary of Education.
The commission shall be charged with examining all current laws, regulations and executive policy statements which determine funding for charter and cyber charter schools in the Commonwealth.  The commission shall issue a report with its findings and recommendations, no later than eighteen months from the effective date of the legislation. The Charter School Advisory Commission will operate in a similar manner to the Special Education and Basic Education Funding Commissions and the Public School Construction and Reconstruction (PLANCON) Advisory Committee.  I hope that you will join us as a co-sponsor of this important legislation.

Budget crunch: Pa. faces possible $3 billion shortfall
Inquirer by Angela Couloumbis, Harrisburg Bureau  @AngelasInk | Updated: JUNE 7, 2017 6:35 PM
HARRISBURG —  And so it begins.  It’s budget crunch time in the Pennsylvania Capitol, and the state treasurer and auditor general ratcheted up the normal yearly pressure Wednesday with a warning: The state’s strapped.  “If this were a household,” Treasurer Joseph M. Torsella told reporters, “we would be living on our credit card for eight months out of the year.”  In a letter to legislators, he and Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale projected that state government may have to borrow as much as $3 billion for operating expenses between this July, when the new fiscal year begins, and next April.  That projection, of course, assumes that lawmakers and the administration don’t agree on ways to raise state revenues. Expect public grandstanding and backroom deal-making until June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Pennsylvania may need outside lending help to prop up budget
WITF Written by The Associated Press | Jun 7, 2017 11:45 AM
 (Harrisburg) -- Pennsylvania's state treasurer and auditor general are warning lawmakers the state government's worsening long-term deficit may require it to borrow money from an outside lender to prop up routine budgeted operations.  The letter, delivered to lawmakers today, says the commonwealth may need to borrow as much as $3 billion between July and next April. The letter comes as Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature eye a projected $3 billion deficit through July 1, 2018. That's almost 10 percent of the state's approved budget.  In recent years, the state has drawn on a low-interest credit line from the state treasury.  But Treasurer Joe Torsella and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale say there may not be enough money in the treasury's long-term investment fund to meet the state's needs in the coming year.

“House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said the vote was an important step before budget negotiations heat up this month. It was not clear whether it would garner support from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf or the Republican-controlled state Senate, which passed a much narrower gambling bill last month. But Reed said that there is little support in the House for the money-raising alternative, a tax increase.”
Pa. House OKs biggest gambling expansion in years
Delco Times By Marc Levy, The Associated Press POSTED: 06/08/17, 5:02 AM EDT
HARRISBURG, Pa. >> The Pennsylvania House of Representatives Wednesday night passed sprawling gambling legislation, unveiled just hours earlier, to expand casino-style gambling to the internet, airports, bars and elsewhere in a move that could shape how the state government deals with its deficit-riddled finances this summer.  The bill was marshaled by Republican majority leaders toward the floor vote, a last-ditch move to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from taxes and license fees to help prop up, if temporarily, the state’s threadbare treasury. The bill represents perhaps Pennsylvania’s biggest gambling expansion since it legalized casinos in 2004, a law that made it the nation’s No. 2 commercial casino revenue state.  It passed narrowly, 102-89, less than a year after similar legislation failed in the House. The vote capped years of unsuccessful efforts by some lawmakers to bring legal gambling to bars.

McCarter, Sturla seek to amend the way cyber charter schools are funded   June 7, 2017 | 2:55 PM
HARRISBURG, June 7 – At a Capitol news conference today, state Rep. Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery, and House Democratic Policy Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, called attention to legislation that would amend the Public School Code to change the way cyber charter schools are funded.  Their bill — H.B. 1206 — seeks to cap the amount of funding unaffiliated cyber charter schools receive for students who live in an area in which the school district or an intermediate unit operates its own cyber charter school. Under their proposal, unaffiliated cyber charter schools would receive either the per-student funding amount of the school district cyber school program or the intermediate unit cyber school program, whichever figure is higher.  “The actual cost of cyber charter education has dropped dramatically in the 20 years since Pennsylvania’s charter school legislation was passed, whereas our reimbursement formula for cyber charters, which is still based on the cost of a brick-and-mortar education, has not, and the Pennsylvania taxpayer has shouldered the burden,” McCarter said.  Sturla added: “I want all Pennsylvania kids to have access to exceptional educational opportunities and to do that, we need to have fair, reasonable and accountable reimbursement practices in place. The proposal by Representative McCarter and myself is a fair and reasonable approach that makes sure cyber charters aren’t receiving more than what it costs to provide an educational experience to students.”

Inside and outside the classroom, after-school programs work: Another View
PENNLIVE OP-ED By Laura Saccente, Ryan Aument, John Yudichak, Bernie O'Neill and Jake Wheatley Updated on June 7, 2017 at 2:00 PM Posted on June 7, 2017 at 7:30 AM
Laura Saccente is the director of the the Pennsylvania Statewide/Afterschool Youth Development Network and the Pennsylvania Afterschool Caucus; State Sen. Ryan Aument, a Republican, represents the Lancaster County-based 36th Senate District; Sen. John Yudichak, a Democrat, represents the Luzerne County-based 14th Senate District; Rep. Bernie O'Neill, a Republican, represents the Bucks County-based 29th District, and Rep. Jake Wheatley, a Democrat, represents the Allegheny County-based 19th House District. They write from Harrisburg.
The President's 2018 fiscal budget eliminates federal funding for after-school programs, saying there is no evidence of their impact.  That is not the case here in Pennsylvania, where after-school programs are a proven, high yield investment in our kids, our communities and our economy.  Every one dollar invested in after-school programs saves at least THREE DOLLARS by increasing kids' earning potential, improving kids' performance at school and reducing crime and juvenile delinquency.   At the end of a typical school day, learning and growth do not stop for the 40,000 Pennsylvania youths enrolled in approximately 460 high quality, school based and community powered after-school programs that are funded in part by the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program - the one the president wants to end.

Pennsylvania has some of the most unfair congressional districts in the country.
Fair Districts PA Website
Gerrymandered district lines weaken the power of our votes—and politicians are working behind closed doors to keep it that way. We all pay the price.

Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center, spoke about the battle for equity in public education.  Klehr said the lawsuit about school funding asks the court to enforce the state constitution’s education clause, which requires that the General Assembly provide a thorough and efficient system of public education.  “It also asks the court to enforce the equal protection provisions of our state constitution. Pennsylvania schools remain one of the most inequitably funded in the country,” Klehr said.
On behalf of six school districts and six parents, the plaintiffs' lawyers have argued that the General Assembly and governor are evading their constitutional responsibility. The state counters that school funding is a legislative responsibility and that the courts have no jurisdiction in the matter. Last year, the Commonwealth Court dismissed the suit on those grounds, and the plaintiffs appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court in September. The Philadelphia District is not among the plaintiffs, but it filed an “amicus” brief in support of their position, and several of the parents in the case live in the city.
Both Klehr and Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center, said the work of the Notebook was instrumental in getting the word out about the funding case and other critical issues facing Philadelphia’s schools.
In Pennsylvania, state contributions to public schools rank 46th out of 50 states. The state is also No. 1 in the gap in funding between the wealthiest and poorest school districts. As a result, local districts disproportionately rely on local taxes to fund their schools.
A decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is pending.”
Notebook honors student journalists and lawyers working for fair education funding
The notebook by Michael Vinci June 7, 2017 — 5:56pm
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook hosted its 13th annual celebration and student journalism award ceremony Tuesday afternoon at the University of the Arts.   This year’s event also honored the lawyers from the Education Law Center, the Public Interest Law Center, and New York law firm O’Melveny & Myers, who are working on Pennsylvania’s landmark education funding lawsuit.  Business leaders and elected officials mingled with students, parents, and educators at the event. In addition to the ceremony and speakers, a silent auction with a large number of items took place. All proceeds benefit the Notebook.  Science Leadership Academy took the award for best school news website. The Parkway Press of Parkway Center City High School won first place for school news for its series of articles about upheavals and transitions in the school. Second place went to Ebony Graham, and third place to Ellery Schiller, both Masterman students.

Staff at Innovative Arts Academy Charter School say special education needs not being met
Sarah M. Wojcik Contact Reporter Of The Morning Call June 7, 2017
Staff at the Innovative Arts Academy Charter School told trustees and administrators Wednesday night that the school was failing to meet the needs of the special needs students in their care. Principal Douglas Taylor, who specialized in special education during his teaching career, disputed the allegations levied at the meeting and said afterward that this was the first time he'd heard such complaints from staff.  Ann Tarafas, a special education teacher at the Catasauqua charter school that serves sixth- through 12th-graders, said the school was failing to follow through on the promise in its charter to meet the needs of students with individual education programs. These special plans are provided for students who need extra support in the classroom.  Tarafas, one of two special education teachers at the career-focused school, said the faculty is not equipped to provide the necessary services for students under their care. She said better staffing and resources are necessary for the school to properly fulfill its obligations.
"I am doing the best that I can," Tarafas said. "The state has told me we are not in compliance. I'm not making it up. I have no reason to make it up. I am trying my hardest."

“Should the SRC schedule a meeting in which it plans to decide on renewals of 23 charter schools with less than a week’s notice?
The district’s budget shows that it will spend $894 million — about one-third of the budget — on charters next year. Shouldn’t the SRC allow enough time for those paying the tab to read the reports? They may want to ask why schools that have met none of the standards are being recommended for renewal.”
School Reform Commission still a destructive agency
Inquirer Opinion by Lisa Haver Updated: JUNE 7, 2017 — 8:32 PM EDT
Lisa Haver is a retired teacher and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.
In April, the Inquirer/Daily News conducted a reader survey on whether City Council should hold hearings on Council’s $17 million budget.  No surprise that most who responded voted “Yes.” Taxpayers want to know how elected officials are spending their money, and they want to have their say about it.  Most Philadelphians probably feel the same about appointed officials, especially those who hold the purse strings on a budget that totals almost $3 billion. The School Reform Commission, after 16 years of everything but reform, continues to earn its reputation as the city’s least transparent, most destructive governmental body, second only, perhaps, to the Philadelphia Parking Authority.  My reader survey would ask these questions:

“Most of the accelerated and transition schools are run under contract by outside providers. The biggest is Camelot, which works with school districts in seven states to provide accelerated and transition programming. Camelot favors a tight structure for students, with constant supervision, from the classroom to the hallway, and a strict behavioral system that allows students to rise in rank and earn privileges.”
Where students can take a different approach
Accelerated schools offer a chance to gain credits more quickly. Other District options aim to fit children’s varying circumstances.
The notebook by Greg Windle June 7, 2017 — 1:30pm
At age 20, Dylan Hill will finally graduate high school this summer.  After three years at Tacony Academy Charter, he had accumulated only half the credits he needed, so he tried the cyber school route, enrolling first in Pennsylvania Cyber Charter –– drawn by its ads and what his friends told him – and then Agora Cyber Charter.  He says he spent a nightmarish two years fruitlessly trying to enroll in the right courses and get teachers to pay attention to him, as well as find and update his transcript. After this five-year odyssey, he found One Bright Ray, which runs three of the Philadelphia School District’s “accelerated schools,” designed to re-engage students and lead them on a path to their diplomas.  In one year there, he has accumulated enough credits to graduate.  “Teachers are down to earth with the students and give us one-on-one attention more often,” Hill said. “They make you actually want to come to school and learn.”  The journey of Jeffrey Martinez, 17, has been shorter. He will graduate in June after three years in high school.  Martinez had first tried one of the District’s new innovative schools, the U School, which counts on students to take more control over their own education. It wasn’t a good fit for him.  “I felt I needed to be handled by more strict rules,” he said.

Penn State doctoral student among 12 selected for NASA astronaut program
Centre Daily Times BY LORI FALCE June 7, 2017
There are 12 new astronaut candidates in the United States, and one of them is a Nittany Lion.
On Wednesday, NASA announced it had picked a dozen people to explore strange new worlds — or at least to go into orbit around the planet — from a pool of applicants that has more than doubled since it’s previous record.  Zena Cardman is a newly minted pick for NASA’s 2017 class of astronauts. She is also a Penn State doctoral student in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, studying the reactions between rocks and microbes.  Cardman was one of more than 18,300 people who let NASA know they want to go to space. The last record was 8,000 in 1978, just three years before the launch of the first space shuttle mission in 1981.

Testing Resistance & Reform News: May 31 - June 6, 2017
FairTest Submitted by fairtest on June 6, 2017 - 3:00pm 
Intense controversies over testing continue at the state and local levels.  Many legislatures and school boards are responding to the demands of grassroots assessment reformers by eliminating some standardized exams and reducing the stakes attached to their scores.

Education Budget Hearing Exposes Chasm Between GOP and Trump
Nearly every GOP member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee criticized aspects of the education spending plan.
US News and World Report By Lauren Camera, Education Reporter | June 7, 2017, at 3:04 p.m.
President Donald Trump's education spending plan faces continued criticism. (EVAN VUCCI/AP)
When Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified before a Senate appropriations subcommittee Tuesday regarding the president’s budget proposal, her remarks that private schools must follow federal law if they receive federal funding received the lion’s share of attention.  But the hearing, during which nearly every GOP members criticized aspects of the spending plan, also exposed just how far apart the Trump administration’s education agenda is with that of Republicans in Congress, perhaps foreshadowing how likely – or not – the White House is to achieve any of its policy priorities.  GOP leadership was quick to call the budget blueprint “dead on arrival” when the administration unveiled it last month, and chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., followed suit at the start of the hearing.  “This is a difficult budget request to defend,” he said in opening remarks. "It's likely that the kinds of cuts proposed in this budget will not occur."  What followed, however, was a systematic rebutting of the spending plan by Republican members who argued that the administration’s proposal to ax education funding by more than $9 billion and eliminate dozens of federal education programs would undermine the most underserved and disadvantaged students in their state.

When Do Voucher Programs Allow Private Schools to Discriminate Against Students?
Education Week Politics K12 Blog By Andrew Ujifusa on June 7, 2017 11:28 AM
It's one of the bigger topics in federal education policy right now: What are the federal laws governing discrimination when it comes to private schools? And what's Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' position on the issue?   In a Senate budget hearing Tuesday, DeVos repeatedly told lawmakers that, "Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law, period." But she also said that the U.S. Department of Education won't be issuing decrees to schools about discrimination, leaving the future of LGBT students, for example, unclear under any federal voucher program.  But what's the lay of the land right now in state voucher programs? We've got you covered. We took a look at those programs along with our colleague Arianna Prothero of the Charters and Choice blog in a story this week. The short answer? Aside from explicit prohibitions on racial discrimination, there aren't many anti-bias guardrails in states' vouchers. As we reported in the story, researchers have found that, "Not a single state protects LGBT students within its voucher law's anti-discrimination language."  Defenders of DeVos' position have argued that it's not the job of the Education Department to make a legal determination of which groups of students are covered by federal anti-discrimination laws. During the hearing, for example, Sen. Roy Blunt, D-Mo., noted that it's up to Congress and the courts to reach such a resolution. 

Principal Advocacy Day at 9 a.m. on Monday, June 19, 2017 at The Capitol in Harrisburg
PA Principals Association Website Wednesday, June 7, 2017 10:03 AM
The PA Principals Association is holding its second annual Principal Advocacy Day at 9 a.m. on Monday, June 19, 2017 at The Capitol in Harrisburg, PA. Once again, a rally in support of public education and important education issues will be held on the Main Rotunda Steps from 12 p.m. - 1 p.m. Visits with legislators will be conducted earlier in the day. More information will be sent via email, shared in our publications and posted on our website closer to the event.
To register, send an email to Dr. Joseph Clapper at before Friday, June 9, 2017.
Click here to view the Principal Advocacy Day Save The Date Flyer.

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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