Gerrymandering and Pennsylvania's democratic deficit
Philly Daily News by John Baer, STAFF COLUMNIST email@example.com Updated: SEPTEMBER 12, 2017 — 4:24 PM EDT
It’s one more measure of how desperate the Legislature is to avoid reforms aimed at better politics and democracy in order to protect its privileged, over-paid, over-perked, under-performing self. Tuesday’s call by voters’ rights group Fair Districts PA seeking at least a hearing on efforts to reform Pennsylvania’s nationally vilified gerrymandering is almost certain to be ignored. And why? No good reason other than the insulated culture of Harrisburg, a place that loves the status quo and serves mostly as a morgue for good ideas. For example, separate bi-partisan bills creating a citizens’ commission to draw lines for state and federal legislative districts without political consideration lay lifeless in state House and Senate committees — cadavers on the pallets of political progress. This despite the fact Pennsylvania’s current legislative-drawn districts rank among the country’s worst, least democratic and politically partisan. A report earlier this year by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law says districts in Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania have “the most extreme levels of partisan bias” in the nation. Fair Districts is fighting to change that.
“For one, the process has to start off in the House and Senate State Government Committees. And committee chairs--like Butler County Republican Daryl Metcalfe--aren't on board. "Ninety-six of his colleagues have sponsored House Bill 722," Fair Districts PA Chair Carol Kuniholm said of Metcalfe's decision not to prioritize the redistricting bill. "[It's] the bill second most cosponsored in the House in this session."
Ralliers try to convince lawmakers to act on gerrymandering
WITF Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 13, 2017 5:09 AM
(Harrisburg) -- Advocates for overhauling the redistricting process packed the Capitol rotunda Tuesday hoping to persuade lawmakers to take their quest seriously. Pennsylvania's congressional districts are considered among the most unfair in the country. Anti-gerrymandering group Fair Districts PA thinks lawmakers shouldn't have sole authority to draw the lines. Instead, they want an independent citizens' commission to get a say. There are only a couple ways to make that change. One is a lawsuit. The League of Women Voters filed one against the commonwealth early this summer that aims to get the current congressional map declared unconstitutional. But it's not guaranteed to totally revamp the process. Plus, top Republicans have filed applications to delay consideration of the case, arguing a similar one is already underway in Wisconsin, and that the Pennsylvania courts should wait for that verdict. The other option is for lawmakers to amend the constitution. But that requires a lot of legislative cooperation--and Republican leaders have cited a variety of reasons for not acting.
IF YOU GO
What: Informal discussion on cyber charter schools
When: 9 a.m. refreshments, 9:30 a.m. panel, Oct. 7
Where: Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, 800 E. Park Ave., State College
Are cyber charter schools making the grade?
Centre Daily Times SEPTEMBER 12, 2017 10:13 PM
OP-ED submitted by the AAUW State College Branch
Across the nation and right here in the Centre Region, online charter schools are growing in popularity as a choice for parents and guardians, and children. However, along with the advantages that cyber charters present to both students and their families, they also raise issues worthy of deeper examination. Students who have specific circumstances that require great flexibility in scheduling may benefit the most from cyber schools. There are positive accounts from talented students who found cybers to offer them their only opportunity to continue their extensive music or sports training schedules without disrupting their school progress. These students tend to be high achievers and particularly organized in self-scheduling. This is not the case for most students. Students without the rigor of a school day schedule and daily social engagement with peers and teachers may find themselves floundering socially and academically.
Others who benefit from cyber charters include students from rural areas whose family obligations and schoolwork may be affected by hours spent on buses and some high school students who may contribute to the family’s income and need scheduling flexibility.
The quality of the education each individual student receives is hard to evaluate, but a number of alarming trends require a closer look.
New report on Pa. charter school growth finds "stranded costs" linger five years later
WHYY Newsworks BY KEVIN MCCORRY SEPTEMBER 13, 2017
A new study finds that expanding the charter school sector in Pennsylvania creates a significant toll on traditional public school systems, which, based on an array of fixed costs, can't downsize at the same rate that students leave. The report, authored by the Philadelphia-based non-profit Research for Action, delves into one of the central questions of Pennsylvania's charter school debate. The central finding here, though, is not new. Past studies of the issue in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have consistently found that charter schools pose a negative fiscal threat to traditional systems. But past efforts have often raised more questions than answers, as their methodologies were not presented openly and transparently. RFA's study seeks to reverse that trend by offering a public tool that makes plain its assumptions and calculations, a tool designed to help school districts better understand and prepare for the effects of authorizing new charter school seats. To understand the report, a little background is required.
Study highlights long-term costs of charter school expansion
Inquirer by Martha Woodall, Staff Writer @marwooda | firstname.lastname@example.org Updated: SEPTEMBER 12, 2017 — 6:43 PM EDT
Pennsylvania school districts may be able to reduce some expenses when more of their students enroll in charters, but they still face significant financial costs long after those students have gone, a report being released Wednesday says. Those continuing expenses include pension costs and making required payments to bondholders for facilities. And the study by Research for Action (RFA), an independent research group in Center City, found that the fiscal impact on a school system depends not only on the rate of charter growth, but also the size of the district. “Increasing charter school choices to a community does not occur without a significant fiscal impact,” said David Lapp, director of policy research at RFA and lead author of the report.
The Fiscal Impact of Charter School Expansion: Calculations in Six Pennsylvania School Districts
Research for Action Authors David Lapp, Joshua Lin, Erik Dolson, Della Moran September 2017
Abstract - As charter school enrollment in Pennsylvania rises, understanding the fiscal impact of charter school expansion is critical for school districts to accurately budget and to anticipate current and future costs. In order to calculate the fiscal impact of charter expansion, RFA compared the difference between new costs (charter tuition payments) and new savings a district can realize as students depart (variable costs). RFA examined six school districts across Pennsylvania that varied in size, charter penetration rates, and budget. RFA then estimated the fiscal impact of charter expansion under four different charter growth rates, calculating impact in Years 1 and 5. In each, we present fiscal impacts on a per-charter-pupil basis, as a total annual amount, and as a percentage of a district’s charter school tuition rate. Overall, RFA’s study finds that as charter enrollment expands, the fiscal impact is consistently negative in both the short- and long-term, indicating that even as students depart for charter schools, school districts experience significant long-term fiscal impacts. In addition to the report, RFA also created a Charter Cost Calculation Tool, which can be used by school districts to create customized estimates of the cost of charter expansion in their districts. The Charter Cost Calculation Tool (Excel) can be downloaded here.
Pennsylvania House GOP hits wall on budget-balancing plan
AP by Mark Levy September 13, 2017
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Stymied by dissension among Republicans, Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives put off preliminary votes Tuesday on measures designed to plug the state government’s $2.2 billion budget gap with money siphoned partly from public transportation and environmental improvement programs. Speaker Mike Turzai abruptly adjourned the chamber after a brief floor session, surprising some rank-and-file members of the House’s deeply divided GOP majority. The House was scheduled to return to session Wednesday, but it was not clear what the GOP majority’s next step will be in a budget stalemate now in its third month. “Who knows?” said Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks. “We had our meetings, everybody staked out their position.” The House GOP plan was written by anti-tax conservatives, but lacked enough support to pass the chamber. It is opposed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, House Democratic leaders and southeastern Pennsylvania Republicans as a way to keep state agencies, programs, schools and institutions funded at levels supported overwhelmingly by lawmakers in a $32-billion spending agreement.
As Pa. budget noose tightens, House Republicans report progress on deficit closure plan
Penn Live By Charles Thompson email@example.com Updated on September 12, 2017 at 10:18 PM Posted on September 12, 2017 at 10:08 PM
Pennsylvania's House Republicans, at long last, appear to be closing in on a serious counter-offer to a package of borrowing and taxes passed earlier this summer by the state Senate and endorsed by Gov. Tom Wolf. Key members of the majority caucus - which has faced mounting criticism in recent weeks as the pinch-point blocking agreement on a $2.2 billion revenue package needed to balance the $32 billion state budget - reportedly settled on elements of a compromise late Tuesday that could get a first floor vote as early as Wednesday. Details were being kept under wraps Tuesday night, in large part because the final sale to the full 121-member caucus won't occur until Wednesday morning.
Pa. lawmakers may have to work overtime on budget-funding plan
Post-Gazette by ANGELA COULOUMBIS AND LIZ NAVRATIL Harrisburg Bureau 8:56 PM SEP 12, 2017
HARRISBURG — The pressure is on.
Gov. Tom Wolf has said that by the end of this week, he will have to make steep cuts to the $32 billion budget the Republican-controlled Legislature passed in June unless the House of Representatives moves on a proposal to fund it. Though the House returned to session this week after a six-week summer hiatus, Republicans who hold the majority in that chamber remain divided over a revenue plan. On Tuesday, leaders adjourned without a vote on one approach to close the $2.2 billion deficit -- by transferring money from special-purpose funds. In the meantime, a credit rating agency has warned of a looming downgrade. And state Treasurer Joe Torsella, along with Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, on Tuesday said they would be “disinclined” to either extend a short-term loan or sign off on short-term borrowing in the bond markets to help the state pay its bills. “My obligation as treasurer is to make only prudent investments of the funds under our care, not to enable continued budgetary dysfunction and a chronically unbalanced budget,” Mr. Torsella said. After the House adjourned Tuesday without a vote, House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said the chamber intends to push out a proposal this week, even if it means lawmakers must work through the weekend. Representatives are scheduled to reconvene Wednesday.
Pennsylvania lacks money to pay bills due Friday, officials warn
Morning Call by Steve Esack Contact Reporter Call Harrisburg Bureau September 12, 2017 7:25 PM
Pennsylvania may go broke Friday for the first time in its history.
The state won’t have enough money to cover $860 million in scheduled payroll, bond and Medicaid bills, and neither Treasurer Joe Torsella nor Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is interested in authorizing another short-term loan as long as lawmakers are refusing to pay for the state’s $32 billion budget. Such loans are meant as a temporary fix when tax revenues run short; the fiscal officials said, but the state has been treating them like a bank account, and that jeopardizes investments. “To our knowledge, this would be the first time the commonwealth would miss a payment as a consequence of insufficient funds in the general fund,” Torsella and DePasquale wrote legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, under the current circumstances and without the prospect of additional revenue intended to bring the commonwealth’s expenditures and revenues into balance, we are disinclined to support additional lending to the general fund.”
Alloway warns lawmakers: Leave transportation money alone
Chambersburg Public Opinion Online by Jim Hook, firstname.lastname@example.org Published 6:05 p.m. ET Sept. 11, 2017
HARRISBURG -- Sen. Richard Alloway II, R-Chambersburg, has cautioned GOP House members that the legislature previously promised taxpayers that transportation fees would be spent on transportation. A group of conservative Republicans in the House have proposed balancing Pennsylvania’s overdue budget by withdrawing money from special government accounts, including nearly half a billion dollars from transportation accounts. Revenue from the GOP “Taxpayers’ Budget” would fill a $2 billion hole in the state’s 2017-18 spending plan passed earlier by the legislature. The Republican-controlled Senate has issues with the proposal, as do Democrats in the legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf. The House GOP proposal would take $120 million from the Multimodal Transportation Fund.
Arming teachers not a replacement for hiring trained school security professionals, groups say
Penn Live By Jan Murphy email@example.com Updated on September 12, 2017 at 3:27 PM Posted on September 12, 2017 at 3:26 PM
With the focus turned to back to school, a gun control advocacy group wants to remind Pennsylvanians of legislation lurking in the House of Representatives' hopper that would allow school personnel to have firearms in school. To call attention to Senate Bill 383, CeaseFirePA produced three videos of school-based scenarios highlighting the potential for danger of allowing guns in schools (See example of one at bottom of story). The videos were posted on YouTube on Tuesday following a Capitol news conference and CeaseFirePA plans to post them on other social media sites but doesn't have the funding to air them on television. Even though there is no planned vote on the bill at this time, Shira Goodman, CeaseFirePA's executive director, said the videos' release was timed as part of a preemptive effort to "make sure the House if they are at all thinking about moving this bill, that the public is aware of it and not happy about it." Joining her at the news conference was state Education Secretary Pedro Rivera and other education advocates and a half dozen Democratic lawmakers.
In Philly, a push to get more kids to show up for school
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Staff Writer @newskag | firstname.lastname@example.org Updated: SEPTEMBER 12, 2017 — 12:33 PM EDT
Zaira Perez is on a mission to raise a strong, successful boy safely in her North Philadelphia neighborhood, an outcome she knows is not guaranteed. “I try to push my son to greatness,” said Perez, a single mother with four children. “I don’t want to lose him to crime.” The best way to do that, she figures? Make sure he goes to school — at Hartranft Elementary on West Cumberland Street — every day. On Tuesday, her son, Zydeek, 10, gripped a gold star trophy given to him by Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., and posed for photographs with Mayor Kenney, smiling broadly. The boy has had perfect attendance since kindergarten. Zydeek, a fifth grader, had been declared Philadelphia’s first Attendance Hero in a campaign to boost school attendance citywide. To that end, the city and School District are blasting the region with messages, from radio ads to robocalls from Kenney and Eagles star Brandon Graham. “When children attend school, we know that they learn to read,” Hite said at a news conference at Hartranft. “When children attend school, they graduate. When children attend school, they tend to be more successful later in life.”
Sylvia Simms named to head lobbying group Educational Opportunities for Families
The notebook by Darryl C. Murphy September 12, 2017 — 8:44am
Sylvia Simms, a former school bus aide turned community activist from North Philadelphia who served four years on the School Reform Commission, has been named the new director of Educational Opportunities for Families, a grassroots advocacy group working to improve city schools' quality that has been a strong proponent of charter school expansion. Co-founders Daniel Jean and brothers Chris and Joseph Butler ran the organization without titles before Simms’ arrival, so she will be its first official executive director, a spokesman for the group said. Jean and the Butlers, along with Simms’ sister, Quibila Divine, are listed as staff members on the website for Citizen Consulting Group, a firm that works on education reform in several cities, including Philadelphia. It mostly favors charter schools and has ties to the Philadelphia School Partnership.
ArtistYear expands beyond Philadelphia, sending art teachers to schools in need
WHYY Newsworks BY PETER CRIMMINS SEPTEMBER 12, 2017
A civil service organization that started in Philadelphia three years ago will go national this fall. ArtistYear is a kind of gap-year program where art students step away from their studies for a year to teach arts in public schools. In exchange, they earn a stipend and get a break on student loans. Margos Drakos, a graduate of the Curtis Institute, started it by raising money in 2014 to support three artists. This fall, with the help of $1.45 million from AmeriCorps, she will be deploying 25 full-time teaching artists to Philadelphia; Queens, New York; and Roaring Fork Valley, a school district in rural Colorado. Combined, they will contribute about 42,000 hours of instruction. ArtistYear is the only civil service program for artists supported by AmeriCorps, the national program that encourages public service to help others and meet critical needs in the community.
“But the decision to give authority back to the city is in many ways a recognition that state control is an idea whose time has passed. … Barring any unexpected snags, the district and the state will now develop a formal transition plan. Sometime next year, a public referendum will determine whether voters want an elected school board, or one appointed by the mayor. “
After More Than 20 Years, Newark to Regain Control of Its Schools
New York Times By DAVID W. CHEN SEPT. 12, 2017
NEWARK — In 1995, when Marques-Aquil Lewis was in elementary school, the State of New Jersey seized control of the public schools here after a judge warned that “nepotism, cronyism and the like” had precipitated “abysmal” student performances and “failure on a very large scale.” For more than 20 years, local administrators have had little leverage over the finances or operations of the state’s largest school district. Choices about curriculum and programs were made mostly by a state-appointed superintendent, often an outsider. The city could not override personnel decisions. Now, Mr. Lewis’s 4-year-old son is in prekindergarten, and things are changing. With the district improving slowly but steadily in recent years, the state board of education is expected on Wednesday to approve a plan that would ultimately give Newark control again over its public schools with their almost $1 billion budget and 55,000 students.
Investigation: Charter school leaders, founders linked to controversial Turkish cleric
TURKS CREATE BIG FOOTPRINT IN NEW JERSEY CHARTER SCHOOLS.
NorthJersey.com by Jean Rimbach, Jeff Pillets and Hannan Adely
Taxpayers contribute more than $60 million to charter school network in 2016
SCHOOLS LINKED TO FOLLOWERS OF FETHULLAH GULEN, WHO IS FIGHTING EXTRADITION TO TURKEY
A group of charter schools that arose from North Jersey’s Turkish community is rapidly growing in the state, with seven schools collecting more than $60 million in taxpayer money last year alone to fund their growth. Now, an investigation by The Record and NorthJersey.com shows that some founders and leaders of the schools have close ties to the movement of Fethullah Gulen, the controversial Islamic cleric accused of working to overthrow the government in his native Turkey last summer. Gulen has denied the charge and is fighting extradition demands as he lives in a secluded compound in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, about 10 miles from the New Jersey border. The 75-year-old Gulen, in his writings and public comments, espouses a modern Islamic society that embraces education, interfaith dialogue and tolerance. Sympathy for the movement is strong among key figures who pioneered the North Jersey charter schools.
Senate approves resolution condemning white supremacist groups
The Hill BY JORDAIN CARNEY - 09/11/17 08:09 PM EDT
The Senate easily passed a resolution on Monday condemning white supremacist organizations and urging President Trump to speak out against hate groups. The resolution — introduced last week by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) — cleared the upper chamber by unanimous consent. The Senate measure formally condemns "the violence and domestic terrorist attack" that occurred last month around a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. In addition to urging Trump and the administration to publicly push back against hate groups, the resolution urges Trump and his Cabinet to "address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States." Senators want Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Department of Homeland Security to investigate "all acts of violence, intimidation and domestic terrorism" by white supremacists, white nationalists or associated groups and prevent them "from fomenting and facilitating additional violence."
CONSIDER IT: SCHOOL CHOICE AND THE CASES FOR TRADITIONAL PUBLIC EDUCATION AND CHARTER SCHOOLS
September 19 @ 5:00 PM - 8:00 PM Hilton Reading
Registration Opens Tuesday, September 26, 2017