Wednesday, November 8, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup Nov. 8: Ballot question on property taxes passes 54.5% to 45.5%

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup Nov. 8, 2017:
Ballot question on property taxes passes 54.5% to 45.5%

Save the Date: Pitt Johnstown to host Funding Lawsuit Panel at Murtha Center on campus November 15th at 7:00 pm

“As the Pennsylvania School Boards Association put it, "the most that can be said at this point" is that lawmakers can "adopt legislation to provide additional options for property tax relief for residential property owners, likely with shifts in other tax and revenue sources to help fund the exclusions and replace the revenue needed for educational programs."
Pennsylvanians take small wishful step toward tax relief
Morning Call by The Associated Press November 8, 2017
The constitutional amendment that Pennsylvania voters approved Tuesday could eventually lead to reductions in the state's heavy dependence on property taxes, but it is only a tiny step in that direction. The amendment gives the General Assembly the authority to pass a law authorizing local governments to exclude up to the full value of residents' homes that they own from taxation. The new language does not by itself change anything, however. Local governments have had the ability for two decades to exclude up to half the median value of homes in their area from taxation. Billions are collected every year through property taxes to fund public schools — and the amendment does not provide a way to make up for any cuts in that revenue. It's a politically divisive topic that may prove a bigger challenge than it was to get tax-weary voters to approve the constitutional amendment. At issue is the so-called "homestead exemption," which lowers tax bills by reducing a home's value before the taxes are determined.

Pa. ballot question on property taxes passed. Here's what it means
Inquirer by Laura McCrystal, Staff Writer  @LMcCrystal | Updated: NOVEMBER 7, 2017 — 10:36 PM EST
Pennsylvania took a first step toward a potential property tax overhaul Tuesday, as voters approved a constitutional amendment that could lead to change. The ballot question, which asked whether taxing authorities should be able to exempt residents from paying property taxes on their primary residences, was poised to pass, with preliminary results showing the amendment winning approval with 93 percent of districts reporting results. “I’m excited that the people of Pennsylvania got to speak, and I think they made it pretty clear,” said Rep. David Maloney (R., Berks), who sponsored the bill that created the ballot question. “I think it’s a significant step forward, and I think, in some respects, the legislature probably needed to see this.” The vote marked a concrete move toward changing or eliminating a levy that has been a long-standing source of complaint.  Lawmakers and advocates say that the current reliance on property taxes — which account for about 30 percent of local and state revenue in Pennsylvania and are a primary source of school funding — is especially harmful to homeowners on fixed incomes. The issue has gained greater traction in recent years; Gov. Wolf has said he supports the elimination of property taxes.
But Tuesday’s vote will not change anything immediately.

Voters deliver a mandate about property tax relief in Tuesday's election
Voters on Tuesday voted to amend the state constitution to raise the homestead exclusion level to up to 100 percent of the value of each "homestead," or primary residence, which could open the door to long-awaited property tax relief for homeowners.
Penn Live By Jan Murphy Updated Nov 7, 11:48 PM
constitutional amendment that opens the door to property tax relief for homeowners won overwhelming approval of voters in Tuesday's election. With almost 98 percent of the votes counted, the unofficial results showed 54.5 percent of voters supported this state constitutional change to raise the exclusion level to up to 100 percent of the value of each "homestead," or primary residence, while 45.5 percent opposed.  The exclusion level that has been in place since its adoption in 1997 capped it at 50 percent of the median assessed value of all homesteads in a school district, municipality, or county. The strong support for this constitutional change sends a mandate to state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf that Pennsylvanians want them to act to provide property tax relief for homeowners. Plus, Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill County, who has been championing a legislative effort to eliminate property taxes for several years, said, "It gives the General Assembly a lot of options that it does not possess today." For example, he said previously if lawmakers passed a law to eliminate school property taxes for homeowners while keeping them in place for commercial properties, it could have been thrown out as unconstitutional.

“The constitutional amendment gives legal authorization for state lawmakers to pass a law to let local governments exempt the full value of homes from taxes, replacing what had been a 50 percent cap on cuts. The amendment itself did not reduce any taxes, and the Legislature may struggle to find revenue to replace the property taxes that currently generate billions for schools and other purposes.”
Sallie Mundy, GOP incumbent, keeps Pennsylvania Supreme Court seat
Morning Call by The Associated Press November 8, 2017
A Republican justice kept her seat on Pennsylvania's highest court Tuesday and voters approved a constitutional amendment that could eventually lead to property tax cuts. Justice Sallie Mundy held off Allegheny County Judge Dwayne Woodruff, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, in what was the most closely watched race in an off-year election. Mundy's victory gave her a full 10-year term and meant Democrats were unable to add to their 5-to-2 majority on the high court. Two other incumbent justices were retained for another decade in up-or-down retention votes. Mundy, a resident of Tioga in the state's northern tier, was a Superior Court judge when Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf nominated her and the Republican-controlled state Senate confirmed her to replace Justice Michael Eakin. Eakin stepped down early last year, nearly three months after being put on paid suspension to await an ethics trial for his role in a salacious email scandal.

Republicans maintain majorities on Superior, Commonwealth courts
DAN MAJORS Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12:10 AM NOV 8, 2017
With voting results still being tabulated late Tuesday night, some seats on the state’s intermediate appellate courts were still being contested. But it seemed safe to say that both the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court would retain their Republican majorities. Three Democrats and one Republican were leading in the vote count for four seats on the Superior Court, but the margin between the two Republicans vying for fourth place was too close to call.  The two seats open on the Commonwealth Court were split between a Democrat and a Republican, meaning that panel will maintain its 7-2 Republican majority.

Fuzzy math: GOP tax plan's eliminating educator tax break 'adding insult to injury for teachers'
Penn Live By Jan Murphy Updated Nov 7 1:48 PM
When it comes to buying classroom supplies that don't fit into the school budget, teachers increasingly are finding themselves digging into their own wallets. A national survey found more than 90 percent of teachers spend their own money to buy supplies and materials for their classrooms and occasionally, clothing and personal hygiene products for their students. They put out nearly $600 a year, on average, doing it, according to, a national nonprofit based in Minneapolis, Minn., that raises money to assist teachers buy classroom materials. For the past 15 years, K-12 teachers have been able to enjoy a modest offset for that spending when it came to filing their federal income tax return. They were able to deduct up to $250 of their out-of-pocket expenses from their taxes through the educator expense deduction.
But this is one of several popular deductions that the House GOP tax reform plan calls for eliminating.

Change to Pa. school code allows districts to lay off teachers based on performance
ELIZABETH BEHRMAN Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1:36 PM NOV 7, 2017
A new law that went into effect earlier this week will allow financially pinched school districts to lay off teachers based on their performance in the classroom, rather than their years of experience. It marks a major upheaval in the realm of Pennsylvania teacher contracts, and one that unions furiously battled for years. “These are significant changes,” said Ira Weiss, whose law firm represents a number of local school districts, including Pittsburgh Public Schools.  So far this week, teacher unions have been relatively tight-lipped on the subject and merely expressed their disappointment that Gov. Tom Wolf allowed the legislation to pass into law without his signature Monday, despite his “concerns.”  Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said the state law will supersede the Pittsburgh teachers’ contract, which bases furloughs on seniority. However, Pittsburgh Public Schools hasn’t furloughed teachers in several years.  "We were really disappointed to see that go through,” she said. “Policy shouldn't be part of funding package. It's disappointing, too, that furloughs will be based on an unfair system." Pittsburgh labor attorney Michael Healey questions whether the new statute could legally overrule seniority provisions in a teachers’ contract. 

Lawsuit challenging GOP electoral maps to move forward
Penn Live By The Associated Press Updated Nov 7, 11:44 PM; Posted Nov 7, 11:22 PM
PHILADELPHIA -- A panel of judges has denied a motion to quash a federal lawsuit charging that Pennsylvania's congressional maps give Republicans an unfair electoral advantage. The judges issued the ruling Tuesday after lawyers for the state's Republican leaders asked them to dismiss the case brought by five Pennsylvania voters against the governor and elections officials. Attorneys for House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said the legislative districts are lawful. But lawyers for the voters argue they were illegally drawn to favor one party over another. Republicans won 13 of 18 congressional seats in the 2014 and 2016 elections despite earning a little over 50 percent of the vote. The lawsuit also seeks to redraw lines before the 2018 midterm election. It's scheduled for trial in December.

An open letter to Dr. Hite
The notebook letter by Debra Weiner November 7, 2017 — 12:51pm
Dear Dr. Hite,
To improve the academic performance and graduation rates of students of color, who now make up more than half of the School District's enrollment, and to keep students from fleeing to other districts or charter schools, one simple strategy does not require huge investment in new curricula, tests, or professional development.  And it is particularly relevant to you personally as well to the District organizationally. That strategy is to invest in increasing the number of black men in the District’s teaching ranks. As we have learned from the remarkable work of Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker and a founder of the Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, black males constitute only 2 percent of teachers across the nation. The Fellowship just had its first national convening of black male teachers in Philadelphia in October. Our District's 5 percent rate is better, but still horribly unfair to the tens of thousands of black male students who constitute a huge percentage of school dropouts and participants in the school-to-prison pipeline. Recent research shows the positive effects for students of having black teachers:

Charter schools, a viable option
Centre Daily Times Letter by CINDY WAY, STATE COLLEGE NOVEMBER 07, 2017 11:22 PM
As a former public school teacher and parent who chose a charter school for one of her three children, I would like to encourage parents to look seriously at our charter schools as an option for children having difficulty in the public school setting. My third child was a hands-on learner who struggled with reading. He was not flourishing in traditional education. I placed him in the tech-based, project-based Centre Learning Community Charter School, for fifth through eighth grade, and he excelled! He returned to public school in ninth grade with great success and went on to college to pursue a degree in computer engineering. At CLC he pursued his interests in computers and engineering via projects that engaged him fully. I don’t think he would have obtained the level of success he did without the help of CLC. He had the same teachers for two years at a time, had small math classes that allowed him to enter double accelerated math in high school, and he chose a CLC teacher as the most influential teacher he had for an awards ceremony his senior year. I was surprised to see CLC still has openings for this year. For whatever reason, from bullying to other social or academic concerns, I would encourage parents to explore charter schools as a viable option if this school year is not working well for your child. I am so glad we did!

“The end result? Indiana Connections Academy decided to not only change their software systems to accommodate transgender students’ requests, but to develop new training protocols for school staff and a range of other policies and supports for vulnerable students”
For Online Schools, Unique Challenges in Serving Transgender Students
Education Week By Benjamin Herold November 6, 2017
Indiana Connections Academy faced a dilemma. Around 2013, a growing number of transgender students at the K-12 school began telling staff they wanted to be recognized by a different name and gender than was listed on their birth certificates. But Indiana Connections Academy is a full-time online charter. That means most of students’ interactions with teachers and classmates occur online, using technology platforms that display each child’s name and other information. The school couldn’t change what was displayed publicly without first wrestling with serious questions about student privacy, as well as changing what was stored in its back-end database, which at the time required students’ legal name and gender for state reporting purposes. Finding a technical fix was just part of the ongoing challenge, according to Melissa Brown, Indiana Connections Academy’s longtime executive director. The school has also had to consider its legal obligations around serving transgender students, which have shifted over the past two presidential administrations. And just as significantly, Brown and her team were forced to navigate a broader culture war in which advocates of LGBT rights have been pitted against some proponents of religious liberty.

Twitter doubles length of tweets to 280 characters
Trib Live MERCURY NEWS | Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, 6:06 p.m.
When Twitter announced in September it was testing longer tweets, some users praised the change while others feared the site would lose its sense of brevity. Now the San Francisco tech firm is officially doubling the character limit of its tweets to 280 characters. The change will apply to all languages except for Japanese, Korean, and Chinese because users can convey more information in those languages with fewer characters, Twitter said Tuesday. Twitter's 140-character tweets have been a part of the site since it launched in 2006, helping the company to set itself apart from other social networks.

November School Leader Advocacy Training
PASA, PASBO, PSBA, the Pennsylvania Principals Association, the PARSS and PAIU are offering five, full-day School Leader Advocacy Training sessions at the following locations:
Wednesday, November 15 – Berks County I.U. 14 (Reading)
Thursday, November 16 – Midwestern I.U. 4 (Grove City)
Friday, November 17 – Westmoreland I.U. 7 (Greensburg)
Take advantage of this great opportunity – at NO cost to you!

Cyber Charter School Application; Public Hearing November 20
Pennsylvania Bulletin Saturday, October 14, 2017 NOTICES - DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
The Department of Education (Department) has scheduled one date for a public hearing regarding a cyber charter school application that was received on or before October 2, 2017. The hearing will be held on November 20, 2017, in Heritage Room A on the lobby level of 333 Market Street, Harrisburg, PA 17126 at 9 a.m. The hearing pertains to the applicant seeking to operate a cyber charter school beginning in the 2018-2019 school year. The purpose of the hearing is to gather information from the applicant about the proposed cyber charter school as well as receive comments from interested individuals regarding the application. The name of the applicant, copies of the application and a listing of the date and time scheduled for the hearing on the application can be viewed on the Department's web site at Individuals who wish to provide comments on the application during the hearing must provide a copy of their written comments to the Department and the applicant on or before November 6, 2017. Comments provided by this deadline and presented at the hearing will become part of the certified record. For questions regarding this hearing, contact the Division of Charter Schools, (717) 787-9744,

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Education Cyber Charter School Application for Commonwealth Education Connections Cyber Charter School 2017
Charter School Application Submitted: September 27, 2017

Support the Notebook and see Springsteen on Broadway
The notebook October 2, 2017 — 10:57am
Donate $50 or more until Nov. 10, enter to win – and have your donation doubled!
"This music is forever for me. It's the stage thing, that rush moment that you live for. It never lasts, but that's what you live for." – Bruce Springsteen
You can be a part of a unique Bruce Springsteen show in his career – and support local, nonprofit education journalism!  Donate $50 or more to the Notebook through Nov. 10, and your donation will be doubled, up to $1,000, through the Knight News Match. Plus, you will be automatically entered to win a pair of prime tickets to see Springsteen on Broadway!  One winner will receive two tickets to the 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24, show at the Walter Kerr Theatre. These are amazing orchestra section seats to this incredible sold-out solo performance. Don't miss out on your chance to see the Boss in his Broadway debut. Donate to the Notebook today online or by mail at 699 Ranstead St., 3rd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19106.

Registration now open for the 67th Annual PASCD Conference  Nov. 12-13 Harrisburg: Sparking Innovation: Personalized Learning, STEM, 4C's
This year's conference will begin on Sunday, November 12th and end on Monday, November 13th. There will also be a free pre-conference on Saturday, November 11th.  You can register for this year's conference online with a credit card payment or have an invoice sent to you.  Click here to register for the conference.

Register for New School Director Training in December and January
PSBA Website October 2017
You’ve started a challenging and exciting new role as a school director. Let us help you narrow the learning curve! PSBA’s New School Director Training provides school directors with foundational knowledge about their role, responsibilities and ethical obligations. At this live workshop, participants will learn about key laws, policies, and processes that guide school board governance and leadership, and develop skills for becoming strong advocates in their community. Get the tools you need from experts during this visually engaging and interactive event.
Choose from any of these 10 locations and dates (note: all sessions are held 8 a.m.-4 p.m., unless specified otherwise.):
·         Dec. 8, Bedford CTC
·         Dec. 8, Montoursville Area High School
·         Dec. 9, Upper St. Clair High School
·         Dec. 9, West Side CTC
·         Dec. 15, Crawford County CTC
·         Dec. 15, Upper Merion MS (8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m)
·         Dec. 16, PSBA Mechanicsburg
·         Dec. 16, Seneca Highlands IU 9
·         Jan. 13, A W Beattie Career Center
·         Jan. 13, Parkland HS
Fees: Complimentary to All-Access members or $170 per person for standard membership. All registrations will be billed to the listed district, IU or CTC. To request billing to an individual, please contact Michelle Kunkel at Registration also includes a box lunch on site and printed resources.

Save the Date! NSBA 2018 Advocacy Institute February 4-6, 2018 Marriott Marquis, Washington D.C.
Registration Opens Tuesday, September 26, 2017

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