Friday, December 8, 2017

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec. 8: What Tax Overhaul Could Mean For Students & Schools

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Keystone State Education Coalition
What Tax Overhaul Could Mean For Students & Schools

In School Funding Court Battles, There's Been a Winning Shift
The legal strategy to get states to provide adequate education funding has changed -- and it's working in schools' favor.
Governing BY LIZ FARMER | DECEMBER 6, 2017
This fall, schools and other education advocates won a victory in Pennsylvania when the state Supreme Court reinstated a lawsuit claiming that the state's school funding formula doesn't meet schools' basic needs. The case, William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, is just one of many in recent years that highlight a fundamental shift in legal strategy for education funding lawsuits. Instead of arguing that funding levels are too low, plaintiffs have started focusing on state-mandated standards for public schools, such as test scores and college-readiness. In other words, they argue, implementing these new requirements while receiving the same or less per-pupil funding from the state amounts to an unfunded mandate violating the state's constitutional promise to fund education. "They'll mandate until the cows come home," says David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center. "But what they don't do in so many places, is really sit down and think about if this is the performance we want, what are the resources that need to be in schools to give them a chance to achieve those standards, what's the cost and how do we build our financing formula around that?"
The approach is working.

What A Tax Overhaul Could Mean For Students And Schools
NPR Heard on Morning Edition ANYA KAMENETZ CORY TURNER Dec. 7, 20174:28 AM
The House and Senate are working to reconcile their versions of a tax plan — but one thing is for certain: Big changes are ahead for the nation's schools and colleges. Let's start with K-12. There, Republicans from both sides of Congress generally agree on two big changes.
Saving for private school - Taxpayers can currently save money for college through a 529 plan, where earnings grow tax-free. Many states also offer deductions for contributions. In the proposals, Republicans want to let taxpayers use 529s to pay for K-12 tuition at private and religious schools, too. Families can already do that with a different plan — Coverdell Education Savings Accounts — but these have low contribution limits and aren't open to high-income Americans. The move to expand the 529 would dramatically increase who could use these plans and the money they could save. "I think the only taxpayers who will be in a position to benefit from the 529 change are very rich people," says Nora Gordon, an economist and associate professor at Georgetown University. She says using these accounts to save for elementary or high school won't help much unless you can afford to set aside a lot of money early on. No wonder, when the Government Accountability Office studied 529s and Coverdells a few years ago, it found "families with these accounts had about 25 times the median financial assets" of those who didn't use them and "about three times the median income." While the proposed expansion of 529 plans would largely help affluent parents who use private schools, Republicans are proposing another change that could hurt funding for the nation's public schools.

CHIP: Children's health is being sacrificed on the altar of politics | Editorial
Making sure children have health insurance doesn’t seem to be a priority for Congress or President Trump.
by The Inquirer Editorial Board Updated: DECEMBER 7, 2017 — 10:43 AM EST
Pennsylvania should be proud to have originated the idea behind the nation’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, which today provides coverage to 9 million low-income children and pregnant women. But like so many other good ideas and programs, CHIP is drowning in the fetid river of Washington politics. State Rep. Allen Kukovich (D., Westmoreland) in the 1980s came up with the idea of a health insurance program for families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. But years passed before he and State Sen. Allyson Schwartz (D., Phila.) were successful in passing legislation to create Pennsylvania’s CHIP, which was signed into law by Gov. Robert P. Casey in 1992. Pennsylvania CHIP celebrated its 25th birthday on Dec. 2. But now CHIP here and in other states is on the verge of death because the national program created in 1997 to provide matching funds hasn’t been reauthorized by Congress. Several states’ CHIP programs will run out of money within weeks unless Congress acts, and most will be broke by March.

Editorial: Congress has imperative to fund CHIP
Daily Local Editorial POSTED: 12/05/17, 8:58 PM EST
That massive tax reform plan is not the only fiscal nightmare that is rattling around the nation’s Capitol. There is another problem that has now been festering for more than two months, one that affects some of the most needy among us – children. Thousands of children across the region are in danger of losing their health insurance. And yes, this one is connected at the hip with the blind zeal of some in Washington to do away with the signature legislation of the Obama Administration. While doing everything in their power to gut and eventually do away with the program known as Obamacare, our elected officials also have managed to allow funding for a crucial children’s health program to lapse. CHIP, which stands for Children’s Health Insurance Program, provides essential health benefits for thousands of families. It started more than 20 years ago, but its funding has not been in place since Sept. 30. Now several states, including Pennsylvania, are scrambling for cash to prop up the program.

In Pa. gerrymander case, experts can't defend the indefensible | Opinion
Inquirer by Nicholas Stephanopoulos, Updated: DECEMBER 7, 2017 11:19 AM
Pennsylvania is no stranger to partisan gerrymandering disputes. In a blockbuster 2004 case, the Supreme Court declined to strike down the congressional map then in effect. The court didn’t quite hold that the map was lawful; rather, it couldn’t think of a workable standard for evaluating the map’s validity. Another gerrymandering suit is now making its way through the Pennsylvania courts, with a decision expected by the end of the year. But unlike its predecessor, this suit is based on a manageable test as well as a mountain of damning evidence. Perhaps for this reason, it has thoroughly flummoxed the state’s lawyers and experts. What’s changed since 2004? In recent years, political scientists have developed powerful new tools for evaluating district maps. These tools indicate how skewed a map is in a party’s favor, how likely this skew is to persist in the future, and whether the skew has a legitimate explanation (like a state’s political geography). In the Wisconsin case now pending before the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs used these tools to craft a simple test for gerrymandering:

By Lindsay Lazarski, WHYY December 7, 2017
The federal trial over Pennsylvania’s congressional district map wrapped up in a Philadelphia courtroom on Thursday with a string of stirring closing arguments before a three-judge panel. During four days of deliberations, a group of more than 20 Pennsylvania voters challenged the way Republican lawmakers drew the state’s congressional districts in 2011, asserting a gerrymandering scheme that violates the U.S. Constitution. If the voters are successful, they could trigger a new congressional map impacting the 2018 midterm elections when all 18 of Pennsylvania’s seats in the U.S. House of Representative could be contested

Editorial: Scaling back standardized testing is a good thing for Pennsylvania's students
Lancaster Online by The LNP Editorial Board December 8, 2017
THE ISSUE - Gov. Tom Wolf announced changes Wednesday to Pennsylvania’s standardized school testing regimen. Starting next school year, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests will be condensed from three weeks to two weeks and shifted to later in the school year. “The new schedule builds on changes taking effect this school year to remove two sections of the PSSA — one in math and one in English language arts — and reduce questions in the science assessment, which is enabling the Department of Education to condense and move the testing window to later in the year,” a department press release explained. This school year, the number of test days has been reduced by two. States were given the flexibility to restructure their testing regimens by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act and took effect in July.
It appears that time and sanity will be restored to the school schedule, and that’s a good thing. There’s no need to throw out those No. 2 pencils, however, because standardized testing will remain a part of Pennsylvania education. That is also a good thing. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with standardized testing. We need tools to measure academic performance. But over the years, it became a beast that threatened to swallow our education system — and any creativity within it — whole. It failed to recognize the nuances at work in the classroom — the students from economically disadvantaged homes, who fared worse on standardized tests than their middle-class counterparts; the students with learning disabilities who could shine, with individualized instruction, in their classwork, but who performed poorly on these tests.

Pittsburgh-area schools are looking to do more to prevent student suicide
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by ELIZABETH BEHRMAN 4:57 PM 
DEC 7, 2017
The North Allegheny School District has spent weeks studying the issue of student stress and sleep, gearing up to consider changes to the school day schedule and the way grades are calculated. Among the reasons the district is considering such things, the superintendent said, is because North Allegheny doesn’t want to end up like the schools in Palo Alto, Calif.  Like North Allegheny, that Silicon Valley district is high-performing with high-achieving students,  Superintendent Robert Scherrer said. And in 2015, the California schools were the site of a number of youth suicides, brought on in part, experts said, by issues like anxiety and depression as well as academic stress and parental pressure. 

Coding: The new literacy?
The city is launching a campaign to bring computer science to all students.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa December 7, 2017 — 5:37pm
Kahleel Odom, an 8th grader at Ethel Allen Elementary School in North Philadelphia, had one goal in mind: escaping the zombies. He peered at his Chromebook. The maneuver required several steps, so he could move his Minecraft avatar block by block. But he couldn't just operate a joystick; he had to type in what to do next. He was coding. Kahleel, a friendly 13-year-old, tried to explain: "I had to make sure the iron golem got the zombie so the zombies didn't get me."  He was among a roomful of students at Ethel Allen participating Wednesday morning in an international hour of code event.  They worked while getting coaching from people such as Matt Stem, the state's deputy secretary of education, and Nefertiti Stanford, a customer engineer at IBM and a champion mentor with Philly CoderDojo, which works with students mostly after school. The event was part of the District's participation in Computer Science Education Week.

Audit: Mismanagement at Parking Authority cheated Philly District out of nearly $80 million
PPA spent money on pay raises and comp time, while school budgets were slashed.
The notebook by Greg Windle December 7, 2017 — 5:34pm
The state’s auditor general, Eugene DePasquale, said Thursday that mismanagement and corruption at the Philadelphia Parking Authority had cheated the School District out of nearly $78 million over the last five years. The auditor general examined the employment and financial practices at the Parking Authority during the tenure of now-ousted executive director Vincent Fenerty. DePasquale called the time period a “reign of terror,” when Fenerty sexually harassed multiple female employees while enriching himself and other executives. DePasquale said he found evidence that Fenerty misled City Council when he testified in 2014 that the School District would receive an additional $7.5 million as the result of a parking-rate increase — money that never materialized. “The whole reason why the state took [the Parking Authority] over in the first place was to help the kids in the city of Philadelphia,” DePasquale said. “My audit shows that the School District of Philadelphia potentially missed out, from mismanagement at the Parking Authority, on approximately $77.9 million over the past five years alone.”

Editorial: Children, families in Chester Upland still being cheated
Delco Times POSTED: 12/07/17, 9:00 PM EST | UPDATED: 22 SECS AGO
Stop us if you’ve heard this before. Chester Upland School District is a mess.
Actually, the word used by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale was “chaos.”
DePasquale was in town Wednesday to release the results of the latest state audit of Chester Upland’s books. Or at least that was his hope. It didn’t turn out that way.
That’s because DePasquale said things are so bad in Chester Upland that officials were not even able to supply the necessary paperwork his office needed to do the audit. “Total administrative chaos,” is how the auditor general put it. DePasquale, who has now been in charge of reviewing the books for public agencies in the state for almost five years, says that has never happened before. The Democrat stopped in our office in Swarthmore Wednesday morning to discuss his dealings with the district. He noted it’s “very rare” to run into this kind of difficulty and lack of cooperation. At one point he referred to the district as the Titanic. “It is rather rare to find a school district in such disarray that we are unable to complete an audit and leaves doubts about whether the district’s students are getting the education they deserve and need,” DePasquale said in a statement.

York Suburban's ex-superintendent now facing trial
York Dispatch by Liz Evans Scolforo, 505-5429/@LizScolforoYD Published 7:49 p.m. ET Dec. 7, 2017 | Updated 8:16 p.m. ET Dec. 7, 2017
Former York Suburban School District superintendent Shelly Merkle has waived her right to a preliminary hearing on charges she vandalized two of her former assistant's vehicles in one day on school property. Michele A. Merkle, 54, of the 1900 block of Vicki Drive in Spring Garden Township, is now facing trial on two counts of second-degree misdemeanor criminal mischief. She waived the hearing Thursday, Dec. 7, in the office of District Judge Scott Laird. Laird, whose office is in York Township, told The York Dispatch he was asked to handle the case by York County President Judge Joseph Adams after Spring Garden-area District Judge Jennifer Clancy — who previously served as a York Suburban school board member — recused herself.

Betsy DeVos Releases Q&A Explaining Landmark Special Education Ruling
Education Week Politics K12 Blog By Alyson Klein on December 7, 2017 11:25 AM
School districts wondering about the legal implications of a major special education court case are getting some help from the U.S. Department of Education. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has released a question-and-answer document explaining the ruling in Endrew F. vs. Douglas County. The ruling, which came down in March, determined that districts have the obligation to provide students in special education with something beyond a minimal quality or "de minimis" education. "The Supreme Court sent a strong and unanimous message: all children must be given an opportunity to make real progress in their learning environment - they cannot simply be passed along from year to year without meaningful improvement," said DeVos. "For too long, too many students offered [individualized education programs] were denied that chance. I firmly believe all children, especially those with disabilities, must be provided the support needed to empower them to grow and achieve ambitious goals."  Christina Samuels will have a more thorough explanation at On Special Education. But for now, here's the document

The Charter-School Crusader
The combative Eva Moskowitz has created the nation’s most impressive school system—and made lots of enemies in the process.
In the spring of 2007, I moved to New York City to cover what I was sure was the most important story in the country. One of those annoying people who had settled on a career before I knew how to drive, I was a young and enthusiastic reporter on the education beat. In New York, I could cover the biggest education revolution ever attempted: a total overhaul of the way public schools worked, in the country’s largest school system. The drivers of this transformation were the city’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and his handpicked schools chancellor, Joel Klein, a prosecutor who had previously taken on Microsoft and had now set his sights on toppling his hometown’s education status quo. “BloomKlein,” as their enemies called them, radiated a crusading moral confidence. Both liked to say that their work, begun in 2003, was the next phase of the civil-rights movement. And they wielded unprecedented authority to actually follow through on their enlightened mission to tackle inequities and eradicate dysfunction; in 2002, state lawmakers had dissolved New York City’s elected school board and handed total control to the mayor. Supporters and opponents alike shared the BloomKlein conviction that their “disruptions” would soon spread to cities all across the country.

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 11 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. 6, Haverford Middle School
·         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.

NSBA 2018 Advocacy Institute February 4 - 6, 2018 Marriott Marquis, Washington D.C.
Register Now
Come a day early and attend the Equity Symposium!
Join hundreds of public education advocates on Capitol Hill and help shape the decisions made in Washington D.C. that directly impact our students. At the 2018 Advocacy Institute, you’ll gain insight into the most critical issues affecting public education, sharpen your advocacy skills, and prepare for effective meetings with your representatives. Whether you are an expert advocator or a novice, attend and experience inspirational keynote speakers and education sessions featuring policymakers, legal experts and policy influencers. All designed to help you advocate for your students and communities.

Registration is now open for the 2018 PASA Education Congress! State College, PA, March 19-20, 2018
Don't miss this marquee event for Pennsylvania school leaders at the Nittany Lion Inn, State College, PA, March 19-20, 2018.
Learn more by visiting 

Any comments contained herein are my comments, alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or organization that I may be affiliated with.

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