Thursday, January 18, 2018

PA Ed Policy Roundup Jan. 18: PA Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Redistricting Lawsuit

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 4050 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Wolf education transition team members, superintendents, school solicitors, principals, charter school leaders, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, faith-based organizations, labor organizations, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

These daily emails are archived and searchable at
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Keystone State Education Coalition

SB2 ESA Vouchers could take $500 million from Pennsylvania public schools, which educate 90% of our kids, and give it to unaccountable private and religious schools. Voucher bill SB2 is anticipated to move out of the Senate Ed Committee as soon as next week.

Estimated per student amount of proposed ESA vouchers:
$5,770 per regular education student
$8,714 per Category 1 special education student
$21,756 per Category 2 special education student
$43,051 Category 3 special education student

Even though vouchers are funded with public money, when a parent switches their child from public to private school, they waive crucial special education rights granted to them under federal law.

Contact your state senator here:
Contact your state representatives here:

GIVE KIDS A SMILE 1-17-18 Update: WE'RE SO CLOSE. 80 people over the next 5 days would get us to our funding goal!  Help make free dental care for kids in need possible by making a donation today.

Pa. Supreme Court considers ordering new congressional map before 2018 elections
Inquirer by Liz Navratil, HARRISBURG BUREAU Updated: JANUARY 17, 2018 — 5:50 PM EST
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices on Wednesday interrogated lawyers defending the way the state’s congressional districts were drawn, a map opponents have challenged as illegally shaped to benefit Republicans, who hold a majority of its seats in the U.S. House. Based on the tenor of their questions, a majority of the court, which has five Democrats and two Republicans, appeared open to the argument that Pennsylvania’s congressional districts are illegally gerrymandered. A group of Democratic voters has asked the court to overturn the map and order a new one drawn before the 2018 elections, in one of several such lawsuits nationwide. The justices, while acknowledging that politics played a role in the boundary-drawing, must decide whether those political concerns crossed the line and deprived Democratic voters of their constitutional rights. “A test has, I think, eluded every court that has tried to grapple with this,” Justice Max Baer, who ran as a Democrat, said at one point during the 2½-hour hearing. Over and over, justices asked attorneys for the 18 Democratic voters who brought the suit and the leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature what the test should be.

Pa. Supreme Court takes on Pennsylvania's Congressional maps case
Penn Live By Charles Thompson Updated Jan 17, 9:26 PM; Posted Jan 17, 3:46 PM
Members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court didn't bother concealing their split views over the state's current map of U.S. House districts in the climax of a key redistricting case Wednesday. But loving or hating that map was really beside the point in Wednesday's two-and-a-half hours of argument at the State Capitol. The real key, both for the grassroots activists who are battling the status quo and the legislative leaders seeking to defend it, is whether the court can reach a consensus that the map's skewed lines violate state constitutional guarantees to free speech, and free and fair elections. Petitioners seeking new districts for this year's election cycle - initially including the state League of Women Voters and 18 Democratic voters - argued it's time for the court to set a standard that permits political considerations in redistricting, but only so long as they don't obliterate all other standards like contiguity and preserving communities of interest.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears congressional gerrymandering case
Morning Call by Steve Esack Contact Reporter January 17, 2018
For three straight election cycles, Republicans have won more than two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional seats. Now, in a closely watched gerrymandering lawsuit, it’s up to the Democrat-majority state Supreme Court to determine if those outcomes were the result of voters’ preferences or pre-determined by GOP map-making so partisan it violated the state constitution. The justices voiced concern about going farther than other courts to prohibit partisanship, and pressed lawyers about where the line might be drawn between fair partisanship and constitutional violations. “A test has eluded every court that's grappled with it,” said Justice Max Baer, one of five Democrats on the elected, seven-person court. The justices could dramatically redraw the state's political landscape months before the scheduled primary and make changes to the coming year's election calendar. They also could follow a lower court's recommendation last month and uphold the map, or they could delay implementation of any changes until 2020.

Justices ponder throwing out Pennsylvania congressional map
AP State Wire by Mark Scolforo January 17, 2018
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s highest court may soon decide how much partisan gerrymandering is too much, at least in terms of the state constitution. A challenge by Democratic voters to Pennsylvania’s Republican-crafted 2011 congressional district map landed before the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, with a ruling expected in the coming weeks. The map includes a suburban Philadelphia district that has been compared to one Disney cartoon character kicking another, a district that at times is as narrow as a single building. The result has been a durable 13-5 GOP advantage over three election cycles despite a large Democratic voter registration edge and Democrats holding the governorship and three row offices. The justices voiced concern about going farther than other courts to prohibit partisanship, and pressed lawyers about where the line might be drawn between fair partisanship and constitutional violations. “A test has eluded every court that’s grappled with it,” said Justice Max Baer, one of five Democrats on the elected, seven-person court. The justices could dramatically redraw the state’s political landscape months before the scheduled primary and make changes to the coming year’s election calendar. They also could follow a lower court’s recommendation last month and uphold the map, or they could delay implementation of any changes until 2020.

Public Interest Law Center Website January 17, 2018
On January 17, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held oral argument in Pennsylvania’s political redistricting lawsuit, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania et al., v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. More than 150 people attended, filling the Supreme Court courtroom and an overflow room. The seven justices were very engaged in the argument, which lasted for almost three hours. The petitioners in the case – the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and 18 voters, one from each congressional district – are asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to rule the 2011 U.S. Congressional map unconstitutional and order it be redrawn. The Court showed interest in possible standards for determining when partisanship and intent to discriminate against voters go too far and violate the constitution. “Today we heard the legislative respondents admit that the mapmakers identified Democratic voters and deliberately sorted them in particular districts to mute their voice in the political process,” said David Gersch, Senior Counsel with Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP. Mr. Gersch argued first, on behalf of the petitioners. “This historically extreme partisan gerrymander violates Pennsylvania’s Constitution, and Commonwealth voters should not have to endure one more election under a discriminatory and unconstitutional map.”

“A report released Wednesday by Pre-K for PA said that only 36 percent of eligible children in Pennsylvania receive high quality, publicly funded pre-K. That means 112,900 children are not getting it, the report said.”
Former governors Rendell, Schweiker urge more funding for pre-kindergarten
Intelligencer By Chris English  Posted Jan 17, 2018 at 5:30 PM Updated Jan 17, 2018 at 7:26 PM
The two former Pennsylvania chief executives spoke during a press conference at the Bucks County Intermediate Unit in Doylestown Township. Former Pennsylvania governors Ed Rendell and Mark Schweiker lent their voices to the call for more state funding for quality pre-kindergarten during a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Bucks County Intermediate Unit in Doylestown Township. During the event organized by the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and Pre-K for PA, both Rendell and Schweiker said they placed high priorities on pre-K spending during their administrations but were often thwarted by their legislatures. The administration of Gov. Tom Wolf is making good progress, both former governors said. In 2017-18, state funding for pre-K is $226 million — a $30 million increase from last fiscal year and a $90 million hike over the last three years, Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children President and CEO Joan Benso said. But more needs to be done, Rendell and Schweiker said. “The private sector has stepped up to make contributions to pre-K, but it’s not the private sector’s job,” Rendell said. “The education of our children is one of the core responsibilities of state government. There should not be one child in Pennsylvania not receiving a high quality pre-K education. Our children do better if we lay a foundation of pre-K education and full-day kindergarten.”

“Chairmen of the House and Senate education committees also expressed disappointment in the plan for that and other reasons. They communicated their dissatisfaction to the federal department, which is why when Senate Education Committee Chairman John Eichelberger, R-Blair County, heard it had been approved, said, "I'm not happy about it."
Feds approve Pa.'s education plan despite state lawmakers' disappointment with it
Penn Live By Jan Murphy Updated Jan 17, 3:57 PM; Posted Jan 17, 12:01 PM
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has put a stamp of approval on Pennsylvania's blueprint for improving education over the next 13 years and complying with the requirements of the No Child Left Behind successor law. Gov. Tom Wolf announced the approval of the state's plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act on Wednesday and hailed it as a "historic moment for public education in the commonwealth." The plan calls for cutting the length of the state exams given to third- through eighth-graders later and delaying the administration of those tests until later in the school year, increasing graduation rates, reducing chronic absenteeism, and emphasizing academic growth and assessing postsecondary readiness. It also includes changing the school report card to use a dashboard approach to display a school's performance on a variety of indicators.

Philly school board nominating panel getting down to work
The first meeting, on Friday morning, is open to the public.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa and Greg Windle January 17, 2018 — 7:00pm
The 13-member nominating panel charged with proposing candidates for the new Board of Education will start its work Friday morning, convening in City Hall for a session that is open to the public. Chosen by Mayor Kenney, the members of the group range from parents and educators to members of the Chamber of Commerce, the head of the local AFL-CIO, and several nonprofit directors. Some are affiliated with charter school advocacy groups, have been on charter boards, or have worked for charter organizations. About a third of the students in the city now attend charter schools, each of which has its own board but all of which are authorized by the District’s governing body. The City Charter specifies that the nominating panel must include representatives from various sectors, including labor, business, and higher education. The panel is charged with providing Kenney with 27 names by the end of February, from which he will choose nine people to serve on the school board. It will begin governing the District on July 1 after 16 years of state control through the School Reform Commission.

What's at stake as first day of new Philly school board begins | Editorial
by The Inquirer Editorial Board Updated: JANUARY 17, 2018 — 6:13 PM EST
When Mayor Kenney took the bold step to dissolve the School Reform Commission in favor of a locally appointed school board, he told City Council last Nov. 2 that he was accepting “accountability” going forward for the Philadelphia School District. The importance of that step can’t be underestimated. He also made clear that in having the city take responsibility for the district’s deficit, we’ll all be accountable, since we’re all going to pay for it. That process takes a big step Friday at the first meeting of a 13-member panel Kenney named Wednesday to recommend nominees for the Philadelphia Board of Education, which will return July 1 after a 16-year hiatus to take control from the SRC. There is much at stake here — the education of more than 200,000 children, a $1 billion deficit over the next five years, and a planned pitch from Kenney in March for more city taxes to pay for it all.

B-A School Board recommends not raising taxes
Altoona Mirror by WALT FRANK Staff Writer JAN 18, 2018
BELLWOOD — Bellwood-Antis School District Superintendent Thomas McInroy has good news for district taxpayers. “It will be our recommendation not to raise taxes for the next year. We are doing well,” McInroy said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. In December, board members approved a resolution to certify that the district would not increase any school district tax for the 2018-19 school year at a rate that exceeds the index of 3.4 percent as calculated by the state Department of Education. Kimberly VanGorder, business manager and board secretary, said that meant the highest the board could increase taxes would be 0.31 mills. Board members Tuesday received their annual audit report Tuesday from Young, Oakes, Brown and Co. “We had a clean audit,” VanGorder said. This would mark the second consecutive year for board members to hold the line on taxes after increasing the real estate tax in 11 of the previous 12 years. “Now that our audit has no findings, we feel we can do it with the existing money that we have. When I came here, I made a promise to leave no stone unturned. The administration and staff have been very good at being responsible. We have streamlined how we do business and how we manage our resources,” said McInroy, who arrived at Bellwood-Antis in October 2014.

Teachers receive 3.2 percent average pay raise under Donegal's new collective bargaining agreement
Teachers in the Donegal School District will receive an average salary hike of 3.2 percent under a new collective bargaining agreement approved last week. The four-year contract was unanimously approved by the school board on Jan. 11 after four months of negotiations between school district officials and the Donegal Education Association. It takes effect July 1. “When you think of negotiations, sometimes you think of tenuous, difficult fighting, those types of things,” Donegal Superintendent Michael Lausch said. “It truly was not that. It was cordial, respectful and we appreciated the process.” Under the new contract, the annual pay scale for teachers in the 2018-19 school year ranges from $50,114 to $87,494, depending on years of experience and level of education. By 2021, that range would expand to $50,974 to $91,638, respectively. In addition to salary increases, teachers gained an additional professional development day, increasing staff contractual days to 190. Some changes were also made to health care under the new agreement. Employees gained a wellness plan and family vision coverage. However, deductibles, copays and spousal contributions will all increase.

Larry Wittig, ousted as state education honcho over sexual misconduct claims, still in charge in Tamaqua
Inquirer by Tricia L. Nadolny, Staff Writer  @TriciaNadolny | Updated: JANUARY 17, 2018 — 1:26 PM EST
TAMAQUA, Pa. — Within 24 hours of being accused of past sexual misconduct, Larry Wittig resigned as president of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, was removed from the president’s leadership council at Drexel University, and was asked to give up his seat on the board of trustees at Philadelphia University-Thomas Jefferson University. But in Tamaqua, Schuylkill County, where Wittig has been president of the school board for 23 years, it is business as usual. At a Tuesday night board meeting presided over by Wittig, there was no discussion from board members or the public of the women who say Wittig pursued sexual relationships with them when they were teens and he was their coach. After adjourning the meeting, Wittig said no one has asked him to resign, and he has no plans to. “Absolutely not,” a visibly agitated Wittig said. “And that’s it. End of conversation.”

Surprise Democratic winner of Wisconsin special election is a school board member
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss January 17 at 5:36 PM 
News reports of Democrat Patty Schachtner’s surprise special election win against a Republican for a state Senate seat in Wisconsin’s rural 10th District have said this:
·         She won big in a county that elected Donald Trump as president by 17 points last year.
·         The victory is a huge “wakeup” call to Republicans, according to Gov. Scott Walker, a conservative Republican.
·         She is the St. Croix County medical examiner.
Here’s what they don’t say: She is a former member of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association, a gun-safety advocate, and a member of the Board of Education in the School District of Somerset who talked about public education while she was campaigning. In fact, the issue of public education is front and center to Schachtner, and local issues were what helped her win the election, commentators said. An interest in education issues could affect elections later this year in a state where public education advocates have accused the Walker administration of cutting K-12 funding (even though Walker says he is spending more than ever in the state), stripping teachers of collective bargaining rights and attempting to change the long-standing mission of the University of Wisconsin system.

Trump to Pennsylvania, but don’t call it a campaign trip
AP State Wire by Bill Barrow January 18, 2018
President Donald Trump is tiptoeing around the first congressional election of the new year as he heads to southwestern Pennsylvania on Thursday to hail the Republican tax cuts he signed last year. Trump will appear with the Republican nominee for a Pittsburgh-area House seat. But the White House said Trump won’t mention Rick Saccone in his remarks. And the event isn’t actually in the 18th Congressional District, which holds the special election March 13. Democrats, meanwhile, aren’t necessarily any more confident in the chances that lawyer and former Marine Conor Lamb can flip the district to their side. The handling of the race shows both sides’ reluctance to put too much emphasis on one contest amid the high stakes of this midterm election year. Saccone, a, 59-year-old state lawmaker, is trying to succeed Tim Murphy, who resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair. Lamb, 33, is looking for an upset in a union-heavy district Trump won by almost 20 points and where Murphy never got less than 58 percent of the vote in eight tries. It’s not surprising that Trump, looking for wins after the embarrassment of losing a Senate seat last month in conservative Alabama, might embrace a favored Republican in Trump-friendly territory.

Betsy DeVos: Nothing Presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush did in education reform really worked
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss January 16, 2018 at 5:09 PM
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos delivered her first speech of 2018 and flatly declared that school reform efforts under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush had not worked — nor had any other reform effort by any education secretary. She also said the establishment of the Education Department by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 was essentially a “giant nod to union bosses.” DeVos gave a keynote address at the American Enterprise Institute’s conference titled “Bush-Obama School Reform: Lessons Learned,” and then answered questions from Rick Hess, resident scholar and director of Education Policy Studies at the conservative think tank. Here are some things she said — and didn’t say — in her speech and in her conversation with Hess, followed by the text of the speech:

Register now for PSBA Board Presidents Panel 
PSBA Website January 2018

School board leaders, this one's for you! Join your colleagues at an evening of networking and learning in 10 convenient locations around the state at the end of January. Share your experience and leadership through a panel discussion moderated by PSBA Member Services team. Participate in roundtable conversations focused on the most pressing challenges and current issues affecting PA school districts. Bring your specific challenges and scenarios for small group discussion. Register online.

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.

Local School Board Members to Advocate on Capitol Hill in 2018     
NSBA's Advocacy Institute 2018 entitled, "Elected. Engaged. Empowered: Representing the Voice in Public Education," will be held on February 4-6, 2018 at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C. This conference will convene Members of Congress, national thought-leaders, state association executives and well-known political pundits to provide local school board members with an update on key policy and legal issues impacting public education, and tactics and strategies to enhance their ability to influence the policy-making process and national education debate during their year-round advocacy efforts.
·         Confirmed National Speaker: Cokie Roberts, Political Commentator for NPR and ABC News
·         NSBA will convene first ever National School Board Town Hall on School Choice
·         Includes General Sessions featuring national policy experts, Members of Congress, "DC Insiders" and local school board members
·         Offers conference attendees "Beginner" and "Advanced" Advocacy breakout sessions
·         NSBA will host a Hill Day Wrap-Up Reception
Click here to register for the Advocacy Institute.  The hotel block will close on Monday, January 15

PSBA Closer Look Series Public Briefings
The Closer Look Series Public Briefings will take a deeper dive into concepts contained in the proposed Pennsylvania State Budget and the State of Education Report. Sessions will harness the expertise of local business leaders, education advocates, government and local school leaders from across the state. Learn more about the fiscal health of schools, how workforce development and early education can be improved and what local schools are doing to improve the State of Education in Pennsylvania. All sessions are free and open to the public.

Connecting Student Success to Employment
Doubletree by Hilton Hotel – Pittsburgh Green Tree Feb. 27, 2018, 7-8:45 a.m.
More than eight out of 10 students taking one or more industry-specific assessments are achieving either at the competent or advanced level. How do we connect student success to jobs in the community? What does the connection between schools and the business community look like and how can it be improved? How do we increase public awareness of the growing demand for workers in the skilled trades and other employment trends in the commonwealth? Hear John Callahan, PSBA assistant executive director, and Matt Smith, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, give a free, public presentation on these topics followed by a Q&A period.

A Deeper Dive into the State of Education
Crowne Plaza Philadelphia – King of Prussia March 6, 2018, 7-8:45 a.m.
In the State of Education Report, 40% of schools stated that 16% to 30% of students joining schools at kindergarten or first grade are below the expected level of school readiness. Learn more about the impact of early education and what local schools are doing to improve the State of Education in Pennsylvania. A free, public presentation by local and legislative experts will be followed by a Q&A period.

Public Education Under Extreme Pressure
Hilton Harrisburg March 12, 2018, 7-8:45 a.m.
According to the State of Education Report, 84% of all school districts viewed budget pressures as the most difficult area to manage over the past year. With so many choices and pressures, school districts must make decisions to invest in priorities while managing their locally diverse budgets. How does the state budget impact these decisions? What investments does the business community need for the future growth of the economy and how do we improve the health, education and well-being of students who attend public schools in the commonwealth in this extreme environment? Hear local and legislative leaders in a free, public presentation on these topics followed by a Q&A period.

Registration for these public briefings:

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 

SAVE THE DATE for the 2018 PA Educational Leadership Summit - July 29-31 - State College, PA sponsored by the PA Principals Association, PASA, PAMLE and PASCD.  
This year's Summit will be held from July 29-31, 2018 at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, State College, PA.

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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