Monday, April 8, 2019

PA Ed Policy Roundup April 8: Reform sought as cyber charter school costs top $42M in NEPA districts

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Reform sought as cyber charter school costs top $42M in NEPA districts

Blogger commentary: So let's be perfectly clear. Choice is what is important, not student outcomes, which have been consistently dismal, nor the use of public tax dollars. Not one cyber charter ever achieved a passing score of 70 during the 5 years that the state's School Performance Profile was in effect. In a 2015 Stanford University report, researchers said their analysis showed severe shortfalls in reading and math achievement. The shortfall for most cyber students, they said, was equal to losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days in math during the typical 180-day school. And at the tuition rates quoted in this article the money far exceeds the parents' own tax burden. When they make a "choice" they are choosing to spend their neighbors tax dollars also.
As cyber charter school enrollment grew over the last decade, Carbondale Area School District’s budget reserves disappeared. Now operating with a $2.5 million deficit, the district started its own cyber program last year, joining a growing number of districts trying to find relief. The 37 school districts in Northeast Pennsylvania pay a combined $42 million in cyber charter school tuition each year. The total amount paid — and the way the state determines tuition — has many people calling for reform. Cyber charter schools are privately operated, publicly funded schools authorized by the state and paid for by school districts. Advocates say cyber schools provide options for families seeking choice for their children’s educations. Children learn virtually on charter school-provided computers, at no cost to the families. The cost comes to the districts instead. Bills in the state House and Senate would allow districts with their own cyber programs to stop paying tuition to cyber charter schools. If a student decided to attend the cyber charter school, the family would be responsible for the tuition.

Guest Opinion: William Harner’s cyber charter schools opinion must have hit a nerve
Intelligencer Opinion By Robert L. Leight Posted at 5:16 AM April 7, 2019
A guest opinion by Quakertown Community School District Superintendent William Harner published recently in The Intelligencer must have struck a nerve. It certainly drew a quick response from the conservative Commonwealth Foundation. The writer resorted to name-calling in her first paragraph, calling his article a “rant,” “misleading” and showing “incredible disdain for Pennsylvania parents.” At the risk of provoking a similar response, I will venture my opinion on the issue of cyber charter schools. Cyber charter schools are programs which provide instruction by the internet, as compared with schools the students attend, which are known as brick-and-mortar schools. Two bills in the general assembly, if passed in their current form, would require parents to pay for cyber charter schooling if their school district of residence offered its own equivalent cyber program. These bills are House Bill 526and Senate Bill 34. Cyber charter schools are the weakest link in Pennsylvania public education. They generally perform near the bottom on the state’s standardized tests and have graduation rates below the state average.

Cyber charter school costs are under the microscope
TribLive by DEB ERDLEY   | Saturday, February 23, 2019 6:00 p.m.
Tiffany Nix, superintendent of Leechburg Area schools, watched in frustration for years as hundreds of thousands of dollars went out the doors of her small, cash-strapped district with families who enrolled their children in cyber charter schools. “We were paying $13,000 to $24,000 a year for each of them. It comes to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year out of a budget of $15 million,” Nix said. Last year, Leechburg settled on a new option and contracted with the Seneca Valley School District to launch its own cyber academy at a cost of $3,470 per student. At the Jeannette City School District, which piggybacked with Hempfield Area’s cyber academy, tuition is even lower. Jeannette pays $1,500 a year for mainstream students who enroll in the local district’s cyber academy, business manager Paul Sroka said. Nonetheless, districts must budget hundreds of thousands of dollars — or millions, in some larger districts — to cover tuition for families who opt to place their children in one of 16 licensed public cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania. The costs affect every public school, in small districts like Leechburg and Jeannette with about 900 students each, to Pittsburgh Public Schools, which has about 23,500 students. “Charter schools in general are a tremendous drain on school budgets, and cyber charters are part of it,” said Ira Weiss, longtime solicitor for Pittsburgh Public. “What’s more troubling with cyber charters is they are making an enormous profit because the cost of operating one is very small compared to a brick-and-mortar school.”

“Then they ran the numbers a second time and used a formula capping payments at $5,000 a year for mainstream students and $8,865 for special education students. Education Voters of PA used those tuition estimates based on a study by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. In the end, they found districts could have slashed costs from the $463 million spent to $211 million, a savings of more than $250 million in a single year. “We singled out cyber charter schools because it is such an egregious problem that lawmakers cannot wait any longer to address ,” Spicka said.”
Cyber charter school spending by district in Pa.
TribLive by DEB ERDLEY   | Saturday, February 23, 2019 6:00 p.m.
Tuition for Pennsylvania’s public cyber charter schools is based on a calculation that uses local district costs. Tuition for those schools varies from one district to the next and can range from about $7,500 a year for mainstream students to as much as $40,000 a year for special education students. Figures like that have made state lawmakers and public education advocates take notice. Susan Spicka is executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit public education advocacy organization. Her group crunched the numbers and analyzed payments that each of the state’s 500 school districts paid to 16 public cyber charter schools in the 2016-17 academic year.

Blogger note: Total cyber charter tuition paid by PA taxpayers from 500 school districts for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 was over $1.6 billion; $393.5 million, $398.8 million, $436.1 million and $454.7 million respectively. We will continue rolling out cyber charter tuition expenses for taxpayers in education committee members, legislative leadership and various other districts.
In 2016-17, taxpayers in Senate Majority Caucus Chair .@SenatorMensch’s school districts in Berks, Bucks, Montgomery and Northampton Counties had to send over $13.3 million to chronically underperforming cybers that they never authorized. #SB34 (Schwank) or #HB526 (Sonney) could change that.
Links to additional bill information and several resources have been moved to the end of today’s postings

Boyertown Area SD
Brandywine Heights Area SD
Easton Area SD
North Penn SD
Oley Valley SD
Palisades SD
Perkiomen Valley SD
Pottsgrove SD
Pottstown SD
Quakertown Community SD
Souderton Area SD
Upper Perkiomen SD


Has your state senator cosponsored SB34?

Has your state representative cosponsored HB526?

“It is an old story in eastern Delaware County, where school districts such as Upper Darby and William Penn have seen rising enrollment, coupled with skyrocketing pension payments and charter school costs leave the districts strapped. The same holds true in places like Pottstown, Norristown and Coatesville.”
Editorial: 'American dream' demands school fair funding reform
Pottstown Mercury Editorial April 6, 2019
It is the base -- the foundation on which a solid, middle-class life has always been built. And it has been one of the bedrock obligations of the state to provide. ut among the startling revelations in a new report released by the advocacy group Public Citizens for Children and Youth on the increasing struggles of the middle class is something that will come as no surprise to far too many residents of southeastern Pennsylvania. Families are playing with a deck that is stacked against them. The study, titled “Under Water: What’s Sinking Families in Delaware County,” concludes that the American dream is becoming out of reach for many middle-class families. The study concludes that stagnant wages and rising costs for everyday staples such as child care, housing, food, transportation, taxes and health care are leaving families -- even those making as much as $75,000 a year -- in the red, unable to make ends meet. The report underscores the importance of good schools as a crucial factor in a child’s upward mobility. And that is why correcting the state of funding public education in Pennsylvania remains critical. Funding is currently tilted in favor of districts with solid economies and thriving tax bases, while those with depressed economies and ravaged tax bases suffer. In effect, the state has created an uneven playing field, with far too many families -- and children -- penalized for no reason other than their zip code.

Real estate agents join the push for education funding in Pa.
WHYY/Keystone Crossroads By Avi Wolfman-Arent April 8, 2019
The fight to boost education funding brings lots of people together — teachers, superintendents, politicians. But advocates want to add another constituency to the mix: real estate agents. That’s the target audience of a new report by ReadyNation Pennsylvania, an advocacy group that wants to increase education funding.  They argue Pennsylvania realtors would benefit from more education dollars because of the potential for increased home values.  The release of the report coincided with a panel discussion in Delaware County, where local real estate agents met with Democratic politicians and education advocates. “Southeast Pennsylvania gets hits particularly hard by the inequities in state funding,” said Jamie Ridge, president of the Suburban Realtors Alliance, which represents real estate agents in the four collar counties surrounding Philadelphia.

Report: Good schools boost home values, more state funds needed
RIDLEY TOWNSHIP — A new report released Friday enforced the notion that property values are contingent on student achievement in local schools, and the state’s current education funding schemes play a role in that. A panel of lawmakers, realtors and policy analysts met at Ridley High School to discuss the findings of “Real Estate Markets Thrive When PA Schools Work,” the report compiled by the organization Ready Nation that contends that adequate funding for public schools has an effect on the achievement of public school children, and, in turn, how that correlates to a community’s home values. “Inadequate state funding for K-12 education has only exacerbated this problem in struggling communities – placing even more pressure on local property taxes to fund education,” reads a portion of the report. “This relationship is most pronounced when improving student performance in communities with historically underperforming schools. Greater state investment in equitable public school funding can foster these positive outcomes for Pennsylvania’s students and communities.” Education funding from the state is among the lowest in the country, causing inequities among the 500 school districts. Schools that are properly funded have more resources to help all students learn and achieve, but others have to scrape by on their tax bases which may already be very high, especially in poorer communities, and achievement may not be as high as their more affluent neighbors.

Guest Column: Upper Darby students have right to great school
Delco Times By Rachel Mitchell Times Guest Columnist April 6, 2019
It starts with modern classrooms that are not overcrowded.
Every Upper Darby School District student has the right to the best public education possible. That education starts with modern schools where classrooms are not overcrowded. Unfortunately, many Upper Darby Schools are overcrowded, and our aging school buildings need the same upkeep every homeowner and business must make over time. After a careful, transparent three-year examination of every capital need in the school district, dozens of public meetings, interviews with parents and staff, first-hand examinations of the buildings, and a review of the school-by-school data, the result was clear. The district must build new schools and fix its aging school buildings now. Ten years ago, Upper Darby began renting Charles Kelly Elementary in Drexel Hill and Walter M. Senkow Elementary in Glenolden to ease overcrowding at Bywood, Stonehurst, and Highland Park Elementary Schools. Since then, enrollment has continued to increase. Many students attend classes in modular units, some in the basements, and others in a school outside the boundaries of the Upper Darby School District. Drexel Hill and Beverly Hills Middle Schools face the greatest overcrowding. To alleviate the elementary school overcrowding, school boundary lines will need to change, which will create more overcrowding in the middle schools. A viable, fiscally responsible solution for taxpayers may exist on school district-owned land in Clifton Heights and Aronimink. The district has begun civil engineering, geotechnical, site options and traffic studies, along with public meetings to see if those sites are viable. Unfortunately, some will only say “No,” regardless of the facts on any plan presented. Upper Darby School District parents, taxpayers, teachers, and students must know the facts.

School districts are paying to burnish their brands to counter images and compete with charters
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella, Updated: April 6, 2019
The Norristown Area School District hasn’t been in the news much in the last few years, and what little coverage it did get tended to focus on fights with the state over lack of funding, or how it coped with high poverty rates in the Montgomery County river town. So when Christopher Dormer took over last August as superintendent, one of his first and biggest priorities was a sweeping district-wide effort to rebuild the brand of Norristown’s schools. In just seven months, the Norristown schools have unveiled a new logo (a distinctive block “N”) and begun working on a redrawn eagle mascot, hired a communications specialist and launched new accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — all toward a goal of bringing back a positive vibe. “If you’re not going to sit there and tell your story, you leave it to other people to tell your story,” said Dormer, who dreams of seeing kids and their parents out on the town sporting the new “N” on logo hats or shirts. “These old narratives became the story.” Norristown joins the growing numbers of Philadelphia-area public school districts where superintendents now talk of “building their brand” in the same enthusiastic tones as cola executives or internet start-ups — and often are willing to invest energy and tax dollars on PR firms or designers to make it happen. Re-branding efforts in Norristown, Upper Darby, Coatesville and elsewhere are partly due to increased competition for students — and the dollars attached to them — with heavily advertised cyber- and brick-and-mortar charter schools, as well as private and parochial schools. But school leaders also insist it’s an effort to counteract negative news headlines in an era of tight budgets and culture wars in the classroom.

Rural broadband deficiency hits economic growth, education, regional leaders say
Centre Daily Times BY SARAH PAEZ APRIL 08, 2019 07:27 AM, UPDATED 7 MINUTES AGO
Both the public and private sectors should contribute to bolstering rural broadband access in central Pennsylvania, where uneven connectivity limits economic development and growth, according to a survey of regional leaders this month. Conducted with reader input by the Centre Daily Times, the survey found concerns that poor broadband access in outlying areas also inhibits access to health care and some students’ ability to learn. Fourteen leaders chosen by the CDT received the questionnaire, asking what they see as the most important consequences of the broadband deficiency.  The respondents, including officials in higher education, government, health care and the nonprofit sector, are part of the Pennsylvania Influencer Project — a month-long effort by the CDT, its parent company McClatchy and the Knight Foundation to spur discussion around the state’s rural broadband access.

Forum speaker says teaching Pre-K part of ‘virtuous cycle’
Johnstown Tribune Democrat By Dave Sutor Apr 3, 2019
Early childhood education is a key part of what Donna Cooper described as a “virtuous cycle.”Cooper, Public Citizens for Children and Youth’s executive director, explained how teaching pre-kindergarten youngsters both basic knowledge and social skills can help shape the adult they will eventually become during her visit to the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown’s John P. Murtha Center for Public Service and National Competitiveness on Tuesday.  And then those adults continue the cycle by making positive impacts. “We invest in the kids, and they end up investing in the community,” Cooper said during an interview before delivering the keynote address during a forum titled “Poverty’s Impact on Early Literacy.” “And they also end up making the community more prosperous. And we end up reversing the consequences of childhood property.” She put her message into the context of challenges facing Cambria County, where about 15 percent of the population lives in poverty, with Johnstown proper having a rate of approximately one-third. “I think the big message that we want to get out to the folks here is that Cambria County, like a lot of America, is having a hard time with sort of the economic transformation that we’re in,” Cooper said. “One of the ways that communities can reverse their economic prospects – one of the ways – is by recognizing the importance of investing in early childhood education because of the long-term positive benefits that early childhood education, when it’s high-quality, returns.

School Visit Program celebrates 12 years of free access for museum tours
Bucks County Courier Times By Staff report Posted Apr 7, 2019 at 6:00 AM
The Rose Group, a Newtown Township-based franchisee of Applebee’s Grill and Bar, renewed its partnership with the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown Borough for 2019 to provide access to art and experiential art education for students through the School Visit Program. In its 12th consecutive year, the School Visit Program has provided free admission to more than 49,200 students. In 2018, the Michener Art Museum welcomed more than 2,900 visitors through the program. The School Visit Program pairs specially trained docents with small student groups to tour the museum and make connections between the art on display, the artists and the content being studied by the students in the classroom. The goal is to help students grow their creativity and strengthen connections between the visual arts; science, technology, art, engineering and math; history; geography; and language arts. After their museum visits, students receive free passes for a child’s return to the Michener, along with an Applebee’s coupon good for a free kid’s meal or $5 off an adult entrĂ©e.

Targeted by Republicans, Pa.’s Conor Lamb walks a fine line on Capitol Hill. So far, it’s working
PA Capital Star By  Robin Bravender Capital-Star Washington Bureau April 8, 2019
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb is on a winning streak. The moderate Democrat from western Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District has proven himself to be an adept politician — winning not just one, but two, competitive U.S. House elections in 2018. He didn’t do it by excoriating President Donald Trump or promising to push a liberal agenda in the U.S. House. He’s a Marine and former federal prosecutor who calls the Affordable Care Act a flawed bill, welcomes natural gas extraction, and ran a campaign ad featuring him wielding a rifle. Now, Lamb is walking a fine line on Capitol Hill as he represents a district that backed Trump within a party that’s focused on ousting the president in 2020. Republicans, meanwhile, are eyeing his seat for a pickup in the next congressional election. While some of his colleagues are getting behind ambitious policy proposals like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, Lamb appears to be seeking middle ground — a tactic that’s become less common lately in a deeply polarized Congress.   “He’s going to be cautious and not jump into a very progressive agenda, there’s just no doubt about that, because it’s the nature of his district,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.

Death of the gerrymander?: Two cases give the Supreme Court another chance
Voting is a sacred constitutional right, and it’s the Supreme Court’s job to protect it.
THE EDITORIAL BOARD Pittsburgh Post-Gazette APR 5, 2019 8:00 AM
After hearing oral arguments in two separate cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has been afforded the chance to finally corral the dubious practice of partisan gerrymandering. The court would be wise to seize the opportunity. The justices are considering cases — one from North Carolina and the other from Maryland — that allege partisan legislators altered district boundaries so egregiously as to usurp the will of the voters. Given the court’s newly cemented conservative majority, many voting-rights advocates have expressed concern that partisan gerrymandering could be given a legal rubber-stamp from the highest court in the land. Imagine people’s surprise, then, when Justice Brett Kavanaugh offered a plainspoken acknowledgement of the practice’s inherent dangers: “Extreme partisan gerrymandering is a real problem for our democracy,” he said.

A Changing Landscape: Five Trends to Watch in Charter School Philanthropy
Inside Philanthropy by Caitlin Reilly April 4, 2019
Last week, Inside Philanthropy published an in-depth look at philanthropy and charter schools that examined how far this movement has come and where some of its prominent backers see themselves heading next. The article revealed that private support for charter schools is at an inflection point. While some of the movement’s top backers are digging in and preparing for the next phase of their work with the schools, others have taken a step back from charters or substantially lowered their expectations that this innovation will drive larger changes in K-12 systems.  Meanwhile, some of the biggest new philanthropists coming to education lately have focused on other strategies to improve student outcomes, such as personalized learning. Those new funders seem a lot less interested in old rivalries between charter and district schools than their predecessors. Despite these shifts in education funding priorities, though, major private support for charter schools will continue to flow, and charters will remain an important part of the K-12 landscape, especially in urban areas. Given this prominent role, we thought it would be useful to look at key emerging trends that could affect the charter movement down the line. We’ve identified these trends based on our reporting for the recent story on the charter movement and other education coverage.

Seattle schools are giving 2019 standardized tests during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. Here’s the trouble that caused.
Washington Post Answer Sheet By Valerie Strauss April 4
This year, the Seattle public school system is giving annual standardized tests to many of its 53,000 students on days that coincide with the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, a holy month in which the religious fast from sunrise to sunset. That calendar overlap caused concern in the Muslim community after school system officials wrote a form letter for principals to share with parents that included suggestions about how to get their children to take the exams. The basic advice: Ensure that kids get enough sleep and eat before they come to school so they have “enough energy for the day.” Only one principal, Katie May of Thurgood Marshall Elementary, used material from the letter in an email to families at her school. But that was enough to spark the controversy, the latest that many districts have seen in recent years as they attempt to accommodate growing numbers of students with different religious and cultural beliefs.

PA Schools Work Berks County Thu, April 11, 2019 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM EDT
Berks County Intermediate Unit 1111 Commons Boulevard Reading, PA 19605
PA Schools Work is organizing in Berks County. We are looking for advocates to fight for more funding for our students. Agenda will include detailed information about individual school districts, meeting with local Berks representatives to share your stories, statewide support for your efforts and much more. We want to work together to make a difference. School leaders, parents, community members and local citizens that care about education are all welcome. Registration starts at 6 with meeting beginning at 6:30. Networking available so bring material to share about your organization too. If you have any questions, please contact Sandra at

Success Starts Here is a multi-year public awareness campaign sharing positive news in PA public education.

Calling all Norristown parents, educators, leaders & stakeholders! Join us for Norristown Parents & Students for Education on Saturday, April 20 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Norristown Public Library.
Together we can harness the power of all to make a difference in our schools and communities! Hear from the experts and learn how to advocate! Free breakfast & givewaways. Don't miss out!
Sponsored by Norristown Men of Excellence, The Urban League of Philadelphia & PA Schools Work.

The League of Women Voters of Delaware County and the Delaware County Intermediate Unit present: EPLC 2019 Regional Training Workshop for PA School Board Candidates (and Incumbents) April 27th 8am – 4:30pm at DCIU
Ron Cowell of The Pennsylvania Education Policy and Leadership Center will conduct a regional full day workshop for 2019 Pennsylvania School Board Candidates.
Date & Time: Saturday, April 27, 2019, 8am to 4:30pm
Location: Delaware County Intermediate Unit, 200 Yale Ave. Morton, PA
Incumbents, non-incumbents, campaign supporters and all interested voters are invited to participate in this workshop. Registration is $75 (payable by credit card) and includes coffee and pastries, lunch, and materials. For questions contact Adriene Irving at 610-938-9000 ext. 2061.
To register, please visit

PSBA: Nominations for the Allwein Society are welcome!
The Allwein Society is an award program recognizing school directors who are outstanding leaders and advocates on behalf of public schools and students. This prestigious honor was created in 2011 in memory of Timothy M. Allwein, a former PSBA staff member who exemplified the integrity and commitment to advance political action for the benefit of public education. Nominations are accepted year-round and inductees will be recognized at the PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference, among other honors.

PSBA: 2019 State of Education report now online
PSBA Website February 19, 2019
The 2019 State of Education report is now available on in PDF format. The report is a barometer of not only the key indicators of public school performance, but also the challenges schools face and how they are coping with them. Data reported comes from publicly available sources and from a survey to chief school administrators, which had a 66% response rate. Print copies of the report will be mailed to members soon.

All PSBA-members are invited to attend Advocacy Day on Monday, April 29, 2019 at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. In addition, this year PSBA will be partnering with the Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units (PAIU) and Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) to strengthen our advocacy impact. The focus for the day will be meetings with legislators to discuss critical issues affecting public education. There is no cost to attend, and PSBA will assist in scheduling appointments with legislators once your registration is received. The day will begin with a continental breakfast and issue briefings prior to the legislator visits. Registrants will receive talking points, materials and leave-behinds to use with their meetings. PSBA staff will be stationed at a table in the main Rotunda during the day to answer questions and provide assistance. The day’s agenda and other details will be available soon. If you have questions about Advocacy Day, legislative appointments or need additional information, contact  Register for Advocacy Day now at
PSBA members can register online now by logging in to myPSBA. If you need assistance logging in and registering contact Alysha Newingham, Member Data System Administrator at or call her at (717) 506-2450, ext. 3420

Pennsylvania schools work – for students, communities and the economy when adequate resources are available to give all students an equal opportunity to succeed.
Join A Movement that Supports our Schools & Communities
PA Schools Work website
Our students are in classrooms that are underfunded and overcrowded. Teachers are paying out of pocket and picking up the slack. And public education is suffering. Each child in Pennsylvania has a right to an excellent public education. Every child, regardless of zip code, deserves access to a full curriculum, art and music classes, technical opportunities and a safe, clean, stable environment. All children must be provided a level chance to succeed. PA Schools Work is fighting for equitable, adequate funding necessary to support educational excellence. Investing in public education excellence is the path to thriving communities, a stable economy and successful students.

Save the Date:  PARSS Annual Conference May 1-3, 2019
Wyndham Garden Hotel, Mountainview Country Club
Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools

PSBA Tweet March 12, 2019 Video Runtime: 6:40
In this installment of #VideoEDition, learn about legislation introduced in the PA Senate & House of Representatives that would save millions of dollars for school districts that make tuition payments for their students to attend cyber charter schools. 

PSBA Summaries of Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526

PSBA Sample Board Resolution in Support of Statewide Cyber Charter School Funding Reform

PSBA Sample Board Resolution in Support of Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 256

How much could your school district and taxpayers save if there were statewide flat tuition rates of $5000 for regular ed students and $8865 for special ed.? See the estimated savings by school district here.
Education Voters PA Website February 14, 2019

Has your state representative cosponsored HB526?

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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