Monday, May 13, 2019

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 13: PSBA & PASBO Oppose Charter Bills HB356 and HB357 Running This Morning That Would Take Spending & Policy Decisions Out of Locally Elected Officials’ Hands

Started in November 2010, 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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House Education Committee will be voting on a package of charter school bills (HBs 355, 356, 357, & 358) at their 11:30 am meeting on Monday 5/13/19. Read PSBA's letter to the House Education Committee to learn what these bills do and take action:

PASBO opposes the following bills:
PA Association of School Business Officials Website
House Bill 356 (Rep. Dowling), which requires school entities to provide a right of first refusal to charter schools when a school district plans to sell a building, allows charter schools with no limits on enrollment to operate multiple schools within the district that authorized the charter, provides for use of sectarian facilities and requires school districts, IUs and others to provide cyber charter schools with access to facilities for standardized tests.
House Bill 357 (Rep. Topper), which generally creates a standard application, modifies the process for a charter or cyber charter school requesting amendments to its charter, allows for enrollment expansion by a charter school via notification to the authorizing school district and clarifies the process for charter school enrollment.

If your House member is on the Ed Committee please call this morning to urge them to vote NO on HB356 and HB357. These bills are expected to run before the full House as early as Wednesday 5/15.
PA House Education Committee May 2019
Majority Members Harrisburg Office Phone#s

Hon. Curtis G. Sonney         (717) 783-9087 
Hon. Barbara Gleim              (717) 772-2280
Hon. Rosemary M. Brown   (717) 260-6171
Hon. Jason Ortitay               (717) 787-1281 
Hon. Mike Tobash                 (717) 260-6148
Hon. Jesse Topper               (717) 787-7076 
Hon. Valerie S. Gaydos        (717) 787-6651 
Hon. Mark M. Gillen              (717) 787-8550 
Hon. David S. Hickernell      (717) 783-2076 
Hon. Mike Jones                   (717) 783-8389 
Hon. Joshua D. Kail              (717) 260-6144 
Hon. Jerry Knowles              (717) 787-9029 
Hon. Michael J. Puskaric     (717) 260-6122 
Hon. Meghan Schroeder      (717) 705-7170 
Hon. Craig T. Staats              (717) 783-3154 

Monday, May 13, 2019 11:30 AM Room 205 Ryan Office
Voting meeting on HB 355, HB 356, HB 357, HB 358 and any other business that may come before the committee.

Guest Column: Cyber charters aren’t free
Delco Times By Susan Spicka Times Guest Columnist May 11, 2019
Funny thing about those billboards advertising “free” online education: The education isn’t free – and neither is the billboard. Both are paid for with taxpayer dollars. Same goes for those radio ads, TV ads and internet ads promoting free cyber school – all paid for with public money. In fact, over the last three school years, Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools spent more than $21 million combined in taxpayer money on expensive advertising campaigns to promote their schools. Cyber charter schools also use school tax dollars to pay for lobbying, shareholder profits of private management companies, and generous CEO and administrative salaries. And in the case of the high-profile fraud committed by Nick Trombetta, founder and former CEO of PA Cyber, more than $8 million in taxpayer money was spent on a private airplane, vacation homes and other luxuries. This waste, fraud, and abuse of school tax dollars happens because the state’s funding system for cyber charter schools is broken. And this broken system has a significant and negative impact on taxpayers and students here in Delaware County. Each year, Delaware County school districts spend $18,526,248 or more in local taxpayer money on student tuition bills for cyber charter schools. In order to pay these bills, school districts must raise property taxes, cut teachers or programs, or take money away from something else in their budgets.

Editorial: Charter school reform can save taxpayer dollars
Delco Times Editorial May 11, 2019
The season of budget debates within public schools has started, and the issues are all too familiar:
  • Music and art programs threatened.
  • Enrichment and language courses on the chopping block.
  • Larger classroom sizes proposed to eliminate teachers’ jobs.
  • Neighborhood school closings considered.
And, when all else fails in the effort to cut costs, local residents pay more in property taxes in a state that already falls in the top three in the nation for burden on taxpayers, according to a recent report by Pennsylvania Watchdog. The situation is at its worst in low-income districts like Pottstown, Norristown, William Penn and Upper Darby. Past actions by Pennsylvania legislators have exacerbated the “education by zip code” reality of the property tax, robbing poorer districts of their fair share of state funding. Currently, only a fraction of state funding is distributed under the Fair Funding Formula. Another significant factor in local schools’ funding dilemma is the cost of charter schools, privately owned or nonprofit schools that collect tuition from school districts for each student whose family chooses that alternative. A recently released study by Education Voters Pennsylvania claims taxpayers could save more than $252 million a year if charter school reforms were enacted. Especially troublesome to local school board members is the fact that while public schools are held to performance standards, charter schools are not. Pennsylvania has 15 cyber-charter schools and to date, none of them have reached a School Performance Profile score of 70 or better, which is considered adequate by the state. All Pennsylvania cyber charter schools had graduation rates below 86.6 percent, the state average, according to state figures.

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.

Columbia Borough SD
Donegal SD
Elizabethtown Area SD
Hempfield  SD
Lower Dauphin SD


Has your state representative cosponsored HB526?

Has your state senator cosponsored SB34?

Local districts would welcome cyber tuition reform
The Bradford Era By JOELLEN WANKEL May 10, 2019
Budgets, funding and related fiscal changes are typically a hot topic when it comes to education. A recent report from Education Voters of Pennsylvania suggested a reform to current formulas for cyber school tuition, noting a flat formula of $5,000 for regular education and $8,865 for special education would go a long way toward helping school districts while cutting down on the misuse of taxpayer funds. Bradford is one of the districts that feels the sting of reduced funding due to tuition costs for students who attend cyber charter schools. “School districts must pay the average budgeted amount per pupil (versus our actual costs) to cyber charter schools,” said Katherine Pude, superintendent of Bradford Area School District. “We estimate our costs to be roughly $700,000 next school year, which takes from the pupils who physically attend our schools.” The district offers cyber school options at a fraction of the cost, is able to monitor progress and is able to provide tutoring for students who need additional support, Pude said. “Yet, we are required to pay the higher rates to for-profit cyber charters who have little overhead costs and different rules for accountability to our taxpayers,” she said. “The system is harmful to public education and needs reformed.” Another local school district is already dealing with an almost $1 million deficit — Otto-Eldred School District. The matter was discussed at the April school board meeting, with various options considered, including cuts to different programs and staff in various areas.

All six Adams school districts demand cyber funding reform
Gettysburg Times, May 10, 2019 (Subscription may be required.)
On the playing field, Adams County’s six public school districts compete with one another. But one topic — funding for cyber charter schools — united school officials during a public forum Thursday night, said Gettysburg Times Managing Editor Alex Hayes, who moderated.
Full story

“The House vote on expanding EITC was 111-85. This is considerably closer than most expected. Even the Governor has weighed in with his reservations about moving too fast and impacting on his signature efforts to increase funding to public schools.”
HB800: Tax credits for education – a balancing act
Penn Live Opinion By Mark S. Singel | Opinion Contributor May 12, 2019
Mark S. Singel served as the 27th lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania from 1987 to 1995, alongside Gov. Bob Casey. He was acting governor from June 14 to Dec. 13, 1993, when Casey got sick. This column serves as the liberal counterpart to Charlie Gerow as part of the “Donkey & Elephants” series of contrasting opinions.
Pennsylvania’s commitment to public education goes back to 1824 when a law called for establishing schools in which all children should be admitted and taught without regard to social or financial status. That law was voluntary, and few localities could afford that investment on their own. It was not until Governor George Wolf, a progressive Democrat, called for a state-funded school system that things began to happen. In the 1833-34 legislative session, a joint committee explored the subject and passed the Free School Act with strong bipartisan support. It was not long before citizens discovered that providing education for all would not be easy or cheap. The threat of new taxes cased a mutiny in the very next session. The House was flooded with petitions asking for a repeal of the law and Free Schools seemed doomed. It was in this atmosphere that Thaddeus Stevens, a young Representative from Lancaster, rose to give his famous “Free Schools Speech” on April 11, 1835.

HB800: EITC helps Pennsylvania children achieve their fullest potential | Opinion
Penn Live Opinion By Charlie Gerow | Opinion Contributor Posted May 12, 8:53 AM
Two decades ago then Governor Tom Ridge worked hard to fulfill a campaign promise. He wanted to provide school choice to less privileged kids through a school voucher program. The goal of the Ridge plan was to allow children from less economically fortunate families, trapped in schools they wouldn’t choose to attend, to go to schools they wanted. He used the often repeated slogan that a child’s education shouldn’t be dictated by their zip code. The legislature wasn’t ready to go as far as a voucher program, but they did something many believe was even better: The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC). For almost twenty years, EITC has provided scholarships empowering hundreds of thousands of low and middle income students to attend the school that is the best fit for them.

HB800: Pa. House OKs expansion of EITC program
Educational tax credit funds could increase by $100 million
Altoona Mirror by CHRIS COMISAC MAY 12, 2019
HARRISBURG — On a day when supporters of the program were celebrating the birthday of the state’s Educational Im­prove­ment Tax Credit, those supporters had a bit more to celebrate as state lawmakers advanced legislation to significantly increase funding for the tax credit program. Eighteen years ago, on May 7, 2001, Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to pass an education tax credit aimed at corporations. The EITC provides companies with a credit for donations to nonprofit scholarship or educational improvement organizations. Currently, the program receives $110 million in funding for tax credits, but legislation — House Bill 800 — approved by the state House of Representatives last week seeks to increase that funding by $100 million, as well as an automatic escalator for program funding. The escalator would raise the EITC scholarship funding cap by 10 percent, whenever 90 percent of the tax credits were claimed in the prior year. HB800 also would increase the maximum annual household income for scholarship eligibility by $10,000, to $95,000 from $85,000. It would require a scholarship organization to spend at least 90 percent — the current threshold is 80 percent — of its donations on scholarships and education programs. The vote was 111-85 to send the bill to the Senate.

Fair funding failure puts budget squeeze on Pottstown programs
POTTSTOWN — There were no pitchforks or torches, but there might be some storming of some gates. In fact, after supporters spoke out about potential cuts to Pottstown's music education program Thursday, school board member Raymond Rose praised them both for their "passion" and their "open-mindedness." High school junior Logan Ruyak suggested not using air conditioning, which could save on energy and maintenance costs. Pottstown Schools Music Association President Kevin Owens said while he understands the position the board is in, he warned that cutting back on music lessons in the lower grades could damage the "feeder programs" in ways similar to how Pottstown's athletic teams struggle. About 25 people turned out Thursday night for the meeting of the Pottstown School Board's Curriculum and Co-Curricular Committee where possible budget cuts to music, art, library and foreign languages were all reviewed. The speakers and those in the audience were driven to the school board's Curriculum and Co-Curricular Activities Committee meeting by well-founded rumors of possible reductions in the district's music program.  But they discovered the budget-balancing cuts might not stop there. Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez and Business Manager Maureen Jampo reviewed the pending $63 million 2019-2020 budget, which, by law, must be balanced and adopted by June 30; the loss of nearly $3 million in revenue from lowered assessments, and the tax rolls' loss of Pottstown Hospital.

Elanco school board may change controversial privacy policy tonight before going into effect Tuesday
Lancaster Online by ALEX GELI | Staff Writer May 13, 2019
Today is Eastern Lancaster County School District’s final opportunity to make changes to its controversial bathroom and locker room policy before it goes into effect Tuesday. LGBTQ advocates at the American Civil Liberties Union, the Education Law Center and the Pennsylvania Youth Congress have railed against the policy, which includes an addendum that calls for all students to use the facilities that align with their biological sex rather than their gender identity whenever private, single-user spaces aren’t available. The policy, critics say, illegally discriminates against transgender students who aren’t comfortable using the restroom or changing around those who they identify as the opposite gender. School board members deliberately chose Tuesday as the effective date so the district’s subcontracted solicitor, McNees, Wallace & Nurick, could review the policy before it’s implemented. Superintendent Bob Hollister said the firm will make “final recommendations” during tonight’s work session at 7 p.m. at Garden Spot High School.

Mastery Charter principal to leave at end of school year
Philly Trib by John Mitchell Ryanne Persinger Tribune Staff Writers May 10, 2019 Updated May 11, 2019
Sharif El-Mekki, who has served as an educator at Mastery Charter School-Shoemaker campus for 13 years — 11 as principal — will step down at the end of the school year to lead an organization he helped launch. El-Mekki will serve as director of the Center for Black Educator Development. Under the umbrella of the Fellowship-Black Male Educators for Social Justice, a group El-Mekki helped create in 2014, CBED will expand on efforts to recruit and maintain Black male and female educators both locally and nationally. Approximately 96% of all teachers in Pennsylvania are white, according to a 2018 report from Research for Action. In his new role, the veteran educator said he will focus on establishing concrete pipelines, crafting policies and leading professional learning opportunities to assist in diversifying the city and the commonwealth.

Which school security personnel can carry a gun? Lawmaker seeks to clear up controversy
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Today 5:00 AM
Legislation is making its way through the state Senate to clear up some controversy surrounding which school security personnel can be armed on the job.
Northern York School District’s Superintendent Eric Eshbach absolutely hates everything about having armed school security personnel walk the halls of the middle and high schools. Yet, in the wake of last year’s Parkland school shooting, Eshbach has come to terms with having hired private armed security officers in his district’s schools, saying it gives him peace of mind knowing he has done everything possible to keep kids safe. That contentment, however, got shaken when he and other superintendents around the state received a letter from the state Department of Education in February with its interpretation of Act 44, a school safety and security law, enacted last June.

Competition tight for Lehigh Valley school construction projects as demand outpaces supply
In mid-March, a pair of major Lehigh Valley school construction projects went out to bid within days of one another. Both projects are designed to address pressing needs in two aging school buildings. In the Northampton Area School District, it means the construction of a new Lehigh Elementary School building. In the Whitehall-Coplay School District, it means a complicated, phased plan to upgrade the high school’s roof, HVAC system and more. But only one of the projects will get done on schedule. That’s because Northampton school officials saw bids for the $34 million Lehigh Elementary School come back about $200,000 shy of estimates, while Whitehall-Coplay’s school board was forced to rethink its renovation project and reject bids when they came back $5 million over budget. While it’s not unusual for a renovation to cost more than building anew, the gulf between the two projects is a sign of what may be the most competitive construction market for Lehigh Valley school districts in years. The demand, combined with a booming economy, a labor shortage and the rising cost of building materials, is changing the calculus for school officials as they embark on costly new projects.

Battle of the metal warriors: Local high schools vie in first regional Liberty Bots competition
WHYY By Emily Scott May 12, 2019
The robot she helped create was in a cage fight to the death, but for Jasmine Morris, a senior at Trenton Central High School, it all felt “cathartic.” Gary the Robot may have lost, but he didn’t go down without a fight. Morris and her student team were able to battle an opponent school’s robot until the end of the match, maneuvering the metal box on wheels with a remote control, swinging Gary’s metal arm in a circular motion that whacked its robotic rival over and over. “All our months of hard work, even though we lost, it’s kind of like, ‘Yes, we finished something.’ We didn’t win, but we finished it,” Morris said. That satisfaction of creating a functioning robot was pervasive Saturday at the first Liberty Bots Competition at Montgomery County Community College. The tournament, in which eight schools from the Delaware Valley competed, was the first regional contest of the National Robotics League, which hosts these robo-battles across the country to help inspire the next generation of engineers.

The promise of historic Brown v. Board school desegregation ruling is 'at grave risk,’ report says
Washington Post Answer Sheet By Valerie Strauss May 10
Sixty-five years ago, the Supreme Court declared that segregated public schools were “inherently unequal” and unconstitutional, smashing a 1896 ruling that permitted “whites-only” and “Negroes-only” schools. The historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision ordered that public schools must be integrated, launching a decades-long struggle to end systemic inequality in American life. After all these years, a new report says that while Brown vs. Board may have led to desegregation in other parts of American society, it has been unsuccessful in its stated mission: to integrate public schools. Now, the promise of the ruling is “at grave risk,” according to the report titled “Harming our Common Future: America’s Segregated Schools 65 Years after Brown. The report was issued by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA and the Center for Education and Civil Rights at Pennsylvania State University, with input from researchers at Loyola Marymount University and North Carolina State University. It says that while intense levels of segregation markedly decreased for black students after the 1954 court ruling, they have been rising again since Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s led to the end of hundreds of desegregation orders and plans across the country.

PA Schools Work Capitol Caravan Days Wed. June 5th and Tues. June 18th
If you couldn’t make it to Harrisburg last week, it’s not too late. We are getting down to the wire. In a few short weeks, the budget will likely be passed. Collectively, our voices have a larger impact to get more funding for Pennsylvania’s students. Legislators need to hear from you!  
Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) will be at the Capitol on Wednesday, June 5th and Tuesday, June 18th  for our next PA Schools Work caravan days. We’d love to have you join us on these legislative visits. For more details about the caravans and to sign up, go to: . Please call Tomea Sippio-Smith at (O) 215-563-5848, ext. 36 or (C) 215-667-9421 or Shirlee Howe at (O) 215-563-5848, ext. 34 or (C) 215-888-8297 with any questions or specific requests for legislative meetings. 

PCCY Annual Celebration Wednesday, May 15 at Franklin Institute in Philly
PCCY would also love to have you join us at our annual celebration on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. PCCY’s Celebration is a fun way to network with colleagues, make new friends and learn more about the important role PCCY plays in the lives of children in our region. Tickets are on sale NOW for the 2019 Celebration of the Public Citizens Of The Year honoring Chuck Pennoni and the Penonni team and our regional Advocates of the Year. Come out for a phenomenal evening of food, drinks, entertainment, auction and a spirited celebration.  Buy tickets and learn more at:

School Funding Briefing Thursday, May 23, 2019 6:30 – 8:00 PM
Drexel Hill Middle School, 3001 State Road, Drexel Hill, PA 19026
In 2019, the Public Interest Law Center is celebrating 50 years of fighting for justice, and preparing for 50 more, through a series of 50th anniversary events.
As part of this series, the Upper Darby School Board is pleased to host the Public Interest Law Center at Drexel Hill Middle School on Thursday, May 23rd, for a School Funding Briefing.
Pennsylvania has the largest funding gap in the country between low-wealth and high-wealth school districts. Pennsylvania is also ranked 46th in the share of funding that comes from the state, leaving local taxpayers to take on rising costs. How did we get here? At the briefing, you will learn the basics of education funding and how it works in Pennsylvania, as well as ways you can get involved in advocacy for fully funded public education. You will also learn about the latest developments in the Law Center's school funding lawsuit.
Afterward, you will have a chance to meet Law Center attorneys working on this landmark case, as well as mingle with other interested in Pennsylvania education.

Do you have strong communication and leadership skills and a vision for PSBA? Members interested in becoming the next leaders of PSBA are encouraged to submit an Application for Nomination no later than May 31 to PSBA's Leadership Development Committee (LDC).
The nomination process: All persons seeking nomination for elected positions of the Association shall file with the Leadership Development Committee chairperson an Application for Nomination (.PDFon a form to be provided by the Association expressing interest in the office sought. The Application for nomination shall be marked received at PSBA Headquarters or mailed first class and postmarked no later than the application deadline specified in the timeline established by the Governing Board to be considered timely-filed.” (PSBA Bylaws, Article IV, Section 6.E.). Application Deadline: May 31, 2019
Open positions are:

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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