Monday, May 6, 2019

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 6: HB800: Editorial: School choice should be discussed, not automatic

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.

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According to DCED, for the FY 17-18 year, the Episcopal Academy, just one of 1170 EITC recipients who received a total of about $139 million, got $1,068,723 in diverted tax dollars through the EITC program. #HB800 would increase funding for the program by $100 million and provide an automatic escalator in future years.
In contrast, the $200 BEF increase proposed by the Governor would barely cover mandated increases in pension, special ed and charter school costs for our 500 public school districts.
Take a look at the link below and keep in mind that it will take another 20 years for students in our underfunded districts to receive the resources they need under the legislature’s own funding formula.

“Last year, House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, pushed through approval to up the funds by $35 million. That’s roughly the general operating budget of a not-too-small school district. Highlands, for example, had a budget of about $40 million last year. Now Turzai and 43 bipartisan co-sponsors want to increase that again, taking the total amount of money in the program from $160 million to a whopping $260 million, allowing thousands of families that make up to $116,216 a year to get a helping hand from the state in subsidizing private or parochial school choices. The new proposal would also put automatic increases into the program to keep the snowball rolling — and growing.
There are valid arguments for school choice programs. They can provide access to a specific learning experience that may better fit a child or a family. There are equally valid arguments against school choice. It pulls money out of public education when those funds need to be built up, not depleted.
But regardless of which side of the issue you fall, it needs to be debated. A decision as personal and important as how and where our children are educated deserves to be discussed, not set on auto-pilot.”
TRIBUNE-REVIEW Editorial Saturday, May 4, 2019 3:30 p.m.
Picking a school for your child can be a very personal decision.
You weigh the pros and cons. You might look at test scores. You might look at graduation rates. You might be looking for just the right fit for your religious beliefs. Maybe you want a private institution that fits with your social values or your child’s career goals. Maybe you just like the message a certain school sends. All of those are valid reasons to make a decision. All could prompt you to write a check to the admissions office. That might cost you about $10,000, like Greensburg Central Catholic. It might cost close to $32,000 like high school at Shady Side Academy. But that’s your decision to make. So why is Pennsylvania okay underwriting that decision? Since 2001, lawmakers have been bumping up the Education Improvement Tax Credit cap. That’s an amount of money the state forgoes in taxes to underwrite private school scholarships and public school foundations

“Currently, the EITC and OSTC funnel $160 million taxpayer dollars to private and parochial schools. The House Education Committee has just approved legislation, HB 800, which will allocate an additional $100 million in tax dollars to the EITC and which will increase the annual household income limit to $95,000.”
Oppose HB 800
Sunbury Daily Item Opinion by David Kyle May 5, 2019
Vouchers by any other name are still vouchers and, according to the Pennsylvania Constitution, are not permitted. In 2001, under Governor Tom Ridge, the legislature attempted to pass legislation granting vouchers to parents of students in low-performing schools so they could send their children to better (private) schools. Unfortunately, this raised serious constitutional issues.
Article III, Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution clearly provides “No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.”To circumvent this prohibition and get money for the private and religious schools, the Legislature enacted the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). The EITC allows businesses to receive a 75 to 90 percent credit on their state income tax for contributions they make to approved scholarship organizations that provide scholarships to students to attend private/religious schools, educational improvement organizations, and pre-k scholarship organizations.

Blogger note: it is anticipated that House Ed Chairman Sonney will be releasing a package of charter school bills this week. We will keep you posted.  In the meantime, here’s info on the Democratic proposals:
Roebuck and colleagues announce charter school reform package
Rep. James R. Roebuck Jr. Website    May 3, 2019 | 10:22 AM
HARRISBURG, May 3 – Today, Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila., alongside other House Democrats, unveiled a package of eight charter school reform bills designed to treat all Pennsylvania public schools – both traditional and charter – and their students equally under law. "I believe we can get bipartisan support for these bills and improve accountability in the charter school system,” Roebuck said. “Our goal is to treat these schools equally under the law, so that we can make sure tax dollars are being used efficiently.” Roebuck, Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, introduced H.B. 1330 that would end conflicts of interest in tax-funded payments for charter school leases.
The seven other bills in the package are:
  • H.B. 1329, introduced by Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Luzerne, would bring charter schools in line with school districts by imposing limits on the surpluses that charter schools may accumulate.
  • H.B. 1332, introduced by Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer, would limit charter school management organization fees to no more than 5 percent of tuition charged per student enrolled. Besides limiting overhead, Longietti said his bill would require much more disclosure of financial documentation from for-profit and nonprofit school management organizations.
  • H.B. 1331, introduced by Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, would phase in a final recommendation of the Special Education Funding Commission to fix how Pennsylvania pays for high-cost special education students. Currently, charter and cyber schools essentially get penalized if they accept high-cost special education students. At the same time, in the 2012-13 school year, charter schools received nearly $200 million more than necessary to meet the special education needs of their students.
  • H.B. 1333, introduced by Rep. Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery, would require charter schools to use the same teacher evaluation system already in use at other public schools. This would take effect in the 2019-20 school year and would allow parents and taxpayers to compare "apples to apples."  
  • H.B. 894, introduced by Rep. Mike Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, would address the millions of dollars' worth of ads for charter and cyber charter schools, which would have to stop advertising "free" tuition or transportation. Their ads would have to start disclosing that instructional and transportation costs are paid for by tax dollars, much like the existing requirement for ads by state agencies.
  • H.B. 168, introduced by Rep. Maria Donatucci, D-Phila./Delaware, would provide a clear process for administrators to follow when closing a traditional or charter school building. Her bill would also allow the state to develop a database of unused or underused school facilities to ensure their potential sale or re-use benefits the taxpayers who paid for them.
  • H.B. 1334, introduced by Rep. Maureen Madden, D-Monroe, would require school districts and charter schools to transfer student records to each other within 10 days of receiving the request, and this would include attendance records. This has been an issue in her district in the Poconos, in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

Pa. lawmakers cling to pensions after pushing new state workers to adopt 401(k)-style plans
Despite the enormous unfunded liability of the two statewide public pension systems tracked by a political activist's clock in the Capitol cafeteria, most state lawmakers chose to shun new pension plan options that would slow the growth of that debt.
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Today 5:00 AM
For years, Pennsylvania lawmakers wanted state government and school employees’ pension plans to look more like the 401(k)-style plans in the private sector. But it’s pretty clear most didn’t want that kind of retirement plan for themselves. As of April 1, only 20 of the 218 lawmakers who participated in the state pension system chose the 401(k)-style plan option, according to a PennLive analysis. PennLive obtained records from the State Employees’ Retirement System through a Right-to-Know request. The remaining 198 – including all but one of the freshmen lawmakers who signed up for pension benefits – elected the traditional guaranteed pension plan. Lawmakers passed legislation to revamp the pension plans for state workers and school employees in 2017. They said it was necessary to curb the soaring cost of the pension plans on school districts and put the pensions systems on better financial footing. In signing the law, Gov. Tom Wolf, who declined pension benefits, hailed it as “real meaningful pension reform.”

“This $40 million will provide some much-needed assistance to ensure our schools are safe; however, the total request from schools was $177.6 million, which illustrates that we must continue to fund this vital program,” Langerholc said.
Pennsylvania grants $40M in competitive school safety grants
WHYY/Keystone Crossroads By Min Xian May 2, 2019
The state has approved $40 million in grants for school districts to improve safety.
Over a dozen school districts in Central Pennsylvania received grants, including the Altoona Area School District, the Keystone Central School District and the Smethport Area School District. None of Centre County’s school district was awarded a competitive grant. These competitive grants are in addition to $25,000 that most districts received last year. Pennsylvania enacted Act 44 in reaction to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018. “This grant program has already proven to be very successful in helping local school districts take the steps they need to make our students safer and our school buildings more secure,” Sen. Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-Bedford) said in a statement. He is on the 17-member School Safety and Security Committee, which approved the grants.

Tamaqua teachers union has standing to sue over gun policy, judge rules
A Schuylkill County judge says Tamaqua teachers can continue their legal fight over the district’s controversial policy to allow staff to carry guns in school. In a ruling handed down Monday, Judge Jacqueline Russell determined that the Tamaqua Education Association, after filing an amended complaint in the case, has sufficient standing to challenge the school district over the policy. Russell tossed the union’s first complaint filed in November because it lacked enough evidence for standing in the case. The union filed an amended complaint in March. This ruling allows the litigation to move forward as the union seeks to have the district policy tossed on the basis that the school board lacked authority to pass it in the first place. Tamaqua’s Policy 705, which would establish a training program for staff interested in carrying weapons to protect students from a would-be shooter, is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. The union believes the policy violates the state’s school code, which requires anyone armed in schools to undergo at least as much training as municipal police officers. The district maintains that state law does not override a local school board’s say in how to police its schools.

Governor Wolf Touts Need for Education Investments and Broadband for Rural Communities
May 3, 2019 - by MyChesCo -
BOALSBURG, PA — Speaking to the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools on Thursday, Governor Tom Wolf discussed investments in education and his Restore Pennsylvania plan to help address the rural broadband crisis. “Pennsylvania’s students and their future are top priories for me,” said Governor Wolf. “My administration is investing in education so students start school ready to learn and are eventually ready to graduate and succeed at work. “Supporting a great education is particularly impactful in rural and small towns where schools are often at the center of communities. My proposals will help schools to keep great teachers, increase access to broadband in rural communities, and create the skilled and highly-qualified workforce that will attract industry and jobs.” During his first term, Governor Wolf fought for education funding that reversed the devastating funding cuts of the previous administration. This year, the governor is proposing a $200 million increase in basic education, building on the $633 million increase in basic education and Ready to Learn Block Grant funding increases over the past four fiscal years. The governor also wants to increase special education funding by $50 million following a $90 million increase since he took office.

Will the financially strapped Allentown School District be taken over by the state?
Like clockwork, every spring the Allentown School District grapples with a large deficit and worries that teachers will lose their jobs, taxpayers will take the brunt and the region’s most vulnerable students will be left behind. But this year, as the district is up against a June 30 deadline to figure out how to close a $7.6 million hole in the current budget and a $28 million deficit for 2019-20, a new cloud hovers: the possibility of a state takeover. The topic came up during two meetings last month. District solicitor John Freund speculated at one that if the district didn’t take out a $10 million loan to pay its bills, that could expedite state oversight. Freund believes the district could at the very least end up on “watch status” — a step taken before state intervention — mostly because its fund balance is depleted, after having $36 million in it four years ago. The board approved using reserves to balance past budgets, but that is no longer an option.

Amid complaints, Easton district launches investigation of city charter school
The Easton Area School District is looking into allegations of wrongdoing at the Easton Arts Academy, a charter school that opened in the city in 2017. District solicitor John Freund said a whistleblower lawsuit filed in December raised concerns about whether the school is violating its charter or charter law. He said the district hasn’t determined whether the allegations ― which range from grade-changing to not providing special education services ― are true. “Our concern is whether or not there are any violations of law or charter,” Freund said. The charter school, which had 408 students as of January, has two vacancies in its upper echelons, with the resignation of a principal and placement of its chief administrative and financial officer on leave. School officials have been tight-lipped about the details, and couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. Joey Schubert, the school’s third principal since it opened in 2017, resigned sometime this year. The school’s Chief Administrative Officer and Chief Financial Officer Shawn Ferrera is on leave. School officials would not say when or why they left.

Easton charter school dodging inquiries on fire drills, background checks and more, official says
By Rudy Miller | For Updated May 3, 9:58 AM; Posted May 3, 7:00 AM
The Easton Area School District says it’s received complaints about a charter school concerning a lack of fire drills, a lack of employee background checks, inaccurate student attendance reporting and a lack of teacher and administrator certifications. The allegations are outlined in a letter obtained by lehighvalleylive.comthrough Pennsylvania’s right-to-know law. They come in addition to allegations made by an ex-principal in a lawsuit filed against the Easton Arts Academy Elementary Charter School. obtained three letters sent from the Easton Area School District to the arts academy requesting documentation so the school district can investigate various claims of wrongdoing. An attorney with the charter school at 30 N. Fourth St. in Easton says the school has provided some of the materials requested and is working with the district to comply with all the requests. However, Easton Area School District Superintendent John Reinhart said Thursday the school district has only received letter responses from Easton Arts Academy and no documents.

TESD OKs New Start, End Times For 2019-2020 School Year
After months of deliberation, development, surveying, and more, new start and end times for the 2019-2020 school year have been approved.
By Max Bennett, Patch Staff | Apr 23, 2019 4:30 pm ET
TREDYFFRIN-EASTTOWN, PA — After months of work, the Tredyffrin Easttown School District will have new start and end times at all its schools in the 2019-2020 school year. The district's board approved the new times at its Monday meeting. Below are the new times for the district:
  • High School — 7:50 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. (currently 7:20 a.m. to 2:20 p.m.)
  • Middle Schools — 8:27 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. (currently 7:50 a.m. to 2:33 p.m.)
  • Elementary Schools — 9:10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. (currently 8:45 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.)
During the 2016-2017 school year, the Tredyffrin/Easttown School Board and administration starting looking at research on the science of adolescent sleep and the benefits of later school start times. In September 2018, the board approved a goal to assess the impact of potential strategies for addressing adolescent sleep needs, including the implications for school start times.
Through a series of meetings, the School Board Education Committee developed a school start time scenario that could be implemented for the 2019-2020 school year

Democrats younger than Republicans, Philly suburbs bluer, state still divided: Takeaways from Pa. registration data
Inquirer by Jonathan Lai, Updated: May 3, 2019- 12:37 PM
Voters across Pennsylvania will choose Democratic and Republican nominees May 21 for a variety of races; in Philly, that includes mayor and City Council; in other counties, row offices, district attorneys, and county commissioners. April 22 was the last day to register to vote, and this week the Pennsylvania Department of State released its latest numbers on voters across the state. Here’s a look at some of the numbers.

In News Industry, a Stark Divide Between Haves and Have-Nots
Local newspapers are failing to make the digital transition larger players did — and are in danger of vanishing
Wall Street Journal By Keach HageyLukas I. Alpert and Yaryna Serkez Published May 4, 2019 at 12:00 a.m. ET
After suffering a historic meltdown a decade ago in the financial crisis, American newspapers began racing to transform into digital businesses, hoping that strategy would save them from the accelerating decline of print. The results are in: A stark divide has emerged between a handful of national players that have managed to stabilize their businesses and local outlets for which time is running out, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of circulation, advertising, financial and employment data. Local papers have suffered sharper declines in circulation than national outlets and greater incursions into their online advertising businesses from tech giants such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Facebook Inc. The data also shows that they are having a much more difficult time converting readers into paying digital customers. The result has been a parade of newspaper closures and large-scale layoffs. Nearly 1,800 newspapers closed between 2004 and 2018, leaving 200 counties with no newspaper and roughly half the counties in the country with only one, according to a University of North Carolina study.

Florida’s charter-school sector is a real mess
Washington Post Answer Sheet By Valerie Strauss Reporter May 3 at 12:56 PM
Public education in Florida is under attack on so many fronts it can sometimes be hard to keep track. The Republican-led legislature is creating new programs that will use public funds for private- and religious-school education, adding to several programs that already exist. An effort has been made in the legislature to require school districts to share with charter schools money that voters chose in a referendum to go to school districts, but it is unclear how that will end. And this week, the state legislature voted to allow teachers to carry guns at school despite opposition from many school districts. That’s why veteran educator Peter Greene, on his Curmudgucation blog, wrote, “Florida Really Is The Worst.” I will look at all of that in a separate post, but this piece is devoted to the mess that is the charter-school sector in Florida. This was written by Carol Burris, a former New York high school principal who now serves as executive director of the Network for Public Education, a nonprofit advocacy group. She was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State. In 2013, the National Association of Secondary School Principals named her the New York State High School Principal of the Yea

Education head DeVos: Polarizing but enduring Cabinet member
WHYY By Associated Press May 5, 2019
When President Donald Trump visits a school, it’s usually for a campaign rally, not a classroom tour. At his latest State of the Union address, he mentioned education just once. On Twitter, he has used the word “education” six times while in office, compared with 500 uses of the word “border.” Education, it’s safe to say, is not his top priority. Instead, Trump entrusts that realm to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who after two years has emerged as one of the most polarizing figures in his Cabinet yet also one of its most enduring members. While chiefs of a dozen other agencies have quit or been fired, DeVos has survived and shows no intention of leaving. “Just because she’s been a lightning rod and been engaged in controversy doesn’t mean she’s not doing her job,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “She’s come and she has stayed, which is more than you can say about some others in the Cabinet.” Among DeVos’ supporters, there’s a belief that Trump’s distance from education is a blessing. While the White House focuses on issues such as immigration and the economy, DeVos has been free to continue her push for school choice, the topic that drew her into education and fueled her more than 30 years of advocacy. In return, Trump gets an education leader who appeals both to school choice supporters and to evangelical Christians. DeVos, 61, who was raised in the Christian Reformed Church, is known for her devout faith and often weaves religion into her education speeches.

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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