Thursday, July 11, 2019

PA Ed Policy Roundup July 11: Taxpayers in Senate Ed Committee members’ school districts spent $149 million on cyber charter tuition for 2017-2018

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DePasquale: Scrap Keystone exams for high school kids and replace them with SATs
PA Capital Star By  John L. Micek July 10, 2019
Pennsylvania taxpayers are paying a bundle, and not getting much return on investment, for the battery of standardized tests for high school students that eat into instructional time and haven’t been federally mandated for years, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Wednesday. Since 2015, and running until 2021, the state will pay nearly $100 million to a Minnesota-based company to administer and score the Keystone Exams, which are taken annually by high school students across Pennsylvania, DePasquale said during a Capitol news conference. Instead, Pennsylvania could join the ranks of 12 other states that have scrapped state-specific exams since the demise of the federal No Child Left Behind law, and instead allow students to take the PSAT or SAT. Doing so would both save money and allow the state to meet a requirement under federal law that all high school students take some kind of standardized test. DePasquale, joined by Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, also said switching to the SAT, PSAT or ACT examinations would open the door to a college education for more students — particularly lower-income students who have trouble covering the out-of-pocket cost of the now-optional college entrance exam. “Why not use the cheaper alternative that can help get kids into college,” said DePasquale, who undertook the audit at the request of Dinniman, who’s the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee.

By Sara K. Satullo | For Updated Jul 10, 4:38 PM; Posted Jul 10, 3:52 PM
Pennsylvania’s top fiscal watchdog wants to know why the state’s taxpayers continue to spend millions of dollars annually for high school students to take the Keystone Exams, when he says there’s no longer a reason to do so. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Wednesday release an 18-page special report urging the state to explore replacing the subject-based Keystone Exams with a high school standardized test, like the SAT college-entrance exam. Pennsylvania has spent millions of dollars developing the Keystones, initially designed as end-of-course graduation requirements that would meet the federal testing mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act. But now the act has been overhauled, lifting the requirement for a state-specific standardized test, and state lawmakers have reversed course amid questions about the merits of high stakes testing, DePasquale said. Now, the Keystone Exams are just one of several ways students can demonstrate they’re ready to graduate from high school. This has left DePasquale questioning why Pennsylvania taxpayers over the last decade have sent at least $425 million to a Minnesota testing company to administer and develop the PSSAs and Keystone Exams. From 2015 to 2021, Pennsylvania will have spent nearly $100 million on the Keystones.

Auditor General DePasquale: Replacing Keystone Exams with SATs Would Save Money, Help Students and Parents
Auditor General DePasquale’s website HARRISBURG (July 10, 2019)
In a new special report released today, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Pennsylvania taxpayers are still spending tens of millions of dollars every year on the Keystone Exams, which have not been federally required for four years. “Pennsylvania should aggressively explore using a nationally recognized test that can open new doors for students rather than continuing to spend money on an exam that is no longer required,” DePasquale said. “For less than what Pennsylvania spends on the Keystone Exams, it could instead pick up the tab for every high school student to take the PSAT or SAT.” Federal law requires that all states administer a secondary-level standardized test; however, since 2015, when the No Child Left Behind Act was replaced, the state-specific Keystone Exams were no longer required. But rather than phase out the state-specific tests – which at least 12 other states have done – the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is still paying the tests’ creator, Minnesota-based Data Recognition Corp., tens of millions of dollars each year to administer and score the Keystone Exams. Between 2015 and 2021, Pennsylvania will have spent nearly $100 million on the Keystone Exams.

Blogger note: over the past year we have been publishing 2016-2017 cyber charter tuition data. We received the 2017-2018 data this week and will be pushing it out during the summer.

If the state would take on the cost of cyber charter school tuition since the state is responsible for authorizing and overseeing cyber charter schools, it would save school districts $520 million. (PASBO)

If we adopted single, statewide tuition rates for both regular and special education students that were tied to the actual costs of providing cyber education we could save taxpayers $250 million each year. (Education Voters PA)

Wayne Langerholc
Andrew Dinniman
John DiSanto
Joseph Scarnati
Ryan Aument
Patrick Browne
Mike Folmer
Robert Tomlinson
James Brewster
Daylin Leach
Lindsay Williams
Data Source PDE via PSBA

Citing technicality, Pa. school district scraps first-of-kind policy to arm teachers
WHYY By Avi Wolfman-Arent July 10, 2019
The Tamaqua Area School District will scrap a groundbreaking policy that would have allowed teachers and staff to carry weapons anonymously on school grounds. The school board’s Security Committee recommended the policy be rescinded at a meeting Tuesday night. School board president Larry Wittig confirmed that the board will heed that recommendation and overturn the policy. “The old policy is dead,” Wittig said. Tamaqua Area was the first school district in Pennsylvania to create a rule that would have allowed staff members to carry guns, and the policy’s passage last fall triggered debates and legal challenges. But Wittig said a change in state law ultimately scuttled the proposal and sent local officials back to the drawing board. That new law, Senate Bill 621, inspired its own controversy because some advocates thought its vagaries would ultimately permit school districts to arm teachers. The bill’s sponsor said that wasn’t the intent, and Governor Tom Wolf even argued that the bill would explicitly bar staff members from carrying weapons in school. Tamaqua Area officials, however, were worried about another section of the law, Wittig said. Senate Bill 621 details specific training security guards must receive before carrying a concealed weapon on school grounds. Wittig said he and others worried that Tamaqua’s policy didn’t comply with these new regulations.

In shift from past, state boosts special ed funding more than basic ed
Wilkes Barre Times Leader By Mark Guydish - July 9, 2019 
Local school districts again saw modest increases in state money for education, but it differed this year, with the state boosting funding for special education at a higher rate than for basic education. The change comes after the Education Law Center issued a scathing report criticizing the state for “shortchanging children with disabilities” for the last decade. Collectively, Luzerne County’s 11 districts saw Basic Education Funding (BEF) and Special Education Funding (SEF) increase by 3.1 percent, with the boosts ranging from a low of 0.4 percent at Lake-Lehman (where closure of a school is on the table in efforts to end chronic shortfalls) to a high of 5.7 percent for Hazleton Area, the county’s largest district. But differences between BEF versus SEF suggest a state preference to help offset soaring special education costs this year. County-wide, BEF rose by 2.7 percent, while SEF increased an average of 6.3 percent. The smallest BEF increase was doled out to Lake-Lehman, only 0.1 percent, or $7,416. Hanover Area saw the biggest BEF jump, 5.1 percent, or $405,651. On the SEF side, Lake-Lehman again got the smallest increase at 2.4 percent, or $28,600. Pittston Area’s increase hit double digits, 11.8 percent or $194,635. As the budget season ramped up at the start of this year, the Education Law Center issued a report showing a stark shortfall in state money for special education. While BEF has received increases most years, SEF often was increased by less, or flat-lined.

Our View: Hopeful signs from Harrisburg on education
Amid the usual partisan bickering on too many topics, there came from Harrisburg recently several promising moves regarding education:
• Under a new program signed into law last week by Gov. Tom Wolf, spouses and children of Pennsylvania National Guard members to attend college at no cost or a reduced cost.
The first initiative of its kind in the nation, the PA GI Bill, or Military Family Education Program, was passed unanimously by the state House and Senate.
• Local school districts again saw modest increases in state money for education, but it differed this year, with the state boosting funding for special education at a higher rate than for basic education, our Mark Guydish reported on Wednesday.
The change comes after the Education Law Center issued a scathing report criticizing the state for “shortchanging children with disabilities” for the last decade.
• As reported by the Associated Press in today’s edition, Pennsylvania students who attend one of the 14 state-owned universities won’t see higher tuition next year as a result of a board vote Wednesday, the first such freeze in more than 20 years.
The State System of Higher Education’s Board of Governors voted unanimously to keep in-state tuition flat at about $7,700, the AP reported. Nearly 90% of the system’s students hail from Pennsylvania.
• Also in today’s edition, Guydish reports that state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a report Wednesday making the case for dropping the state Keystone Exam system used to gauge high school student academic achievement.

Pa. legislators, how about a present for your constituents? Pass the Gift Ban bill | Editorial
By PennLive Editorial Board Updated Jul 10, 5:28 PM; Posted Jul 10, 5:22 PM
A bipartisan House bill would make it illegal to bribe Pennsylvania lawmakers with gifts such as expensive meals, sporting event tickets, transportation, lodging and anything else of economic value. HB 1291 is one of those proposals that makes you wonder: Why is this even a matter of debate? The answer in Harrisburg is always the same, because someone benefits from the way things are. And it’s not you, the voter and taxpayer. Thus, this commonsense proposal has been offered session after session but never reaches a vote. Why? Because lawmakers and special interests benefit. Pennsylvania does — sort of — ban gifts, but only where there’s an explicit quid pro quo, as in, “Here’s a nice vacation in return for your vote.” Bribes don’t need to be that blatant, so hardly anyone in the state is successfully prosecuted for illegal gifts. Some lawmakers will tell you, indignantly, that they “can’t be bought” with a meal or college football tickets (even as they accept them). They’re just being open-minded, in hearing someone’s viewpoint over an expensive dinner. But they protest too much. Anyway, the problem isn’t so much that a single gift buys a vote, it's the cumulative effect of showering lawmakers and government officials with favors and a sense of importance. Gifts reinforce the cozy, elbow-rubbing atmosphere in Harrisburg, which predisposes lawmakers to serve influential interests first, and yours incidentally, if at all.

Photos: A year at Philly’s Strawberry Mansion High School
by Tim Tai, July 10, 2019
Junior Sincear Morton-Murray, right, wears a football championship jacket while playing guitar during music class at Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia on Monday, Oct. 15, 2018. The first music teacher of the school year left during the fall and was replaced. The class is now oriented toward learning music production and business skills. Football was canceled in the middle of the 2018 season due to a lack of enough players to sustain a team, but is expected to return this fall. When I first stepped into the imposing, cavernous building that is Strawberry Mansion High School last fall, I was surprised by how normal it seemed. Largely empty — this year’s enrollment was 169 students across three grades — there was no chaos, no fighting, and nothing to suggest it was known in recent years as “one of the most dangerous schools in America.” My colleague Kristen Graham and I saw a number of classes: music, math, biology. Eager to show off their skills, culinary students prepared food for us and several school leaders. Volleyball players prepared for practice. It was not how I pictured a school that was failing according to the metrics. The school district granted Kristen and I access to follow Mansion students and staff through a year of transition, after pausing ninth grade admissions and initially planning to phase out the traditional high school program. The school, built for 1,800 kids, had already survived a closure attempt in 2013. The story published in two parts: Forever Mansion? and ‘Capable of Greatness.’

Equity isn’t just a slogan. It should transform the way we educate kids.
The Holdsworth Center By Dr. Pedro Noguera July 8, 2019
Dr. Pedro Noguera is a former classroom teacher who is now a sociologist, researcher and sought-after expert on educational equity. He is the Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and Faculty Director for the Center for the Transformation of Schools at UCLA. He is also a member of The Holdsworth Center’s network of scholars, an advisory group who contribute to the development of research around our theory of action. The Holdsworth Center invited Pedro to work with Leaders in our District Leadership Program and share some of his insights and teachings on our blog.
Think about your family.
When one child is sick, do you give that child more attention? When one child is a rule-follower and the other a free spirit, do you parent them the same? For most of us, giving our kids what they need when they need it means we don’t always treat them the same.
That’s true in schools too. Anyone who works in public schools knows that students arrive with different needs. Some have experienced trauma, others are learning English for the first time, and others may be reading below grade level. It follows that our students will need different things in order to thrive and meet their full potential. Addressing the needs of all students is not easy but that is the goal of equity in education: to treat our students the way we would want our own children to be treated. This is the true meaning of equity – acknowledging students’ differences and giving them what they need to be successful. It also means staying focused on outcomes, both academic and developmental. We’ll know we are doing equity work right when kids’ backgrounds no longer predict their outcomes.

PCCY: 2 seconds for $200,000 and a game-changing opportunity for kids
PCCY needs your votes!  We are in the running for a $200,000 Key to the Community Grant from the Philadelphia Foundation! Our idea is simple – give more parents in the Greater Philadelphia region tools, resources and networks to amplify their voices in advocacy and policy impacting our children. To launch the Parent Advocacy Accelerator, we need your help.  The Philadelphia Foundation is running an on-line voting contest. The idea that gets the most votes in a category, wins the grant. Voting is quick and easy at Just scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page and vote for the project listed as the Parent Advocacy Accelerator under the “Community and Civic Engagement" category, Every vote, every day counts. VOTE EVERY DAY UNTIL JULY 26! Share with your networks in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, or Delaware and ask them to vote every day, too.
Thank you for your votes and support!

The deadline to submit a cover letter, resume and application is August 19, 2019.
Become a 2019-2020 PSBA Advocacy Ambassador
PSBA is seeking applications for two open Advocacy Ambassador positions. Candidates should have experience in day-to-day functions of a school district, on the school board, or in a school leadership position. The purpose of the PSBA Advocacy Ambassador program is to facilitate the education and engagement of local school directors and public education stakeholders through the advocacy leadership of the ambassadors. Each Advocacy Ambassador will be responsible for assisting PSBA in achieving its advocacy goals. To achieve their mission, ambassadors will be kept up to date on current legislation and PSBA positions on legislation. The current open positions will cover PSBA Sections 3 and 4, and Section 7.
PSBA Advocacy Ambassadors are independent contractors representing PSBA and serve as liaisons between PSBA and their local elected officials. Advocacy Ambassadors also commit to building strong relationships with PSBA members with the purpose of engaging the designated members to be active and committed grassroots advocates for PSBA’s legislative priorities. 

PSBA: Nominations for The Allwein Society are open!
This award program recognizes school directors who are outstanding leaders & advocates on behalf of public schools & students. Nominations are accepted year-round with selections announced early fall: 

EPLC is accepting applications for the 2019-20 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program
Education Policy & Leadership Center
PA's premier education policy leadership program for education, policy & community leaders with 582 alumni since 1999. Application with program schedule & agenda are at 

2019 PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference Oct. 16-18, 2019
WHERE: Hershey Lodge and Convention Center 325 University Drive, Hershey, PA
WHEN: Wednesday, October 16 to Friday, October 18, 201
Registration is now open!
Growth from knowledge acquired. Vision inspired by innovation. Impact created by a synergized leadership community. You are called upon to be the drivers of a thriving public education system. It’s a complex and challenging role. Expand your skillset and give yourself the tools needed for the challenge. Packed into two and a half daysꟷꟷgain access to top-notch education and insights, dynamic speakers, peer learning opportunities and the latest product and service innovations. Come to the PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference to grow!

NPE Action National Conference - Save the Date - March 28-29, 2020 in Philadelphia, PA.
The window is now open for workshop proposals for the Network for Public Education conference, March 28-29, 2020, in Philadelphia. I hope you all sign on to present on a panel and certainly we want all to attend.

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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