Friday, September 6, 2019

PA Ed Policy Roundup Sept. 6: Is there a way to ‘Yes’ on charter school reform?

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PA Ed Policy Roundup Sept. 6 2019

With battle lines drawn, is there a way to ‘Yes’ on charter school reform? | John L. Micek
PA Capital Star Commentary By  John L. Micek September 5, 2019
If you’re looking for the perfect example of the tribalism that too often devours our politics, you don’t have to look much further than Pennsylvania’s two-decade-plus-old argument over charter schools. To public education advocates, charters are unaccountable, underperforming schools, run by profiteers who siphon money out of struggling, mostly urban school districts, leaving hollowed out school buildings in their wake. To charter allies, meanwhile, the public education establishment is an adversary that prioritizes protecting its prerogatives over what’s best for students, dooming them to an education determined by their zip code, rather than what their parents believe is best for them. That depth of feeling is understandable. There are few matters of public policy that elicit more deeply personal reactions and passionate opinions than the choices we make about educating our children. Charter advocates have been pushing back — hard — against Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent round of executive actions attempting to reform the state’s more than 180 brick-and-mortar charters and 15 or so cyber-charter schools.

Blogger note: here’s the June 2018 IRS990 form for Commonwealth Charter Academy Cyber Charter courtesy of ProPublica. For those of you who are only accustomed to seeing invoices from cyber charter schools, here’s considerable detail on revenue, expenses and executive salaries so you can begin to see where and how your tax dollars are being spent.
Full text of "Form 990" for fiscal year ending June 2018
Tax returns filed by nonprofit organizations are public records. The Internal Revenue Service releases them in two formats: page images and raw data in XML. The raw data is more useful, especially to researchers, because it can be extracted and analyzed more easily. The pages below are a reconstruction of a tax document using raw data from the IRS.

“When there is a dispute between a district and a charter school over a tuition payment, charters can ask PDE to redirect the tuition from the district’s state subsidy to the charter school. Mr. Wolf’s office said PDE processed more than 13,500 requests in 2018, a 60% increase over the past seven years. Starting Sept. 15, the requesting school will be charged $15 per redirection payment, according to the plan. Because PDE is the authorizing entity for statewide cyber charter schools, new cyber charter applicants will be charged $86,000. The fee will go into effect beginning Jan. 1, 2020, and “reflects the cost to review the application.”
Gov. Wolf announces fees for Pennsylvania Department of Education charter school services
ELIZABETH BEHRMAN Pittsburgh Post-Gazette SEP 5, 2019
The Pennsylvania Department of Education now will charge service fees in an attempt to “recoup the costs of thousands of hours of staff time” incurred as the agency implements the state’s Charter School Law.  Gov. Tom Wolf discussed the new fee-for-service model Wednesday during a stop at Twin Rivers Elementary School in McKeesport. The change is part of a larger plan he announced last month to use a combination of executive action and new legislation to overhaul Pennsylvania’s more than 20-year-old charter school law and hold charter schools to the same accountability, “ethical and transparency” standards as traditional public schools.  “This will allow more money to go where it should go, tax dollars toward educating our children,” Mr. Wolf said about the fee-for-service plan. Charter schools are public schools that are privately operated. Districts pay charter schools “tuition” for each of their students who attends a charter, based on what the district spends per-student. 

PCPCS Responds to Governor Wolf’s Latest Attacks on Charter Schools and Charter Students
Pennsylvania Association of Public Charter School Website September 5, 2019
Harrisburg – Yesterday, Governor Tom Wolf announced that he has directed the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to charge charter schools a $15 fee-for-service beginning September 15. Charters will be charged this fee-for-service every time they request PDE to redirect school district funds to cover unpaid charter tuition payments. The following is a statement from Ana Meyers, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, on the Governor’s announcement. “As schools welcomed back students this week, PA’s public charter schools were blindsided once again by Governor Wolf’s attacks on their schools and their students. Yesterday’s announcement that the Governor has directed the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to begin charging charter schools a fee-for-service beginning this month is unwarranted, detrimental and discriminatory. First, requiring charter schools to pay PDE to redirect unpaid tuition payments from school districts to charter schools is outlandish and insulting. The Public School Code requires that school districts make 12 equal payments to charter schools for the tuition of the students they serve. Unfortunately, many school districts refuse to make these state-mandated payments, leaving charter schools and their students at a disadvantage. The only recourse for charter schools is to request that PDE redirect the tuition amount they are owed from the school district to the charter school, which is provided for by state law (24 P.S. § 17-1725-A(a)(5)).

Blogger note: according to Wikipedia, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is an ideologically conservative American nonprofit education policy think tank, with offices in Washington, D.C.Columbus, Ohio, and Dayton, Ohio. The institute supports and publishes research on education policy in the US.

The Philadelphia School Partnership’s past and present boards have been composed of investment bankers, realtors, hedge fund managers, philanthropists and lobbyists. Since its inception, the Partnership has placed most of its efforts on expanding charters and supporting Catholic schools. More info on their board members and investors here:

Here’s a commentary piece by the Partnership’s Executive Director Mark Gleason that was published on the Fordham Institute’s website:

“Despite all of the obfuscation, there is an opportunity to build bipartisan consensus and improve charter policy. Even the appearance of schools having cozy relationships with for-profit entities is unacceptable. Clarifying the rules for avoiding conflicts of interest will ensure taxpayer resources are creating opportunities for students, not founders and insiders”
Pennsylvania’s charter sector needs a scalpel, not a sledgehammer
Fordham Institute Commentary by Mark Gleason 9.4.2019
Mark Gleason is the Executive Director of Philadelphia School Partnership.
Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor Tom Wolf garnered headlines recently when he announced vague plans for taking funding away from the state’s public charter schools. He also described charters as benefiting from an unlevel playing field for accountability and transparency. Sadly, it’s a sure bet in 2019 that when a politician calls for more transparency, he doesn’t practice what he preaches. Let’s start with the money. That’s where politics almost always starts, and ends. The governor and school districts across the state complain that charter costs are eating into district budgets. However, state-reported data show that district revenues have grown at a faster rate than charter revenues. From fiscal 2009 to fiscal 2018, charter enrollment in Pennsylvania nearly doubled, contributing to a decline in overall district enrollment. Even so, district revenues, after deducting charter payments, jumped by 28 percent overall. On a per-pupil basis, district revenues rose 37 percent, versus just 27 percent for charters. Talk about an unlevel playing field. Charter schools (and thus charter students) only receive about 85 cents on the dollar in Pennsylvania, compared with school district funding. Inflexible cost drivers, such as pension obligations, are the districts’ big problem, one that would be there with or without charter growth.

“The quality of the education each individual student receives is hard to evaluate, but a number of alarming trends require a closer look. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s School Performance Profile, three out of the 14 cyber charter schools operating in Pennsylvania had an SPP just above 60 in 2015-16. (The Pa. Department of Education considers 60 SPP and below to be substandard.) Moreover, none of the cyber charters scored above 70, the minimum goal for all schools, and some scored in the 30s. Alarmingly, data for 2015-16 from both the Pa. Department of Education and show that eight of the 11 Pennsylvania cyber charters in their databases have a graduation rate below 70 percent in comparison with the 2016 statewide rate of 86 percent. (, a free informational website, has a database of U.S. schools that includes enrollment and test scores.)”
Are cyber charter schools making the grade?
Centre Daily Times Opinion American Association of University Women State College Branch
Across the nation and right here in the Centre Region, online charter schools are growing in popularity as a choice for parents and guardians, and children. However, along with the advantages that cyber charters present to both students and their families, they also raise issues worthy of deeper examination. Students who have specific circumstances that require great flexibility in scheduling may benefit the most from cyber schools. There are positive accounts from talented students who found cybers to offer them their only opportunity to continue their extensive music or sports training schedules without disrupting their school progress. These students tend to be high achievers and particularly organized in self-scheduling. This is not the case for most students. Students without the rigor of a school day schedule and daily social engagement with peers and teachers may find themselves floundering socially and academically.
Others who benefit from cyber charters include students from rural areas whose family obligations and schoolwork may be affected by hours spent on buses and some high school students who may contribute to the family’s income and need scheduling flexibility.

What: Informal discussion on cyber charter schools
When: 9 a.m. refreshments, 9:30 a.m. panel, Oct. 7
Where: Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, 800 E. Park Ave., State College
AAUW State College Branch invites you to attend an informational panel discussion to learn more about background and issues connected with cyber charter schools. Join us on Saturday, Oct. 7, at the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800 E. Park Ave., State College (visitor center off Porter Road). Refreshments, 9 a.m.; panel discussion, 9:30 a.m. The American Association of University Women State College Branch is part of a nationwide network of about 1,000 branches that are dedicated to advancing equity for women and girls.

Village View: Focus on charter school improvements
Main Line Suburban Life Opinion By Bonnie Squires September 5, 2019
Bonnie Squires is a communications consultant who writes weekly for Main Line Media News
Did you know that charter schools and cyber charter schools are funded by taxpayer dollars, as they are part of the public education system in our state? And are aware that Governor Tom Wolf is working on charter school reform right now? State Representative Jim Roebuck, the Democratic chair of the PA House Education Committee, has been drafting reform bills for charter schools for about ten years now. He is working closely with Governor Wolf and Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera to draft new regulations for the charter and cyber charter schools. You may recall some lurid headlines about misdeeds and failures of charter schools, like the one where it was discovered that the charter school was using its lunchroom for a bar on weekends. And there have been many closures of charter schools for poor performance academically by their students. There have been accusations that some charter schools have not admitted special needs students because they did not want to spend the money to offer services for these students. And the fact that many charter school owners also own the buildings which house the schools,, so they are paying rent to themselves, has always been a problem. According to Governor Wolf, despite costing taxpayers $1.8 billion last year, brick-and-mortar charter and cyber charter schools, and for-profit companies that manage many of them, are not held to the same ethical and transparency standards of traditional public schools.

Erie’s public schools offering a cyber choice academy
YourErie Posted: Sep 5, 2019 / 04:01 PM EDT / Updated: Sep 5, 2019 / 06:05 PM EDT
School is just beginning for some, but Erie Public’s Schools is announcing an additional option for students if the traditional classroom setting is not for them. The Cyber Choice Academy is giving students in all grade levels a chance to learn online. If parents chose this program, it is free and students still have a chance to participate in any extra curricular activities within the district. “There are 80 different courses through this program,” said Erica Erwin, coordinator of public relations and strategic communications. “There is a lot of different opportunities for them and it just offers the flexibility that we know some of our families need.” Students who choose this program in kindergarten through fifth grade are required to meet with a teacher in person twice a week.

York County districts shoulder burden as security costs become 'new normal'
Lindsay C. VanAsdalan, York Dispatch Published 2:21 p.m. ET Sept. 5, 2019 | Updated 4:08 p.m. ET Sept. 5, 2019
Safety has been a buzzword for school districts in recent years — with local threats, high school shootings throughout the country, increases in federal and state funding, and a statewide task force dedicated to exploring root causes of violence. Under pressure from parents and politicians, York County schools — not unlike many others nationally — have responded with cash for security infrastructure and staff. But with higher spending on security and limited government funding offered compared to extensive needs, district programming could suffer in the long term as districts' fund balances diminish. Central York School District is paying more than $500,000 annually — not including a one-time fee of $260,000 in 2017-18 to upgrade all security systems. That's an expense that didn't exist five years ago. 

Pennsylvania’s property tax, explained: A moral wrong, or the building block of government finance?
PA Capital Star By  Stephen Caruso September 6, 2019
When he started knocking on doors during his inaugural campaign for state representative in 1992, Sam Rohrer noticed a topic popping up again and again — property taxes. He was aware of complaints, but the extent of the problem became more and more apparent as he talked to his soon-to-be constituents in Berks County. Rohrer, a Republican, served in the General Assembly until 2010 and became one of the body’s strongest advocates for property tax reform. In those 18 years, he tried negotiating with such Capitol power players as former GOP House Speaker John Prezel to bring elimination up for a vote — to no avail. He even ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nod for governor in 2010 against then-Attorney General Tom Corbett on a Tea Party platform that included property tax elimination. Now out of office, and president of the Elverson, Pa.-based American Pastors Network, Rohrer doesn’t follow the issue as closely as he once did. But he knows what it’ll take to finally see it through. “Somebody has to be a champion of the cause,” Rohrer said. “They have to be dogged.”

In ‘equity circles,’ teachers confront their own biases and stereotypes
Changing attitudes and deeply held cultural practices "doesn't happen overnight."
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa September 5 — 12:23 pm, 2019
The men and women stood to face each other in the classroom at Benjamin Rush Arts Academy, asked to challenge a stereotype about their chosen identity. For instance, said the session leader: “I am an urban educator, but I am not here for the paycheck or the summers off.” It was a diverse group – black, white, Latinx, Asian, people just out of school and in mid-career. After some hesitation, the examples came rapidly: “I am a gay man, but not less of a man.” “I am a world traveler, but not rich.” “I am an African American man, but not a criminal deadbeat or a gang member.” “I am a religious woman, but not trying to impose my beliefs on anyone.” “I am very well-educated, but not stuck up or trying to act white.” “I’m Southern, but not a bigot.” The session at the weeklong teacher orientation in early August was called “Preparing to be a Culturally Responsive Teacher,” and it represented the start of an initiative taking hold in the Philadelphia School District this year – one that seeks to help teachers confront issues of race, ethnicity, and identity rather than pretend that they don’t exist. The plan is to create “equity circles” in school this year with willing participants, in which teachers form communities to do the work of examining where they are coming from and the beliefs they hold about their students. The goal is to “widen the aperture” through which teachers view their students, said Meredith Mehra, head of the District’s Office of Teaching and Learning.

Bethel Park residents protest board decision to reduce taxes
Post-Gazette by DEANA CARPENTER SEP 4, 2019 6:00 AM
A group of residents is unhappy with the Bethel Park school board’s recent decision to cut taxes without discussion and held a protest before the last board meeting and say that further protests are likely. About 50 people gathered outside the district offices before the August board meeting to protest the board’s June vote to decrease taxes by 8.2 percent. The protest was organized by Tom Duerr, a resident of Bethel Park. A group called Bethel Park Deserves Better, headed by Sharon Janosik also attended the protest, which was held for about an hour prior to the start of the school board’s regular meeting on Aug. 27. “The focus of the rally was to demonstrate that the residents of our community demand better from our elected officials — better leadership, transparency, accountability, long-term planning, fiscal responsibility, education, rankings, property values and stakeholder participation,” Ms. Janosik said.

“Students who could choose to become teachers are choosing not to. People who could choose to stay in the classroom are instead engaging in a slow-motion strike, an extended exodus, and our real problem is how to attract and retain those people.”
We Need To Stop Talking About The Teacher Shortage
Forbes by Peter Greene Senior Contributor Sep 5, 2019, 08:35pm
News of a teacher shortage across the nation has been pummeling us for years now, right up through a story yesterday in the Panama City News Herald about an “extreme” teacher shortage. Fewer students in teacher prep programs. Thousands of unfilled teacher vacancies in state after state. But we need to stop calling it a teacher shortage. You can’t solve a problem starting with the wrong diagnosis. If I can’t buy a Porsche for $1.98, that doesn’t mean there’s an automobile shortage. If I can’t get a fine dining meal for a buck, that doesn’t mean there’s a food shortage. And if appropriately skilled humans don’t want to work for me under the conditions I’ve set, that doesn’t mean there’s a human shortage. Calling the situation a “teacher shortage” suggests something like a crop failure or a hijacker grabbing truckloads before they can get to market. It suggests that there simply aren’t enough people out there who could do the job.

Republican politicians, states join NRA in backing gun-maker in Sandy Hook case
Ten states and nearly two dozen members of Congress filed briefs in support of Remington, maker of the AR-15 used by the Newtown shooter.
NBC News By Associated Press Sept. 5, 2019, 3:04 PM EDT
HARTFORD, Conn. — Ten states and nearly two dozen members of Congress are joining the National Rifle Association in supporting gun-maker Remington Arms as it fights a Connecticut court ruling involving liability for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Officials in the 10 conservative states, 22 House Republicans and the NRA are among groups that filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday and Wednesday. They urged justices to overturn the Connecticut decision, citing a much-debated 2005 federal law that shields gun makers from liability, in most cases, when their products are used in crimes. Remington, based in Madison, North Carolina, made the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle used to kill 20 first graders and six educators at the Newtown, Connecticut, school on Dec. 14, 2012. A survivor and relatives of nine victims of the massacre filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Remington in 2015, saying the company should have never sold such a dangerous weapon to the public and alleging it targeted younger, at-risk males in its marketing and through product placement in violent video games. Citing one of the few exemptions in the 2005 federal law, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in March that Remington could be sued under state law over how it marketed the rifle. The decision overturned a ruling by a state trial court judge who dismissed the lawsuit based on the federal law, named the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

Adolescent Health and School Start Times:  Science, Strategies, Tactics, & Logistics  Workshop Nov 13, Exton
Join school administrators and staff, including superintendents, transportation directors, principals, athletic directors, teachers, counselors, nurses, and school board members, parents, guardians, health professionals and other concerned community members for an interactive and solutions-oriented workshop on  Wednesday, November 13, 2019 9:30 am to 3:00 pm 
Clarion Hotel in Exton, PA
The science is clear. Many middle and high school days in Pennsylvania, and across the nation, start too early in the morning. The American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, and many other major health and education leaders agree and have issued policy statements recommending that secondary schools start no earlier than 8:30 am to allow for sleep, health, and learning. Implementing these recommendations, however, can seem daunting.  Discussions will include the science of sleep and its connection to school start times, as well as proven strategies for successfully making change--how to generate optimum community support and work through implementation challenges such as bus routes, athletics, and more.   Register for the workshop here: Thanks to our generous sponsors, we are able to offer early bird registration for $25, which includes a box-lunch and coffee service. Seating is limited and early bird registration ends on Friday, September 13.
For more information visit the workshop website  or email

EPLC/DCIU 2019 Regional Training Workshop for PA School Board Candidates Sept. 14th
The Pennsylvania Education Policy and Leadership Center will conduct a regional Full Day Workshop for 2019 Pennsylvania School Board Candidates at the DCIU on September 14, 2019.
Target Audience: School Board Directors and Candidates, Community Members, School Administrators
Description: Full Day Workshop for 2019 Pennsylvania School Board Candidates. Incumbents, non-incumbents, campaign supporters and all interested voters are invited to participate in this workshop. The workshop will include Legal and Leadership Roles of School Directors and School Boards; State and Federal Policies: Implications for School Boards; School District Finances and Budgeting; Candidates and the Law; Information Resources; "State and Federal Policies" section includes, but is not limited to: K-12 Governance; PA Standards, Student Assessment, and Accountability; Curriculum and Graduation Requirements; K-12 State Funding; Early Education; Student Choices (Non-Public, Home Schooling, Charter Schools, Career-Technical, and more); Teacher Issues; Linking K-12 to Workforce and Post-Secondary Education; Linking K-12 to Community Partners
***Fee: $75.00. Payment by Credit Card Only, Visa or Mastercard, PLEASE DO NOT SELECT ANY OTHER PAYMENT TYPE*** Registration ends 9/7/2019

“Each member entity will have one vote for each officer. This will require boards of the various school entities to come to a consensus on each candidate and cast their vote electronically during the open voting period (Aug. 23 – Oct. 11, 2019).”
PSBA Officer Elections: Slate of Candidates
PSBA members seeking election to office for the association were required to submit a nomination form no later than June 1, 2019, to be considered. All candidates who properly completed applications by the deadline are included on the slate of candidates below. In addition, the Leadership Development Committee met on June 15th at PSBA headquarters in Mechanicsburg to interview candidates. According to bylaws, the Leadership Development Committee may determine candidates highly qualified for the office they seek. This is noted next to each person’s name with an asterisk (*).

In November, many boards will be preparing to welcome new directors to their governance Team of Ten. This event will help attendees create a full year on-boarding schedule based on best practices and thoughtful prioritization. Register now:
PSBA: Start Strong: Developing a District On-Boarding Plan for New Directors
SEP 11, 2019 • 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM
In November, many boards will be faced with a significant transition as they prepare to welcome new directors to their governance Team of Ten. This single-day program facilitated by PSBA trainers and an experienced PA board president will guide attendees to creating a strong, full year on-boarding schedule based on best practices and thoughtful prioritization. Grounded in PSBA’s Principles for Governance and Leadership, attendees will hear best practices from their colleagues and leave with a full year’s schedule, a jump drive of resources, ideas for effective local training, and a plan to start strong.
Register online at MyPSBA: and click on “MyPSBA” in the upper right corner.

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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