Wednesday, October 2, 2019

PA Ed Policy Roundup for October 2, 2019: Pa. Gov. Wolf pushes his charter school reform plan, announces forthcoming closure of a cyber charter school

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for October 2, 2019

What: Informal discussion on cyber charter schools
When: 9 a.m. refreshments, 9:30 a.m. panel, Oct. 7
Where: Central PA 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 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.

Pa. Gov. Wolf pushes his charter school reform plan, announces forthcoming closure of a cyber charter school
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | October 1, 2019
Pennsylvania’s lowest performing cyber charter school will shut down by the end of this year as part of an agreement it reached with the state Department of Education. Gov. Tom Wolf made that announcement about the impending closure of the Philadelphia-based Achieving Community Transformation Academy Charter School on Tuesday at a news conference in Altoona where he discussed his plan to revamp Pennsylvania’s 22-year-old charter school law. “Pennsylvania’s charter school law is the worst in the nation and is failing students, teachers, school districts and taxpayers,” Wolf said in a news release. “There are high-quality charter schools, but some of them, especially some cyber charter schools, are underperforming. We must ensure that charter school students are getting a quality education they need and that charter schools are accountable to parents and taxpayers.” The ACT Academy Charter School, one of 15 cyber charter schools in the state, enrolled 104 ninth- through 12th-grade students last school year, according to information on the education department’s website. Its most recently released state test scores were dismal with just 13.6% of its students at grade-level in English language arts/literature; 4.6% in mathematics/Algebra; and 4.6% in science/biology.

Gov. Wolf Stresses Need for Stronger Charter School Accountability
Governor Wolf’s Website October 01, 2019
Logan Township, PA – Governor Tom Wolf visited Logan Elementary School in the Altoona Area School District today to discuss his three-part plan to fix Pennsylvania’s outdated and flawed charter school law. The governor also announced the Department of Education has reached an agreement with Achieving Community Transformation Academy, the state’s lowest performing cyber charter school, for it to close by the end of December. “Pennsylvania’s charter school law is the worst in the nation and is failing students, teachers, school districts and taxpayers,” said Gov. Wolf. “There are high-quality charter schools, but some of them, especially some cyber charter schools, are underperforming. We must ensure that charter school students are getting a quality education they need and that charter schools are accountable to parents and taxpayers.” The annual cost of charter schools has skyrocketed to $1.8 billion, but the schools have little public oversight and no publicly elected school board. Adding to the limited accountability, for-profit companies that manage many charter schools are not required to have independent financial audits. The lack of accountability combined with rising costs is draining funding from traditional public schools and forcing school districts to raise property taxes.

Wolf visiting Logan school
Governor to discuss charter reform with area stakeholders
Altoona Mirror by RUSS O'REILLY Staff Writer OCT 1, 2019
Gov. Tom Wolf is meeting today with area school superintendents and stakeholders to discuss his plan for charter school reform. Wolf touts his plan as one that will strengthen charter school accountability, protect taxpayers and ensure students get the education and skills they need to succeed. “Pennsylvania’s flawed and outdated charter school law is one of the worst in the nation,” a Wolf press release read. In another statement Wolf said: “Pennsylvania’s charter school law is unfair for students, parents, school districts and taxpayers. While many charter schools are succeeding, others, especially some cyber charter schools, are underperforming, and we are not doing enough to hold them accountable to the taxpaying public and the children they serve.”
Altoona Area Superintendent Charles Prijatelj welcomes the governor’s visit today at 1:30 p.m. at Logan Elementary School. In the Altoona Area School District alone, there were 253 students who opted for cyber charter schools last year instead of Altoona Area education.
“I’m glad the governor is taking these issues with charters and cyber charters very seriously,” Prijatelj said.

Gov. Wolf proposes changes to charter school laws, local educators share ideas
WTAJ by: Colleen Knudsen Posted: Oct 1, 2019 / 06:47 PM EDT / Updated: Oct 1, 2019 / 06:47 PM EDT
LOGAN TOWNSHIP, BLAIR COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — State leaders say Pennsylvania has one of the worst and most outdated charter school laws in the country. Governor Wolf stopped by Logan Elementary School in Blair County on Tuesday to discuss plans to hold these schools accountable. The governor said he’s relying on educators from across to commonwealth to speak up about their issues and experiences with these charter schools. His three-part plan to fix the flawed charter laws includes executive action, overhauling regulations and proposing new laws to reform the current charter school legislation. More than a dozen area superintendents attended the governor’s meeting. Accountability and transparency were the two words were on repeat during the governor’s visit. Now, local superintendents say it’s time for both of those to become requirements for charter schools across the Commonwealth. Amy Arcurio from the Greater Johnstown School District said working together and creating resources for all students is just part of what needs to be done to fix the issues regarding charter schools. “We believe that families should have choices; however, we believe that accountability and transparency of cyber schools and charter school are just as important as they are for traditional school districts, like Greater Johnstown,” she said.

Pa. House Speaker touts Betsy DeVos’ tax credit plan for private-school scholarship donations
Inquirer by Maddie Hanna, October 1, 2019
House Speaker Mike Turzai promoted Pennsylvania’s school-choice programs at a conservative think tank in Washington Tuesday, describing the state’s tax credits for private-school scholarships as a model that should be replicated nationally. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposal to create a $5 billion federal tax credit for donations for students to attend private schools mirrors programs in Pennsylvania and other states, Turzai (R., Allegheny) said during a panel discussion on DeVos’ proposal at the American Enterprise Institute. Critics see Pennsylvania’s programs — which provide tax credits to businesses in exchange for donating to scholarships for students to attend private schools — as drains on the state budget, that aren’t necessarily targeting poor students. But Turzai praised them as a success that bolstered DeVos’ proposal, which the secretary addressed at the think tank Tuesday.

‘Trapped’ on the Main Line: Expensive private schools benefit from Pa. tax credits but report zero low-income students
WHYY By Avi Wolfman-Arent June 26, 2019
The Shipley School, in Bryn Mawr benefitted from more than $500,000 in OSTC and EITC scholarship funds in 2017-18. It reported serving zero low-income students that year.
Any debate over the tax-credit programs that subsidize private-school education in Pennsylvania could begin here: There is very little public data on the students who benefit. Backers often say that scholarship money raised through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) goes to poor families who’d be “trapped” in “failing” public schools if they didn’t have tuition assistance. Skeptics paint another picture. Because the scholarship programs have income limits nearly twice the state median, they say the state is forgoing tax revenue in order to fund private schools for families who have other quality options. Based on an analysis of right-to-know records and other state data, Keystone Crossroads found muddled evidence to support both claims. The analysis comes with caveats and strong indications that private schools and scholarship organizations regularly report incomplete or incorrect information. We looked at 151 schools that administer their own tax credit scholarship programs, and then examined demographic data those same schools report separately to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Of those schools, 57 — more than a third — report enrolling zero low-income students or said they couldn’t determine how many low-income students they have. Another 15 schools told the state that less than five percent of their student body was low-income.  Many of these schools are located in the state’s wealthiest suburbs, where students have access to some of Pennsylvania’s highest-rated public schools.

“Money diverted to tax credit programs never enters the state's general fund and is therefore not available to be allocated to basic education funding to help fund the formula serving our 1.7 million public school students. There are virtually no public fiscal or student performance reporting requirements for these tax credit programs.”
Reprise June 2018: Why have Republicans in the Legislature declared war on public education? | Opinion
Penn Live  Guest Editorial By Lawrence A. Feinberg Updated Jan 30, 2019; Posted Jun 05, 2018
Almost two years ago, the Pennsylvania General Assembly overwhelmingly enacted legislation establishing a new basic education funding formula to serve the students of our state. But because the formula only applies to new money, two years have gone by with little actual impact upon students in our most underfunded districts. Only about 7 percent of basic education funding was distributed through the new formula this year.
Equity First, a group raising awareness of school funding issues in Pennsylvania, looked at what districts would receive if the formulas for basic and special education were applied to all funding proposed for next year. The organization found that the top five underfunded school districts are:
  • York City School District, underfunded by $6,565 per student
  • Reading School District, underfunded by $6,520 per student
  • Harrisburg City School District, underfunded by $5,225 per student
  • Wilkes-Barre Area School District, underfunded by $4,468 per student
  • Pottstown School District, underfunded by $4,214 per student
If past years' funding increases are any indication, it is estimated that it may take another 20 years for students in districts like those to receive the funding they deserve.

State sets school district tax increase limits for 2020-21
School districts will be allowed to raise real estate taxes at a higher rate for the 2020-21 school year. The Pennsylvania Department of Education Monday released the Act 1 indices for approximately 500 districts to tell them how high they may raise real estate taxes in the 2019-20 school year. The Act 1 index is used to determine the maximum tax increase percentage a district can levy before going to a ballot referendum or filing a referendum exception with PDE. Seven districts in the county will be held at the Act 1 base level of 2.6 percent, which increases .3 percentage points from the current school year rate: Garnet Valley; Haverford; Marple Newtown; Radnor; Rose Tree Media; Springfield; and Wallingford-Swarthmore. The eight other districts saw their respective indices increase at least .4 points which is more than the year-to-year increase for the base index: Chester Upland, 3.7 to 4.1; Chichester, 3.1 to 3.5; Interboro, 3.1 to 3.5; Penn-Delco, 2.8 to 3.2; Ridley, 3 to 3.4; Southeast Delco, 3.4 to 3.9; Upper Darby, 3.3 to 3.8; and William Penn, 3.4 to 3.8.

Wolf expected to sign bill that could help Stevens, other schools combat skills gap
Lancaster Online by ALEX GELI | Staff Writer October 2, 2019
Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign a bill that advocates say may help diminish the skills gap in Pennsylvania by boosting resources and awareness for career and technical education. “With the governor in agreement that workforce development needs to be a priority in Pennsylvania,” state Rep. Mindy Fee, R-Manheim, said, “we are in a great position to make real strides in setting up today’s students for in-demand jobs with good pay and longevity.” Fee is one of 36 cosponsors supporting the legislation, which, as originally written, would expand a public database run by the state Department of Education that displays which courses and programs can transfer among public schools and colleges. Language from a handful of other bills has been added since it was introduced in January by state Rep. Craig Staats, R-Bucks County. The legislation, House Bill 265, would create an online career resource center where students, parents and school officials can research career pathways as well as employment and compensation data; allow career and technical education programs to establish occupational advisory committees at the local intermediate unit level; incentivize workforce development partnerships by offering grants from the Department of Labor and Industry; and change references to “vocational-technical schools” in the school code to “career and technical schools.”

EDITORIAL: Unified sports movement an idea that needs to flourish throughout York County
York Dispatch Editorial Published 4:38 a.m. ET Oct. 2, 2019
  • Unified sports teams include special needs and general population students.
  • There are currently five school districts in York County with unified teams.
  • Unified teams first emerged internationally in the mid-1980s.
Occasionally, an idea comes along and you say to yourself: “Why didn’t someone think about this years ago?” Well, when it comes to the unified sports movement, the idea did, in fact, blossom decades ago. In York County, however, the movement has only recently started to gain a foothold. Now we can only hope that it will flourish to every school district in the county and the state. It’s a concept that simply has no downside.
The program: Unified sports teams feature high school students with intellectual disabilities competing alongside their general education peers in a special league. The goal of unified teams is to have a 50-50 split between students with and without intellectual disabilities.

City Council members want the Philadelphia School District to release hidden attendance data
Inquirer by Jessica Calefati and Kristen A. Graham,October 2, 2019
Days after The Inquirer exposed dire truancy problems at a North Philadelphia high school, at least four City Council members are urging Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. to release classroom attendance data that would show an accurate picture of absenteeism for all schools. The data the district currently shares with the public makes it appear that a growing number of students are attending school — the first step toward improved academic achievement. But those figures don’t always reflect time students spend learning in classrooms. Records the newspaper obtained for nearly two dozen Thomas A. Edison High School students show they were routinely marked present last school year after they swiped in with their school-issued identification cards at the beginning of the school day — even if they later cut classes, left campus, or walked the halls all day. The records show one senior was marked present more than 90% of the time despite going to class only 50% of the time. And a freshman who swiped in nearly 100 days stayed for the full school day only 12 times. Asked about those disparities, chief schools officer Shawn Bird said Edison’s classroom-level attendance data could be inaccurate because teachers have been taking roll improperly and need more training on how to use the district’s software.

“Guardians are volunteers who must pass psychological and drug screening, and complete at least 144 hours of training. The volunteers receive a stipend of $500 for participating. The program was named after Aaron Feis, a football coach who shielded students in Parkland before he was killed.”
Florida Teachers Can Now Carry Guns at School
A hotly debated law passed in May that would allow some teachers to carry firearms in the classroom takes effect Tuesday.
New York Times By Laura M. Holson Oct. 1, 2019
Some Florida teachers will be able to carry firearms in the classroom starting Tuesday, the result of a hotly debated law that was approved by the Florida Legislature in May. The law, which gives school districts the option to arm teachers, as well as security guards, was passed in response to the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 people dead. Teachers will be allowed to carry guns via the Guardian Program, which was created in the wake of the shooting. Currently 39 counties participate in the program, according to the Florida Department of Education. But not all school districts agree that teachers should be armed. According to The Miami Herald in September, only 11 school districts had sought to arm teachers through the program. Florida also does not track how many of its teachers are carrying weapons, The Herald said. The program was established in 2018 as part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, a Florida bill passed to address gun violence on school campuses. Then, it was the recommendation of legislators that certain employees be allowed to carry guns on campus so they could immediately respond to a school shooting. Educators who served solely as teachers were excluded.

Where Presidential Candidates Stand on Education: Your New Guide to 2020
Education Week By Andrew Ujifusa on September 29, 2019 9:01 AM
Education has played an unpredictable but sometimes dynamic role in the 2020 presidential campaign. We've seen impassioned exchanges about school segregation create a big early moment for two leading Democrats. Charter schools have proven a relatively complex and sometimes tricky issue for candidates, although whether a recent turn in the spotlight for charters helped the public's understanding is up for debate. And of course, President Donald Trump, his education record, and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are subjects for debate. It can be hard to keep track of it all and keep what you know in one place. But we're here to help.   We just published "Education in the 2020 Presidential Race." It's our new interactive tool that we hope will help you get and stay informed about what candidates have said and done on key education issues. You can learn what candidates stand on topics such as education civil rights, school safety, and how much public funding schools receive.

Trump administration sides with Catholic school that fired gay teacher
Washington Post By  Valerie Strauss  Oct. 1, 2019 at 7:52 p.m. EDT
The Trump administration is backing a Roman Catholic archbishop in Indiana who pushed a Catholic school to fire a gay teacher, saying in a legal document that the First Amendment protects the church’s right to make such decisions. The Justice Department submitted a “statement of interest” on the side of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in a lawsuit filed by the teacher, Joshua Payne-Elliott, who was fired in June from Cathedral High School, where he had taught social studies and world language. In 2017, Payne-Elliott married a male teacher at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. The archdiocese told both schools they no longer would be considered Catholic if they did not fire the teachers. Brebeuf refused to dismiss Payne-Elliott’s husband, who was not named, and Archbishop Charles C. Thompson issued a decree in June saying the school would no longer be recognized as Catholic. Cathedral, apparently to avoid the same fate, fired Payne-Elliott after trying to protect him for nearly two years.

“DeVos’ security detail is highly unusual — the past four Education secretaries have been protected by the Education Department’s own small security force. Her security detail was initially ordered by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”
DeVos' security detail cost $6.24M during the past year
Politico By NICOLE GAUDIANO and CAITLIN EMMA 10/01/2019 04:26 PM EDT
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ security detail is projected to cost $7.87 million from now through the end of September 2020, a spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals Service told POLITICO today. The Marshals Service said the final cost of protecting DeVos in fiscal 2019, which ended Monday, was $6.24 million. That’s down from $6.79 million in fiscal 2018 and less than the service’s projection last year — $7.74 million — for fiscal 2019. The service did not disclose why the secretary's protection is expected to cost more in the upcoming year. The U.S. Marshals Service, which began providing a protection detail for DeVos in February 2017, “regularly conducts threat assessments on Ms. DeVos to determine threats to the secretary’s safety,” according to an official statement.

Betsy DeVos calls $5 billion school tax credit plan ‘the conservative answer to what ails American education’ -- and says, incorrectly, that it won’t cost the government money
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway participated in same event.
Washington Post By  Valerie Strauss  Oct. 1, 2019 at 7:36 p.m. EDT
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, appearing Tuesday at a D.C. think tank with presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway, called her $5 billion federal tax credit plan that would fund scholarships to private and religious schools “the conservative answer to what ails American education.” And she said, incorrectly, that it won’t cost the government any money to implement. DeVos and Conway appeared at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (see video below) for a discussion about the Trump administration’s Education Freedom Scholarships proposal. The scholarships would be funded by individuals and businesses who want to privately donate but who would then receive a federal tax credit for doing so. President Trump’s 2020 budget plan includes $5 billion to pay for those tax credits, on a dollar-for-dollar basis: A dollar for a scholarship gets you a $1 tax credit. (The president’s budget proposal also would cut Education Department spending by nearly $9 billion. Congress is not expected to approve the tax credit program or the budget cuts.)

“There's plenty of evidence that Education Freedom Scholarships are going to fall short on Capitol Hill (although never say never). Yet DeVos would also be pleased if, as a result of her energetic campaign for the scholarships and greater education choice in general, state leaders were ultimately motivated to expand charter schools, vouchers, education savings accounts, and other forms of K-12 choice. “
Is Trump's Team Pessimistic About Its Big Education Plan's Chances? This Could Be Why
Education Week By Andrew Ujifusa on October 1, 2019 1:29 PM
UPDATED - On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway made the case for the Trump administration's Education Freedom Scholarships proposal in a joint public appearance at the American Enterprise Institute. Yet DeVos and Conway didn't sound particularly sanguine about the odds that the proposal—which would create federal tax credits for state-selected scholarship-granting organizations to support a variety of educational services—would actually pass Congress. Discussing the $5 billion plan's status on Capitol Hill, they criticized Congress for not taking up the idea. But they stopped short of claiming that there's significant positive momentum for it, or showing much if any hope that the proposal will pass. "You may want to ask them," Conway said in a response to a question from the American Enterprise Institute's Rick Hess about what it would take for Congress to give the proposal the green light. "They don't seem to be here very often. And when they are, they're focused on other things." She also said Democrats' opposition to the tax credits "hypocritical" and "somewhat maddening." And DeVos said lawmakers should ask themselves why they oppose greater educational freedom, although she admitted that there is "a great resistance" to this. 

Register now for PSBA’s Sleep & Student Performance Webcast OCT 31, 2019 • 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
Our students face many issues today, but who would have imagined sleep deprivation could be a significant issue? The Joint State Government Commission established an advisory committee to study the issues, benefits and options related to school districts instituting later start times in secondary schools. Register now to hear from the executive director of the Commission, Glenn Pasewicz, commission staff and David Hutchinson, PSBA’s appointee to the commission, on the results of their study and work.

According to state law, all school directors must complete training. How many hours are required if you are a new school director? What about if you’re re-elected? Get the answers to these and other related questions in this episode of PSBA’s #VideoEDition

Information about the education sessions for the 2019 @PasaSupts @PSBA School Leadership Conference are now live on our website! We hope to see you there! #PASLC2019

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 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.

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

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!

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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