Thursday, October 3, 2019

PA Ed Policy Roundup for October 3, 2019 2008-09 to 2017-18 Special Education Funding by PA School District

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for October 3, 2019

What: AAUW 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

Governor advocates for cyber charter oversight
Special to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette RUSS O'REILLY OCT 3, 2019
ALTOONA — Gov. Tom Wolf touted charter school reform and announced the closure of the state’s lowest performing cyber charter school during a visit to Altoona on Tuesday. Superintendents from Blair, Cambria and Centre counties filled the library at Altoona Area’s Logan Elementary for Wolf’s visit. Through executive action as well as encouraging legislative action, Wolf said he intends to reform charter schools. He spoke in general of making charter schools more accountable and transparent. “The idea is to make sure we create a level playing field for traditional schools and charter schools,” he said. “I want to make sure underperforming charter schools are held accountable.” Wolf said that charter schools — including cyber charters — compose 6 percent of public schools in the state. They also represent 25 percent of the state’s worst performing schools, he said. Wolf said Achieving Community Transformation Academy, which ranks at the bottom, is set to close by the end of December. “Keep in mind we are talking about taxpayer-funded schools,” Wolf said.  The annual cost of charter schools has risen to $1.8 billion. Several superintendents including Altoona Area’s Charles Prijatelj, Greater Johnstown’s Amy Arcurio and Penns Valley’s Brian Griffith informed Wolf about how millions of their districts’ taxpayer dollars, which could be used for hiring teachers and reducing class sizes, are instead paid to cyber charter schools.

Pennsylvania Governor Closes Cyber Charter School
Gov. Tom Wolf made that announcement about the impending closure of the Philadelphia-based charter school at a news conference where he discussed his plan to revamp Pennsylvania’s 22-year-old charter school law.
Center for Digital Education BY JAN MURPHY, THE PATRIOT-NEWS / OCTOBER 2, 2019
 (TNS) — 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
LOGAN TOWNSHIP, PA — Governor Tom Wolf visited Logan Elementary School in the Altoona Area School District recently to discuss his three-part plan to change Pennsylvania’s 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 grown to $1.8 billion, with little public oversight and no publicly elected school board. Adding to the perceived 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 funded through traditional public schools using property taxes. “My commonsense plan preserves school choice while holding charters to the same standards as traditional neighborhood public schools, protects taxpayers, and strengthens education,” said Gov. Wolf. “We must ensure that all students get the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life. It’s important to the future of all children and their communities.”

Report: Special education costs are ballooning, as state funding lags behind
Philly Trib by Elizabeth Hardison October 2, 2019
On the same day that Pennsylvania’s Special Education Funding Commission held its first on-the-road hearing in western Pennsylvania, a leading education advocacy group called on the state to increase the amount of funding available to districts for students with disabilities. State aid to school districts has failed to keep pace with rising costs of special education, where expenditures have ballooned by a whopping 58 percent over the past decade, according to  a report issued Tuesday by the Philadelphia-based Education Law Center. The stagnant support from the state has forced school districts to shoulder an ever-increasing share of special education costs, the report states. “Pennsylvania’s chronic underfunding of special education cannot be resolved solely through the work of the legislature’s Special Education Funding Commission,” the report reads. “The General Assembly must make an increased state investment. Without prompt and comprehensive state action, issues of inadequacy and inequity will deepen for students with disabilities across the Commonwealth.” As an example of that gap, the report’s authors pointed to the Moon Area School District, where the commission held its first public hearing on Tuesday. It held another hearing Wednesday in Erie County. Special education spending in Moon Area, a suburban Pittsburgh school system, grew by $4.9 million between 2008 and 2018, according to the Education Law Center’s analysis of state data. At the same time, the district’s state aid grew by just $118,000.

Still Shortchanging Children with Disabilities: State Underfunding of Special Education Continues
October 2019 Education Law Center | | | @edlawcenterpa
In a report issued last fall, “Shortchanging Children with Disabilities,” we warned that over an eightyear period, Pennsylvania’s financial support for special education had failed to keep pace with local needs. New data show that trend has continued. Between 2008 and 2018, Pennsylvania increased state special education funding by $95 million, or about 10%. Yet during that time, total special education costs to local school districts increased by $1.7 billion ‒ or 58%. This growing reliance on local funding to provide needed services for students with disabilities is unsustainable. In the last decade, local districts have taken on more and more financial responsibility to cover increased costs as Pennsylvania’s share of special education funding declined: • Between 2008–09 and 2017-18, local districts’ share of special education costs grew from 62% to 72%. • In the same period, the share of costs covered by state special education funding fell from 32% to 22%.

Changes in special education expenditures and revenues for all 500 Pennsylvania districts are provided in the spreadsheet found at:

Educators Say Special Education Funding Formula Is Better, But They Need More Money
WESA By SARAH SCHNEIDER  October 2, 2019
Educators and advocates told lawmakers Tuesday that the cost of special education services continues to outpace the funding districts receive from the state. “Clearly as cost grows faster than state funding, we are shifting more of the burden for special education to local taxpayers,” Jay Himes, with the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, told lawmakers Tuesday. A newly-formed commission met Tuesday in Moon Township to solicit feedback on the Special Education Funding Formula that has been used for the last five years to distribute dollars to schools. Most who gave testimonies said that the formula is more equitable than former systems. It directs dollars to schools with the greatest need for resources based on the actual cost of services required for each child. A former commission made recommendations in 2013, some of which were enacted and took effect during the 2014-15 school year. Similar to the basic education funding formula, the special education formula is only applied to new funding approved by the legislature. Republican state Sen. Pat Browne, who chairs the commission, said his takeaway from the more than two hours of testimony was that the formula is working.

“The innovative new charter school will build upon the success of Midland’s groundbreaking public school developments, including the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School and Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, expanding upon Midland’s transformation from a decaying mill town to a place where education and the arts are spurring development and affecting positive change.”
Midland to get charter trades, technology high school
Beaver County Times By Scott Tady Posted Oct 2, 2019 at 9:38 AM
MIDLAND — A group of local educators and community leaders is building a public charter high school in Midland to prepare students for careers in trades and technology-based industries. “The Midland Innovation and Technology Charter School will be created around the concept of ‘authentic learning,’ an instructional approach that gives students opportunities to tackle real-world projects and courses of study that are personally relevant to them,” according to a Tuesday afternoon press announcement. While completing state requirements for a high school diploma, students in grades 9 to 12 will earn certifications, licensing and even associate degrees in areas of their choosing. They can graduate prepared to enter the workforce gainfully employed, or continue through postsecondary education or training. Areas of focus being developed include transportation and logistics, petrochemical trades, sustainable water, aviation technology (with an emphasis on unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones), coding, gaming, simulations, health care, safety engineering, and American enterprise and global studies. Other programs will be developed based on demand, in partnership with local, regional and national organizations. The school is targeting a fall 2020 launch of its first programs. One of the first flagship programs being designed for the school is the Cyril H. Wecht Academy of Forensic Science, named in honor of, and in partnership with, the renowned Pittsburgh forensic pathologist.

Pennsylvania lawmaker makes case for property tax elimination bill
Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Palmyra, answered calls from citizens this week about his proposal to eliminate school property taxes for Pennsylvanians, cautioning them that something needs to be done to prevent future problems with the commonwealth’s finances. Ryan’s bill would replace about $15.2 billion collected for school property taxes with new taxes that include:
• A personal income tax of 1.85 percent that would be paid to local school districts.
• A local tax of 2 percent that would be added to items currently subject to sales and use tax (SUT). These taxes would also go directly to the school district.
• A local sales tax of 2 percent added to food and clothing. The items would not be subject to the current SUT, and anyone receiving help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would not have food taxes.
• Retirement income would be taxed at 4.82 percent. The state would receive 3.07 percent of the tax, and local school districts would receive 1.85 percent. Social Security benefits would not be taxed.
Appearing on PCN’s Call-In Program, Ryan, a CPA by profession, said his bill would ease property tax burdens from seniors who fear losing their homes because they can’t pay their taxes and help the commonwealth with any future financial crisis due to a deficit in the state’s retirement and pension plan. The deficit is in the billions, according to a recent report from economic think tank Truth In Accounting. “If we have a massive recession, it could have a massive impact on the pensions,” Ryan said.

Pittsburgh Public Schools launches pilot program to diversify teacher workforce
MATT MCKINNEY Pittsburgh Post-Gazette OCT 2, 2019 8:51 PM
Pittsburgh Public Schools is launching a pilot program this school year that would enable classroom aides to become teachers and earn the required state certification, an initiative designed to narrow racial disparities between the district’s students and instructors. Under the Para2Teacher program, selected paraprofessionals will earn a two-year master’s degree in education online while continuing to work in the district. The first round of participants would enroll online at Phoenix, Ariz.-based Grand Canyon University. The private, Christian school with more than 85,000 students has faced some scrutiny in recent years, including a class-action lawsuit filed last month in Arizona that accused the university of a “bait-and-switch scheme,” forcing doctoral students to pay for extra classes they claimed had “no value.” In a letter to faculty last month, President Brian Mueller denied those claims.” According to PPS data, more than 80% of its teachers are white, demographics that do not reflect an enrollment that is more than two-thirds nonwhite. PPS officials said they hope the pilot program will narrow that divide by encouraging paraprofessionals — more than half of whom are nonwhite — to join the teaching ranks.

Department of Education to take input on career tech education
Trib Live by DEB ERDLEY   | Wednesday, October 2, 2019 1:52 p.m.
Pennsylvania Department of Education will take public input on its plans for career and technical education at Westmoreland County Community College on Oct. 17. The Pennsylvania Department of Education will take public input on its plans for career and technical education through 2024, at a series of hearings in Harrisburg, Youngwood and West Grove this month.  Department representatives will be on hand to take testimony from 1 to 4 p.m. on Thursday Oct. 17 in the Science Hall Theater at the Science Innovation Center at Westmoreland County Community College, 145 Pavilion Lane, Youngwood. Officials said those who wish to present testimony at WCCC should register and provide written comments at by Oct. 16 The plan will address the department’s regulations for program approval and accountability at high schools with career and technical education programs as well as post-secondary career schools, said Lee Burket, director of Pennsylvania Career and Technical Education. The state must file a plan in order to qualify for federal funds for career education under the Carl V. Perkins Act. People who do not register and provide written comment prior to the hearing may still have the opportunity to participate but must prepare and submit written comment the day of the hearing, she said. Hearings are scheduled in West Grove and Harrisburg on Oct. 15 and 16.

Asbestos concerns cancel classes for at least the rest of the week for Ben Franklin, SLA
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham and Wendy Ruderman, Updated: October 2, 2019- 5:36 PM
Students who attend Benjamin Franklin High School and Science Leadership Academy will not return to school Thursday as planned, as officials await the results of tests that will reveal whether dangerous asbestos fibers remain in the building’s air. Philadelphia School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. announced Wednesday evening that classes were canceled for at least Thursday and Friday. Students had already missed planned school days Tuesday and Wednesday because of damaged asbestos found in the building.  “We will come back and continue to do some testing and abatement, and then run some additional tests over the weekend to determine what happens next week,” Hite said, adding that the closure was happening out of “an abundance of caution.” Jerry Roseman, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ director of environmental science, said the teachers’ union will insist that no staffer or student return to the building until all damaged asbestos is abated and removed — a process he said would likely take two to three weeks.

Steel Valley closes its 4 schools due to bedbugs
The Steel Valley School District has closed all of its schools after bedbugs were discovered at its middle and high schools in the past week. The district announced Tuesday that its four schools would be closed Wednesday “in order to treat and clean all of our buildings after our recent cases of bedbugs,” officials said in a statement to parents. The district said the middle and high schools were treated by exterminators on Tuesday but because students at those schools have siblings who attend the elementary schools, administrators decided to treat Park Elementary in Munhall and Barrett Elementary in Homestead as well. Bedbugs were found Monday in a high school classroom and on Tuesday on a middle school student’s backpack, according to Superintendent Edward Wehrer.

Stop-arm cameras on school buses paying dividends in Unionville
Pottstown Mercury by Fran Maye Oct 2, 2019
EAST MARLBOROUGH— Earlier this year, Unionville-Chadds Ford school directors authorized $55,000 in funding to equip stop-arm cameras on some of the district’s 45 school buses. A few weeks into the school year, it appears that investment is beginning to pay dividends. “I have been getting two to three (infractions) a week,” said Marco Sordi, transportation director at Unionville-Chadds Ford School District. “And multiply that by the buses that don’t have them, and I can only imagine how often this problem happens.” Sordi said the stop-arm cameras are a trial for the school district, and he doesn’t know of any other school district in the county that employs them. Earlier this year, school directors were alerted to the problem of vehicles passing stopped school buses loading and unloading children by school bus drivers. According to a 2018 survey by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, more than 20 percent of school bus drivers in 38 states, plus the District of Columbia, found that nearly 83,944 vehicles passed 108,623 buses illegally on a single day last school year. That number increased from just over 78,000 vehicles in 2017 and over 74,000 in 2016.

The 14,752nd Real Promise Of School Choice
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Wednesday, October 2, 2019
AEI hosted a pep rally for the DeVos $5 million scholarship tax credit, and afterwards, Rick Hess put up the latest entry in AEI's 60 second that "reminds" us of the "real promise" of charters and
Thank you to @BetsyDeVosED, @KellyannePolls, and state decision makers for a great conversation about Education Freedom Scholarships today! In any discussion about school choice, it's important to remember its *real* promise. @rickhess99 explains #In60Seconds
Yes, apparently the real promise of choice is that it will empower educators to start up schools where they can do their thing. This has to be the six gazillionth tweaking of the charter argument, and one of the least convincing to date. After all, the argument for the longest time was that choice was necessary to rescue students from failing public schools and the failing teachers who failed there. Hess says that the real promise of choice is not higher math and reading scores, but  of course that was exactly the promise of school choice; if it was not a real promise it was certainly a marketing promise. These score-raising  charters would be staffed by Teach For America folks, or other alternative path folks, because public school teachers were not desirable. One selling point for many charters has been that they are teacher-proof-- the charter system's program is set in cement, sometimes scripted, sometimes enshrined in computer software so that the teacher is just a coach.

Paul Muschick: Trust me - ‘In God We Trust’ would just create headaches for schools
Opinion By PAUL MUSCHICK THE MORNING CALL | OCT 02, 2019 | 8:00 AM
Absurdness abounds in the Pennsylvania Capitol. A particularly egregious example happened last week. Republican representatives endorsed a bill that would allow public schools to display the national motto, “In God We Trust.” Their action wasn’t absurd just because it was a blatant example of government endorsing religion. It was absurd because there’s nothing stopping schools from displaying the motto now. It’s perfectly legal. The legislation is unnecessary. Yet the House State Government Committee spent a half hour rehashing the old debate about separation of church and state and how it applies to House Bill 1602, by Rep. Cris Dush. Legislators spun their wheels on this issue previously, too. In 2016, the full House approved a similar bill before the Senate stalled it.

Success Starts Here POSTED ON SEP 25, 2019
At Elizabethtown Area SD, savings and environmental health go hand in hand. The district has installed a solar field under the PA Act 163 Guaranteed Energy Savings Act and updated critical infrastructure. The total project was developed in partnership with the McClure Company and will save the district $6 million in energy savings over the next 20 years. The solar field alone will provide a guaranteed savings of $2 million over the next 20 years. The field consists of 2,000 panels and produces enough energy to power 59 homes. It has a life expectancy of 40 years.

Betsy DeVos Enlists Help Of Kellyanne Conway And American Enterprise Institute To Sell $5 Billion School Choice Program
Forbes by Peter Greene Senior Contributor Oct 2, 2019, 03:16pm
On Tuesday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway sat down with Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute to make one more pitch for DeVos’s Education Freedom Scholarships. The program seems unlikely to succeed on the federal level.
What Is She Selling? The EFS are what’s known as a tax credit scholarship. Several states have them, and they work like this: a donor gives money to a scholarship organization, then that program issues a scholarship for a student to attend a school, while the government credits some portion of the donation against the donor’s tax bill. In the case of DeVos’s program, the amount would be 100%. If I donate $100,000 to a scholarship organization, I pay $100,000 less in federal taxes. What Are The Problems With Her Program? DeVos has been plugging the program with variations of the following quote from Tuesday’s discussion:  “Our Education Freedom Scholarships proposal…doesn’t grow the government bureaucracy one tiny bit…It doesn’t impose any new requirements on states or on families. It doesn’t take a single dollar from public school students, and it doesn’t spend a single dollar of government money. And it doesn’t entangle schools with federal strings or stifling red tape. In fact, it can’t. And that’s by design.”

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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