Thursday, January 23, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for Jan. 23, 2020: Speculation grows about Mike Turzai’s future as Pennsylvania House speaker

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for Jan. 23, 2020

“The deadline for a decision is approaching. Tuesday is the first day that candidates can circulate petitions to get on the April 28 primary ballot. Feb. 18 is the deadline to file the petitions.”
Speculation grows about Mike Turzai’s future as Pennsylvania House speaker
Inquirer by Marc Levy, Associated Press, Updated: January 22, 2020- 5:27 PM
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, the most prominent fiscal and social conservative in state government, will hold a news conference Thursday amid speculation in the Capitol this week that he will leave the powerful office after five years. Turzai, a Republican, had repeatedly declined to comment this week on questions about his future, and rank-and-file House Republicans say they have no information from Turzai about what he will announce. The House Republican caucus issued a news release Wednesday afternoon announcing the news conference in Turzai's suburban Pittsburgh district, just after he ended the day's uneventful voting session. Three people who say they have spoken with Turzai in recent days, however, say he is expected to announce that he is leaving office or not running again for his House seat, with a private-sector job offer waiting in the wings.  The three people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations with Turzai, 60, who has served in the House since 2001 and rose to become speaker in 2015 after four years as majority leader.
The company said to be making the offer, Bryn Mawr-based water utility Aqua America Inc., which is closing on its $4.3 billion purchase of Pittsburgh-based natural gas utility Peoples on Feb. 3, declined comment Wednesday through a spokesman.

Rumors swirl around Capitol as GOP House Speaker schedules announcement
Lawmakers are speculating that Allegheny County Rep. Mike Turzai plans to leave office.
WITF by Katie Meyer JANUARY 22, 2020 | 7:16 PM
(Harrisburg) – State House Speaker Mike Tuzai has scheduled a press conference for Thursday morning, amid rumors that he plans to resign. Turzai’s office did not provide details on what the top House Republican will discuss Thursday, and the speaker declined repeated requests for comments about his plans. But lawmakers, lobbyists and staffers in the state Capitol say they’ve heard credible rumors he is stepping down. Rank-and-file House Republicans said Turzai hasn’t shared his plans with the caucus, and multiple members of the chamber’s GOP leadership team confirmed that the speaker has been tight-lipped with them, too. Democrats said they are in the same boat. But all said they have heard a similar theory — that Turzai may announce his departure from the House, where he has served since 2001.

14 and counting: Here’s our map tracking 2020’s Pa. legislative retirements
PA Capital Star By  John L. Micek January 22, 2020
On Tuesday, state Rep. Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill, became the 14th member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and the 10th Republican lawmaker, to announce that he’d decided against seeking re-election in November. Since this flurry of retirement announcements began last year, the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso has been mapping the districts of lawmakers who have decided that another two-year term in the 203-member chamber just isn’t for them. The map will be continuously updated as these announcements come over the transom.

“Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Mike Turzai of Allegheny County, have pushed for the growth of the tax-credit programs — the larger of which grants $135 million a year in K-12 scholarships — citing unmet demand from families and donors. Gov. Tom Wolf last year vetoed an expansion of one of the programs, saying the measure didn’t provide enough accountability for tax dollars. He ultimately agreed to a smaller increase in the budget.”
U.S. Supreme Court hears landmark case over public funding for religious schools. What does it mean for Pennsylvania?
Inquirer by Maddie Hanna, Updated: January 22, 2020- 5:57 PM
A widely watched case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday pitting school-choice advocates against proponents of public schools has been described by both sides as having potential to profoundly reshape the national education landscape. Yet it is unclear to what extent Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue could affect Pennsylvania. The case centers on the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to end a state program that gave students scholarships to attend private schools. The court based its decision on a state constitutional provision that bars government money from going toward religious schools. Pennsylvania’s constitution also restricts the use of public education funding for religious schools — and, like Montana, has programs that award scholarships to students to attend private schools.
Here’s what you need to know:

A Case in the Supreme Court Could Upend Public Education
The justices consider whether barring subsidies to religious schools is a type of illegal discrimination.
The American Prospect BY RACHEL M. COHEN JANUARY 22, 2020
The Supreme Court has long held it’s legal for states to include religious schools in their private-school voucher programs. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday in a consequential case concerning how and whether taxpayer money can flow to religious schools. Supporters of the plaintiffs hope a favorable outcome could pave the way for more government subsidies to private schools, while opponents say the future of public education hangs in the balance. The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, centers around a tax-credit scholarship program the Montana legislature established in 2015. Under the program, individuals who donate to nonprofits that award private-school tuition grants could receive a modest tax credit up to $150. According to the advocacy group, EdChoice, similar tax-credit scholarships exist in 17 other states, serving over 270,000 students.

In Arguments, U.S. Supreme Court Leans Toward Support for Religious School Aid
Education Week By Mark Walsh on January 22, 2020 2:39 PM
Washington - The U.S. Supreme Court heard an intense hour of arguments Wednesday in one of the most significant K-12 education cases in years, with conservative justices suggesting they were inclined to rule for parents who seek to reinstate a Montana tax credit funding scholarships for use at religious schools. "Why isn't this excluding religious people, telling them that they're not entitled to equal treatment under the Constitution," said Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in hearing the arguments on Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue (Case No. 18-1195). "Why isn't that a straight violation of the Trinity Lutheran principle?" Kavanaugh referred to a 2017 decision, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, before he joined the court. The court ruled 7-2 in that case that Missouri had violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of free exercise of religion when it denied a church participation in a state program to improve the safety of playgrounds. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.—present and chipper despite his marathon session on Tuesday presiding over the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the U.S. Senate—also voiced support for the view that any discrimination on the basis of religion would violate the First Amendment.

Your View: How a U.S. Supreme Court ruling could affect school choice in Pennsylvania
Colleen Hroncich is a senior policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation), Pennsylvania’s free market think tank.
Kendra Espinoza, a single mother of two young girls, never dreamed that sending her daughters to a Christian school in Kalispell, Montana, would lead her to the national stage. But on Wednesday, her lawsuit, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, and its far-reaching implications could impact Pennsylvanians’ education options. Espinoza home-schooled her daughters until her husband unexpectedly left, forcing her to enroll them in the local public school. The school wasn’t a good fit for her daughters — they weren’t thriving. Stillwater Christian School seemed like the perfect solution, but tuition was more than she could afford. Still, she worked extra jobs, held a big yard sale, and raffled quilts to come up with the money. Her older daughter even mowed lawns to contribute. It was barely enough. Then, Espinoza learned of a recently enacted program in Montana, similar to Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarships, that could help her afford tuition for future school years. Her glimmer of hope was short lived, though. Montana’s program bars religious schools and the state refused to grant her daughters scholarships

Union School District officials urge cyber school reform
Leader-Vindicator By JOSH WALZAK L-V Editor January 22, 2020
RIMERSBURG – Noting that the district pays hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to enroll students in cyber charter schools, Union School District officials last week urged state leaders to reform the funding structure for cyber schools. At their meeting on Jan. 16, Union School Board members unanimously adopted a resolution supporting statewide cyber charter school funding reform. The resolution states that under the current funding scheme, money paid to cyber charter schools is based on school district expenditures “with no relationship to the actual instructional costs of the students attending the charter school.” It goes on to state that with regard to special education funding, “the current flawed calculation requires school districts to pay charter schools regardless of the costs of services provided, resulting in the overpayment of district funds to charter schools for special education students.” Union superintendent John Kimmel said that using the final numbers from the last school year, Union spent approximately $400,000 with 20 students enrolled in cyber schools at the end of the year. This year, he said, Union started the year with nine students enrolled in private charter schools. He said that some students “have enrolled in our own cyber program at a cost savings to the district as compared to private cyber schools.”

How Philly teachers want the school district to fix the asbestos problem
A lawsuit filed this week asks for more oversight, more reporting, and more collaboration in the process.
Billy Penn by Michaela Winberg Today, 6:30 a.m.
The union repping Philly teachers has specific suggestions for how to remedy the rampant toxicity in the city’s public schools. In a 45-page lawsuit filed Monday in the Court of Common Pleas, the union alleges that the School District of Philadelphia and Superintendent William Hite have repeatedly mishandled problems with asbestos, lead and mold inside school buildings. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ formal complaint comes after a slew of exposed asbestos discoveries led to the closing of six facilities since the beginning of this school year. But the PFT is not the only entity to go to court over the issue. The district is also being sued by the family of a student who ingested lead paint chips fallen from the ceiling of his classroom. A former teacher diagnosed with mesothelioma said in November she’s planning to sue as well. In the union’s case, members are not looking for a financial payout. Instead, they want to help build new systems to detect and deal with asbestos and other toxins, so instances like this don’t happen again. How might that work? Here are eight things the PFT’s lawsuit demands from the school district.

“Rescinding the union-friendly rule, which has been in place since 2012, is a recommendation in the state-mandated financial improvement plan that Zogby wrote and that the district must follow in exchange for receiving $14 million in additional annual state aid, starting in 2018, to stay solvent. Defying the plan could lead to a state takeover of the 11,000-student district.”
Erie School Board removes pro-union part of bid rule
GoErie By Ed Palattella Posted at 8:14 PM
The temporary change applies only to subcontractors involved in pending construction project at Collegiate Academy.
After enduring a blistering rebuke from Charles Zogby, the Erie School District’s state-appointed financial administrator, the Erie School Board on Wednesday night temporarily waived a union-friendly bidding policy for subcontractors on district building projects. The vote was 6-2 at the board’s regular monthly meeting at East Middle School. A majority of the board earlier in the meeting failed to eliminate even more restrictions from the bidding policy. But the change that passed 6-2 temporarily suspended the apprenticeship requirement for subcontractors, which was the main concern of Zogby and Erie schools Superintendent Brian Polito. The policy had required all bidders for district projects above $25,000 to have apprenticeship programs, which are standard among union shops. General contractors had told Polito that they were concerned not enough subcontractors could meet the requirement.

Central York board all but scuttles start time change
Lindsay C VanAsdalan, York Dispatch Published 12:21 p.m. ET Jan. 22, 2020 | Updated 3:12 p.m. ET Jan. 22, 2020
The plan to push secondary school start times later in the morning came to an abrupt end Tuesday night when Central York school board members said they heard residents loud and clear. "I'm proud of the way we've taken this on, but it's now time, I think, to stick a fork in it and say it's done," said board member Gregory Lewis at town hall with about 75 residents and staff in attendance. The overwhelming feedback  from parent, student and faculty surveys sent out by the district as well as public comment was that residents did not want to see a change in secondary school start times. As part of the district's three-year comprehensive plan from 2018 through 2020, officials planned to shift start times for middle and high school students to align with research recommending that teens start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to get sufficient sleep.  The district's proposal had been to either push secondary start times forward 30 minutes or flip school schedules, so elementary students would start earlier.  

‘We are doing some cleanup right now’: Easton charter school administrator accused of changing grades put on leave
An Easton charter school administrator who was accused in a lawsuit of changing student grades has been put on leave. Jacque Zupko, the Easton Arts Academy’s operations manager and registrar, was placed on leave Friday and her termination is on the board of directors’ agenda for a meeting Thursday, board President Michelle Zattoni said. In a lawsuit filed in December 2018 by the charter elementary school’s former principal, Zupko and Chief Financial Officer Shawn Ferrera were accused of changing grades to “falsely reflect the effectiveness of the school’s programs.” Zupko’s departure is one of several at the charter school in the last few months. Joanna Hughes was dismissed as CEO in December, and Ferrara, the school’s CEO prior to Hughes, left last June. At the same December meeting the charter school board dismissed Hughes, they also voted to move forward with a complaint against the recently terminated solicitor, MacMain Law Group. “We are doing some cleanup right now,” Zattoni said. “We’ve hired a new solicitor, their office is going over our policies and procedures and finding some deficiencies. Unfortunately, that means some staff who were not able to abide by those policies can’t be working at the school.”

School Finance & Budget Town Hall
This event is set for Jan. 28 at Bensalem High School
By  Lower Bucks Times January 21, 2020
The Bensalem community is invited to a Town Hall Forum to learn about school funding, finance and the district’s budget on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. at Bensalem High School North Wing Audion, 4319 Hulmeville Road, Bensalem.
Speakers include:
Susan Spika, executive director, Education Voters of PA
Dr. Samuel Lee, district superintendent
John Steffy, director of business operations.
Everyone is welcome to attend this interactive presentation and question and answer session.

PARSS Annual Conference April 29 – May 1, 2020 in State College
The 2020 PARSS Conference is April 29 through May 1, 2020, at Wyndham Garden Hotel at Mountain View Country Club in State College. Please register as a member or a vendor by accessing the links below.

Allegheny County Legislative Forum on Education March 12
by Allegheny Intermediate Unit Thu, March 12, 2020 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM EDT
Join us on March 12 at 7:00 pm for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's annual Allegheny County Legislative Forum. The event will feature a discussion with state lawmakers on a variety of issues impacting public schools. We hope you will join us and be part of the conversation about education in Allegheny County.

Five compelling reasons for .@PSBA .@PASA .@PAIU school leaders to come to the Capitol for Advocacy Day on March 23rd:
Charter Reform
Cyber Charter Reform
Basic Ed Funding
Special Ed Funding
Register at

School Leaders: Register today for @PSBA @PASA @PAIU Advocacy Day at the Capitol on March 23rd and you could be the lucky winner of my school board salary for the entire year. Register now at

Charter Schools; Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

PSBA New and Advanced School Director Training in Dec & Jan
Additional sessions now being offered in Bucks and Beaver Counties
Do you want high-impact, engaging training that newly elected and reseated school directors can attend to be certified in new and advanced required training? PSBA has been supporting new school directors for more than 50 years by enlisting statewide experts in school law, finance and governance to deliver a one-day foundational training. This year, we are adding a parallel track of sessions for those who need advanced school director training to meet their compliance requirements. These sessions will be delivered by the same experts but with advanced content. Look for a compact evening training or a longer Saturday session at a location near you. All sites will include one hour of trauma-informed training required by Act 18 of 2019. Weekend sites will include an extra hour for a legislative update from PSBA’s government affairs team.
New School Director Training
Week Nights: Registration opens 3:00 p.m., program starts 3:30 p.m. -9:00 p.m., dinner with break included
Saturdays: Registration opens at 8:00 a.m., program starts at 9:00 a.m. -3:30 p.m., lunch with break included
Advanced School Director Training
Week Nights: Registration with dinner provided opens at 4:30 p.m., program starts 5:30 p.m. -9:00 p.m.
Saturdays: Registration opens at 10:00 a.m., program starts at 11:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m., lunch with break included
Locations and dates

PSBA Sectional Meetings
Hear relevant content from statewide experts, district practitioners and PSBA government affairs staff at PSBA’s annual membership gathering. PSBA Sectional Advisors and Advocacy Ambassadors are on-site to connect with district leaders in their region and share important information for you to take back to your district.
Locations and dates

Sectional Meetings are 6:00 p.m. -8:00 p.m. (across all locations). Light refreshments will be offered.
Cost: Complimentary for PSBA member entities.
Registration: Registration is now open. To register, please sign into myPSBA and look for Store/Registration on the left.

Congress, Courts, and a National Election: 50 Million Children’s Futures Are at Stake. Be their champion at the 2020 Advocacy Institute.
NSBA Advocacy Institute Feb. 2-4, 2020 Marriot Marquis, Washington, D.C.
Join school leaders from across the country on Capitol Hill, Feb. 2-4, 2020 to influence the legislative agenda & shape decisions that impact public schools. Check out the schedule & more at

All school leaders are invited to attend Advocacy Day at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units (PAIU) and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) are partnering together to strengthen our advocacy impact. The day will center around meetings with legislators to discuss critical issues affecting public education. Click here for more information or register at
School directors can register online now by logging in to myPSBA. If you need assistance logging in and registering contact Alysha Newingham, Member Data System Administrator at

Register now for Network for Public Education Action National Conference in Philadelphia March 28-29, 2020
Registration, hotel information, keynote speakers and panels:

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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