Thursday, February 13, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for Feb 13, 2020: OP-ED: Support Gov. Wolf's charter funding reform

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for Feb 13, 2020

“Taxpayers are not well-served under the current system. Cyber charter schools, which educate students at home on a computer, receive the same payment rate as brick-and-mortar charter schools, despite having no buildings, no janitorial staff, no cafeteria, and much higher student- teacher ratios. Not surprisingly, cyber charter schools are awash in excess funding, so money intended to educate children is instead wasted on billboards, TV commercials, and internet advertisements for cyber schools. Cybers also pay considerable amounts to public relations firms, lobbyists, and the CEOs and shareholders of private management companies.  Gov. Wolf has proposed a flat tuition rate of $9,500 for students who attend cyber charter schools, a generous amount totaling almost twice the cost of a district-run cyber program. This would save $133 million.”
OP-ED: Support Gov. Wolf's charter funding reform
York Dispatch Opinion by Susan Spicka, Education Voters of PA Published 10:16 a.m. ET Feb. 12, 2020
— Susan Spicka is executive director of Education Voters of PA, a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan public education advocacy organization.
In the upcoming months, school districts will prepare budgets for the next fiscal year and make the hard decision about whether to increase property taxes to deal with rising costs. One of the fastest growing costs for all school districts is charter schools — publicly funded, privately operated schools that offer education wholly online or at a site within a community. School districts pay 100% of charter school tuition bills, and rapidly increasing tuition payments are a top reason that property taxes continue to rise. Although charter school students represent only 6% of all public school students, in 2017-18, 37 cents of every new property tax dollar raised was sent to a charter or cyber charter school. Pennsylvania taxpayers are spending more than $1.8 billion on tuition bills for students to attend charter and online cyber charter schools. Tuition rates are set by the state, but flawed calculations in Pennsylvania’s 22-year-old charter school law mandate payments well beyond the cost to educate a child. After more than 20 years, the time has come to retool charter funding to bring payments in line with the costs, eliminate questionable and wasteful spending by charters, and bring property tax increases under control.
Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a funding plan that will do just that: eliminate overpayments and provide $280 million in savings to school districts while providing sufficient funding to allow charter schools to appropriately serve students. Wolf’s proposal should receive the enthusiastic support of Pennsylvania taxpayers and state lawmakers alike.

The Pa. Senate’s most powerful Republican won’t seek reelection
Inquirer/Spotlight PA by Angela Couloumbis, Paula Knudsen and Brad Bumsted, Updated: February 12, 2020- 8:55 PM
Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/Patriot-News. Sign up for our free weekly newsletter.
HARRISBURG — The top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate announced late Wednesday that he is not running for reelection, becoming the second ranking GOP lawmaker in the Capitol to seek retirement in a pivotal election year. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said in a statement that his decision was “personal, not political,” and that he looked forward to spending more time with his family after nearly 20 years in the legislature. “I have worked with five governors and throughout this time I am proud to have been a leading advocate for rural Pennsylvania values,” Scarnati said in a statement. Scarnati has for the better part of a decade helped set the policy agenda in the Capitol. He has also been a prolific fundraiser for Republican legislative candidates across the state, a role he was widely expected to step into again in this critical election year, when Democrats in both chambers are seeking to take the majority. Scarnati is the second top Republican to announce his retirement. In January, House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) said he will not run for another two-year-term.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati is not seeking re-election
PA Capital Star By  John L. Micek February 12, 2020
This breaking story will be updated:
The Pennsylvania Senate’s most powerful Republican said Wednesday that he will not seek re-election this November. In a statement released Wednesday night, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said he’d been “proud to have been a leading advocate for rural Pennsylvania” in the upper chamber. But after 20 years in the Senate, with 14 of them spent as the chamber’s presiding officer, and a three-year tenure as lieutenant governor from 2008 to 2011, it was time to move on. “Today I am announcing that I will not be seeking a 6th term as Senator for the 25th Senatorial District.  At the end of this year, I will have served the people of the 25th Senatorial district for 20 years. With the support of my Senate colleagues, I have spent the last 14 of those years in the position of President Pro Tempore and served as Pennsylvania’s 31st Lieutenant Governor from 2008 to 2011. I have worked with five Governors and throughout this time I am proud to have been a leading advocate for rural Pennsylvania values.” Scarnati’s retirement announcement is the second in less than a week. On Friday, Sen. Andy Dinniman, of Chester County, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, announced he would not seek re-election. Half of the 50-member chamber, those senators serving in odd-numbered seats, will face the voters in November. Until now, there had been very little flux in the ranks. In the 203-member, majority Republican House, more than a dozen lawmakers have announced that they will not seek re-election.

“What PSERS earns from its vast holdings is not nearly enough to pay all the pensions. PSERS is one of the largest, steadiest-growing expenses in the Pennsylvania state and local school district budgets, consuming $5 billion in public “employer contributions” this year, up from $0 in the early 2000s. The state’s burdenwill grow $119 million this year, according to Gov. Wolf’s new budget, more than any state expense except health care for the poor.”
Send in a Marine: Pa. Republican lawmaker seeks overhaul of the state’s costly school pension fund
Inquirer by Joseph N. DiStefano, Updated: February 13, 2020- 4:55 AM
Frank Ryan is a CPA, a retired Marine Reserve colonel and Iraq War veteran who got himself elected to the state house in Harrisburg two terms ago, promising to watchdog the people’s money. That includes our biggest pile of capital, the $60 billion school pension fund (PSERS). “I specialize in keeping companies out of bankruptcy,” says Ryan (R, Lebanon). “It’s what I do for a living." He was a rescue CFO at troubled firms and, once, for a bank. At the rate Pennsylvania is funding and spending its government -- $36 billion this year, or $2,800 worth of medical and school aid, social work and law enforcement, for each resident -- plus as-yet unfunded future commitments, Ryan says, "I figure we are about 12 years away from insolvency, and two to four years away from not having reasonable financial alternatives. “I have apprehensions about how Pennsylvania is funded, across the board.” So he is a lead sponsor of several reform bills that could change the way PSERS is run.

Homeowners are tired of waiting for school property tax reform; 'we need action’
School property tax forum draws a crowd
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Posted Feb 12, 2020
If state lawmakers think the issue of school property tax elimination isn’t uppermost on the minds of their constituents, they should have been in Marysville on Wednesday afternoon. Perry County resident Bonnie Comp, a widow whose house burned down last year, shared she struggles to pay her school taxes and keep up with her other bills. Stephen Moyer of Pottsville asked for empathy for seniors and veterans who are in fear of losing their homes after working their whole lives and paying taxes. As a Meals on Wheels volunteer, he said he sees it when he delivers meals. We’re past discussion,” he said. “We need action.” They were among the more than 50 residents who turned out for the midday meeting at the Marysville Lions Club for a Senate Majority Policy Committee meeting on school property tax elimination.

Harrisburg School District, teachers union reach tentative contract agreement
Penn Live By Becky Metrick | Updated Feb 12, 2020; Posted Feb 12, 2020
Harrisburg School District teachers have been without a new contract since July 2018, but on Wednesday the teacher’s union and the district reached a tentative agreement that both sides are calling a step in the right direction. The Harrisburg Education Association voted to approve the contract on Wednesday afternoon, and the contract will now go to the next public meeting scheduled for Feb. 18 where district receiver Janet Samuels is expected to sign it. "We strongly believe this agreement is an important step in the district’s recovery process,” said Samuels in a statement sent out Wednesday evening. “We are very grateful to the union leadership for working so collaboratively as we move toward the mutual goal of providing the best possible education for the children in this school district.” HEA President Jody Barksdale agreed that it was definitely a step in the right direction, calling it a “downpayment for the future of the Harrisburg School District.” There are about 500 teachers represented by the bargaining unit.

Two more Philly schools closed Thursday and Friday because of asbestos
Inquirer by Robert Moran, Updated: February 12, 2020- 10:40 PM
Two more Philadelphia schools have joined the number of campuses that have to be closed for asbestos remediation, the district said Wednesday night. The latest schools, Clara Barton Elementary in Feltonville and James J. Sullivan Elementary in Frankford, will be closed Thursday and Friday. Students from both schools will be able to pick up breakfast and lunch meals from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. on both days, the district said. Students from Clara Barton, at 4600 Rosehill St., can go to Feltonville Intermediate School at 238 E. Wyoming Ave., and students from Sullivan, at 5300 Ditman St., can go to Warren G. Harding Middle School at 2000 Wakeling St. The district said that staff and families will be updated this weekend about the schools for next week. “The cause for the temporary closing at both schools is due to damaged asbestos that was found during inspections of the buildings. Further inspections and testing will be conducted to ensure the buildings are safe for the re-occupancy of students and staff,” the district said in a news release.  So far in the 2019-20 academic year, seven other schools have been closed because of asbestos concerns.

New faces on the Philly school board? Mayor’s nominating panel submits 27 names.
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Updated: February 12, 2020- 8:04 PM
Philadelphia’s education nominating panel, charged with selecting potential school board members for Mayor Jim Kenney to choose from, made 27 names public Wednesday.
Eight of the nine current board members were renominated: Julia Danzy, Leticia Egea-Hinton, Mallory Fix Lopez, Lee Huang, Maria McColgan, Chris McGinley, Angela McIver, and board President Joyce Wilkerson. Wayne Walker, the current vice president, said recently that he was not seeking a new term because of a family commitment that requires him to spend long periods of time out of town. Nineteen other names joined the list of potential board members. The mayor now has 10 days if he wishes to request more names from the board. A spokesperson said Kenney expects to make his picks by the end of the month. City Council then gets to weigh in, a new step in the process happening because of a City Charter change voters agreed to in 2018, after the first board had been selected.

Nominating Panel recommends 27 Philly Board of Education candidates to mayor
Eight current board members are on the list; new candidates are expected to vie for one open spot.
the Notebook February 12 — 2:52 pm, 2020
The Educational Nominating Panel sent its recommendations of 27 candidates for the Board of Education to Mayor Kenney. Members voted on their selections at a public meeting Wednesday after deliberating behind closed doors. Of the 27 names, eight are current board members, and Kenney is expected to reappoint all of them. There is one open seat due to Board Vice President Wayne Walker’s decision to step down for personal reasons.The City Charter requires the Nominating Panel to send the mayor three names for each opening, and he has 10 days to request additional candidates from the panel if he wants more choices. During the first board member selection in 2018, the mayor did ask the panel to send him more names, but at that time, he was appointing an entirely new board after the city regained control of the School District from the state. After the mayor makes his picks, City Council must approve the appointments, a step that is new this year. The next school board term will begin on May 1. The advocacy group Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) has protested the nominating process for its secrecy, noting that Philadelphia is the only school district in the Commonwealth that doesn’t elect its board members. The new candidates – besides the eight current board members who are expected to return – are listed below with short biographies provided by the Mayor’s Office.

As asbestos crisis persists, it’s time to shake up Philly’s Board of Education | Editorial
The Inquirer Editorial Board Updated: February 12, 2020 - 4:52 PM
The vast network of old buildings that make up the School District of Philadelphia has become the source of an environmental crisis, with asbestos hazards shuttering schools, and district management slow to create and communicate a plan that assures parents, teachers, and stakeholders that the problem is under control. At the beginning of the school year, the joint complex of Ben Franklin High and the Science Leadership Academy on North Broad Street closed. Asbestos hazards forced the Philadelphia School District to shut down T.M. Peirce Elementary in North PhillyCarnell Elementary in Oxford Circle, and Franklin Learning Center in Spring Garden. McClure Elementary in Hunting Park shut down for two weeks, then reopened, only to close again after two days. Most recently, Hopkinson Elementary closed indefinitely. Back in November, when the count of closed schools was still only four, School District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. touted a new environmental safety plan. When announcing the plan, Hite said: “We have made mistakes and fallen short of my expectations in key areas, and have not fully confronted many of the challenges we have faced.”

Warwick High School students walk out over use of homophobic, racial slurs
Lancaster Online by ALEX GELI | Staff Writer February 13, 2020
Morgan Hackart has had enough of hearing Warwick High School students use homophobic slurs. He started noticing it more frequently last year, when another student called him a derogatory term in class. The 17-year-old senior told the teacher, who then went to administration. The student was pulled from the classroom. “Every day walking down the hallways, you hear homophobic or racial slurs just being thrown at people,” Hackart, who is transgender, said. So on Wednesday morning, Hackart and a dozen other students walked out of class to call attention to hate speech that, Hackart said, happens far too often at Warwick. The students, some of whom were members of the school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance, walked out around 11:20 a.m., the beginning of the school’s first lunch period. Many wore duct tape on their mouths and some carried signs as they exited the high school’s main entrance. “Hate speech in Warwick??? (It’s more likely than you think)” read one student’s sign. “School should not be a place of fear or hate,” another read. “Give us some respect” and “#WhatAboutUs” were two others. LNP | LancasterOnline intended to cover the walkout, but when a reporter and photographer arrived, Warwick administrators asked them to move across the street, off district property. Warwick’s media plan states press isn’t allowed on school grounds “unless invited by the administration,” Superintendent April Hershey said.

Teacher unions, gun-control advocates urge changes to active-shooter drills, citing student trauma
MORIAH BALINGIT The Washington Post FEB 12, 2020
In schools across the nation, students prepare for the worst-case scenario: a gunman firing on them and their classmates. As part of safety drills, many are learning how to hide in closets with their teachers, how to keep quiet and how to barricade doors - anything to increase their chances of survival. Now, a leading gun-control advocacy group and the nation’s two largest teacher unions are calling on schools to halt the most extreme active-shooter drills, such as those that occur without advanced warning and include simulated gunfire. For other kinds of lockdown drills, the groups laid out guidelines they say could minimize trauma for students, while emphasizing that little proof exists the drills make students safer in a shooting. In a white paper published Tuesday, Everytown for Gun Safety, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association cited mounting anecdotal evidence that the drills, while intended to keep students safe, are inflicting trauma and leaving children anxious, rattled and unable to focus in the classroom. Researchers who have begun to study the problem are making similar findings. “There’s very little data that shows that these drills are effective,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, which advocates for strong gun restrictions and is part of Everytown. “There is data that shows that they cause trauma and anxiety in kids.”

NSBA Statement on the Trump Administration’s Proposed 2021 Education Budget
NSBA Website Alexandria, Va., February 11, 2020
The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is greatly concerned with and strongly opposed to the Trump administration’s proposed budget for the Department of Education for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. Just a few months ago, federal lawmakers in both parties recognized the need to renew the investment in public schools. This proposed budget runs directly counter to the bipartisan budget deal that passed in December. There is absolutely no reason to suddenly reverse the positive gains for public education that members of Congress agreed were overdue.
The Trump administration proposal lays out the wrong priorities to educate all schoolchildren, and it would hinder the ability of more than 50 million students in public schools to compete for jobs against their peers around the world. The public does not want the federal government to cut funds to public schools or divert them to non-public schools. Voters spoke clearly in 
a recent national poll commissioned by the National School Boards Action Center (NSBAC), which sampled 1,000 likely voters. The poll found overwhelming support for increases to public school funding—not steep cuts. Respondents also unequivocally want public funds to stay in public schools. The administration’s proposed funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is essentially cutting support to students who require extra help to succeed in school. A $100 million increase is a good soundbite, but the reality is that the proposed funding fails to keep pace with the number of students served by IDEA, which has increased to 7.4 million students. In the 2021 budget, the amount allocated for IDEA would only cover approximately 13% of the costs associated with serving IDEA students, despite the federal government’s original promise to fund the act at 40%. So, the actual funding in 2021 would be a 1% cut from the current level.

Why Expansive School Choice Policies Make Credit Agencies Jittery
Education Week By Daarel Burnette II on February 11, 2020 1:06 PM
States in recent years have been eager to expand the options parents have when choosing schools for their children, including through charters and open-enrollment programs. For some districts, though, losing hundreds of students at once can have a devastating impact on their credit scores. Earlier this month, for example, S&P Global Agencies, a major credit-rating company, downgraded the credit rating for Wisconsin's Palmyra-Eagle school district by two notches to junk status, making it increasingly difficult for the district to take out short-term loans to pay down a rising pile of bills. (Any loan the district does take out will likely have a high interest rate.) The district, which unsuccessfully attempted to dissolve earlier this year, has lost almost half its enrollment in the last decade to surrounding, wealthier suburban districts as the state has expanded its open enrollment policies. The situation in this mostly rural, southeastern corner of Wisconsin has drawn the attention of several credit-rating agencies and The Bond Buyer, a trade publication that writes about the municipal bond industry. (Palmyra-Eagle has about $13 million of bonds outstanding.) Moody's, which does not rate Palmyra-Eagle's schools, but does rate more than 3,000 school districts across the nation, including several surrounding Wisconsin districts, wrote its own analysis of Palmyra-Eagle's situation last month. Analysts say Palmyra-Eagle is indicative of a larger trend of districts in states with expansive open enrollment policies or a rapidly growing charter sector. Because school funding is so heavily linked to student enrollment, revenue for districts in highly competitive areas is very volatile and unpredictable. These school choice policies, analysts say, have a compounding impact on districts' budgets."As long as students can enroll out, that would be an ongoing risk for school districts," said Andrew Truckenmiller, an S&P Global Ratings analyst.

PA Ed Policy Roundup for Feb 10, 2020
1. Adopt resolution for charter funding reform
2. Ask your legislators to cosponsor HB2261 or SB1024
3. Register for Advocacy Day on March 23rd

Adopt the 2020 PSBA resolution for charter school funding reform
In this legislative session, PSBA has been leading the charge with the Senate, House of Representatives and the Governor’s Administration to push for positive charter reform. We’re now asking you to join the campaign: Adopt the resolution: We’re asking all school boards to adopt the 2020 resolution for charter school funding reform at your next board meeting and submit it to your legislators and to PSBA.

A 120-page charter reform proposal is being introduced as House Bill 2261 by Rep. Joseph Ciresi (D-Montgomery), and Senate Bill 1024, introduced by Senators Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) and James Brewster (D-Allegheny). Ask your legislator to sign on as a cosponsor to House Bill 2261 or Senate Bill 1024.

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

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.

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.

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:

PSBA Board Presidents Panel April 27, 28 and 29; Multiple Locations
Offered at 10 locations across the state, this annual event supports current and aspiring school board leaders through roundtable conversations with colleagues as well as a facilitated panel of experienced regional and statewide board presidents and superintendents. Board Presidents Panel is designed to equip new and veteran board presidents and vice presidents as well as superintendents and other school directors who may pursue a leadership position in the future.

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.

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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