Friday, May 22, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 22, 2020: Kids need to go to school online. Why isn’t the internet a public utility?

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 22, 2020

Delaware County Teen Town Hall Virtual Meeting Friday May 22nd 11 am
Join Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon along with State Lawmakers and Students from Delaware County. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER VIA ZOOM

‘Searching for a New Normal’: NJSBA Releases Special Report on Reopening Schools
The New Jersey School Boards Association will release a special report on Wednesday exploring issues facing districts when schools reopen following the closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the two months since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of our public schools, New Jersey’s education community has made a valiant effort to transition our students to digital learning,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director. “Now, as we look toward the reopening of schools, the education community faces even greater challenges.”
Searching for a ‘New Normal’ in New Jersey’s Public Schools: How the Coronavirus Is Changing Education in the Garden State” will provide information on the safe reopening of schools, students’ mental health, academic and extracurricular programs, budgetary issues, and preparations for the future. NJSBA announced plans to develop the special report on April 16. “The report draws on the viewpoints of New Jersey’s local school officials, research by experts in education, medicine and public health, and the experiences of other nations in reopening schools,” explained Feinsod. “It is designed to help school districts further define challenges in these areas and develop strategies to meet them.”
The report recommends 10 strategies for local school districts and the state and federal governments, including the following:
  • Provide school districts with accurate financial data reflecting the impact of the pandemic on the New Jersey’s economy, state aid to education and school budgets.
  • Engage in early, sustained communication with parents, students, and school district staff about the steps being taken to ensure a healthy and safe environment.
  • Revise plans to ensure a smooth transition to full online instruction if schools are again closed due to health and safety considerations.
  • Include a “menu of options” in any statewide plan for the reopening of schools so that districts can select the strategies that would work best for their communities.
  • Provide an adequate pool of educators by enabling teacher candidates to complete training, such as classroom observations, which was disrupted due to the health emergency.
Other recommendations address strategies to meet the mental health and emotional needs of students and staff; policy on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE); modification of the state’s school district evaluation system—the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum—so that districts are not penalized for actions necessary to address the pandemic; administration of tests to identify the need for remediation, and adequate funding to provide such programs.

Kids need to go to school online. Why isn’t the internet a public utility?
WHYY By Devren Washington May 22, 2020
Devren Washington is a senior policy organizer at Movement Alliance Project. Devren focuses on building power in marginalized communities to bring equity and inclusion to the people who need it most. With a focus on digital justice, he uses his experience as a founding member of the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund and organizer with Black Lives Matter Philadelphia to organize directly impacted communities around issues pertaining to technology, surveillance, and internet access. 
When the coronavirus landed in Philly, we at Movement Alliance Project worried about the health and safety of our communities, especially around the key issue of connectivity as life moved online. Knowing that Philadelphia has the second-worst broadband access rate of any big city in the United States, primarily because of poverty, we moved fast for changes in access. We pushed Comcast — the biggest internet provider in the nation and our Philadelphia neighbor — to make their program free, stop turning off service for nonpayment, open public WiFi and expand data. But after the school district closed and struggled to offer online education, we saw the dire implications become a grim reality. The digital divide is a public health crisis, especially in the poorest large city in the country. Our students, the unemployed, medically vulnerable, non-English speakers, and undocumented folks need access to the internet to receive vital information from our local and state governments and to access social services and community resources. The public utility of the internet is especially clear now during the pandemic when most of the city’s official communications and resources are accessible only online.

We can’t let Harrisburg cut funding for education or use our federal funding to meet state obligations.
Tweet from Philadelphia Schools @PHLschools
Visit to learn how you can TAKE ACTION TODAY! #FundOurSchools #PHLed

Lincoln High School wins 2020 Prom Challenge
Through outreach and social media, students registered 65% of their school's eligible voters, a feat that earned them the national recognition.
The notebook by Shayleah Jenkins May 21 — 5:53 pm, 2020
Abraham Lincoln High in Northeast Philadelphia is among 20 high schools across the nation honored for their efforts to register young voters through the My School Votes program, part of the When We All Vote initiative that is sponsored by Michelle Obama and MTV. As a winner of the 2020 Prom Challenge, the Lincoln High team will participate in a national virtual prom hosted by MTV on Friday.  The students at Lincoln distributed personalized birthday cards and gift bags, along with voting rights information, to students just before their 18th birthdays. Through this outreach and social media efforts, they registered 65% of the eligible voters, a feat that earned them the national recognition. They got involved in the registration drive through the school’s chapter of the business and leadership club DECA. “We have a group of leaders at our school that are very committed to taking any opportunity that is available to them and working as a group to further that opportunity,” said senior Doha Ibrahim, who was involved in the effort. 

Draft York City school budget would ax 32 teachers
Lindsay C VanAsdalan, York Dispatch Published 3:16 p.m. ET May 21, 2020 | Updated 4:27 p.m. ET May 21, 2020
York City School District would eliminate 32 teaching positions next year under a preliminary budget approved Wednesday by the school board. The cuts are part of a $6.2 million, district-wide effort to reduce spending that  includes the elimination of 44 positions, as officials grapple with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Twenty-two teachers from the art, music, Spanish and physical education departments would be axed. So, too, would 10 from the Cornerstone behavioral program. Eleven aides and an assistant principal are also on the list of cuts. "I can say without hesitation that this pandemic journey has been one of the most challenging experiences we have faced or will likely ever face," said Superintendent Andrea Berry. The draft budget also includes salary freezes for teachers and administrators. It restructures several programs to reduce costs. The district's Cornerstone and Restorative Justice programs would be cut entirely. The staffing reductions alone would save about $3.7 million, officials said.  York City Education Association President Jeff Werner urged the board not to rush into a budget plan that he said would have negative repercussions that could last years. His statement is also listed as a petition signed by district staff on the association's website.

Preliminary Sharon school budget OK’d
By MELISSA KLARIC Sharon Herald Staff Writer May 21, 2020 Updated 36 min ago
SHARON – Sharon City School Board approved a preliminary 2020-21 budget that calls for spending $39.6 million, but does not set property tax rates. Superintendent Michael Calla called the budget “a work in progress.’ The board will hold budget hearings at 6 p.m. May 28, June 4 and June 25. Board members will devote these sessions on closing an estimated $2 million gap between expenditures and expected revenues. School officials received approval from the state Department of Education to increase property taxes by more than the state-mandated maximum. At previous meetings, school board members had previously discussed raising taxes by as much as 6 mills, or about 7.5%. Last year, the board raised taxes to the annual index maximum, increasing the millage to 80.01 from 77.23 mills. A 6-mill tax increase would generate $534,000 in tax revenue. At 86.01 mills, the owner of a property with an assessed value of $10,000 would have a tax bill of about $860. The district is allowed to increase taxes beyond the state inflation index amount because special education costs increased by almost $1 million from 2018-19 to the proposed 2020-21 budget.  Sharon’s cost for special education was $6,515,712 in 2018-19. For 2019-20, the amount rose to $6,972,500, and the line item increases to $7,420,162 in next year’s preliminary budget.

“It hasn’t been easy. Teachers and administrators said the abrupt switch has been the biggest educational challenge they have faced. To make things work, many have gone above and beyond figuring out ways to retool curriculum and stay connected to students and their families.”
Hometown Heroes: For teachers, abrupt shift to remote learning like nothing they’ve experienced, but many rising to challenge
On a breezy afternoon, Vickie McHale, a teacher at Mercy School for Special Learning Center in Allentown, stands on a patio deck peering through the window of a French door. “I want to show you what you are working for today,” says McHale, dangling two food storage bags. “Do you to want to work for M&Ms or cheese balls?” On the other side of the door, Gigi Kaschak, a 14-year-old with intellectual disabilities, eagerly points to the M&Ms. “OK, M&Ms,” McHale says. For the next hour, McHale conducts what she calls her Class Through a Glass. Using phones set on speaker mode, class materials and candy as a motivator, McHale leads Gigi through a series of lessons while separated by a door at the teen’s home in Fogelsville. McHale reviews the date and weather, has Gigi trace circles and squares, mold playdough and practice saying hi on the device she uses for communication. “Woo woo,” McHale shouts, when Gigi correctly points to the number 12 — for May 12. McHale came up with Class Through a Glass for her four students, all of whom have multiple disabilities, after schools closed March 16 to curtail the spread of the coronavirus. “It was sort of a shock to all of us because when you deal with children with special needs it’s so much hands-on,” said McHale, a teacher for 35 years. “It sent all of us into a tizzy. How can we make this work?”

Big Spring School District plans parade for graduates denied traditional ceremony by COVID-19
The Sentinel by Joe Cress May 21, 2020
This school year started with all the usual senior expectations for the Big Spring High School Class of 2020. Everything followed the time-honored path until mid-March when life was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. School was closed. The prom was canceled. Spring sports didn’t happen. Even graduation was in doubt. But these are Bulldogs we’re talking about. And Bulldogs bite back. “That’s one thing about this community,” said Scott Penner, dean of students. “We do whatever we can for the kids. As soon as it came to be known, people got on board. It’s the least thing we can do to support our seniors, to send them off with something unique.”Big Spring School District has joined forces with Newville Borough to organize a parade, rain or shine, for the Class of 2020 scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday, June 5, the same night the seniors were supposed to have their traditional graduation ceremony. All 204 seniors are invited to drive through town, one to a vehicle, in their caps and gowns while spectators along the route celebrate them. Organizers are asking the students and the public to cooperate fully with safety protocols by wearing masks and by practicing social distancing. There will be procedures in place that balance the need for caution with the need for seniors to have their special day.

“But there is a card the city and Council can play here, if they have the nerve. Consider that a private nonprofit like the University of Pennsylvania can afford to turn down nearly $10 million in stimulus money in the middle of a pandemic because it already has an endowment worth close to $15 billion in the bank. At times like these, it’s hard to ignore the long-running debate over whether the city should pursue Payments in Lieu of Taxes, better known as PILOTs, from such institutions.”
Now Is the Time for Penn and Philly’s Other Big-Money Nonprofits to Pay PILOTs
The ongoing debate over what universities and hospitals — who aren't required to pay property taxes — should be contributing to the city's coffers gets an added wrinkle during a pandemic-triggered economic free fall.
PhillyMag by ERNEST OWENS· 5/20/2020, 3:17 p.m.
When enjoying the classic card game of spades, most players wait until the very end of a round to play their most competitive hand. Those who have been dealt either a joker or the highest spade in the deck would be wise to strategically bet their hands to secure a victory. Missing such an opportunity could lead to your team losing the game altogether, leaving you to ponder this saying: Scared money don’t make any money. In a nutshell, that’s what City Council must consider as it reviews the controversial bloodbath of municipal cuts in Mayor Jim Kenney’s post-coronavirus budget proposal. In trying to close the $650 million hole in the city budget that COVID-19 is projected to create, the Kenney administration is calling for tax hikes, layoffs, and a mass reduction of cultural resources and services that would add up to a $649 million reduction in his pre-coronavirus budget of $5.2 billion.

ELC is working to compile a series of resources with key facts for families to help navigate the COVID-19 educational landscape. The following 1-page resources are now available.
Education Law Center Website

“On Friday evening, Upper Darby High School as well as Haverford High School, joined over 40 other schools who took part in the PIAA LIGHT THE STADIUM CAMPAIGN campaign to light their stadiums in honor of Seniors who have had their final year of high school cut short due to Coronavirus pandemic, as well to support of nurses, doctors, and first responders who have sacrificed their safety to help others.”
PIAA opts for county-by-county return to high school sports
Delco Times PETE BANNAN - MEDIANEWS GROUP May 21, 2020
The restart of high school athletics in Pennsylvania will follow the state government’s coronavirus reopening plan, the PIAA board agreed Wednesday. The Board of Control elected to use as a guide the state’s reopening instructions, which allow a county-by-county status change during the coronavirus pandemic. Under the Plan for Pennsylvania, many counties have gone from the harshest of the three phases, the “red phase” to the “yellow phase,” though large swathes of the Philadelphia suburbs into the Lehigh Valley remain red. Schools can only reopen when a county or region attains the “green phase,” and sports won't happen if schools can't open.  From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, back in March when the PIAA first postponed and eventually cancelled winter championships, the PIAA deferred decisions on spring sports to government oversight. The spring season was only cancelled when Gov. Tom Wolf decreed that schools would close for the academic year. A similar go-ahead to open schools would be required for fall sports like football to get underway. Wednesday’s decision is an offshoot of that stance. No reopening date has been set. Though the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) published a list of reopening considerations this week, the PIAA appears intent on filtering them through the lens of local governance, including review by the PIAA’s sports medicine advisory committee.

U of California eliminates SAT, ACT as admissions requirement
The move by one of the most influential public systems in the U.S. deals a massive blow to testing operators.
Education Dive by Jeremy Bauer-Wolf@jbeowulf PUBLISHED May 20, 2020
The governing board of the University of California (UC) voted unanimously Thursday to abandon the SAT and ACT as a condition for admission to its campuses.  UC's decision represents a major loss for testing operators, which lobbied hard for the board of regents to preserve the requirement. The system's size and prominence in the higher education landscape suggests its move will influence other institutions to eliminate entrance exams. It also signals that the campaign to shift the country's colleges away from the use of standardized tests in admissions is advancing.  Opponents of the tests have long contended they disadvantage certain students, citing racially biased questions and a proliferation of exhaustive tutoring, which those from impoverished backgrounds cannot afford. UC was sued last year by advocates of students who made such arguments, but the system's move away from the SAT and ACT does not end the lawsuits against it.  For the next several years, UC will continue to use the exams to determine eligibility for its guaranteed admissions program and certain scholarships, as well as placement in some courses upon enrolling.

Too Expensive to Re-Open Schools? Some Superintendents Say It Is
Education Week By Daarel Burnette II May 21, 2020
Kathy Granger has a difficult puzzle to solve. As superintendent of the Mountain Empire Unified School District in southeastern San Diego County, she’s forging ahead with plans to re-open school buildings this fall, with a staggering and expensive mix of new health and safety precautions because of COVID-19. With a 660-square mile district of rugged mountain terrain that borders Baja California, Granger already spends $1.5 million a year—7 percent of her annual budget—to bus 3,200 students to eight schools. But to make sure kids can be spaced out enough on buses this fall—meaning no more than 20 per bus—Granger figures she needs to quadruple the district’s 14 bus routes a day to 56. Sticker price: $4.5 million. That ballooning transportation cost would come just as state officials, including Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, say public schools need to hack as much as 10 percent from their current budgets. Then there’s a whole other list of new—and rising—costs to cover: $40,000 already to buy Plexiglas for the district’s front office, free-standing hand sanitizer machines, and handwashing stations in campus outdoor areas where students eat lunch. “It develops a lot of fatigue,” Granger said about trying to make ends meet. “It’s hard to see the end game.” With drastic budget cuts on the near horizon in every state, the end game may be keeping buildings closed. A growing number of school district leaders say they won’t be able to afford the extraordinary efforts required to safely reopen school buildings this fall. Instead, they are considering opening for a few days a week or, worst case scenario, waiting to reopen buildings until a vaccine is developed.

Lawmakers Tell Betsy DeVos Her COVID-19 Guidance Is 'Robbing Public Schools'
Education Week By Andrew Ujifusa on May 20, 2020 9:40 PM
Top Democrats for education in Congress told U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos that her guidance about federal coronavirus relief is way out of bounds and that she should abandon it. A letter sent Wednesday to DeVos by the heads of two House education panels and a top member of the Senate education committee says that through that guidance, DeVos "seeks to repurpose hundreds-of-millions of taxpayer dollars intended for public school students to provide services for private school students, in contravention of both the plain reading of the statute and the intent of Congress." They also cite analyses provided by states about the amount and share of relief aid that would shift from public to private school students due to the guidance. "Given that the guidance contradicts the clear requirements of the CARES Act, it will cause confusion among States and [school districts] that will be uncertain of how to comply with both the Department's guidance and the plain language of the CARES Act," the letter says. It was accompanied by a press release that says the guidance is "robbing public schools of COVID-19 relief funding." The message from the Democrats to DeVos cranks up the temperature still further on a heated dispute over a directive DeVos issued a few weeks ago regarding the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In essence, the secretary's guidance—which does not have the force of law— says districts must share CARES aid earmarked for local schools with private school students in general, under a provision of the law called "equitable services." Normally under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the main federal K-12 law, only certain at-risk or failing private school students qualify for equitable services.

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.

Over 230 PA school boards adopt charter reform resolutions
Charter school funding reform continues to be a concern as over 230 school boards across the state have adopted a resolution calling for legislators to enact significant reforms to the Charter School Law to provide funding relief and ensure all schools are held to the same quality and ethics standards. Now more than ever, there is a growing momentum from school officials across the state to call for charter school funding reform. Legislators are hearing loud and clear that school districts need relief from the unfair funding system that results in school districts overpaying millions of dollars to charter schools.
The school boards from the following districts have adopted resolutions calling for charter funding reform. 

Know Your Facts on Funding and Charter Performance. Then Call for Charter Change!
PSBA Charter Change Website:

The Network for Public Education Action Conference has been rescheduled to April 24-25, 2021 at the Philadelphia Doubletree Hotel

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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