Monday, June 29, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for June 29, 2020: Chester Upland Privatization Saga Continues

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for June 29, 2020
Chester Upland Privatization Saga Continues

Gov. Wolf got it right. Period. | PennLive Editorial
By PennLive Editorial Board Updated Jun 26, 2020; Posted Jun 26, 2020
Alarm bells are going off in Texas, Florida and California. In more than 30 states, the number of people infected with the coronavirus is rising. But Pennsylvania is not one of them. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top health expert, says the country is “facing a serious problem in certain areas.” He doesn’t want to lay blame, but it’s not hard to read between the lines. People are getting sick and dying in states that reopened too soon, closed too late and where governors didn’t move with enough courage and determination to save lives. They bent to the pocketbook. And people died as a result. That didn’t happen in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary Rachel Levine did the right thing. They took aggressive action to shut down businesses, keep people home and stop the spread of the virus in Pennsylvania. The result? Fewer Pennsylvanians are dying. “On a day when nearly every county in Pennsylvania is now in the green phase, the state reported a relatively low number of new coronavirus cases,” Ron Southwick wrote on Friday.

As Chester Upland considers expanding charter schools, its new superintendent says she has ‘no preference’ on management
Inquirer by Maddie Hanna, Posted: June 26, 2020- 2:11 PM
The Chester Upland School District has a new superintendent tasked with running the financially distressed district at the same time it is considering whether to hand control of some or all of its schools to charter operators. Carol Birks, a former superintendent of New Haven, Conn., schools, took over in Chester Upland this week. She brushed aside criticism from some there who said she favored charter schools — which are publicly funded but independently operated — over traditional district schools. “I know people are like, ‘She’s so pro-charter,’ ” Birks said in an interview Friday. “I believe students and families should have an opportunity to choose what school is best for their children. But I have no preference.” A former assistant superintendent in Hartford, Conn., schools, Birks said she had served on a charter school board there at her superintendent’s request. Chester Upland has become an oft-cited example in the continued battle over charter schools, which are paid by school districts based on enrollment. More than half of its 7,000 students already attend charters, an arrangement that has provided alternatives for families but has further stressed the finances of the district, which the state moved to place under court control in 2012. Now, the district is weighing expanding that number, despite traditional public school advocates raising questions about whether charter options deliver a better education.

New report finds fewer than 50% of students with disabilities with high-cost needs are enrolled in charter schools than would be expected if charters served the same student populations as districts, renews calls for state legislature to reform charter school special education funding
What:  Press conference about a new Education Voters of PA report, “Fixing the Flaws in Pennsylvania’s Special Education Funding System for Charter Schools: How an Outdated Law Wastes Public Money, Encourages Gaming of the System, and Limits School Choice.”
Susan Spicka, Executive Director, Education Voters of PA
Ms. Paulette Foster, Pittsburgh Public Schools guardian and co-founder of the Education Rights Network
Lisa Lightner--Parent and advocate for students with disabilities, Chester County
State Representative Mike Sturla, House Democratic Policy Committee Chairman
State Representative Dan Miller, PA House Education Committee; Subcommittee Democratic Chair on Special Education; Chairman, Allegheny County House Democratic Delegation Chairman
Dr. Frank Gallagher, Superintendent, Souderton Area School District
Michael Churchill, Of Counsel, Public Interest Law Center
Cheryl Kleiman, Staff Attorney, Education Law Center
When: Tuesday, June 30 at 1:00 pm Where:  Via Zoom
For more information contact: Susan Spicka, Education Voters of PA

PDE Charter School Tuition Rates by School District
The following documents contain charter school tuition rates for regular education and special education students by school district:

“Some parents and public school advocates have criticized the funding going to cyber charter schools, noting that already-virtual cyber operations meant little-to-no disruption, while brick-and-mortar schools — many already in dire need — struggled to get technology essential for remote learning. Some say that this additional funding to charters will deepen an already existing inequity between public schools and charter schools, including cyber charters.”
Pennsylvania’s cyber charters were already equipped for remote learning. How much COVID-19 relief should they receive?
Public Source by TyLisa C. Johnson | June 29, 2020
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced brick-and-mortar schools to shutter buildings, Pittsburgh Public Schools rushed to find technology and funding to transition thousands of students to remote learning. At the end of the school year, some students still went without the needed technology. Computer and iPad distribution will continue throughout the summer, a district spokeswoman recently said. At cyber charter schools across Pennsylvania, the transition was less chaotic. Home lives were changed, but for the most part, school operations remained the same. Students at cyber charters were already, in many ways, set up for online learning during a pandemic. Though the operations of cyber charters faced less interruption, they were still eligible for millions in aid through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief [ESSER] funding the state received in May through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security
Across Pennsylvania, cyber charter schools were eligible to receive $9,543,264 of CARES Act funding, according to data from the state’s Department of Education. Statewide, around 26,000 students were enrolled in cyber charters during the 2018-2019 school year. The U.S. Department of Education approved $523.8 million in CARES Act funding to Pennsylvania through the ESSER Fund. Of this, the state’s Department of Education said about $471.4 million of the funds must go directly to school districts and charter schools, based on the formula used for 2019 Title I-A allocations. Schools applied to the state’s department of education for their portion of funding.

Your View by PA House Democratic leaders: How to level playing field for students of color
For the last three weeks, many in our country have had their consciousness awakened to longstanding fundamental inequities disproportionately impacting communities and people of color. In the wake of the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others, and in the midst of a global pandemic, we have all been called to acknowledge and confront systemic racism. In Pennsylvania, the Legislative Black Caucus courageously advanced the policy conversation by demanding votes on languished police reforms. But the conversation cannot end there. We must have an open and honest conversation to address the racial and socioeconomic inequities and injustices in our public school system.

COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates funding, inequality concerns among Pa. schools
PA Capital Star By  Jordan Wolman June 26, 2020
For some Pennsylvania schools, the coronavirus means property tax increases. For others, it means cutting programs or slowing expansion.  And in still other districts, it means merging or closing schools outright.  That’s been the quiet reality on the ground as schools across Pennsylvania deal with a pandemic that has created revenue shortfalls, budget gaps, increased cleaning and technology costs and unknowns for the fall — and beyond. After the state stop-gap budget, which keeps school spending at last year’s levels, passed in May, the financial picture for school districts began to crystallize. “Virtually every district in the state has had to make some combination of tax increases, budget cuts, and draw-downs of reserves,” said Tomea Sippio-Smith, the K-12 policy director at the Public Citizens for Children and Youth advocacy group in Philadelphia. She noted that “flat funding” from the state ends up being more like a cut when rising costs in health care, pensions and special education are factored in. Joseph Roy, the superintendent of the Bethlehem Area School District, the sixth largest in the state, said receiving $3.1 million in federal CARES Act funding allowed the district to balance its budget and not increase taxes. He said the fact that the district is primarily funded by property taxes is important, since it “doesn’t swing wildly.”

‘I’m listening to the argument that police don’t belong in schools’: Allentown and Bethlehem reconsider resource officers
Bethlehem Area students start encountering officers in school in sixth grade. All together, the district has seven school resource officers — two at Liberty High, and one at Freedom High and each of the four middle schools. All seven wear a police uniform and carry a gun. And Superintendent Joseph Roy believes the officers, six of whom are employed by the city police department and one by Bethlehem Township, are the best of the best. After school, they coach basketball teams, organize clothing drives for students and run clubs. “They do what you would want a [school resource officer] to do as far as being embedded in the school community and getting to know kids,” Roy said. But as the nation examines police violence following the death of another unarmed black man by a white police officer, many districts are reconsidering the decision to put armed officers in schools. “I’m listening to the argument that police don’t belong in schools,” Roy said. “For students coming from communities that don’t have the best relationship or the police aren’t viewed in a positive place, having a police officer in the school might not make them feel safer.” The district will review the purpose of its school resource officer program, Roy said, and put that purpose in writing, which is something the district has never done.

COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry
American Academy of Pediatrics Critical Updates on COVID-19  Last Updated 06/25/20
The purpose of this guidance is to support education, public health, local leadership, and pediatricians collaborating with schools in creating policies for school re-entry that foster the overall health of children, adolescents, staff, and communities and are based on available evidence. Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being and provide our children and adolescentswith academic instruction, social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition, physical/speech and mental health therapy, and opportunities for physical activity, among other benefits. Beyond supporting the educational development of children and adolescents, schools play a critical role in addressing racial and social inequity. As such, it is critical to reflect on the differential impact SARS-CoV-2 and the associated school closures have had on different races, ethnic and vulnerable populations. These recommendations are provided acknowledging that our understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is changing rapidly.
Any school re-entry policies should consider the following key principles:

Editorial: Schools need to reopen: Continued closures will only widen the divide in learning
The key to reopening schools will be in establishing safety protocols
THE EDITORIAL BOARD Pittsburgh Post-Gazette JUN 26, 2020
Of all the lessons learned during the COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions, one of the most important was something parents and educators likely agree on: We need schools to reopen in the fall and get students back in the classroom. The pandemic forced the closing of schools nationwide starting in mid-March as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. School districts attempted to quickly turn around educational curriculums that could be taught online, with assistance from parents who were called into duty while at home with their children. The conversion to online learning for the last 10 weeks or more of the school year placed a strain on all involved — parents, teachers and students. Worse still, student progress stalled significantly during that time period.

Philly Board supports ‘re-imagining,’ but not disbanding, school police
The members also outlined their plan of "goals and guardrails" that they say will address racist practices in the school system.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa June 26 — 8:13 am, 2020
This story has been updated.
Members of the Board of Education indicated support Thursday for “re-imagining” rather than disbanding its school police force, despite numerous and fervent pleas from students, parents and teachers that the very concept of uniformed security in school traumatizes and criminalizes Black and brown young people. At the same time, several board members told retired Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, who now oversees safety in the District, that they expect him to deliver on his promise to retrain his 350 officers to “create a culture where every person feels safe and respected” in school. Bethel defended the need for school security and promised that it will look very different for students when they return to school in the fall. “We have been focused on [reform] for quite some time,” Bethel said, not just in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota and the ensuing protest and heightened awareness of racial injustice. He and Superintendent William Hite, backed by Board President Joyce Wilkerson, have said they want to make Philadelphia’s school safety approach a national model.

8 of 10 Bethlehem Area parents ready for kids to return to school in fall
By Kurt Bresswein | For Updated Jun 26, 2020; Posted Jun 26, 2020
A survey this spring of Bethlehem Area School District parents shows eight of 10 parents are prepared to send their children back to school in August -- with recommended safety precautions in place. Bethlehem Area schools Superintendent Joseph Roy shared the survey results in a districtwide update Thursday. "As conditions improve in the community, we are definitely on a path to open school fully for all students in the fall at this point," he said. For parents too concerned about the coronavirus or their children’s health to send their kids back, the district asks them to respond to a BASD Cyber Learning Planning Information Request available through

PVSD to lay off 52 paraprofessionals
Pocono Record By Brian Myszkowski @BWMyszkowski Posted Jun 26, 2020 at 3:02 PM
Pleasant Valley School District approved the layoff of 52 part-time paraprofessionals in a drastic cost-cutting measure at Thursday evening’s board meeting. Facing uncertain revenue and daunting debt, the board of education was forced to let go of the 52 employees currently working at the district’s elementary, intermediate, middle and high schools following a unanimous vote on the measure. The paraprofessionals will be laid off at the conclusion of the 2019-20 school year, though an approved agreement between the board of education and the support association could potentially see some of those employees returning to the district as full-timers in the future. Board president Donna Yozwiak conveyed the news in a prepared statement at the start of the meeting, citing the “deteriorating fiscal condition” of the district as part of the rationale behind the decision. Financial woes have been looming over Pleasant Valley for some time, as business manager Susan Famularo has brought up numerous times over course of the budget presentations for the 2020-21 school year. Yozwiak noted that “the trajectory of our district will result in running out of any fund balance and hitting negative in a matter of a few years.” Each department in the district was tasked with cutting costs and making sacrifices, including personnel, in order to mitigate expenditures for the upcoming school year.

York school district drops 50 positions to balance budget
By Shelly Stallsmith York Daily Record June 27, 2020
The York City School District has an approved budget for the 2020-21 school year. The cuts went a little deeper in the final budget than were initially proposed by Supt. Dr. Andrea Berry. Her proposal in May called for the elimination of 44 positions, 32 of which are teaching positions. Those cuts came in the physical education, art, music and Spanish departments, aides, one assistant principal and the Cornerstone intervention program. The final budget shows the loss of an additional six positions that include the athletic director, assistant athletic director, one teaching position, the attendance office supervisor and two police officers. The board of directors recently voted 7-1 with one abstention to approve the $155.8 million budget. Carman Bryan voted no and Margie Orr abstained from the vote. Berry said in a statement after the vote that balancing a school district budget is always a challenge. But the combination of a pandemic and increased costs for charter schools and healthcare have made that challenge more difficult.

Springfield (Delco) schools increase taxes, but not as much as first planned
Delco Times By Susan L. Serbin Times Correspondent June 29, 2020
SPRINGFIELD — The last official school board meeting of the current school year was highlighted by all directors and key administrators present in the Stanley L. Johnson Board Room. Only a dozen members of the public were permitted to attend. Whether this will establish the “new normal” is a work in progress, as are overall plans for the upcoming school year. In a critical agenda item, the board approved the 2020-2021 General Fund Final Budget of $88.1 million. In effect, the budget showed a decrease to the increase. The proposed final budget from May had an increase in property taxes of 2.6 percent, but was shaved to 2.25 percent by the final adoption. Executive Director Don Mooney reviewed data, some unchanged from the earlier presentation including known impact of COVID-19. Local revenue -specifically real estate taxes, transfer taxes, mercantile taxes and investment income — resulted in a reduction of about $1 million.

Mars Area school board Tuesday approved a 2020-21 budget that holds the line on taxes
Post Gazette by SANDY TROZZO JUN 26, 2020 5:11 PM
The Mars Area school board Tuesday approved a 2020-21 budget that holds the line on taxes but cuts the curriculum department. The budget was approved 7-2 with Megan Lenz and Christine Valenta dissenting. “I don’t understand how we can possibly think that (eliminating the curriculum department) is in the best interest of every student in the district,” Ms. Valenta said. “I don’t think we made the best decisions we could do.” The $52.3 million budget keeps the millage rate at 101.376. It maintains all secondary level programs and reduces class size at the elementary levels. The budget also adds an autistic support classroom at the elementary school and additional learning support at the Centennial School and autistic support at the high school. It also adds up to six paraprofessionals. The budget also extends an early retirement incentive for teachers and eliminates one or two reading specialist positions at the elementary level.

Bethel Park school board’s budget calls for increase in taxes
District spending at $91.7 million
Post-Gazette by DEANA CARPENTER   JUN 26, 2020 1:09 PM
Taxes in the Bethel Park School District will be going up for the 2020-21 school year.
The school board voted unanimously at a Tuesday meeting to increase taxes by 0.7654 mills, bringing the district’s millage rate to 21.7654 mills. The hike amounts to an increase of approximately $76 per every $100,000 of assessed property value. The board also approved the district’s 2020-21 budget in the amount of $91.7 million, which is also up from last year’s $89.9 million budget. That motion passed 7-2 with board members Pamela Dobos, Barry Christenson, Darren McGregor, Jim Modrak, Ken Nagel, Kimberly Turner and Vince Scalzo in favor of the budget. Connie Ruhl and Russ Spicuzza dissented.

Riverside approves budget with no tax increase
Beaver County Times By Patrick O’Shea @NewsAddict2 Posted Jun 25, 2020 at 11:00 AM
NORTH SEWICKLEY TWP. -- The Riverside School Board has approved a $25.35 million budget for 2020-21 that includes no property tax increase. Deborah Brandstetter, the district’s business manager, said the final budget approved Tuesday night uses $298,924 of the surplus fund to reach a balanced document. This budget is slightly higher than the $25.17 million plan approved for this year. However, revenues were down because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, so officials had to make several cuts, including not replacing four retiring teachers. Brandstetter said officials also asked vendors to freeze their rates for the year, reworked some contracts, postponed computers and athletic uniform purchases and eliminated overtime for all clerical workers as part of cost-cutting efforts. Under the budget, taxes will remain at 69.05 mills, which means the owner of a property valued at $100,000 and thus assessed at $50,000 would again pay $3,452.50 next year.

Chartiers Valley superintendent outlines reopening plans
Post Gazette by DEANA CARPENTER JUN 26, 2020 1:39 PM
The superintendent of the Chartiers Valley School District outlined plans to welcome back students in the fall during the board’s June 16 meeting. Superintendent Johanna Vanatta said the district “started reopening planning long before the state said we had to.” “We will do our best as we possibly can for our students and our community with this reopening to make sure we have a safe and secure environment,” Ms. Vanatta said. Last month, the district convened a task force to evaluate, prepare and plan for reopening the school district, which has been closed since mid-March due to COVID-19. Ms. Vanatta said the district must follow guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education when formulating a plan to reopen the school buildings. Chartiers Valley, like all districts in the state, must create a health and safety plan to establish local guidelines for reopening. That plan must be approved by the school board and then submitted to the state education department. The plan also will be published on the district’s website. The district will establish a pandemic team and a pandemic coordinator with specific roles and responsibilities relative to preparedness and response to pandemic planning. Training will be scheduled with all faculty and staff on the implementation of the health and safety plan.

Florida Tightens The Public Education Noose
Curmuducation Blog by Peter Greene Saturday, June 27, 2020
I have run out of words for Florida. It's been a little more than a year since I dubbed them "the worst," and there really isn't anything to add to that, except of course there is. The leadership positions under Governor Ron DeSantis have been handed over to profiteers and people whose whole life story is anti-education, plus a very active astro-turfy group of folks determined to cheer the legislature on. Charter and voucher programs are largely unregulated, and Florida taxpayers get to foot the bill for schools that openly discriminate against LGBTQ students (or anyone else they feel like discriminating against). Per a 2018 report from the DeVosian group American Federation for Children, Florida is where over a third of the voucher dollars in the US are spent-- and in 2019 they launched yet another voucher programThis year AFC gives 3 out of Florida's 5 voucher programs the top ranking in their category. But none of that is enough for DeSantis, who is intent on just tightening the noose around public education's neck (and gaslighting taxpayers while he's at it by continuing to claim that charter schools are public schools).

Districts' Back-to-School Shopping List: Masks, Gloves, Sanitizers and $25 Billion to Pay for It
Education Week By Daarel Burnette II June 26, 2020
For the last several weeks, medical supply vendors have swamped Martin Pollio with flyers, emails, and phone calls. He’s one of their most sought-after customers. Pollio, the superintendent of the 100,000-student Jefferson County district in Louisville, Ky., has made tentative plans to reopen school buildings this fall. To do so, he estimates his district will need to spend close to $10 million on face masks alone, in order to abide by recently issued state health guidelines. “We understand that the safety and health of our students and staff is the most important thing for us, without a doubt,” said Pollio, who plans to start a formal procurement process for personal protective equipment, or PPE, next month.  “But the logistics of this are not easy.” As school districts move ahead with planning how and when to reopen, administrators will soon start buying masks, gowns, boxes of tissues, bottles of hand sanitizer, and jugs of bleach. The scale of purchasing is enormous: There are 55 million students and 7 million employees in public schools.

PSBA Fall Virtual Advocacy Day: OCT 8, 2020 • 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Sign up now for PSBA’s Virtual Advocacy Day this fall!
All public school leaders are invited to join us for our fall Virtual Advocacy Day on Thursday, October 8, 2020, via Zoom. We need all of you to help strengthen our advocacy impact. The day will center around contacting legislators to discuss critical issues affecting public education. Registrants will receive the meeting invitation with a link to our fall Virtual Advocacy Day website that contains talking points, a link to locate contact information for your legislator and additional information to help you have a successful day.
Cost: As a membership benefit, there is no cost to register.
Registration: School directors can register online now by logging in to myPSBA. If you have questions about Virtual Advocacy Day, or need additional information, contact

Apply Now for EPLC's 2020-2021 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program!
Applications are available now for the 2020-2021 Education Policy Fellowship Program
The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC).  The 2020-2021 Program will be conducted in briefer, more frequent, and mostly online sessions, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The content will be substantially the same as the traditional Fellowship Program, with some changes necessitated by the new format and a desire to reduce costs to sponsors in these uncertain fiscal times.
The commitment of EPLC remains the same. The Fellowship Program will continue to be Pennsylvania's premier education policy leadership program for education, community, policy and advocacy leaders! The Fellowship Program begins with two 3-hour virtual sessions on September 17-18, and the Program ends with a graduation event in June 2021.
The application may be copied from the EPLC web site, but it must be submitted by mail or scanned and e-mailed, with the necessary signatures of applicant and sponsor.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of the Fellowship Program and its requirements, please contact EPLC Executive Director Ron Cowell at 412-298-4796 or COWELL@EPLC.ORG

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.

270 PA school boards have adopted charter reform resolutions
Charter school funding reform continues to be a concern as 270 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.

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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