Monday, January 20, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for Jan. 20: “By all the measures we use to damn public schools, these schools are not performing.” “There’s no accountability, and we’re paying twice as much money as it costs.”

Started in November 2010, daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 4050 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Wolf education transition team members, superintendents, school solicitors, principals, charter school leaders, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, faith-based organizations, labor organizations, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for Jan. 20, 2020

HB1897: Sonney to Host Education Committee Public Hearing on Cyber Education
PA House GOP Caucus website JAN. 16, 2020 
WHAT: Rep. Curt Sonney (R-Erie), chairman of the House Education Committee, and members of the committee will hold a public hearing on cyber education and Sonney’s House Bill 1897, which would require all school districts in the Commonwealth to offer full-time cyber education programs accountable to local communities.
WHO: Sonney; members of the House Education Committee; representatives from Intermediate Units across the Commonwealth; representatives from various school districts; and representatives from cyber charter schools. Full agenda attached at link above.
WHEN: Tuesday, Jan. 21, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
WHERE: G-50 Irvis Office Building, with live streaming and additional seating for overflow in the Capitol Media Center, 8 East Wing, 
Capitol Building, Harrisburg.
LIVE WEBSTREAMING: Will be available, barring technical difficulties, at and
Media contact: Brooke Haskell, 717-260-6351,

Reprise October 4, 2019: Sonney Introduces Legislation to Require All School Districts to Offer Full-Time Cyber Education Programs
Rep. Sonney’s website OCT. 04, 2019 
HARRISBURG – House Education Committee Chairman Curt Sonney (R-Erie) today announced that he has introduced legislation that would require all school districts in the Commonwealth to offer full-time cyber education programs that will be accountable to local communities.
In 2002, the General Assembly authorized the creation of cyber charter schools, which are authorized at the state level. These schools are not held accountable to local communities even though local taxpayer dollars are used to support them.
“It is my intention, that this legislation, will eliminate the tension between school districts and cyber charter schools,” said Sonney. “The goal of my legislation is to offer students access to high-quality cyber education programs in a way that is accountable and transparent to local communities.”
Cyber charter schools, instead of being separate school entities, will be able to serve as third-party vendors and work with school districts to offer full-time cyber education programs. School districts will also be given the flexibility in creating their own full-time cyber education programs or work with third-party vendors such as intermediate units, cyber charter schools, institutions of higher education, other school districts, or educational entities to offer these programs. In addition, the school district must also provide at least two alternative full-time cyber programs, offered by a third-party vendor, other than the school districts intermediate unit or another school district.
“As chairman of the House Education Committee, I constantly hear concerns from constituents related to the cost and accountability of cyber charter schools,” continued Sonney. “Cyber education is an important choice parents should be able to make for their children, but local accountability is desperately needed to control the quality and cost of these programs.”
For more information on Sonney’s legislation, 
House Bill 1897, click here (will add link to bill summary/info once uploaded to system.)

Plans to shut down public cyber charter schools will hurt my children | Opinion
Penn Live By Stefanie D'Amico Posted Jan 18, 2020
I recently had the opportunity to meet in Harrisburg with State Representative Curt Sonney, chairman of the State House Education Committee, to share with him our experience that leaves no doubt that a public cyber charter school is the right choice for my children’s education. My three children were excited to join me and meet Rep. Sonney. Unfortunately, he made it clear to all four of us that he planned to shut down public cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania, including ours, Agora Cyber Charter School. In an attempt to oversimplify the unsettling plan laid out by Rep. Sonney, he was asked, “are you telling me that the same educational options available to Bobby will not be available his brothers?”

“By all the measures we use to damn public schools, these schools are not performing,” said Feinberg. “There’s no accountability, and we’re paying twice as much money as it costs.”
Reprise June 12, 2019: Public school advocates called for greater accountability for cyber charters. Then things got heated
PA Capital Star By  Elizabeth Hardison June 12, 2019
A small rally in favor of cyber charter school funding reform led to a heated debate between education advocates in the state Capitol on Tuesday, the same day the House considered a slate of bills that would impose new regulations on the state’s charter sector.
At issue was the performance of Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools, which are privately managed but funded by tuition payments from public school districts.
A group of public education advocates had gathered in the Capitol’s East Rotunda to call on lawmakers to rein in public spending on cyber charter schools, saying they say deliver pitiful outcomes for students at a great cost to school districts and their taxpayers.
Fifteen cyber charter schools across Pennsylvania enroll one-quarter of the state’s 140,000 charter school students. But a recent study from Stanford University suggests those students learn far less than their peers in brick-and-mortar charter schools and traditional public schools.
Using standardized testing data from the Department of Education, researchers found that cyber charter students experienced an average of 106 fewer days of reading instruction and 118 fewer days of math instruction a year than their counterparts in traditional public schools.
That finding has galvanized charter school critics across Pennsylvania, who say that public school districts can deliver a superior cyber education at a lower cost.

“Under current law, state-mandated tuition rates for cyber charter students and for special education students in both brick-and-mortar and cyber charter schools are not based on actual costs, but instead are based on a broken formula that creates inflated tuition payments to charter and cyber charter schools and wastes taxpayer money. The wasteful spending and harm experienced by students and communities would be curbed by setting a single, statewide tuition rate for cyber charter schools and matching special education tuition rates with the actual cost of services for students with disabilities in charter schools. Speakers are calling on parents, staff, and community members to contact local legislators and ask them to enact funding reforms to Pennsylvania’s charter school law that include matching payments school districts make to charter schools with the actual cost of educating these students.”
Local school districts seek reform to Pa. charter school laws
Lewistown Sentinel JAN 17, 2020
McVEYTOWN — Superintendents from Fulton, Huntingdon, Mifflin and Juniata County School Districts will join the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools in calling for reforms to Pennsylvania’s charter school law. Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11 will host a public meeting at 11 a.m. Jan. 27 in which administrators from more than a half-dozen area school districts will be present. They will join members of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools in 152 school districts encompassing 34 counties and 16 intermediate units in holding press conferences during the week of January 27 to 31. The press conference will call attention to the urgent need of reforms to Pennsylvania’s charter school law and to share the adverse impact that inflated charter and cyber charter school tuition payments have on students and taxpayers in their communities.

Paul Muschick: Bethlehem superintendent knew he would take heat for talking about race and charter schools. Here’s why he did anyway.
Bethlehem schools Superintendent Joseph Roy knew he was going to be criticized for his remarks last month about race and charter schools. That’s because it wasn’t the first time he’d said in a public forum that some parents send their kids to charters so they won’t have to go to school with “kids coming from poverty or kids with skin that doesn’t look like theirs.” Roy told me he took heat for it the previous, time, too. But he dove in anyway when he was asked at a Dec. 5 news conference why students choose charters. “This is a real thing and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it,” he told me in his first extended comments about the controversy. Roy is among many superintendents, including Allentown’s Thomas Parker, who are calling for state officials to overhaul the charter school system because of the cost to school districts, which pay tuition for students who enroll in charters. The Bethlehem Area School District expects to spend more than $30 million this year. Allentown spends about twice as much. Statewide, districts sent $1.8 billion to charters in 2018. I met with Roy to discuss charter school funding, public accountability and other topics that I may write more about later. He also opened up about the controversy.

“This year, the United States will conduct its 2020 Census count – a count that happens only once a decade and paints a picture of everyone living in the United States, regardless of their status. It is critically important that everyone in Pennsylvania participates because programming and resources rely on an accurate count. Some of the critical, Census-dependent programs that Pennsylvania receives federal funding to operate include Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the National School Lunch Program, Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies, Special Education grants, Head Start, highway planning and construction, very low to moderate income housing loans, rural rental assistance payments, and unemployment insurance administration.”
In Pennsylvania, and to me, everyone counts | Gisele Barreto Fetterman
Penn Live Opinion By Gisele Barreto Fetterman Posted Jan 17, 2020
When I was a young girl growing up in New York, every day before school, my mother would see me off with a warm hug, a quick kiss, and the words: “I love you. Be invisible.” My mother wasn’t whispering this warning to teach me to be small. My mother was whispering this warning to keep me safe. My family was undocumented. Out of fear that we would be forced to return to a country we fled and back into the violence we escaped, we worked hard, kept our heads down and remained under the shadows. I thought then that my family didn’t count.

‘Egregious breach’ leads to another Philly school closure for asbestos
WHYY By Avi Wolfman-Arent January 17, 2020
Two days after district officials deemed Alexander McClure Elementary safe to reopen, in a whiplash-inducing development, the school has been closed again due to fears over asbestos exposure. Just hours before school was supposed to start Friday, then district announced that the K-5 school in the Hunting Park Section of North Philadelphia would not open. The sudden shutdown came after two airborne asbestos tests, taken Thursday evening, came back “slightly elevated,” district officials said in a statement. The closure announcement came a day after the city’s teachers’ union blasted the district for what they described as an “egregious breach” of the protocols workers are supposed to follow when remediating asbestos. The district has been trying to clear the air — literally and figuratively — at McClure since December 20th, when an inspection revealed damaged pipe insulation containing asbestos.  Students missed ten consecutive days, making McClure the sixth Philadelphia school this year closed temporarily due to the discovery of potentially dangerous asbestos. McClure re-opened on Wednesday, January 15th, with the blessing of union officials but over the objections of some parents who felt the district’s clean-up efforts hadn’t been sufficiently thorough. Less than 24 hours later, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers cried foul.

New asbestos contamination closes Philly’s McClure Elementary for a second time
Inquirer by Wendy Ruderman, Updated: January 17, 2020- 1:15 PM
District officials were forced to abruptly close a North Philadelphia elementary school Friday morning after new air tests revealed elevated levels of asbestos fibers. The emergency decision came two days after McClure Elementary reopened, following a days-long asbestos cleanup that had shuttered the building Dec. 19. District officials assured teachers and parents on Thursday that the school was safe, but additional air tests, taken late Thursday evening, proved otherwise. District officials notified parents of the school’s closure at about 6 a.m. Friday, leaving parents to scramble for child care. “Two air samples came back slightly elevated. As a result, McClure will remain closed today for additional cleaning and further testing to ensure student and staff safety," the district wrote in a statement. Just a day earlier, district officials had questioned why leaders of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) were insisting that McClure stay closed until further testing was done. “The district is unclear as to why the PFT continues to raise questions and, in some cases, seek school closures after tests confirm schools are safe for re-occupancy," school officials stated Thursday. "The district remains committed to the safety and education of our children.” The debacle further eroded trust in the district’s ability to safeguard students and teachers from asbestos hazards in dozens of aging schools across Philadelphia. The district has closed six schools since the start of school due to asbestos hazards.

Education issues from 2019 continue to resonate in Pennsylvania politics in 2020
Charter and cyber schools were a hot topic for the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Wolf in 2019 and remain a hot topic in the new year. Wolf issued an executive order focusing on charters schools in August, asking regulators to create new rules that would tighten financial restrictions on the schools and limit enrollment in schools where students are not improving academically. The order drew praise from some but criticism from others who said Wolf exceeded his authority. Charter school advocates protested in Harrisburg in September. In December, proponents of charter school reform held simultaneous news conferences around the state saying the current laws were negatively affecting urban schools. Lawmakers also took aim at Pennsylvania’s dropout rate. The mandatory age for school attendance was lowered from 8 years old to six years old and the dropout rate was raised from 16 to 17.

Pa. Department of Education announces $5.7 million in STEM grants
ANDREW GOLDSTEIN Pittsburgh Post-Gazette JAN 17, 2020
State Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera Friday announced $5.7 million in grants that aim to expand computer science classes and teacher training at 163 school districts, charter schools and intermediate units, many in the Pittsburgh region. Mr. Rivera made the announcement while speaking to a group of educators and education stakeholders at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's annual STEAM Showcase at Nova Place on the North Side. The PAsmart grants seek to grow computer and technology skills in students that can eventually lead to jobs. Over the next 10 years, according to Gov. Tom Wolf's office, 71% of new jobs in the state will require employees to use computers and new technologies. "We want to educate [students] here in Pennsylvania and have them stay and work in Pennsylvania," Mr. Rivera said. Each grant recipient will receive $35,000 that will be used to help schools introduce and expand computer science programming for students and provide pre-K-12 educators with training to teach those subjects.

163 Pennsylvania K-12 Schools Receive PAsmart Grants to Advance Science and Technology Education
Governor Wolf’s Website January 17, 2020
Building on his commitment to prepare students with the computer and technology skills for in-demand jobs, Governor Tom Wolf today announced $5.7 million in PAsmart Targeted grants to expand computer science (CS) classes and teacher training at 163 school districts, charter schools and intermediate units. The Targeted grants represent one component of the governor’s innovative PAsmart initiative, which will provide $20 million to bring high-quality computer science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in elementary, middle, and high schools, and professional development for teachers. “PAsmart is strategically investing in science and technology education so students develop the skills they need for high-demand jobs,” said Governor Wolf. “To be successful, we must also invest in our educators by providing them the training to teach these critical subjects. “Through PAsmart, we are developing the most prepared and talented workforce in the country, which will help students excel, grow the middle class, and strengthen the economy for everyone,” he said. Over the next 10 years, 71 percent of new jobs in Pennsylvania will require employees to use computers and new technologies.

GOP eyes shakeup of Pennsylvania’s Democratic-majority court
Final approval of the constitutional change could land in front of voters on the May 2021 primary ballot.
WITF by The Associated Press JANUARY 20, 2020 | 5:19 AM
 (Harrisburg) — Legislation to amend Pennsylvania’s constitution that could cut short the current Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court is advancing through the Republican-controlled Legislature. Final approval of the constitutional change could land in front of voters on the May 2021 primary ballot. It’s a tight timeline, but possible with concerted action. The crux of the Republican-penned constitutional amendment is this: Instead of Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges running for 10-year terms in statewide elections, they would run for the seats in judicial districts where they live. Democrats call it a scheme to gerrymander the courts. Supporters say it would create more geographic and ideological diversity on the bench.

Berks legislator to retire, ending as the longest-serving state representative in Pa. history
Penn Live By Paul Vigna | Posted Jan 17, 2020
State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks, announced Friday that he will retire from representing Reading and Berks County in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives upon completion of his 2019-20 term. Caltagirone has served 22 consecutive terms since 1977, which makes him the longest-serving state representative in Pennsylvania history, according to a press release. “I am forever grateful, humbled and thankful,” Caltagirone wrote in a letter announcing his retirement to House Democratic Caucus leadership. “I earned the trust and confidence of my friends and neighbors through the good times and the bad. I served under 12 different speakers of the House, nine governors and there have been nearly 900 different members of the House during my tenure.” The representative of the 127th Legislative District said in the letter that he will be 78 by the time his term ends and has had time to recently reflect while battling issues related to his health.

Rep. Tom Murt not seeking re-election
Northeast Times By  Tom Waring January 17, 2020
State Rep. Tom Murt (R-152nd dist.) has announced he will not run for re-election.
Murt was elected in 2006, defeating Rep. Sue Cornell in the Republican primary and winning the general election. In 2018, Murt was re-elected with 55 percent of the vote. This year, the likely Democratic candidate is Nancy Guenst, the mayor of Hatboro. An Iraq War veteran, Murt formerly served as an Upper Moreland School Board member and township commissioner. His legislative district includes portions of Bustleton and Eastern Montgomery County. Murt was recently named chairman of the House Human Services Committee. He has worked to increase services for adults with special needs, improve treatment options for those struggling with mental illness and addictions, protect children and improve care for veterans. Murt recently completed his doctoral degree at Temple University, and has started to write a book about his experiences in Harrisburg.

“The Democrats have yet to select a candidate for the special election, although Rachel Fingles, Bensalem School Board Director, has formally announced her intentions for the seat. PoliticsPA previously reported at PA Society about Fingles and Tomlinson’s interest in the seat.”
HD18: KC Tomlinson Selected as GOP Nominee for Special Election
PoliticsPA Written by John Cole, Managing Editor January 16, 2020
The Republicans have selected their candidate for the moderate state House district in Bucks County. KC Tomlinson, a third generation Funeral Director and daughter of state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks), was selected to be the Republican nominee for the upcoming special election in the state House’s 18th District. The special election to fill the seat vacated by state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), who resigned after he was sworn-in to serve on the Bucks County Board of Commissioners, will be held on March 17.  

Springfield School District OKs three new naming-rights agreements
Delco Times By Susan L. Serbin Times Correspondent January 20, 2020
SPRINGFIELD — The school district, through the Springfield Area Education Foundation, has approved three more naming-rights agreements totaling $240,000. The donors’ roots in Springfield and the school district go deep, especially for the family of Stan Johnson. Stan and Caryl Johnson have donated $200,000 to provide naming rights for artificial turf multi-purpose field, part of the new high school complex. “Our ancestors were among the original European arrivals here in the 1680s, and at least five members of our family have served on school boards or their predecessor organizations in Delaware County at various times since 1860,” said Stan Johnson, Class of 1969. His tenure on the board of more than two decades and countless contributions of volunteer service were recognized with the district’s naming the board room in Johnson’s honor. He is also a founder of the foundation. With the same commitment, the Johnsons will honor two coaches with The Jane Brusch-Keith Broome Field.

Michelle Obama’s school lunch program faces new cuts on former first lady’s birthday
Penn Live By Tribune News Service Posted Jan 17, 2020
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has announced plans to cut back school lunch nutrition standards led by former first lady Michelle Obama. The proposed rule announced Friday would increase “flexibility” for vegetable requirements and allow schools to change fruit servings during breakfast in favor of meats or meat alternatives, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA said the rules are “intended to help state and local program operators overcome challenges and deliver great meals more efficiently.” The proposal takes a hit at one of Obama’s key achievements under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act as she celebrated her birthday Friday. The law, signed in 2010, set a minimum for fruit, vegetables and whole grain servings and set a maximum for sodium, sugar and fat content among other requirements. Some schools faced challenges under the new requirements as the cost of lunches increased. One school district in North Carolina saw school lunches increase 55 cents between 2015 and 2018. Before the 2016-2017 schoolyear, the district hadn’t raised prices since 2010.

Vermont looks to become first state to provide universal meals to public school students
CNN January 17, 2020
A Vermont lawmaker is looking to make the state the first to provide meals to all public school students. State Democratic Sen. Debbie Ingram filed a bill last week that would provide free breakfast and lunch to all public school students pre-K through 12th grade. The proposal, she said, is intended to fill the "equity" and "need" gaps of those families and comes at a time when the federal government has been disinvesting in low income families with "changes to food supplemental programs like (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)." The program is estimated to cost roughly $4 million a year -- taken from the state's Education Fund -- and would be phased in over a five-year period and fully operating by fall 2025, according to Ingram. The Vermont lawmaker was not able to provide specific details about how funds would be diverted from the Education Fund to the meal program. While Ingram said the price tag has concerned some state lawmakers over the burden it would place on taxpayers, she told CNN there is already high interest in the proposal, which is in "early stages."

Diane Ravitch: Why Education Disruption Is Losing
Forbes by Peter Greene Senior Contributor Jan 17, 2020, 02:46pm
Diane Ravitch was an education historian, who entered government work under the first Bush administration and continued to serve in the Department of Education, where she was an early supporter of charter schools and accountability, and one of the voices of support No Child Left Behind. Then in 2010, she changed course. Watching how the policies of choice and accountability played out, she reached a simple conclusion: “that effort has failed.” Her switch from supporter of modern education reform to critic quickly made her the most visible member of the resistance to ed reform policies. Her blog, where she posts many times every day, has become a veritable Rick’s Cafe; spend enough time there, and you will meet most of the important figures of the resistance. Nobody has done more to amplify the voices of parents, teachers and activists than Ravitch. You can also meet many of these folks in Ravitch’s new book Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public SchoolsThe book is a history of the modern education reform movement told from the point of view of the people who have stood up to protect public education from attempts to disrupt and dismantle it. Ravitch also explains why, in her view, those resistors are winning.

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

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.