Tuesday, December 23, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup Dec 23: Law firms question special-ed plans in proposal to charter York schools

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for December 23, 2014:
Law firms question special-ed plans in proposal to charter York schools

Happy Holidays!

The ABC's of Basic Education Funding in Pennsylvania (video)
The Campaign for Fair Education Funding December 18, 2014 Video Runtime 3:31
The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials provides a short, easy to follow tutorial on how funding works and the challenges lawmakers confront.

Charter Schools USA mum on York City schools' special ed, other needs
York Dispatch By ERIN JAMES 505-5439/@ydcity POSTED:   12/22/2014 09:18:08 AM EST
Charter Schools USA wants to assure the York City community it will provide all appropriate services to students if awarded a contract to operate the York City School District.
But a company representative's responses to questions from The York Dispatch indicate that Charter Schools USA currently has limited knowledge of the district's student population.
For example, The York Dispatch asked the for-profit company to describe its plans for the 21 percent of district students with special needs.  The company's director of development and government responded with a single sentence.  "CSUSA will evaluate the needs of every student and will provide all necessary services to help every child reach his or her highest potential," Paula Jackson wrote.

"The law requires the parents of students with disabilities be notified of a proposed placement, and there would have to be an IEP meeting to discuss that, including parent input, the filings say. The proposed charter contract didn't address how students with disabilities would be served by the charter schools or how those who didn't want to attend a charter would be provided for.
The plans would also violate a student's right to be placed in the least restrictive environment, meaning the right to be educated alongside students without disabilities, the documents claim. If a student with a disability were relegated to cyber schooling from home, that would be the most restrictive option, they say.  The filings also point out that while both district and charter schools in York serve a high percentage of students with special needs, the existing charter schools serve disproportionately fewer. In 2013, about 22 percent of the district's students had disabilities."
Law firms question special-ed plans in proposal to charter York schools
Court documents say the-all-charter plan would violate students' rights
York Daily Record By Angie Mason amason@ydr.com @angiemason1 on Twitter  12/22/2014 10:08:11 PM EST
Two law firms that do work in the area of education want to weigh in on the York City schools receivership case, saying the proposed plans for turning district schools into charters would violate the rights of special-education students.  The Education Law Center and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, on behalf of the York NAACP and the Arc of Pennsylvania, requested to file a "friend of the court" brief urging a judge not to approve receivership in York City School District.  The state education department has petitioned the court asking that David Meckley, now recovery officer, be appointed receiver. The state contends the school board is not following its recovery plan, for reasons including that the board did not approve an agreement to convert district schools to charters as Meckley directed. The board tabled that action, saying there were unanswered questions on the agreement.
Michael Churchill, an attorney with the Public Interest Law Firm, said the motion filed Monday is an attempt to brief the judge on issues they feel are relevant. It will be up to Judge Stephen Linebaugh whether to allow the brief in the record.

Philadelphia should fear a charter takeover of York City schools
the notebook Commentary By Ron Whitehorne on Dec 22, 2014 01:05 PM
In spite of opposition from York City’s elected school board, York's school district is on the verge of being turned over lock, stock, and barrel to a for-profit charter operator with ties to Florida Republicans Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush.  The York City School District has been under state control since 2012, when Gov. Corbett's administration put the district in receivership, appointing David Meckley, a local businessman, as chief recovery officer. Meckley has pressed an austerity program, which includes cutbacks to school budgets, teacher layoffs, and union concessions.  York's school board drew the line at his proposal to privatize the entire district. The board tabled this measure, citing a lack of evidence that the proposed charter operator, Charter Schools U.S.A., would do better than the existing administration. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has gone to court to compel the local school board to implement the charter takeover. A decision is expected next week.

What would be your alternative if you were in York and did not choose to attend one of the proposed Charter Schools USA schools?  Cyber charters…..
Pa. cyber charters again get low marks on state tests
new study by Research for Action has found that Pennsylvania's cyber-charter sector continues to yield subpar results on the state's standardized tests.   Using the state's recently released school performance profile data for 2013-14, RFA found the average School Performance Profile score for the cyber-charter sector was 48.9 – well below the averages for the state's brick and mortar charters and traditional public schools.  To date, no cyber charter has earned a SPP of 70 or higher, the state Department of Education's quality threshold.

Pa. standardized test scores continue slide over past three years
Pennsylvania's standardized test scores have steadily declined over the past three years, according to the state department of education's filings with the federal government. The dropoff has been especially stark amongst some of the commonwealth's most at-risk students.
Under Gov. Tom Corbett, the Pennsylvania Department of Education hasdownplayed year-to-year standardized test score comparisons — instead favoring the School Performance Profile index, which accounts for enrollment growth and graduation rates among other factors.
The SPP website allows the public to access achievement data on a school or district-wide basis, but the department of education has made it difficult to see the aggregated results of all of its schools.  Federal filings, though, require this information.

Allegheny County schools show little change in test scores
Disparities still remain among the races
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December 20, 2014 12:00 AM
The release of Pennsylvania test scores for 2013-14 by the state Department of Education shows that scores among Allegheny County schools for the most part hovered close to where they were a year ago.  While there were changes in some districts or schools, the highest scoring districts were predictably in more affluent areas and the lower-scoring districts in the poor neighborhoods.
Based on district overall results, which include students in grades 3-8 who took the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment Exams and 11th-graders who took the Keystone exams in biology, algebra and literature, the highest-scoring district was South Fayette with 95 percent of students scoring proficient or advanced in math and 93 percent in reading.

Blogger uses an adequacy supplement to fix basic education funding formula.
Capitolwire.com  Under The Dome™ Monday, December 22, 2014 (paywall)
Valerie Strauss, an education writer for the Answer Sheet Blog, offered her own version of a new, improved basic education funding formula for Pennsylvania in a Washington Post column published December 11. In her formula, Strauss proposes a system of tax caps that would, for example, limit local contributions in 150 districts by at least $800 million to ease the burden on property owners, while forcing the General Assembly to boost state funding to fill the gap. She argues lawmakers should determine a base amount per-student that it must fund in order to meet state-mandated academic standards, which she calls adequacy. The formula for the new state allocation would be, quite simply, adequacy minus the local tax contribution (with familiar weights for poverty added in). But don't expect to find any suggestions on how the state should generate this extra money, except for a vague reference to the General Assembly's ability to raise taxes — and thereby putting the onus back onto taxpayers — quoted below: “Will this proposal halt Pennsylvania’s long history of burdening local taxpayers and low state appropriations? No guarantee, but by bringing the structure in conformity with taxing reality — only the state has the tax base necessary to fund the vast majority of districts with weak tax bases — and with budgeting reality — the state sets proficiency standards and therefore sets the costs which must be met, there is a much better chance.” To read Strauss's look into the state's basic education funding formula, CLICK HERE. There's also the thorny legal ramifications of codifying a dollar amount to define “adequacy,” though it hasn't stopped education advocates from challenging the courts to force the General Assembly to do so. To read more about the problems abound when it comes to defining adequacy, CLICK HERE and HERE.

Here's Valerie Strauss' December 11th column referred to in the Capitolwire posting:
An eye-opening description of one state’s failed school funding system
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss December 11  
Many school reformers today like to say that “money doesn’t matter” in making schools work and that holding students and teachers more “accountable”   — largely through standardized test scores — is what is needed. Certainly a great deal of money can be used poorly but that is not the same thing as money doesn’t matter. It is, however, a good mantra for people who want to ignore the severe and consequential funding inequitiesthat persist in the U.S. public education system across the United States.  According to this 2013 report on school funding by the Education Law Center: In fiscal year 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, state governments, on average, funded 43.5 percent, or $259.8 billion, of the total amount spent on public education. School districts and other local sources were responsible, on average, for almost 44 percent of all public school spending or $261.6 billion. The federal government, on average, provided almost 13 percent of the total revenue received by public schools, or $75.9 billion.  With most of the money coming from state and local sources, disparities are inevitable, especially because in most places local sources are dependent on property taxes, meaning that poor areas have less money to spend on schools. Federal money given to low-income areas doesn’t close the gap.
So how inequitable can school funding be within a single state? Let’s look at one of the most troubled in this respect, Pennsylvania.

"Our main drivers right now for budget increases have been pensions and charter schools"
With budgets come tax questions for Erie-area school districts
GoErie By Erica Erwin   814-870-1846 Erie Times-News December 22, 2014 07:56 AM
The Erie School District administration has only just started crafting what eventually will become its 2015-16 budget, but familiar challenges are already surfacing.  "Our main drivers right now for budget increases have been pensions and charter schools" and, to some degree, rising health-care costs, district Business Administrator Rick D'Andrea said.  While the budget process is still in its earliest stages, the district expects to need an additional $1.3 million to cover mandated increases to pension contributions, which are up to about $17.1 million in 2015-16, D'Andrea said Friday. The district expects to pay about $20 million in charter school costs for students living in the district but attending either brick-and-mortar or cyber charter schools, an increase of about $3.5 million over 2014-15, D'Andrea said.  "Those are some pretty big challenges, just those two alone," he said.

Expanding learning time generates results
Post Gazette LTE December 23, 2014 12:00 AM
By DAVID W. PATTI, President and CEO, Pennsylvania Business Council
Regarding “Pittsburgh Summer Learning Programs Boost Math Scores, Not Other Outcomes” (Dec. 16):  It’s encouraging to see the results of this research by the Rand Corp. and good to know that voluntary summer learning programs are producing meaningful improvements in Pittsburgh students’ math skills. Such programs are clearly a worthy investment.
Summer learning programs integrate fun learning activities with core academic subjects such as science, technology and math. The extra hours of instruction help students build foundational skills they can expand upon during the school year.

"A grassroots consortium of teachers and curriculum specialists from Environmental Charter School, Pittsburgh Public, South Fayette, Quaker Valley and Fort Cherry are meeting on Twitter and in each other's teaching spaces, asking questions and collaborating to bring innovative programming to schools. Their third meeting should happen when school resumes in January, teachers said."
Environmental teachers glean new ideas from networking
Trib Live By Megan Harris Friday, Dec. 19, 2014, 8:57 p.m.
From hydroponics in South Fayette to urban gardens at Pittsburgh Arsenal, teachers pushing environmental literacy are skirting traditional alliances in favor of what works: networking.
Scarce resources make for unique alliances, said Butch Reffert, math teacher at Pittsburgh's Environmental Charter School.  “Everyone always has questions about ECS,” he said. “We're new and get a lot of publicity. Some people think our presence threatens Pittsburgh Public's pool of potential students, but that's not what good charter schools are about.  “We get to try new and innovative approaches to education, with the idea that we give back what works.”
Advocates Cheer White House Spending on Early-Ed.
Education Week By Christina A. Samuels Published Online: December 22, 2014
The White House closed out 2014 by turning its powerful spotlight on the cause of early learning, announcing the results of two federal grant programs and unveiling a new philanthropic effort aimed at infants, toddlers, and young children.  The overall investment—some $1 billion in new federal early-education money filtering out to the states—is still far short of the $75 billion, 10-year investment in preschool that President Barack Obama has been urging lawmakers to adopt. And the new, Republican-controlled 114th Congress may be just as unlikely to follow that call as the Congress that just ended.  But the grants and commitments rolled out at the Dec. 10 White House summit on early education got a warm welcome from advocates. “By launching this all in one day, getting that energy going, it gives us a second wind to gather ourselves and go through one more year fighting for that one big investment,” said Kris Perry, the executive director of the First Five Years Fund, which is an establishing partner of the Invest in US advocacy campaign.

Education’s Newsmaker Of The Year: Charter School Scandals
Campaign for America's Future by JEFF BRYANT DECEMBER 19, 2014
Since it’s the time of the year when newspapers, websites, and television talk shows scan their archives to pick the person, place, or thing that sums up the year in entertainment, business, sports, or every other venue, why not do that for education, too?
In 2014 education news, lots of personalities came and went.
Michelle Rhee gave way to Campbell Brown as a torchbearer for “reform.” The comedian Louis C. K. had a turn at becoming an education wonk with his commentary on the Common Core standards. Numerous “Chiefs for Change” toppled from the ranks of chiefdom. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett went down in defeat due in part to his gutting of public schools, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker remained resilient while spreading the cancerous voucher program from Milwaukee to the rest of the state. New York Mayor Bill De Blasio rose to turn back the failed education reforms of ex-mayor Bloomberg, only to have his populist agenda blocked by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo who insisted on imposing policies favored by Wall Street. Progressives formed Democrats for Public Education to counter the neoliberal, big money clout of Democrats for Education Reform. And Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush emerged as rival voices in the ongoing debate about the Common Core among potential Republican presidential candidates.
But hogging the camera throughout the year was another notable character: charter school scandals.

January 23rd–25th, 2015 at The Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia
EduCon is both a conversation and a conference.
It is an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas — from the very practical to the big dreams.

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