Thursday, January 22, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Jan 22: Pew: At 35.2%, PA state share of public education funding is among the lowest in the nation

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for January 22, 2015:
Pew: At 35.2%, PA state share of public education funding is among the lowest in the nation

Save the date/heads-up; details/confirmation on this as they become available...
The next Basic Education Funding Commission hearing will be held on January 29 in Greenville, Mercer County.#FairFundingPA
Tweet from Circuit Rider Pam Lenz January 16, 2015

All members of the PA Senate Education Committee are now posted
PA Legislature website

Senate Ed Committee Majority Chairman Smucker Comments on Education Secretary Nomination
Senator Smucker's website January 20, 2015
Senator Lloyd Smucker (R-13) issued the following statement today regarding the recent nomination of School District of Lancaster Superintendent Pedro Rivera to serve as Pennsylvania Secretary of Education:
“People in our area should be pleased that Governor Wolf has picked a prominent local educator to fill this important position.  I congratulate Pedro Rivera for earning this opportunity.  Having capably led the School District of Lancaster, and having worked in the Philadelphia School District prior to that, he brings needed perspective on the challenges of education generally and the added problems specific to urban schools.  Many Pennsylvanians identify education as their top concern, the Basic Education Funding Commission is putting a lot of effort toward rectifying unfairness in the system, and local officials and residents want to ensure that state decisions on funding and policy take into account our views.  So the prospect of working to achieve results with an education secretary with whom I have collaborated frequently and constructively over the years is very encouraging.  Every nominee of a new administration can expect to receive careful scrutiny and a lot of questions about philosophy, practices, and priorities, and that is especially true on a subject as consequential and controversial as education is.  As the confirmation process begins, Pedro’s knowledge, experience, and track record are strengths that mark him as a well-qualified individual.”

"There's a case to be made that Pennsylvania isn't doing its fair share. Last week's Pew study found that, on average, states provide 46.2 percent of the cost of running public schools. In Pennsylvania that figure is 35.2 percent, among the lowest of any state in the nation.  Wolf has said he wants to bring the state's share closer to 50 percent of the cost"
DN Editorial: Formula follows function
Philly Daily News Editorial POSTED: Wednesday, January 21, 2015, 12:16 AM
NEW GOV. Wolf has made increasing state aid to public education one of his priorities, but to do anything about it now would be putting the cart before the horse.  Before the debate begins in Harrisburg over how much to give the public schools, a decision should be made on the formula by which the money is handed out.  A special commission is looking into the matter and its recommendations are due in June. One thing everyone agrees on is that the current method is out-of-date and unfair. In fact, it isn't really even a formula.  As a recent study from Pew's Philadelphia Research Initiative pointed out, Pennsylvania is one of only three states that does not have a comprehensive school-finance formula to distribute state money to local school districts.

"Pennsylvania, Delaware and North Carolina are the only states without funding formulas, according to the Education Law Center."
Study: Education funding formula could level playing field
Education Week Published Online: January 16, 2015
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — An education funding formula could help remedy wide spending disparities among school districts in Pennsylvania and would likely mean more state aid for perpetually cash-strapped Philadelphia, according to a study released Thursday.  A formula that takes into account districts' wealth and its students' needs "probably would reduce the substantial variations in overall education revenue among urban, rural, and suburban districts in the state," said the report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.  Education advocates have been pushing Pennsylvania lawmakers to devise what they view as a more equitable way to distribute state aid. A funding formula commission is expected to issue a report by June.

A School Funding Formula for Philadelphia
Lessons from urban districts across the United States
Pew Charitable Trusts Report January 15, 2015 
This report examines how a new, comprehensive state education funding formula, if adopted by Pennsylvania, would impact the School District of Philadelphia. After comparing Philadelphia with 10 other big city districts across the country, the analysis concludes that a state formula based on district needs, demographics, and ability to pay—such as those used in most states—would not necessarily provide a substantially higher level of aid for urban districts. Equally important, the analysis finds, is the overall amount of state spending on education. 
According to the report, per-pupil funding for Philadelphia schools was less than that of seven of the 10 other districts studied­—all of which were in states with funding formulas.

Moody's: Financially stressed Pennsylvania school districts creating recovery plans to cope with charter school pressures
Moody's Global Credit Research - 21 Jan 2015
New York, January 21, 2015 -- Some fiscally stressed Pennsylvania public school districts have come up with new approaches for combating a primary pressure point: competition from charter schools, Moody's Investor Service says in a new report. Some of the plans would be transformative, such as a proposal to send all students to other school districts and pay tuition, or to operate a public school district as all-charter.
"Some financially stressed districts have offered recovery proposals that fundamentally alter the nature of their public school district operations," says Moody's Assistant Vice President -- Analyst, Dan Seymour. "The bold plans face near-term execution challenges, but are positive in the long run as some of these districts would continue to deteriorate without significant structural changes. The strong measures are more likely to lead to long-term financial and operational soundness than continuing on the existing course."
In 2012, Pennsylvania created Act 141, a state oversight program to assist distressed school districts by appointing a chief recovery officer who is responsible for drafting a recovery plan. A key strength of the state's recovery program is that the commonwealth can take over districts which fail to adopt or implement recovery plans.
Currently, four school districts -- the York City School District (Baa2 negative), the Duquesne City School District (unrated), the Chester-Upland School District (unrated), and Harrisburg City School District (unrated) -- are under Act 141 and in various stages of developing recovery plans in an effort to end this negative feedback loop. While not under Act 141, the Philadelphia School District (Ba3 negative) is also grappling with the negative feedback loop and is under separate state oversight.

Gov. Tom Wolf's outreach to GOP attracts notice
Turzai says mention in inaugural speech was 'very gracious'
York daily Record By Mary Wilson WITF @marywilson on Twitter UPDATED:   01/21/2015 07:49:52 PM EST
The heavy lifting of Governor Tom Wolf's administration has yet to begin, but some took note of a brief bipartisan commendation at the beginning of Wolf's inaugural address.
Less than two minutes into the speech, Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai got a shout-out.
"Let me say a special thanks to Speaker Mike Turzai, for reminding us when he was sworn in as speaker of the House that we 'cannot take lightly the great history of democracy of which we are a part,' and encouraging, as he said that, all members of the legislature to meet with people across the aisle," said Wolf. "That's important."  No other legislative leaders were similarly recognized, and the reference got the attention of those who have been paying close attention to the way the incoming administration has tried to woo a legislature controlled by Republicans. Those efforts include an informal dinner with Republican and Democratic legislative leaders, as well as handwritten notes and phone calls to individual honchos.
"He's already building a relationship, and you can see that up there," said Democratic House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, calling the Turzai quote a "little touch that makes a difference.

Reed and Corman: In Pa. Legislature, speaking softly and carrying no sticks
As a Democrat settles into the governor's office, Republicans in Pennsylvania's Legislature are loaded for bear, with bigger majorities and newly elected leadership.  House Republicans felt pretty good after the November election. A press release referred to their growing caucus, "119 strong" – more than enough to dominate the 203-member chamber.  And who did they pick to be their majority leader, to work in tandem with the speaker to guide the caucus? Who would carry them to further victories, through policy thickets and budget battles?
Meet Dave Reed: Republican. Policy wonk. Introvert.

Thorough and Efficient: Pennsylvania Education Funding Lawsuit website
Arguing that our state has failed to ensure that essential resources are available for all of our public school students to meet state academic standards.

Will new Pennsylvania ed chief's Philly ties benefit cash-strapped district?
Education DIve By Allie Gross | January 21, 2015
·         Dive Brief:
·         Incoming Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has appointed Pedro Rivera, a former Philadelphia School District administrator and current Lancaster superintendent, to serve as the state's education secretary.
·         Given the number of financially strapped districts in the state, like Philadelphia, some education advocates hope Rivera's background will bring much-needed change.
·         Wolf says he selected Rivera because of recognition for his "efforts to improve urban education" and commitment to strong public education. Rivera was also honored in September by the White House as one of the nation's top Hispanic leaders.

Are the Best Charters Actually Whiter & Wealthier?
Fact-checking our own Insider’s take.
PhillyMag Citified BY PATRICK KERKSTRA  |  JANUARY 20, 2015 AT 1:54 PM
Yesterday, English teacher (and Citified insider) Andrew Saltz argued that the highest-performing charter schools do as well as they do in large part because they enroll students with fewer challenges than typical district schools. Saltz zoomed in on MaST, in Northeast Philadelphia, to make his case.
Wrote Saltz: The biggest difference between the “horrendous” public school and its charter alternative isn’t the teachers or the curriculum, it’s the student body. “Elite” charters, like MaST, tend to have student bodies that are significantly more white and much less likely to be enrolled in free lunch than neighborhood schools such as Disston-Hamilton.  Saltz’s take is a controversial one. We’re expecting a response to it sometime soon from MaST CEO John F. Swoyer III. But a lot of the criticism has focused on the question of whether or not Saltz is factually correct.

Kampf to reintroduce pension reform legislation
By Pennsylvania Business Daily Reports January 20, 2015 8:27 PM
Pennsylvania State Rep. Warren Kampf (R-Montgomery/Chester) recently announced his intention to reintroduce legislation meant to reform the state’s two underfunded pension systems.
One part of Kampf’s proposed legislation would create a mandatory Defined Contribution (DC) plan for all future state employees while another would create a mandatory DC plan for all future school district employees.  Included in Kampf’s legislation would be a 4 percent employer match and a mandatory employee contribution.  “These are the types of retirement plans the vast majority of our constituents have in their own lives,” Kampf said. “These are plans that businesses across our country use in their budgets to avoid financial obligations that cannot be planned. We are simply asking public employees to follow the same plans used by those in the private sector as a way to stop the growing havoc public pension systems have created for taxpayers all across the country.”

Recognition given to Pittsburgh school board members
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette January 21, 2015 7:57 PM
It was recognition all around at the start of the Pittsburgh Public Schools board meeting tonight.
As part of School Director Recognition Month, board members received artwork done by early childhood students and copies of the book and DVD for "Twelve Years a Slave," which is part of the curriculum in African-American history classes. Some of the district's principals were on hand, applauding as board members received certificates. Each board member went through a long line of hugs.  Superintendent Linda Lane read a resolution of appreciation for the board members, noting their dedication and that they have to attend sometimes "lengthy and challenging meetings." She got the audience to vote a loud "aye."

What should Gov. Wolf focus on first? Our readers say it's getting rid of the school property tax
Lehigh Valley Live By Jim Flagg/opinion editor on January 21, 2015 at 2:50 PM
In an inauguration day poll, we asked readers at to pick the most pressing item on Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's to-do list. We listed six choices, and suspected that the number of options might produce a muddled mandate, flattening out any prospect for consensus.
We were wrong.  An overwhelming majority bypassed the first five selections to vote for eliminating the school property tax. With 282 people voting (as of 2 p.m. Wednesday), 59.2 percent said property tax reform should be 'job one' for the new Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Lawmakers should help desegregate York city schools (letter)
York Daily Record Letter by Gary Kraybill, West Manchester Township UPDATED:   01/21/2015 03:06:00 PM EST
State Reps. Stan Saylor, Seth Grove and Sen. Scott Wagner wrote in these pages on January 7, 2015, “Status quo unacceptable for York schools.” Certainly, we can all agree. My opinions herein are addressed primarily to the three of you, and include an appeal to you and area school boards and superintendents to take action to save city schools while at the same time improving those adjacent to the city. I believe the action I seek could also contribute to restoring the prosperity of York city.  My appeal to all of you is meant to be respectful of your dedication to the welfare of the York area. It includes no blame for York city schools’ problems and comes from a fellow citizen of York County and a graduate of York High when it was a center of academic excellence that offered its 2,600 students a flexible curriculum and cultural programs to meet our needs.
Today, York city is a poverty center, and as such its schools will not likely succeed without revolutionary change. I don’t think charter schools will bring that change, only an integration/consolidation of area schools resulting in a racially and socio-economically balanced school environment will do that.

Residents air concerns over taxes in Garnet Valley School District
By Susan L. Serbin, Delco Times Correspondent POSTED: 01/21/15, 9:59 PM EST |
CONCORD >> The Garnet Valley School Board’s recent work session had a contingent of residents, mostly from the Foxfield community, who expressed concerns about potential tax increases. Although the 2015-16 budget has not yet been presented, even in the preliminary form, seniors are already strongly advocating for the board to hold the line.  Speakers stressed that retired seniors are no longer working and cannot increase income in the face of rising taxes.
“So many people came out (to the meeting) because of the tax hike. Social Security went up only 1.5 percent. I had to lower my cable bill,” Ken Gerrken said in describing his financial adjustments.  Gerrken’s reference to the Social Security increase was directed at the school district’s Act 1 index of 1.9 percent. That is the maximum amount set by the state that the district can raise taxes without a public referendum or taking permitted exceptions on pension and special education costs.

Ousted Cheltenham superintendent will keep getting paid
KATHY BOCCELLA, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Thursday, January 22, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Wednesday, January 21, 2015, 6:09 PM
Cheltenham's school superintendent, fired this week after a spectacular downfall, will be paid the balance of her $180,000 annual salary and receive health benefits through June 30.  Natalie Thomas, a lightning rod in the district almost since the day she was hired in June 2013, also will be paid for 10 sick days, 11 vacation days, and three personal days that she had not used, according to the separation agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The Inquirer through a Right-to-Know request.

No shortage of reasons why so many can't read
"It's layer on top of layer," says one official in behavioral health. Educators and psychologists agree.
the notebook By Paul Jablow on Jan 21, 2015 11:58 AM
To figure out why some of his elementary school students struggle with reading, Daun Kauffman sometimes has learned as much in home visits as in his classroom.  Kauffman now teaches 2nd grade at Juniata Park Academy, but for more than a decade he taught in his own neighborhood in Hunting Park, where families struggle to balance so many life issues.  “Students’ challenges in Hunting Park quickly become more clear in person,” he says.  “There’s usually only one adult caregiver, and they’re often preoccupied with being sure the children have food and clothes first. There are commonly minimal furnishings and often no car.  It’s not surprising that there are often little-to-no print resources available in the home.

Philly middle school students poised to quit standardized tests in droves
Citypaper By Daniel Denvir Published: 01/21/2015
Parents of 17 percent of all students at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences have opted their children out of controversial standardized tests, according to a statement from teacher and parent activists. In recent years, tests like the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) have played an increasingly larger role in judging not only student academic achievement but also whether individual teachers and entire schools have made the grade — or are deemed failures.
Roat says that 90 parents at the middle school have signed letters affirming that "standardized testing is against our religious and/or philosophical beliefs" and that they "will be refusing all standardized testing" for their children, including the PSSAs and other assessments.

"Are there too many tests? Are they the right tests? Are the stakes for failing them too high? What should Washington, D.C. have to do with all this?" said Alexander, R-Tenn., before a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee."
Federally mandated testing at heart of education law debate
KIMBERLY HEFLING, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Wednesday, January 21, 2015, 10:08 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) - A Republican-controlled Senate committee began work Wednesday on revising the landmark No Child Left Behind education law, focusing first on federally mandated testing of America's schoolchildren.  The chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, said at the heart of the debate is whether there is too much testing. Alexander said he is open to discussion on whether the federal government should dictate standardized testing or leave it up to states.

“There are two worlds. Contractors, consultants, academics and experts and plenty of officials at the federal and state level,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “And the other world is of principals and teachers who are actually providing education to students. And what I’m hearing from the second world is that the footprint of the first world has become way too big in their lives.”
Senate begins debate on education law, focuses on testing
Washington Post By Lyndsey Layton January 21 at 5:09 PM  
The Senate began its most serious attempt in years to rewrite the country’s main education law with a hearing Wednesday focusing on an issue that has caused an uproar nationwide: Whether states should be required to test students every year.  An overflow crowd listened as witnesses described standardized testing as helpful and as harmful to learning, and lawmakers grappled with how much control the federal government should exercise over the nation’s 100,000 public schools. 

Teachers Rally Against Standardized Testing At No Child Left Behind Hearing
Huffington Post by Joy Resmovits  Posted: 01/21/2015 2:14 pm EST Updated: 01/21/2015 2:59 pm EST
At the end of every school year, Stephen Lazar, a New York City social studies teacher, would stand in front of his students and apologize to them for turning into a "bad teacher" to prepare them for the Regents exams.  On Wednesday morning, he spoke of this experience to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which was addressing a major question in American education: Are annual standardized tests necessary?  While almost every committee member in the overflowing hearing room said the burden of standardized testing must be reduced, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Patty Murray (Wash.) argued they are still needed, noting that tests can hold states accountable when it comes to teaching the most disadvantaged kids.

Testing Resistance & Reform News: January 14 - 20, 2015
FairTest Submitted by fairtest on January 20, 2015 - 1:03pm 
Responding to pressure by the grassroots assessment reform movement (check out this week's stories from 22 states!), Congress finally takes up overhauling "No Child Left Behind" this month.
Now is the time to make your voice heard by contacting your U.S. Senators and Representative to support a significant reduction in federal testing requirements.

Register Now! EPLC 2015 Regional Workshops for School Board Candidates and Others
The Education Policy and Leadership Center, with the Cooperation of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO), will conduct A Series of Regional Full-Day Workshops for 2015 Pennsylvania School Board Candidates.  Incumbents, non-incumbents, campaign supporters and all interested voters are invited to participate in these workshops.
Pittsburgh Region Saturday, February 21, 2015 – 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Allegheny Intermediate Unit, 475 East Waterfront Drive, Homestead, PA  15120
Harrisburg Region Saturday, March 7, 2015– 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Pennsylvania School Boards Association Headquarters, 400 Bent Creek Boulevard, Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
Philadelphia Region Saturday, March 14, 2015 – 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, 2 W. Lafayette Street, Norristown, PA 19401

INVITATION: Twitter Chat on Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m.
The first monthly Twitter chat of 2015 with Pennsylvania’s major education leadership organizations is set for Tuesday, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. The January chat will focus on a fair, predictable public school funding formula and the ongoing work of the state’s basic education funding commission. Use hashtag#PAEdFunding to participate and follow the conversation.
On the last Tuesday of each month at 8 p.m., the following organizations go to Twitter to discuss timely topics, ask questions and listen to the public’s responses:
·         The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA);
·         The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA);
·         The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO);
·         The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS); and
·         The Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units

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.

NPE 2015 Annual Conference – Chicago April 24 - 26 – Early Bird Special Registration Open!
Early-bird discounted Registration for the Network for Public Education’s Second Annual Conference is now available at this address:
These low rates will last for the month of January.
The event is being held at the Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago, and there is a link on the registration page for special hotel registration rates. Here are some of the event details.
There will be a welcoming social event  7 pm Friday night, at or near the Drake Hotel — details coming soon.   Featured speakers will be:
§         Jitu Brown, National Director – Journey for Justice, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Network for Public Education Board of Directors
§         Tanaisa Brown, High School Senior, with the Newark Student Union
§         Yong Zhao, Author, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?
§         Diane Ravitch in conversation with
§         Lily Eskelsen Garcia, NEA President and
§         Randi Weingarten, AFT President
§         Karen Lewis, President, Chicago Teachers Union

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