Sunday, February 28, 2016

PA Ed Policy Weekend Roundup Feb 28: 30 million word gap; To overcome the effects of poverty on student achievement, we have to begin reaching children before they even arrive at school

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup February 28, 2016:
30 million word gap; To overcome the effects of poverty on student achievement, we have to begin reaching children before they even arrive at school

PSBA Advocacy Forum & Day on the Hill APR 4, 2016 • 9:00 AM - 5:30 PM

Auditor General says Cash-poor school districts could be headed for more trouble
Written by Radio Pennsylvania | Feb 27, 2016 9:49 AM
(Harrisburg) -- Pennsylvania's Auditor General is warning of more problems ahead for school districts as the budget impasse continues.   In testimony before the House Appropriations Committee this week, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said that districts borrowed an estimated one billion-dollars before Governor Tom Wolf released partial funding in December.  Now that money is running out, and DePasquale says  districts who once again turn to the banks may have a problem.  "Banks today cannot guarantee that there's going to be a state budget.  So school districts that have depleted their fund balances and already had one loan, I believe now the second go-around, their interest rate will either be significantly higher or they may not get the loan," DePasquale said.  An updated report is due in April. As for his own office, Depasquale says they're completing audits at a faster rate than at any three-year period in the agency's recent history. 

PPG Editorial: Looming closure: Keep schools open; shut down Harrisburg
Post Gazette By the Editorial Board February 28, 2016 12:00 AM
It has come to this. Eight months into a fiscal year without a completed state budget, the Department of Education is advising Pennsylvania school districts on how to shut down if they run out of money.  Under the nebulous heading of “Considerations for School Districts,” the 11-point checklist of “suggested activities” is recommended for administrators, solicitors and other school officials who may be contemplating closure. Among the tips are: Figure out how to meet the 180-day instruction minimum while being closed, make a plan for how to address payroll and give families enough notice to enroll their students in other schools.  It’s in very matter-of-fact language, yet there is nothing matter-of-fact about the failure of Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg to approve a 2015-16 spending plan. Pennsylvania’s fiscal year begins on July 1, yet here it is almost March 1 and the $23.39 billion partial budget approved by Gov. Tom Wolf in December is about to peter out for public schools. Maybe that explains his record low approval rating, now at 31 percent.

Time and money at a rate of $143 a second
"Unfunded liability" rolls off the tongue about as easily as "high cholesterol," "structural deficit," and "negative cash flow." It may not sound dire, but it's a slow and silent killer.  A few activists in the state Capitol have endeavored to make the state's pension unfunded liability a little less silent — or at least a little more visible.  The device they unveiled looks like a wood-encased digital clock that shows a $63 billion figure ticking up at a rate of $143 a second. The clock represents the state's growing unfunded obligation to its two pension systems.  "Take a 20-minute coffee break ... that's $172,000 that it went up," said activist Barry Shutt, who commissioned the clock. He said he'll reprogram it if the pension systems' money situation changes. For now, he's got its growth rate memorized: "Take an hour for lunch. That's $517,000 it went up."  Shutt has become a fixture outside the Capitol cafeteria, where he's sat with a fold-up chair and poster-board for a year and a half — a one-man demonstration to reckon with Pennsylvania's pension debt.

Quakertown Community School District to suspend March, June contributions to PSERS
Mark Reccek , Reporter, Published: 5:06 PM EST Feb 26, 2016 QUAKERTOWN, Pa. - The Quakertown Community School District School Board unanimously passed a motion Thursday evening to suspend the district's contribution payments to the Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) fund, excluding the amount the district withholds from employees, in an effort to save roughly $5 million. The board agreed the suspension of payments is effective until the district receives its share of state subsidies. According to Assistant to the Superintendent Nancianne Edwards, every district employee has 7.5 percent of salary, or a higher percentage for some newer employees, and 6.5 percent for some longer term employees, withheld from every paycheck. QUICK CLICKS Parkland eyeing fourth straight district crown Nazareth wins second straight District 11 title Area wrestlers advance in District 3 tournament Becahi, Saucon Valley shine on day one of district tournament Gov. Mifflin falls in District 3 championship game "Those funds that are withheld from employee paychecks would still be remitted to PSERS," Edwards said. "The district's contribution to PSERS is what would not be remitted." Board Vice President Charles Shermer, prior to the discussion and motion, asked his colleagues to consider possible alternatives to conserve district funds. "We need to start reserving cash and start to explore some of our options," he told the board.
Read more from at:

Pennsylvania's pension crisis, in retrospect
Zack Hoopes The Sentinel February 27, 2016
Pennsylvania’s government pension crisis should come as a surprise in the same way as does one’s car seizing up after not having changed the oil for 15 years.
Shocking, but not unexpected if you have an understanding of how it works.
The often-cited number is that the state currently has $53 billion in unfunded pension liability. This is roughly correct — one could say, actually, that the number is about $28 billion more, since it doesn’t include the coming years’ routine per-paycheck contributions from both employer and employees, a level known as ‘normal cost.’  Assuming, however, that the state continues to make its normal cost, it still has $53 billion in future estimated expenses that there is no built-in funding for.  As of the 2014 year-end valuation, the State Employees Retirement Plan (SERS) has $44.8 billion in liability not covered by normal costs, and a trust fund of only $26.6 billion to pay for it. The Public School Employees Retirement Plan (PSERS) is likewise looking at covering $92.5 billion with a $57.3 billion fund.  These expenses, it should be noted, have already been discounted to reflect an average 7.5 percent investment gain on the trusts that pay for them — meaning that gains will only happen if the state adds to the principal.  Pennsylvania did not get so far behind overnight. The most critical part of understanding the pension crisis, experts say, is to know that while the liabilities for employee retirement costs have always existed, they are just now actually showing up on the state’s balance sheets.

"State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester), who cosponsored the bill delaying the Keystones, said he has watched a surprising bipartisan consensus emerge as parents in more affluent suburban districts complain about the number of days devoted to testing, while poverty-stricken communities say they lack the money to implement the changes.  "It wasn't helping anyone," Dinniman said of the Keystone requirement. "All we were doing was stamping failure on the backs of students in impoverished areas where there weren't any resources to pass these exams."
As protests rise over high-stakes tests, more students likely to opt out
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer. Updated: FEBRUARY 28, 2016 — 6:53 AM EST
Last year, a small, angry band of parents and teachers in the Lower Merion School District took on a big challenge: convincing their neighbors that the intensifying emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests was harming their children's education.  This year's challenge: coming up with enough yard signs so converts to the cause can broadcast their displeasure with the coming Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, tests given in grades three through eight. Their opt-out message - "Our kids & schools are more than a score" - has popped up on curbsides around the affluent Main Line suburb.  Danielle Arnold-Schwartz, a Lower Merion teacher and local chapter leader of the national education activist group Parents Across America, said about 100 yard signs were snapped up for $1 each after a recent Villanova University screening of a documentary critical of high-stakes testing.  "There are people still asking for more," she said, "and it's not fully testing season yet."  The protest signs are a leading indicator that across the region, the parent-led push to opt out of standardized tests - whether the PSSAs, or Pennsylvania's controversial Keystone Exams, or New Jersey's year-old PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) - may be nearing a tipping point.

Online Charter Schools Tested by Setbacks and Self-Inflicted Blows
NBC News February 22, 2016 by MIKE BRUNKER
Online charter schools have soared in popularity in recent years, based on a deceptively simple promise: delivering quality instruction — anytime and anywhere — to any student with an Internet connection.  But new questions about the quality of that education, and how the schools operate, are threatening to stifle that growth.  Supporters of traditional public school systems say the online schools lack accountability and are too dependent on for-profit school managers. High-profile scandals have added to the perception.  The criticism has sharpened since an October 2015 study of 200 online charter schools that serve approximately 200,000 students in 26 states. It found that charter students who received instruction exclusively via the Internet achieved "significantly weaker academic performance" in math and reading, suffered from larger class sizes and received far less attention from teachers than those in traditional schools.  The study — funded by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation and comprised of three separate reports by Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington and Mathematica, a private policy research company — found the education deficit was "exacerbated by high student-teacher ratios and minimal student-teacher contact time."  CRPE Director Robin Lake said the results came as little surprise to anyone who had followed student testing in individual states that hosted online charter schools.

ANNUAL: Schools grapple with state education funding
Joshua Vaughn The Sentinel February 27, 2016
At the heart of much of the contention surrounding recent budget debates is education funding. How much is enough and are schools being funded fairly?  “(Education) is funded from both state money and local money and to a smaller extent federal money,” Joseph Bard, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Rural and Small Schools, said. “The state money is what is most at issue right now.”  Education as a category topped $11 billion and made up about 40 percent of the state’s enacted 2014-15 fiscal year.  That number has been touted to indicate the state is spending enough on schools, but likely only tells part of the story.  The category includes things like basic and special education funding for elementary and secondary schools but also includes state appropriations for the school employees’ retirement system, social security contributions and appropriations for public colleges.  Pennsylvania ranked 13th highest for the amount of money spent per pupil on education in 2012 but only 21st in state contribution and 6th in local, according to  “We rely on property taxes for the majority of local funds,” Bard said. “That’s a good source of money. There’s a lot of people that would do away with property taxes, and we’d be happy to replace it, but it would really take a hike in the personal income tax to about the level of what Gov. Wolf is proposing. There really is no other source of revenue that is as dependable or as assured as the (income tax) or property tax.”

A return to local control would not solve schools' ills
Inquirer Opinion by William Green Updated: FEBRUARY 28, 2016 — 3:01 AM EST
William Green is a member of Philadelphia's School Reform Commission
Calls for a return to local control of the School District of Philadelphia, in many cases prompted by the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision on the School Reform Commission's powers, are based on a misdiagnosis of what ails the city's public schools.  There can be no question that sufficient, predictable, recurring funding is desperately needed to provide our students with the educational opportunities they deserve. However, local control without taxing authority would do nothing to provide the necessary funding.  But even with a governing board that had taxing authority, we cannot lose sight of the need for appropriate state funding for our schools.  Local tax support for Philadelphia's schools has increased by more than $400 million over the last five years, but these resources have not translated to widespread investments in classrooms, as they have been consumed by increasing, recurring fixed costs (such as pensions and benefits) and plugging the hole left by reduced state support.  A structural deficit is the terminal disease our School District is battling. Rather than banding together to find a cure, entrenched interest groups and activists are aiming their fire at the SRC and School District leadership, blaming them for not spending funds we neither have nor can compel.

Local leaders back suit against state for inadequate school funding
Philly Trib by Wilford Shamlin III Tribune Staff Writer  Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2016 1:42 pm
Public school advocates are hoping the Pennsylvania Supreme Court orders a full trial on whether the state has fulfilled its constitutional obligation to support “thorough and efficient” education for all students.  Former Gov. Ed Rendell spoke out in support of changing the state school funding system this week, but conceded state lawmakers must grapple with how to provide aid to 500 school districts fairly and adequately.  The former mayor who spearheaded an effort that put a fairer school funding formula on the books suggested reinstating the formula implemented during his administration.  “We need that formula back in operation as soon as possible,” he said.  The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court refused to intervene in a ruling last spring, leaving the matter to be settled in the political process.  William Penn School District, which filed the petition in November 2014, was joined in the case by five other school districts — including Philadelphia — and two other organizations, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference.

Here's how uncompetitive elections result in endless budgets: Berwood Yost
PennLive Op-Ed  By Berwood Yost on February 26, 2016 at 1:00 PM
Why don't we have a state budget? The answer to that question is neither short nor simple.
Pennsylvania's current budget impasse is the direct result of three state policy failures: the failure to find reliable funding sources state government needs to operate, the failure to reduce spending growth that existing laws require, and the failure to support reforms that make elections more competitive.  Corporate taxes as a share of general fund revenues have steadily declined because the amount of money generated by corporate taxes has remained, in inflation adjusted terms, unchanged since 1988.   Revenue based on consumption taxes, such as the state sales tax, has grown by 27 percent and revenue from other sources, such as the personal income tax and table games, has grown by 87 percent.   This is policy failure one: finding a sustainable revenue stream to replace money lost because of changes to corporate taxes.

PA House bill would bring secretive campaign groups out of the dark: PennLive letters
Penn Live Letters to the Editor  by STATE REP. NEAL P. GOODMAN, D-Schuylkill, 123rd Legislative District on February 26, 2016 at 3:00 PM, updated February 26, 2016 at 11:22 PM
The April 26 primary election in Pennsylvania is fast approaching, and advertisements that aim to shape voters' opinions are beginning to appear on television, in newspapers and in mailboxes.   Some of these advertisements come from dark money groups – organizations that can raise unlimited amounts of money without disclosing the sources of their finances.   I believe voters should have access to as much information as possible, including the identities of people who spend money to shape the outcome of elections.   That's why I introduced House Bill 1695, which would require dark money groups to file campaign finance reports listing the names of donors contributing $100 or more, and details of spending that exceeds $1,000. In addition, my bill, which has bipartisan co-sponsors, would require ads from these organizations to include a statement informing people where they can review their campaign finance reports.

Here's why a recent Supreme Court decision in Philly is worth heeding: Alan F. Wohlstetter
PennLive Op-Ed  By Alan F. Wohlstetter on February 26, 2016 at 1:00 PM
Alan F. Wohlstetter is a shareholder and head of the Public Finance and Charter School practices at Zarwin Baum DeVito Kaplan Schaer Toddy, P.C.
On Feb. 16, by a 4-2 vote, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the Philadelphia School Reform Commission's statutory right to suspend portions of the Public School Code was an unconstitutional delegation of power from the General Assembly.   Under the decision, the school reform commission and the School District of Philadelphia were permanently enjoined from taking further action based upon that unconstitutional delegation of authority.   The impact of this decision could potentially invalidate a number of commission policies based upon its suspension of provisions of the Public School Code, including: (i) any enrollment caps imposed upon charters; (ii) criteria for non-renewal of a charter beyond those set forth in the Charter School Law; and (iii) any additional charter renewal conditions imposed on charters granted renewal other than those set forth in the Charter School Law.   As a result of this decision, the legal basis upon which the commission and the District have relied to regulate, limit and close Philadelphia charter schools has been surgically removed. 

Commonwealth Court: School for children with dyslexia meets requirements to be a charter
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 26, 2016 5:08 PM
Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court today affirmed an earlier decision finding that Provident Charter School for Children with Dyslexia has met the requirements necessary to be granted a charter.  A seven-judge panel of the court found against the Pittsburgh Public Schools, which had appealed a February 2015 decision of the state Charter School Appeal Board.  The board voted 4-2 to overturn the school district's decision denying the application.  the school, which emphasized serving dyslexic children, would be open to all.  The Commonwealth Court found that Provident demonstrated it had sustainable support, will provide students and parents with expanded educational choices; will provide comprehensive learning experiences to students and has appropriately explained how community groups will be involved in its planning process.

Commitment to pre-K education pays big dividends
Intelligencer Opinion By JAMIE HADDON  and WILLIAM E. HARNER Posted: Friday, February 26, 2016 12:15 am
Jamie Haddon is president and CEO of United Way of Bucks County. William E. Harner is superintendent of the Quakertown Community School District.
“It gets late early out there.”
Yogi Berra said it about the conditions at Yankee Stadium, but it sure sounds like he was talking about early childhood education.  At United Way of Bucks County, we work to advance the quality of early education and provide hundreds of prekindergarten scholarships through your generous contributions. UW Bucks has a long history of investing in early learning and school readiness. It is one of our top priorities. In 2016, we are convening a panel to help guide and deepen our commitment to this area.
At Quakertown Community School District, our board demonstrated its commitment to early childhood education — and a great start for our community’s children — by offering full-day kindergarten to all students who are not “ready to learn” at grade level. Now, through the Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts grant, Quakertown is partnering with LifeSpan School and Day Care to give low- and moderate-income children access to a high quality, full-day, preschool program at no cost to their families.  We invest for one reason: It “gets late early.” By age 5, 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed. It is a small window of opportunity with huge possibilities and potential, but it closes quickly. We also know high-quality pre-K is not accessible to many of our young learners who need it. Bucks County is home to 14,000 3- and 4-year-olds. Only a small fraction of these children are enrolled in publicly funded pre-K programs. Many of those missing out are those at greatest risk of academic failure. In fact, last year, 4,446 kids in Bucks County lacked access to a publicly funded, high-quality pre-K program.

Closing the 30 million word gap
eSchool News BY DENNIS PIERCE February 22nd, 2016
To cancel the effects of poverty, school systems are extending literacy programs to the larger community
Mention Napa County, Calif., and what comes to mind for most people are rows of sun-splashed grapes—and well-tanned couples sipping wine under the shade of a vine-covered pergola.  But Napa has its share of poverty, too. More than half of the student population is Latino, and many of these students come from poor households where English isn’t spoken.
“Most of our preschool kids who are native Spanish speakers come to school without anybody having read to them,” said Napa County Superintendent of Schools Barbara Nemko. “Most of the parents of those children are not even literate in Spanish, so they’re not reading books of any kind.”  Nemko and her staff were aware of the “30 million word gap”: the research-backed idea that children who grow up in poverty come to school having heard 30 million fewer spoken words than their peers from middle-class or upper-class homes putting them at a sharp disadvantage in terms of their language skills.  This gap is even wider when students grow up in non-English speaking households. Nemko and her staff knew they had to do something dramatic to close it.
Five years ago, the Napa County Office of Education piloted the use of Footsteps2Brilliance, a digital platform for building early literacy skills, with a small group of preschool students.

Parent makes case for full-day kindergarten
By Lois Puglionesi, DCNN Correspondent POSTED: 02/27/16, 9:16 PM EST
HAVERFORD >> Jennifer Metz of Havertown addressed the school board last week to advocate for full-day kindergarten, a topic that has come to the fore in recent months.  Haverford has traditionally offered half-day programs only, from 8:35 a.m.-11:20 a.m., and 12:45-3:30 p.m.  Metz highlighted the benefits of full-day programs for young children with allergies and other medical conditions, including autism spectrum disorder, diabetes and epilepsy, in addition to educational advantages for all children.  Further identifying herself as a working mother and “food allergy mom” with children in fifth grade and pre-school, Metz said public schools like Haverford have a “food allergy and medical issue management advantage,” which she attributed to presence of school nurses and a safe foods list. Metz said Haverford has “led the way” in this area.  Additionally, Haverford has implemented staff training consistent with the Emergency Access to Epinephrine Act of 2014. “That training is groundbreaking because most first aid training does not include symptoms of anaphylaxis,” Metz said.  She noted that the Emergency Access Act does not apply to day care/aftercare programs and camps.  And Metz maintained that full-day kindergarten offers behavioral benefits, as children thrive in a “less hectic environment,” with fewer transitions.

All-day kindergarten 'gift of time' to teachers, students
By Sara K. Satullo | For  Email the author | Follow on Twitter  on February 27, 2016 at 7:02 AM, updated February 27, 2016 at 8:27 PM
Kindergarten teacher Courtney Weikert has told the parent of a child who knows only two letters of the alphabet that they know too much to qualify for a seat in her full-day class.  That's because the other children looking to enroll in the Bethlehem Area School District's full-day kindergarten program for at-risk children might've only known one letter -- or none.  Teachers across the district's 16 elementary schools were annually asked to choose one impoverished child over another, knowing a seat in their class could change a child's future.  "It broke my heart every year," said Weikert, who teaches at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. "There's something universally broken when a parent hopes their child scores low enough to get into a class for at-risk kids."  Bethlehem students attend full-day kindergartenJamie Lynn Corrado works with students as they attend full-day kindergarten students as they learn math, and reading on Feb. 25, 2016, at Donegan Elementary School in Bethlehem.  When only 14 of the district's 48 kindergarten sections were all day, the demand regularly outpaced the space. And for teachers in the half-day sections, there was never enough time to get to know their students or cover the material.  "The pace was just so ridiculous," said Lori Stom, a Clearview Elementary teacher. "We were trying to cram into two hours what we now do in six."  This school year, Bethlehem made the switch to all-day kindergarten in all 16 elementary schools. Many Lehigh Valley schools are following suit next school year.

What does 'incomplete' Pa. budget really mean?
By Kevin Flowers  814-870-1693 Erie Times-News February 28, 2016 06:44 AM
ERIE, Pa. -- While Gov. Tom Wolf recently unveiled a new, multibillion-dollar budget plan for Pennsylvania's legislators to consider, his previous state spending proposal lingers.  The first-term Democrat on Feb. 9 announced a $33.3 billion budget proposal for 2016-17 that includes proposals for multimillion-dollar tax increases to fund a variety of programs and initiatives.  However, the state still has no complete budget in place for the fiscal year that began July 1.   Wolf in late December did sign a $30.3 billion 2015-16 state budget plan backed by the GOP-controlled state Legislature. But he also vetoed portions of the plan, which included $500 million less than what Wolf had sought for education and social services.

Needed: 100 men to read to kids
York daily Record Angie Mason, amason@ydr.com11:20 a.m. EST February 26, 2016
Men are being sought to read to students for the 5th Annual Reading Is Essential: 100 Men Reading program.
Men are being sought to read to students for the 5th Annual Reading Is Essential: 100 Men Reading program, according to a news release.  My Brothers' Keeper York is working on the program, which aims to have 100 or more men volunteer in York City schools to read to students in kindergarten to grade 12, according to a news release.  Men interested in participating should report to William Penn Senior High School in York, at the auditorium entrance on College Avenue, at 7:30 a.m. March 21. There will be a light breakfast, orientation and assigned reading locations, and the event lasts until 11:30 a.m.  For more information, contact Marquez Mitchell at or visit for a registration form.

Legislators: ‘School closing checklist’ is an outrage
Bradford Era By MARCIE SCHELLHAMMER Era Associate Editor | 0 comments Posted: Saturday, February 27, 2016 10:00 am
Two local lawmakers are asking if a “school closing checklist” is really what Gov. Tom Wolf’s staff should be focusing on in this eighth month of the state budget impasse.  On Friday, Rep. Matt Gabler, R-DuBois, and Rep. Marty Causer, R-Turtlepoint, expressed outrage that Wolf’s administration has sent administrators of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts a checklist detailing the process by which a district should close due to insufficient funding.  The checklist was disseminated by the Department of Education and follows the governor’s Dec. 29 line-item vetoes, which included over $3 billion in cuts to public schools.  In response to the announcement of the “how to” list, Gabler said, “Disagreements in Harrisburg should never interrupt the education of our children. That is why I have taken every action in my power to ensure that our schools have the resources they need to stay open and teach our kids.  “All we needed from Gov. Tom Wolf was one signature that would have stopped any possibility of school closings in Pennsylvania. Instead, he used his veto pen to cut over $3 billion in school funding that is desperately needed to finish the school year.”  Yet Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan lays the blame squarely on the former Gov. Tom Corbett and the Republican-controlled legislature.

Memo on how to close schools distributed by PA Board of Ed
Education Dive By Erin McIntyre | February 26, 2016 
Dive Brief:
·                     In a memo responding to inquiries from various school districts about funding, the Pennsylvania state Department of Education has offered formal guidance on how districts should shut down schools. 
·                     The memo calls for 11 actions for school boards to consider before temporarily shuttering schools for lack of funds, Penn Live reports, a process that takes around 60 days. 
·                     Schools in PA received their final payment for basic operational costs on Dec. 29, 2015; lawmakers have not yet offered alternative funding sources or solutions.
Dive Insight:
It's been a long, complicated road for Pennsylvania school districts. Fiscal woes in the state have ranged from the fall 2015 budget impasse that cost school districts more than $11.2 million in borrowing fees and interest to lawsuits over the failure to find solutions to funding formulas. Last month, a suit filed by The Pennsylvania School Boards Association alleged that state officials unfairly held up money for schools while other parts of state government didn't see the same treatment.

Pa. charter schools seek state-level changes to gain foothold
Trib Live BY ELIZABETH BEHRMAN  | Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
When the Montour School Board approved an application by Propel Schools to open a new high school, the charter school leaders were pleased.  Propel, the largest operator of charter schools in the area with almost 3,600 students, has appealed to the state eight times since 2004 after multiple districts denied its applications for new charters and expansions. The Montour district was one of them, records show.  “We're fortunate,” said Propel spokeswoman Kelly Wall. “Propel has a good story, and we're doing good things in the community.”  Although Propel is celebrating its recent victory, other operators said the charter school environment in Western Pennsylvania is contentious at best.  Charter schools are privately run but publicly funded through school districts. Advocates hope for state-level changes that would streamline the charter application process and provide them with better access to school district facilities. In the meantime, schools have had to get creative to garner community support and ensure success. PennCAN, a state education advocacy group, hosted a “charter school fair” in November in Pittsburgh to provide parents with more information about options in the area. All 10 Propel schools participated, as did schools such as Environmental Charter School, Urban Pathways and City Charter High School.

NBC News: Students Fall Behind in Virtual Charters; For-Profits Rip Off Taxpayers
Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch February 26, 2016 //
NBC News has caught on to one of the biggest hoaxes of the corporate reform movement: the failure of virtual charter schools. About 200,000 students are currently enrolled in virtual charters. The attrition rates are high, but the industry spends taxpayer dollars constantly recruiting to increase their numbers. It is good to see the mainstream media catching on to what critics of virtual charters have known for a few years.  Some sharp eyed person in their news department learned about the CREDO study last fall that showed that students enrolled in these stay-at-home schools lose ground academically. In the case of math, they lose a full year of instruction for every year they are enrolled. In reading, they also lose ground, as much as 72 days.

Who’s Raking in the Big Bucks in “CharterWorld”?
Here’s a thought: What if school administrators were paid on a per-pupil basis?  The salaries could be computed based on total enrollment, or, if you want to use VAM, a value-added measure, then the $$-per-pupil could be based on the number of students successfully completing the year.  For fun, let’s compare the pay pulled down by public school superintendents with the money paid to the CEO’s of some charter school networks.   Before you read on, write down your hunch: which school CEO/Superintendent is raking in the most on a per-student basis? And who’s the lowest paid on a per-student basis?  Let’s begin with Chicago, where the public school enrollment (including charter schools) has dipped to 392,000 students. The Chicago school leader (called the CEO) is paid $250,000.  That means he’s paid 64 cents per pupil.  Factor out the 61,000 students in charter schools, and Forrest Claypool’s wages per student go up to 76 cents per kid.  One of Chicago’s leading charter networks, the nationally recognized Noble Network of Charter Schools, paid its CEO and founder Michael Milkie a salary of $209,520 and a bonus of $20,000.  NNCS, which received the Broad Prize last year, enrolls 11,000 students, meaning that Mr. Milkie is paid $21.00 per student.

"In addition to the NGA, the network is made up of the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National School Boards Association, AASA, the School Superintendents Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the National PTA. "
NGA Organizes Coalition of Education Groups to Monitor ESSA Implementation
Education Week State Ed Watch By Daarel Burnette II on February 25, 2016 5:48 PM
As state governments work to build new teacher and school accountability systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act, members of a newly formed coalition of prominent education lobbying groups want to make sure the U.S. Department of Education doesn't overstep its authority by tagging on additional requirements to the law and misinterpreting its text.   The ESSA Implementation Network includes the National Governors Association, the National PTA, and the nation's largest two teachers unions. The network's main mission will be to guard states' flexibililty under the new law and fend off federal intrusion.    "ESSA replaces a top-down accountability and testing regime with an inclusive system based on collaborative state and local innovation," the coalition said in a letter earlier this month addressed to acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. "For this vision to become a reality, we must work together to closely honor congressional intent. ESSA is clear: Education decisionmaking now rests with states and districts, and the federal role is to support and inform those decisions."

Election Guide: 5 Education Takeaways From the Presidential Candidates
Education Week Published Online: February 23, 2016
The major party hopefuls still in the race as of last week boasted widely varied records and stances on K-12. (Download as a PDF.)

Mexico documents big rebound in monarch butterflies
Investigators say Monarch butterflies have made a big comeback in their wintering grounds in Mexico after suffering serious declines
Post Gazette By Mark Stevenson / Associated Press February 27, 2016 1:46 AM
MEXICO CITY — Monarch butterflies have made a big comeback in their wintering grounds in Mexico, after suffering serious declines, experts said Friday.  The area covered by the orange-and-black insects in the mountains west of Mexico City this season was more than three and a half times greater than last winter. The butterflies clump so densely in the pine and fir forests they are counted by the area they cover rather than by individual insects.  The number of monarchs making the 3,400-mile migration from the United States and Canada declined steadily in recent years before recovering in 2014. This winter was even better.  This December, the butterflies covered 10 acres, compared to 2.8 acres in 2014 and a record low of 1.66 acres in 2013.
While that’s positive, the monarchs still face problems: The butterflies covered as much as 44 acres 20 years ago.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center will host its Annual Budget Summit on Thursday, March 3, 2016 9:00 - 3:30 at the Hilton Harrisburg.
PA Budget and Policy Center website
Join us for an in-depth look at the Governor's 2016-17 budget proposal, including what it means for education, health and human services, and local communities. The Summit will focus on the leading issues facing the commonwealth in 2016, with workshops, lunch, and a legislative panel discussion.  Space is limited, so fill out the form below to reserve your spot at the Budget Summit.
Thursday, March 3, 2016 Hilton Hotel, Harrisburg Pennsylvania
The event is free, but PBPC welcomes donations of any size to help off-set costs.

PASBO 61st Annual Conference and Exhibits March 8 - 11, 2016
Hershey Lodge and Convention Center, Hershey, Pennsylvania

PA Legislature Joint public hearing-on Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)
PA House and Senate Education Committees
03/14/2016 10:30 AM Hearing Room #1 North Office Bldg

PSBA Advocacy Forum & Day on the Hill
APR 4, 2016 • 9:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Join PSBA and your fellow school directors for the third annual Advocacy Forum on April 4, 2016, at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. This year’s event will have a spotlight on public education highlighting school districts’ exemplary student programs. Hear from legislators on how advocacy makes a difference in the legislative process and the importance of public education advocacy. Government Affairs will take a deeper dive into the legislative priorities and will provide tips on how to be an effective public education advocate. There will be dedicated time for you and your fellow advocates to hit the halls to meet with your legislators on public education. This is your chance to share the importance of policy supporting public education and make your voice heard on the Hill. Online advanced registration will close on April 1, 4 p.m. On-site registrants are welcome.

PenSPRA's Annual Symposium, Friday April 8th in Shippensburg, PA
PenSPRA, or the Pennsylvania School Public Relations Association, has developed a powerhouse line-up of speakers and topics for a captivating day of professional development in Shippensburg on April 8th. Learn to master data to defeat your critics, use stories to clarify your district's brand and take your social media efforts to the next level with a better understanding of metrics and the newest trends.  Join us the evening before the Symposium for a “Conversation with Colleagues” from 5 – 6 pm followed by a Networking Social Cocktail Hour from 6 – 8 pm.  Both the Symposium Friday and the social events on Thursday evening will be held at the Shippensburg University Conference Center. Snacks at the social hour, and Friday’s breakfast and lunch is included in your registration cost. $125 for PenSPRA members and $150 for non-members. Learn more about our speakers and topics and register today at this link:

The Network for Public Education 3rd Annual National Conference April 16-17, 2016 Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Network for Public Education is thrilled to announce the location for our 3rd Annual National Conference. On April 16 and 17, 2016 public education advocates from across the country will gather in Raleigh, North Carolina.  We chose Raleigh to highlight the tremendous activist movement that is flourishing in North Carolina. No one exemplifies that movement better than the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, who will be the conference keynote speaker. Rev. Barber is the current president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the National NAACP chair of the Legislative Political Action Committee, and the founder of Moral Mondays.

2016 PA Educational Leadership Summit July 24-26 State College
Summit Sponsors: PA Principals Association - PA Association of School Administrators - PA Association of Middle Level Educators - PA Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development 
The 2016 Educational Leadership Summit, co-sponsored by four leading Pennsylvania education associations, provides an excellent opportunity for school district administrative teams and instructional leaders to learn, share and plan together at a quality venue in "Happy Valley." 
Featuring Grant Lichtman, author of EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera (invited), and Dana Lightman, author of POWER Optimism: Enjoy the Life You Have... Create the Success You Want, keynote speakers, high quality breakout sessions, table talks on hot topics and district team planning and job alike sessions provides practical ideas that can be immediately reviewed and discussed at the summit before returning back to your district.   Register and pay by April 30, 2016 for the discounted "early bird" registration rate:

Interested in letting our elected leadership know your thoughts on education funding, a severance tax, property taxes and the budget?
Governor Tom Wolf, (717) 787-2500

Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai, (717) 772-9943
House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed, (717) 705-7173
Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Joe Scarnati, (717) 787-7084
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jake Corman, (717) 787-1377


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