Tuesday, April 30, 2019

PA Ed Policy Roundup April 30: Choice: Instead of investing an additional $100 million in funding their own formula, Pa. lawmakers push bigger tax credits for private school scholarships

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.

These daily emails are archived and searchable at http://keystonestateeducationcoalition.org
Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg

Education Committee Chairman Curt Sonney’s Cyber Charter Funding Reform Bill HB526 now has over 50 cosponsors
Has your state representative cosponsored HB526?

Has your state senator cosponsored SB34?

EITC/OSTC HB800: Pa. lawmakers push bigger tax credits for private school scholarships; public ed advocates object
Inquirer by Maddie Hanna, April 30, 2019
About 50,000 Pennsylvania students get private school scholarships funded by businesses. Those businesses also get something for their donations: state tax credits. Pennsylvania’s education tax credit programs are some of the country’s largest and have been contentious among public-education advocates. But their proponents say they should be bigger, citing unmet demand from both students and businesses. On Monday, the House Education Committee approved a bill sponsored by Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) that would expand Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program by $100 million — a boost that would nearly double the current scholarship program. That’s not all: The bill has a provision that would allow for automatic increases in future years. And it would raise the income limits for participating families. A Democrat on the committee called it a “totally budget-busting proposal.” Here’s a look at the issue.

EITC/OSTC HB800: Speaker Mike Turzai calls for boost in tax credits for private schools
Trib Live by DEB ERDLEY   | Monday, April 29, 2019 6:30 p.m.
A bill to increase the amount Pennsylvania forgoes in taxes to underwrite private school scholarships and public school foundations from $160 to $260 million a year is moving through the state House. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, penned the measure that was reported out of committee Monday with 43 Democrats and Republicans signing on as co-sponsors. It comes just one year after Turzai championed a measure that boosted the amount of tax credits available for the program from $125 to $160 million a year. Each year since 2001, the Legislature has approved a figure the state will forgo in taxes that businesses can divert to support the program. Although lawmakers have battled fiercely over funding public schools and colleges, the Education Improvement Tax Credit cap consistently has grown from $30 million in the first year to $160 million this year.

EITC/OSTC HB800: School choice is a necessary complement to public schools | Opinion
Mike Turzai, For the Inquirer Updated: April 29, 2019 - 2:34 PM
Mike Turzai is Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Every student in Pennsylvania deserves the best education possible; one that fits the individual needs of each student. When it comes to serving these individual needs, we know that one size does not fit all. So, I have introduced House Bill 800 to bring the best of what other states have done to Pennsylvania and to continue to lead the way on school choice and innovation. Each year, the largest expenditure in Pennsylvania’s state budget is dedicated to primary and secondary education – more than $11 billion to support every public school in the Commonwealth. When added to local spending, we devote more than $30 billion annually to funding our public-school districts. In return for this great investment, Pennsylvania boasts many of the best public schools in the nation, providing immense benefit to our students and our communities. But, for a variety of reasons unique to each individual, these great public schools are not always the right fit for every child or every family. Recognizing this, in 2001 we were among the first states to establish a school choice tax credit scholarship program, allowing businesses to donate directly to support preK-12 education in place of a portion of their tax bill. Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), and the later Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC), have provided scholarships empowering hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income students to attend the school that is right for them.

At Capitol rally, educators call for charter school funding reform, better oversight
Penn Capital Star By  John L. Micek April 29, 2019
Pennsylvania school officials didn’t gather in the Capitol rotunda Monday to praise charter and cyber-charter schools. Nor did they come to bury them. Instead, realizing they’re stuck with the taxpayer-funded alternatives to traditional public schools, they called on state lawmakers to reform the way the state pays for them, and to insist on better academic performance from institutions that now serve tens of thousands of Keystone State school children. To that end, about 200 educators rallied on behalf of legislation sponsored by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, that sets up a new state commission charged with reviewing charter school funding. Among the panel’s duties would be “[calculating] the actual cost of educating a child in a charter and cyber school,” according to a March 20 memo the Allentown lawmaker circulated among his colleagues, seeking support for the plan. “Charter school reform that doesn’t address cost is missing the mark,” said Nathan Mains of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which helped organize the lobbying effort. The educators, who were primarily school administrators, also called for passage of companion House and Senate bills that would require parents to pick up the check for their children’s cyber-charter education if their hometown school district offers full-time online education of its own.

Scarnati Announces Changes to Senate Standing Committee Chairs for 2019-2020
Senator Scarnati’s Website Posted on Apr 29, 2019
(HARRISBURG) – Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25) today announced changes to the Republican Chairs for several of the 22 Senate Standing Committees for the remainder of the 2019-20 legislative session.
Senate Standing Committee Chair Assignments. Committees with a new Chair are marked with an *:
  • *Education – Senator Wayne Langerholc (R-35)

Roebuck publishes new charter school reform report
Rep. James R. Roebuck Jr. Press Release    April 29, 2019 | 4:45 PM
HARRISBURG, April 29 – State Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila., Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, issued his 5th consecutive report on charter and cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania. The report calls for strong reforms to charter schools. "We need to fix the problems with Pennsylvania's outdated charter school law,” Roebuck said. “They should be treated the same way as public schools since they receive taxpayer money.” The report is available online here. One highlight is an update on the performance of charter and cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania, including:
  • For 2016-2017, the last year the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile (SPP) reported scores, based on a score of 100, the average SPP score for traditional public schools was 69.6, for charter schools 58.8 and for cyber charter schools 46.7.
  • None of the 14 cyber charter schools had SPP scores over 70, which is considered the minimum level of academic success, and 10 of them had scores under 50.
  • 51% of public schools reached a score of at least 70, while only 20% of brick-and-mortar charter schools reached that goal.
  • There were only 10 high performing charter schools with SPP scores above 80 in 2016-17, a sharp drop from 28 high performing charter schools in 2012-13.
  • 43 charter and cyber charter schools, nearly one in five, have closed due to academic and/or financial reasons, some due to fraud and financial irregularities.

Charter and Cyber Charter School Reform Report
Democratic House Education Committee Representative James Roebuck
April 2019 Fifth Edition

“School districts statewide spent $4.6 billion on special education during the 2016-17 school year — an increase of $1.5 billion over nine years. The state only contributed an additional $72 million during that time period.”
As special education costs soar, state fails to keep up
Special education costs in Northeast Pennsylvania school districts increased by $110 million over nine years — straining budgets as districts try to deliver the education they are legally required to provide. School districts received little additional help from the state. During that time period — from the 2008-09 to the 2016-17 school years — state funding for special education in 37 NEPA school districts increased by only $7 million, according to a report from Education Law Center- Pennsylvania and PA Schools Work. That means that on average, for every additional $15 a district spent on special education, the state only provided $1. In Wilkes-Barre Area School District, special education costs spiked 114% — the sixth-largest percentage hike statewide. The district spent $20.7 million in special education costs in the 2016-17 school year compared to about $9.7 million in the 2008-09 school year. State funding during that time frame rose just $640,808. See how your school district compares.
School officials identified more students who need special education services, particularly with increased awareness of autism and other special needs, said Bob Makaravage, director of instruction and special education. “We added additional autistic support classrooms to stop sending students out of the district,” Makaravage said. “Our expenses are mandated by state and federal law.”

New study: Pa. teachers’ pay lags other college-educated workers | Monday Morning Coffee
Penn Capital Star By  John L. Micek April 29, 2019
Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Over the last four years, the weekly pay for Pennsylvania teachers has fallen 13.5 percent lower than other college-educated workers, according to a new report by the Economic Policy InstituteKeystone State educators finished 12th in the national pack, according to the progressive think-tank, and in about the middle of surrounding states. Wages for teachers nationwide were lower than other college-educated workers, the report found. Teachers in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and West Virginia, made 10.1 percent, 8.2 percent, 3.8 percent, 12.2 percent, 16.5 percent, and 18.3 percent less, respectively, than other college-educated workers, the report found.

State takeover of Harrisburg schools may not produce the results advocates seeks
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com Posted Apr 29, 5:30 AM
Calls for the state to take over the troubled Harrisburg School District grew louder last week as tensions continue to mount among local leaders over fiscal management concerns, questionable hirings, high teacher turnover, and persistently poor test scores. Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse is calling for the state to step in and put the district into receivership -- essentially giving a state-appointed receiver control of district operations. Republican Sen. John DiSanto and Democratic Rep. Patty Kim, both of whom represent the city, support that move. And at least one elected school board member, Ellis Roy Jr., is saying it’s time to surrender local control over the school system. State takeovers of school districts have been occurring for more than three decades in this country with mixed results. Leaving a community voiceless in the running of its schools is not a matter to be taken lightly, and takeovers tend to last longer than most local folks would like. But those who advocate this last resort option hope it will kickstart a turnaround, starting in the district’s central office.

McKeesport Area School District allows creation of black student union after dispute
MATT MCKINNEY Pittsburgh Post-Gazette mmckinney@post-gazette.com APR 29, 2019
McKeesport Area School District and ACLU officials have agreed to a settlement that would allow for the creation of a black student union after a previous dispute over its leadership structure. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a civil rights lawsuit this month on behalf of students who claimed that the district had denied them permission to create the club. District officials said they objected to the club’s proposed structure, not its stated mission. Under the group’s original charter, it would have had on its executive committee two non-student advisers who would have voted on all decisions. But attorneys for the district argued that such a structure would have breached federal law and district policy.

Northampton school board advances plan to hike taxes 2.69%
Maintaining status quo and not cutting programs is the direction in which the Northampton Area School District board is leaning as it moves toward finalizing next year’s budget. Seven out of eight school board members voted on Monday in favor of the administration’s recommendation to increase taxes by 2.69% – below the Act 1 index cap of 2.8% for the district – during an informal poll intended to give district officials direction in preparing their preliminary budget for 2019-’20. The board will formally vote on the spending plan during its 6:30 p.m. business meeting May 6 at the district offices on Laubach Avenue. Next week’s vote will give the district 30 days to advertise the final budget for adoption on June 10 and allows the document to be available for public inspection, district Business Administrator Terry Leh said. It will also give the board and staff time to go over final numbers and decide exactly how much taxes will ultimately increase.

Millcreek school board sends message with budget vote
GoErie By David Bruce Posted Apr 29, 2019 at 10:15 PM  Updated at 5:24 AM
Board members approved a proposed final budget by a 5-4 vote but expressed concerns about the plan.
Millcreek Township School Board members narrowly approved a proposed final version of the school district’s 2019-20 budget but they also sent Superintendent William Hall a message. School directors voted 5-4 Monday night to send the $102.9 million spending plan to a final vote on May 28. The vote was closer than Hall expected, however, and it came after lengthy questions about whether the district should increase taxes by the maximum amount allowed and if the board could receive assurances that any extra money would go toward items such as capital projects or teacher salaries. “I don’t have confidence that we are doing enough to safeguard these tax dollars,” school director Gary Winschel said during the nearly two-hour board meeting. The proposed budget calls for a 2.8-percent increase in property taxes, the highest allowed by the state based on the district’s demographics and inflation. It would raise Millcreek’s millage to just over 14.5 mills and would cost township taxpayers an additional $39 for each $100,000 of assessed property value. It still would cover only about $1.5 million of the district’s projected $2.6 million deficit for 2019-20. Another $1.1 million would come from the district’s fund balance, or savings, to pay for increased salaries and retirement costs and anticipated technology improvements.

Philly DHS announces Family Empowerment Centers to stabilize at-risk families
The new centers are designed for intervention and prevention.
The notebook by Maya Wernick April 29 — 11:49 am, 2019
The Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) announced the opening of two new Family Empowerment Centers, with the goal of child abuse prevention for at-risk families. These programs, which will be fully operational on Wednesday, May 1, seek to reduce the number of children placed with the department by diverting families to prevention services before something happens that would result in them getting involved with DHS. They are specifically targeting families who may have had previous negative experiences with social services, child welfare, or government offices. The DHS recognizes that such experiences can be a barrier to accessing services that help parents better care for their children, so family engagement is the keystone of these new programs.  “The idea here is making sure that [the] family is stabilized so that we can help reduce the number of kids that are coming into our system,” said Waleska Maldonado, deputy commissioner for Community Based Prevention Services.

Meet the 35 live tilapia swimming around a Fishtown classroom
Kids at Adaire love the 300-lb. aquaponics tank — and teachers think all schools should have one.
MICHAELA WINBERG / BILLY PENN Michaela Winberg Apr. 27, 2019, 8:30 a.m.
How do you get a classroom full of distracted middle schoolers to pay attention? A 300-gallon tub of live fish helps do the trick. In a lab on the second floor of the Adaire Alexander School in Fishtown, roughly 35 tilapia swim, splash and amuse Bill McGeehan’s seventh-graders. It takes a bunch of effort to maintain — including daily tasks like checking the pH of murky water and changing a septic tank full of, well, crap. But McGeehan said the project is more than worth it. In tandem with helping students learn biology and environmental science in real time, the aquaponic farm has the potential to generate hundreds of pounds of food each year — which could eventually be donated to hunger nonprofits. Aquaponics is a model that’s gaining traction worldwide, spreading from its origins as a DIY tactic into the commercial agricultural industry. The farming method uses less water than traditional systems, and has the potential to produce food on a large scale in much smaller spaces.

Lancaster County's top high schools (according to U.S. News & World Report): How does yours rank?
Lancaster Online April 30, 2019
Here's a look at the top schools in Lancaster, Chester, Lebanon and York counties, according to U.S. News & World Report's 2019 rankings. All 17 of Lancaster County's public high schools, as well as a charter school,  are listed according to rankings in the county, state and nation. (Schools below a certain threshold are assigned a range for state results rather than a ranking.) Statewide, 673 schools were ranked. Nationally, 17,245 were ranked.  For Chester, Lebanon and York county schools, the top three are listed.

Here’s how Lehigh Valley high schools fare against the best in the country, per U.S. News
U.S. News just released its most comprehensive ranking of America’s public high schools. Here’s how the Lehigh Valley’s schools fared. The 2019 Best High School rankings ditched the gold, silver and bronze medals U.S. News previously used to distinguish the nation’s top schools in favor of ranking thousands more schools with a new methodology. The top ranked schools must serve all student populations well and produce quantifiable academic outcomes in support of that mission. “Our mission with the Best High Schools rankings has always been to educate families about the schools in their district,” said Anita Narayan, managing editor of Education at U.S. News. “By evaluating more schools than ever before, the new edition expands that focus so all communities can see which schools in their area are successfully serving their students – including historically underserved populations.”

Defying Trump, Democrats Propose $4.4 Billion Boost for Education Spending
Education Week Politics K12 Blog By Andrew Ujifusa on April 29, 2019 5:17 PM
House Democrats want a $4.4 billion spending increase for the U.S. Department of Education in the coming fiscal year, including notable increases for special education, educator training, and a $260 million initiative focused on social-emotional learning.  The spending legislation unveiled Monday would provide $75.9 billion in discretionary funding for the department in fiscal 2020, compared to the $71.5 billion it currently receives in fiscal 2019. A host of programs would receive additional funding, whereas the budget request submitted last month by President Donald Trump seeks to slash Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' budget by 10 percent. Title I, the biggest pot of K-12 cash, which is intended for disadvantaged students, would get $16.9 billion in fiscal 2020, $1 billion more than what it gets now. Special education grants to states would also rise by $1 billion, up to $13.4 billion. 

School Funding Briefing Thursday, May 23, 2019 6:30 – 8:00 PM
Drexel Hill Middle School, 3001 State Road, Drexel Hill, PA 19026
In 2019, the Public Interest Law Center is celebrating 50 years of fighting for justice, and preparing for 50 more, through a series of 50th anniversary events.
As part of this series, the Upper Darby School Board is pleased to host the Public Interest Law Center at Drexel Hill Middle School on Thursday, May 23rd, for a School Funding Briefing.
Pennsylvania has the largest funding gap in the country between low-wealth and high-wealth school districts. Pennsylvania is also ranked 46th in the share of funding that comes from the state, leaving local taxpayers to take on rising costs. How did we get here? At the briefing, you will learn the basics of education funding and how it works in Pennsylvania, as well as ways you can get involved in advocacy for fully funded public education. You will also learn about the latest developments in the Law Center's school funding lawsuit.
Afterward, you will have a chance to meet Law Center attorneys working on this landmark case, as well as mingle with other interested in Pennsylvania education.

PARSS Annual Conference May 1-3, 2019
Wyndham Garden Hotel, Mountainview Country Club
Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools
Do you have strong communication and leadership skills and a vision for PSBA? Members interested in becoming the next leaders of PSBA are encouraged to submit an Application for Nomination no later than May 31 to PSBA's Leadership Development Committee (LDC).
The nomination process: All persons seeking nomination for elected positions of the Association shall file with the Leadership Development Committee chairperson an Application for Nomination (.PDFon a form to be provided by the Association expressing interest in the office sought. The Application for nomination shall be marked received at PSBA Headquarters or mailed first class and postmarked no later than the application deadline specified in the timeline established by the Governing Board to be considered timely-filed.” (PSBA Bylaws, Article IV, Section 6.E.). Application Deadline: May 31, 2019
Open positions are:

PSBA Tweet March 12, 2019 Video Runtime: 6:40
In this installment of #VideoEDition, learn about legislation introduced in the PA Senate & House of Representatives that would save millions of dollars for school districts that make tuition payments for their students to attend cyber charter schools.

PSBA Summaries of Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 526

PSBA Sample Board Resolution in Support of Statewide Cyber Charter School Funding Reform

PSBA Sample Board Resolution in Support of Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 256

How much could your school district and taxpayers save if there were statewide flat tuition rates of $5000 for regular ed students and $8865 for special ed.? See the estimated savings by school district here.
Education Voters PA Website February 14, 2019

Has your state representative cosponsored HB526?

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.