Friday, January 31, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for Jan. 31, 2020: It’s School Choice Week in Pa. Don’t buy what its advocates are selling | Opinion

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

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for Jan. 31, 2020

Register now for Advocacy Day at the Capitol on March 23rd!
Key focus areas are 1) Charter School Funding Reform, 2) BEF and Special Education Funding, and 3) Funding for PlanCon

It’s School Choice Week in Pa. Don’t buy what its advocates are selling | Opinion
By Stephanie King  Capital-Star Op-Ed Contributor January 30, 2020
Stephanie King is a public school advocate and prize-winning short story writer from Philadelphia. She is the proud parent of two children attending their neighborhood public school and president of the school’s Friends group. She also serves on the Parent Advisory Committee for Education Voters of Pennsylvania.
Once again, School Choice Week is upon us, and once again, parents will be subjected to the best PR campaign that wealthy businessmen and our own tax dollars can buy. Year after year, charter schools play on parents’ emotions with slick ads, using either their hope and dreams for their children as a baited hook or their fears as a cudgel, to convince them to participate in a rigged system that further weakens the idea of education as a public good. Charter advocates like to pretend that they hold the monopoly on improved outcomes or motivated, involved parents. But more and more, people are realizing that they got those gains by taking them from neighborhood schools; harnessing achievement and involvement is not creating it. In addition, the public is becoming more aware that charter schools are able to achieve their results in part by serving fewer economically disadvantaged, special ed, and English language learner students than regular public schools.

“Pennsylvania’s teacher roster is the least diverse in the nation, as Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera has said. Less than 5 percent of Pennsylvania’s teachers are people of color, according to the state Department of Education. The gap between the state’s students of color (33 percent) and teachers of color remains among the most disparate in the country, according to Research for Action. The group analyzed data from the Department of Education and found that 55 percent of Pennsylvania’s public schools and 38 percent of all school districts employed only white teachers in 2016-17.”
In Pa., less than 5% of teachers are people of color; the lack of diversity is hurting kids and schools
Penn Live By Ivey DeJesus | January 30, 2020
For a dress-down Friday shortly after the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Amy Alexander, then a high school teacher, decided to wear a T-shirt emblazoned #mikebrown. Some of her colleagues at the Penn Hills High School just outside Pittsburgh objected to her attire and complained to the administration. Alexander, who is black, was questioned by the school principal. Her colleagues, all of whom were white, were concerned that her T-shirt would incite a riot in the predominantly African-American school, she said. Alexander said her T-shirt sparked vital conversations. Student after student, all of them black, shared their concerns about racial profiling and excessive police force. They told her they were worried that what happened to Brown, an 18-year-old African-American killed by a white cop, could happen to them, too. “It gave me a chance to talk and discuss distal and proximal trauma with my students. To say it’s normal to be affected by something like this, even by things not happening in your community,” said Alexander, now counselor to the 400-student senior class at Penn Hills.

HARRISBURG (January 30, 2020) – The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) will hold a press conference on Friday, January 31 at 10:00 a.m. in the main rotunda of the capitol in Harrisburg. The group will share the latest information on the financial health of school districts. The event will highlight the growth in both special education and charter school tuition costs and the impact of that growth on school district budgets and property taxes, providing context for upcoming 2020-21 state budget discussions.
WHO: Members of the PA Association of School Business Officials
Members of the PA Association of School Administrators
WHAT: School superintendents and school business officials will share information from the most recent PASBO/PASA School District Budget Report, highlighting the causes of fiscal stress in school districts and the resulting impact on students and taxpayers in the context of the 2020-21 budget. A press release and an electronic copy of the budget report will be posted at shortly before the press conference.
WHEN: Friday, January 31 at 10 a.m.
WHERE: The Capitol Rotunda, Harrisburg

KC-SVRCS hearing delayed; charter renewal near
MILL HALL — There’s progress to report.
There’s been a lot of positive talk between representatives from the Keystone Central School District and the Sugar Valley Rural Charter School lately. So much so, that next Tuesday’s hearing on the charter school’s charter renewal has been delayed. In an email sent late Tuesday night, KCSD superintendent Jacquelyn Martin wrote:
“For the past three weeks members of the KCSD Board of Directors and administration have been meeting with members of the SVRCS Board of Trustees and administrators to find a compromise in their current differences with regards to renewing the 20+ year old charter. At this time both parties are hopeful that they are close to a resolution and have agreed to delay the hearing that was scheduled for February 4, 2020.”
The first word of positive talks regarding a charter extension for the Loganton-based charter school was reported early this month when Keystone Central approved an agreement with the charter school for the talks to proceed to resolve their differences. And in an email sent to media outlets shortly thereafter, a news release stated that there had been a meeting between the two parties. Although the email was sent from a KCSD address, it stated that it was sent on behalf of Martin and SVRCS CEO Tracie Kennedy.

Bethlehem-area charter school now estimates building new school will cost $80 million
New estimates from Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School that its building will cost around $80 million — almost double what the school originally said — are raising concerns in Bethlehem Area School District. At a hearing Thursday night with the Bethlehem Area School Board, LVA CEO Susan Mauser told the district the price tag for the 200,000-square-foot facility, slated to be built in Bethlehem Township. Mauser said the increase from the original $45 million is because of public bidding. Construction costs and purchase of the land is expected to be $73 million. The additional costs would be from the bond financing and paying rent in the current facility as the school waits for the new one to open. Bethlehem Area officials expressed concern with the finances, budgeting and facility planning.

Lead, asbestos contamination shuts down Pennsylvania schools
WHYY By Michael Rubinkam Associated Press January 30, 2020
Students at three Pennsylvania schools were told to stay home Thursday amid concerns over lead and asbestos contamination, as Pennsylvania State Police investigate what former district officials did to address problems with tainted water. One day after Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled a $1.1 billion plan to help Pennsylvania’s public schools remediate lead and asbestos, crews in the Scranton School District were conducting air quality tests and making emergency repairs. “All of these things are alarming and upsetting to parents and staff and we want to be as communicative as possible,” said Katie Gilmartin, president of the Scranton School Board. Wolf’s proposal would expand an existing grant program to make money available for lead and asbestos removal in Pennsylvania schools, though its prospects for passage in the Republican-controlled Legislature are unclear.

Four Scranton schools to close for Friday
The Scranton School District will keep students from four schools out of class on Friday, as crews address asbestos issues. William Prescott Elementary School will be closed, joining Northeast Intermediate and Frances Willard and Robert Morris elementary schools, which were also closed today. The schools will not reopen until air quality tests show there is no risk to students, Superintendent Melissa McTiernan said. Environmental hazard crews plan to replace a pipe fitting in a ceiling at Prescott tonight. The fitting contains asbestos but had been encapsulated, meaning a protective barrier had been placed around the pipe to reduce risk of asbestos exposure. While experts do not believe the fitting exposed an immediate risk to students, the district will conduct air quality testing after the fitting is removed to ensure asbestos did not become airborne, said Paul Dougherty, director of secondary education/technology/operations. Environmental experts from Datom Products and Guzek Associates have spent today in district schools, assessing the asbestos problems and beginning remediation. Cost for the emergency testing and repairs is not yet known. “We’re focusing on making sure everything is safe for our kids,” McTiernan said.

Wolf wants to set aside a billion dollars to clean up schools
The proposal must still make it through the budget process
The notebook WHYY NEWS by Katie Meyer January 30 — 12:06 pm, 2020
In the week leading up to his annual budget address, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf is previewing some of the biggest pitches he plans to make to the Republican-controlled state House and Senate. His latest ask is more than a billion dollars to clean up lead and asbestos in Pennsylvania’s schools, houses and water systems. Last year, a state commission announced that after a year and a half of reviewing lead levels statewide, they found potential for harmful exposure in every county — often from old pipes, unregulated private wells and lead paint that has been overlooked for years. Concerns about asbestos have also risen—particularly in Philadelphia, which has temporarily closed six schools since September due to disturbed asbestos. Getting toxins out of schools is the biggest portion of Wolf’s plan. He wants to fund it by earmarking up to one billion dollars in grants from a program called RACP. Lawmakers can use the program to set aside state money for regional projects, but it isn’t typically used for schools.

Philly school board approves millions in new contracts for toxin removal
Board members, parents, teachers stress that the District must still regain trust.
The notebook by Bill Hangley Jr. January 31 — 12:30 am, 2020
Confronted with a wave of asbestos-related complaints and school closures, the Board of Education approved millions in new contracts Thursday meant to help the Philadelphia School District rid its aging buildings of toxins. The centerpiece is a three-year, $20 million project management contract awarded to the firm JMT, to help the District better manage its major construction and renovation projects, and avoid debacles like the one that unfolded in Ben Franklin High School this fall. The board also approved a host of other contracts, including a combined $14.2 million to expand testing and abatement, as well as $250,000 for removal supplies, and $20,000 for informational videos by a Drexel professor. Board members assured Superintendent William Hite that he has their support in the face of rising demands for testing, cleanup, and alternative buildings for displaced students. “Some have called for your dismissal … but I believe you are the keystone,” said board member Mallory Fix Lopez. But board members and public speakers alike also pressed Hite to show improvement on multiple fronts, from project management to communication with school communities.

Advocates rally to get Philadelphia School District to publicize mental health resources for students
Inquirer by Bethany Ao, Updated: January 30, 2020- 7:25 PM
Mental health advocates rallied outside a meeting of the Philadelphia Board of Education on Thursday, protesting what they see as a broken promise to help students find mental health resources. The nonprofit organizations involved — Youth United for Change and the National Women’s Law Center — expressed frustration with the lack of action from the School District, which they said verbally committed to a multiplatform rollout of a list of existing mental health resources for students on the first day of school during a meeting in June. The conversation followed months of meetings with district officials, school board members, and city councilmembers. The demand for more action came after the National Women’s Law Center published a report in April about the mental health of Latina students in Philadelphia, titled “We Are Not Invisible,” in which they found that one in seven Latina girls in Philly has attempted suicide. The report recommended establishing peer support circles and creating mental health screenings. At the rally, students in red T-shirts emblazoned with “United for Change" led a chant as they displayed the posters that they had prepared for the demonstration.

Pittsburgh Promise hopes coaches in schools will boost eligibility
ANDREW GOLDSTEIN Pittsburgh Post-Gazette JAN 30, 2020 11:44 AM
The Pittsburgh Promise has invested about $140 million in more than 9,500 students who have gone on to college since its inception in 2008. Going into the future, the goal is to get an even greater number of students to take advantage of the scholarship.  “It’s not an overstatement to say that education is a justice issue,” said Saleem Ghubril, executive director of The Pittsburgh Promise. “Everything depends on education, whether it is employability, whether it is economic mobility or whether it’s health of family and stability.” In an effort to boost more students into eligibility, The Pittsburgh Promise on Wednesday unveiled a plan to implant professionals into three city high schools who will focus on providing postsecondary preparation and planning assistance to every student at each school starting in ninth grade. 

West Mifflin students urge administrators to adopt transgender policy
DEANA CARPENTER Pittsburgh Post-Gazette JAN 30, 2020 11:54 AM
Students from West Mifflin Area School District’s Gay Straight Alliance at a Jan. 23 school board meeting requested adoption of a districtwide transgender and expansive students policy such as the one Pittsburgh Public Schools has. “Help us adopt the Pittsburgh Public Schools transgender policy,” said West Mifflin Area High School teacher Lauren Rowe, who is adviser for the Gay Straight Alliance at the high school. Pittsburgh Public Schools’ transgender and gender expansive students policy allows for students to be addressed by their preferred name and gender pronoun. Additionally, the district must maintain a permanent record that includes the student’s legal name and gender but will let transgender students use their preferred gender on school IDs, classroom rosters, in the yearbook and on other school records or documents. Additionally, the policy states all students can participate in physical education classes and sports that match their gender identity.

After several contentious negotiations in past, Saucon Valley School Board, teachers reach three-year deal well ahead of time
Teachers in the Saucon Valley School District have a new three-year contract that was painted by some school directors as fair and others as creating a gloomy financial future. The contract will go into effect in July and provides an average $1,000 annual salary increase for the district’s 169 teachers. Teachers have been working under a three-year contract expiring in June. Not only was the new contract settled early, it also appeared to mark a less contentious negotiating atmosphere. The current contract was settled in 2018 but took about four years and included retroactive benefits for the previous two years. Before that, teachers went on strike in 2005, 2008 and 2009.

Your view: Keep charter schools alive for betterment of our children
Times Leader Letter by Nicole Manley, Math Interventionist, Insight Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School January 29, 2020
I’ve been reading a lot about pending legislation that would shut down cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania and restrict the rights of families to freely choose these public-school options. This breaks my heart, because Insight Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is the one place where my students feel accepted, understood and can grow at their own pace. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for students struggling with math, because as a young student, I struggled with math. It always seemed to be a race and everyone else around me was ahead by laps. My students are improving and learning that math isn’t so impossible, and they have a space where they can make mistakes without fear. In my cyber classroom, we sing and dance our way through mistakes because mistakes are proof you are learning. And when they start a problem over, they are not starting from scratch but from experience. I’ve had students with serious medical issues that forced them to accumulate devastating truancy issues at their local brick-and-mortar school. Do they not deserve to have the same education at their fingertips as their healthier fellow students? I’ve had students literally in tears and afraid to go to school for fear of bullying or potential future school shootings. Do they not deserve to feel safe? Cyber charter schools are serving thousands of students with similar needs, but they can only do so if parents in our state have power and freedom to choose their school.

Letter to the Editor: The true value of school choice
Delco Times Letter by Amanda Gaughan, Exton January 30, 2020
To the Times:
As an educator at Reach Cyber Charter School, Pennsylvania’s newest statewide, tuition-free, online public charter school for students in grades K-12, I get to experience the true value of school choice through my students every day. Simply put, all students learn differently. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for an education system and that’s why the ability to choose where you attend school is a vital necessity all children should have access to. As a cyber school teacher, I am able to offer students who need a flexible learning schedule, need a faster- or slower-paced curriculum, or who need extra mental or emotional support a platform to thrive in. Personally, as a STEM teacher, my students are offered a personalized learning experience through a hands-on, real world, problem-based experience. Whether it be through our online lessons, emails, or phone calls, I love watching them excel and succeed, despite their previous challenges, which is one of the best feelings as a teacher. This week, Jan. 26 through Feb. 1, is National School Choice Week, which celebrates parent’s access to the best K-12 education options for their children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. I’m proud to work at Reach Cyber Charter School and to be a catalyst for school choice. Each day I celebrate victories, both large and small, with our Reach Cyber families because they selected this educational path that fits their personal needs. I look forward to celebrating more our as school family grows. Open enrollment for the second semester at Reach Cyber is now open. To enroll and learn more about Reach Cyber, visit

Daylin Leach’s reelection prospects just got a boost as Montco Democrats failed to pick an opponent
Inquirer by Andrew Seidman, Updated: January 30, 2020- 9:48 PM
Pennsylvania Democrats hoping to defeat State Sen. Daylin Leach in their April primary suffered a setback Thursday night, as a key party committee was unable to reach consensus on endorsing one of the five candidates running against him. Leach, a three-term Democrat who represents parts of Montgomery and Delaware Counties, has faced calls for his resignation for more than two years amid allegations that inappropriately touched female former staffers and made highly sexualized jokes. Those calls grew louder after a woman accused Leach of sexual assault and he responded by filing a defamation lawsuit against her. The allegations roiled progressives who had long seen Leach as a champion for women — and gave Pennsylvania politics one of its first #MeToo moments. Leach has vehemently denied wrongdoing and retained support from some influential donors. An investigation commissioned by Senate Democrats last year found that Leach at times engaged in humor that was sexual in nature. Investigators also said his conduct fell short of violating federal workplace discrimination law.

PA-104: Certified public manager to run for Pa. House seat representing part of Dauphin County
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Posted Jan 30, 2020
Patty Smith, a certified public manager, announced on Thursday she will seek the Democratic nomination for the 104th District seat in the state House of Representatives in the April 28 primary. Smith, 50, of Susquehanna Township, is vying for the seat currently held by seven-term Republican incumbent Sue Helm, who has announced her intention to seek re-election.

Wells Fargo pulls Fla. scholarship funding over LGBTQ concerns
WKRG by: The Associated Press Posted: Jan 30, 2020 / 04:44 AM CST / Updated: Jan 30, 2020 / 04:44 AM CST
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Wells Fargo has pulled support and another bank says it will stop donating millions of dollars to Florida’s private school voucher program after reports that some schools in the program discriminate against LGBTQ students. Wells Fargo said in a statement the company values diversity and inclusion and opposes discrimination of any kind. Fifth Third Bank said in a tweet Tuesday that it will stop participating in the program until the schools have more inclusive policies. The decision comes after an Orlando Sentinel investigation found 156 private Christian schools with anti-gay views educated more than 20,800 students with tuition paid for by state scholarships. The report says 83 of those schools refused to admit LGBTQ students.

A Massive Rollout of 'Community Schools' Shows Signs of Paying Off, Report Finds
Education Week By Megan Ruge on January 29, 2020 11:44 AM
In 2014, New York City launched a $52 million effort to launch 45 "community schools," part of a nationwide movement to transform schools into neighborhood hubs offering a range of social and health services to students and their families. That investment, which eventually grew to more than 200 schools, is starting to be paying off, according to an independent evaluation of the schools released this week by the RAND Corporation. The evaluation found that community schools are having a positive impact on student attendance in all grades. The results also showed a rise in on-time grade progression, high school graduation rates, and math scores for elementary and middle school students. But it didn't lead to significant changes in reading achievement in elementary and middle schools or a reduction in disciplinary incidents and school climate measures in high schools, noted RAND Corporation researcher William Johnston. The evaluation looked at key pieces of the community schools initiative across three years. 
"The verdict is in," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who pledged to develop the corps of full-service schools soon after taking office. "Community Schools work. Math Scores are up, English scores are up, we have more and more kids who enjoy school and can't wait to get to school because there's so much happening here."

More Students Are Homeless Than Ever Before
While the number of homeless students increased, the number of those staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing declined.
USNews By Lauren Camera, Senior Education Writer Jan. 30, 2020, at 3:08 p.m.
MORE STUDENTS ARE living in emergency shelters, cars, motels, on the street or in some other temporary housing situation than ever before, new federal data shows. Public schools identified more than 1.5 million children experiencing homelessness during the 2017-18 school year – an 11% increase over the previous school year and the highest number ever recorded. The biggest increase appeared in the number of homeless students living in unsheltered situations, such as in a car, in parks and on the street, which more than doubled from the 2016-17 school year to the 2017-18 school year, jumping by 103%. The number of homeless students staying in motels increased by 17% and the number staying with other people temporarily increased by 9%. Meanwhile, the number of homeless students staying in emergency shelters or transitional housing decreased by 2%. "The record number of children and youth experiencing homelessness nationwide is alarming," says Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, which is spearheading a national campaign to improve education for homeless students along with other advocacy groups like Civic, America's Promise, EducationCounsel and the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness.

PSBA Announces Completion of Commonwealth Education Blueprint
We are happy to announce the Commonwealth Education Blueprint is complete! The project is a statewide vision for the future of public education in Pennsylvania and is a collaborative effort of individuals that represent the many faces of public education.

Five compelling reasons for .@PSBA .@PASA .@PAIU school leaders to come to the Capitol for Advocacy Day on March 23rd:
Charter Reform
Cyber Charter Reform
Basic Ed Funding
Special Ed Funding
Register at

School Leaders: Register today for @PSBA @PASA @PAIU Advocacy Day at the Capitol on March 23rd and you could be the lucky winner of my school board salary for the entire year. Register now at

Charter Schools; Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

PSBA New and Advanced School Director Training in Dec & Jan
Additional sessions now being offered in Bucks and Beaver Counties
Do you want high-impact, engaging training that newly elected and reseated school directors can attend to be certified in new and advanced required training? PSBA has been supporting new school directors for more than 50 years by enlisting statewide experts in school law, finance and governance to deliver a one-day foundational training. This year, we are adding a parallel track of sessions for those who need advanced school director training to meet their compliance requirements. These sessions will be delivered by the same experts but with advanced content. Look for a compact evening training or a longer Saturday session at a location near you. All sites will include one hour of trauma-informed training required by Act 18 of 2019. Weekend sites will include an extra hour for a legislative update from PSBA’s government affairs team.
New School Director Training
Week Nights: Registration opens 3:00 p.m., program starts 3:30 p.m. -9:00 p.m., dinner with break included
Saturdays: Registration opens at 8:00 a.m., program starts at 9:00 a.m. -3:30 p.m., lunch with break included
Advanced School Director Training
Week Nights: Registration with dinner provided opens at 4:30 p.m., program starts 5:30 p.m. -9:00 p.m.
Saturdays: Registration opens at 10:00 a.m., program starts at 11:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m., lunch with break included
Locations and dates

Hear relevant content from statewide experts, district practitioners and PSBA government affairs staff at PSBA’s annual membership gathering. PSBA Sectional Advisors and Advocacy Ambassadors are on-site to connect with district leaders in their region and share important information for you to take back to your district.
Locations and dates

Sectional Meetings are 6:00 p.m. -8:00 p.m. (across all locations). Light refreshments will be offered.
Cost: Complimentary for PSBA member entities.
Registration: Registration is now open. To register, please sign into myPSBA and look for Store/Registration on the left.

Congress, Courts, and a National Election: 50 Million Children’s Futures Are at Stake. Be their champion at the 2020 Advocacy Institute.
NSBA Advocacy Institute Feb. 2-4, 2020 Marriot Marquis, Washington, D.C.
Join school leaders from across the country on Capitol Hill, Feb. 2-4, 2020 to influence the legislative agenda & shape decisions that impact public schools. Check out the schedule & more at

Allegheny County Legislative Forum on Education March 12
by Allegheny Intermediate Unit Thu, March 12, 2020 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM EDT
Join us on March 12 at 7:00 pm for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit's annual Allegheny County Legislative Forum. The event will feature a discussion with state lawmakers on a variety of issues impacting public schools. We hope you will join us and be part of the conversation about education in Allegheny County.

All school leaders are invited to attend Advocacy Day at the state Capitol in Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), Pennsylvania Association of Intermediate Units (PAIU) and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) are partnering together to strengthen our advocacy impact. The day will center around meetings with legislators to discuss critical issues affecting public education. Click here for more information or register at
School directors can register online now by logging in to myPSBA. If you need assistance logging in and registering contact Alysha Newingham, Member Data System Administrator at

Register now for Network for Public Education Action National Conference in Philadelphia March 28-29, 2020
Registration, hotel information, keynote speakers and panels:

PARSS Annual Conference April 29 – May 1, 2020 in State College
The 2020 PARSS Conference is April 29 through May 1, 2020, at Wyndham Garden Hotel at Mountain View Country Club in State College. Please register as a member or a vendor by accessing the links below.

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.