Friday, May 29, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 29, 2020: Lawmakers beef up school safety grant fund to pay for masks, gloves in pandemic

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for May 29, 2020
Lawmakers beef up school safety grant fund to pay for masks, gloves in pandemic

More than 245 locally elected school boards have passed resolutions in support of charter school funding reform. Is your district one of them?
Legislators are hearing loud and clear that school districts need relief from the unfair funding system that results in school districts overpaying millions of dollars to charter schools.

Pa. lawmakers move emergency coronavirus aid, short-term budget bills to Gov. Wolf
Penn Live By Marc Levy | The Associated Press  Posted May 28, 2020
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A piecemeal, no-new-taxes $25.8 billion spending package headed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk on Thursday, as did legislation to distribute about $2.6 billion in emergency federal coronavirus aid to counties, nursing homes and wide range of other causes. Both won speedy approval in the Republican-controlled Legislature. The budget package was first unveiled Tuesday, while the plan to distribute federal coronavirus aid was first unveiled Thursday morning. The main appropriations bill in the budget package was approved 44-6 in the Senate on Thursday, while the legislation to distribute emergency federal was unanimous.
Wolf, a Democrat, was expected to sign both.

PA Capital Star By  Elizabeth Hardison May 28, 2020
A competitive grant program created in the wake of a deadly school shooting is set to receive a record-high windfall of state and federal aid this year, which lawmakers say will help schools confront a new kind of threat in the fall: the spread of COVID-19.  A series of bills that state lawmakers advanced Thursday will allocate a combined $215 million to Pennsylvania’s School Safety and Security Grant Program, which since 2018 has helped schools finance security equipment upgrades and safety programs. This year, though, schools can use the funds to purchase cleaning supplies, masks and gloves, and to finance mental health programs to help students and staff cope with the pandemic. Just a sliver of the program’s funding is slated to come from the stopgap state budget that state lawmakers sent to Gov. Tom Wolf Thursday. Most of it will come from the $3.9 federal aid package that Pennsylvania received from the Congressional CARES Act this spring.  A bill that the House and Senate approved Thursday, which allocates $2.6 billion of Pennsylvania’s CARES dollars, shores up the grant program with a $150 million appropriation. Another bill, which makes changes to the state school code, also instructs the state Department of Education to allocate $50 million of its CARES money to the grant program. Senate leaders said that sum will be distributed to schools using a need-based formula. That code bill won approval in the Senate Thursday and awaits a vote in the House.

‘Headed to another part of life’: High school graduates walk in Pottstown, alone and adored
WHYY By Peter Crimmins May 28, 2020
It was not the graduation they were looking forward to at the beginning of their senior year.
Normally, graduations at Pottstown High School would be in the gymnasium with a full marching band playing “Pomp and Circumstance,” where a couple thousand friends and family cheer for the graduates, each called by name to walk across the stage. This year is a quieter affair. The graduate enters an empty auditorium in cap and gown, with the principal and four family members down at the stage. A spotlight catches them proceeding down the aisle as a tape of the school marching band plays, false notes and all, recorded in 2008. To make it sound fuller the sound guy mixed in some canned audience cheers. In this audience there are no people, only 230 lawn signs propped up on the seats, each with the name and photo of a graduate. After a quick stop at a table for a pump of hand sanitizer, Principal Danielle McCoy calls the graduate name, and he or she walks across the aisle to pick up their diploma, then pause again at the other end of the stage for a photo. No handshake. The graduate and their family are ushered out the side door to a family photo station. The usher gets on his radio to signal that the graduate has left the building, and the next one can enter the auditorium. This goes on and on, every 15 minutes, until all 230 graduates have walked. It takes six days.

Live From Clairton: How a tiny W.Pa. mill town is rocking remote learning
By Mary Niederberger  Special to the Capital-Star May 29, 2020
CLAIRTON, Pa. — Eight-year-old Jeremiah Baker had a busy Memorial Day weekend, but still he was up bright and early on Tuesday to read aloud to his second grade teacher Kristen Hecker. But the second-grader wasn’t sitting at his classroom desk as he carefully made his way through  “Pete the Cat: Trick or Pete,” regularly flipping the book so Hecker could see the pictures. He was sitting at his family’s dining room table, while his mother Nicole watched him read to Hecker via a computer screen using Zoom. Hecker frequently interrupted to talk about the story and the meaning and pronunciation of words Jeremiah was reading. Such is the state of education in the era of COVID-19. Along with read-alouds, there have been virtual butterfly releases, science experiments, a virtual trip to the zoo, live math and English lessons and even dance parties and scavenger hunts all with teachers and students participating through their computer screens. If Clairton Elementary students want to understand how the virtual magic happened that has brought this new educational setting to their district, they might choose for their next read-aloud text, “The Little Engine That Could.”

Wolf wants feds to provide aid for property tax relief
GoErie By Ed Palattella @etnpalattella Posted May 28, 2020 at 5:08 PM Updated at 3:56 AM
Governor commented in response to huge shortfall in funds available for homestead exemptions in Erie, statewide.
Gov. Tom Wolf is hoping for federal help to offset property tax increases likely to occur statewide due to a drop in gaming revenue related to the shutdown of the state’s casinos during the pandemic. Wolf, a Democrat, also said through his spokesperson that the shortfall in the state fund for homestead exemptions is $340 million, which is about $40 million more than estimates lawmakers in Harrisburg cited earlier this week. The huge decrease in funds available for homestead exemptions will reduce the amount of relief available for residents who pay school property taxes statewide. As the Erie Times-News reported on Thursday, a $300 million shortfall would halve what had been the expected amount in the fund for 2020-21 and lead to a $172 jump in Erie School District property taxes, even if the Erie School Board decides not to raise the millage rate, as Erie schools Superintendent Brian Polito has requested. In a statement to the Erie Times-News, Wolf spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger raised the possibility of the state using federal money to provide property tax relief. As of Thursday evening, lawmakers in the GOP-controlled General Assembly had not agreed on a way to bridge the gap in the fund for homestead exemptions as the lawmakers passed and sent to Wolf’s desk a $25.8 billion interim state budget for 2020-21, which goes into effect July 1.

Philly schools avoid budget cuts despite COVID-19 economic pain
WHYY By Avi Wolfman-Arent May 28, 2020
Philadelphia’s Board of Education unanimously passed a $3.5 billion budget for the 2020-21 school year without making any drastic budget cuts. That counts as a small victory for the School District of Philadelphia, which just a month ago thought it would have a budget hole of nearly $40 million dollars for the upcoming fiscal year. The state legislature’s decision to hold education funding even for the next 12 months — even as other states move to slash spending — proved crucial. With the state’s Independent Fiscal Office forecasting a substantial blow to tax revenue, the school district braced for an estimated $80 million drop in funding from Harrisburg. That hit never came. State lawmakers passed a budget that provides school districts with the same amount of money in 2020-21 as they received this school year. Leaders from both parties said it was crucial to provide stability for schools as they grapple with a return to classrooms in the fall. That move prompted Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to withdraw a proposal that would have raised city property taxes in order to plug the school district’s impending budget hole.

Despite coronavirus uncertainty, Philly school board passes a $3.5 billion budget, but trouble looms ahead
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Updated: May 28, 2020- 8:54 PM
The Philadelphia school board Thursday night passed a $3.5 billion budget that narrowly avoids school-based cuts for the 2020-21 school year but warned that down the road pandemic-related financial problems could emerge. The coronavirus has seesawed the district’s finances. At one point, the district projected a healthy surplus for the coming fiscal year; later, it was looking at a $38 million deficit. But a partial city reopening in coming weeks, coupled with a state proposal to keep education subsidies at fiscal 2020 levels despite deep cuts in other areas means the district will skate by, even without the property-tax increase that Mayor Jim Kenney once proposed and later withdrew. The district’s budget includes no new money for new labor pacts with the school system’s two largest unions, representing its teachers and blue-collar workers. Both contracts expire in August. And the five-year picture remains stark. Chief financial officer Uri Monson said the Philadelphia School District projects a budget deficit of just over $700 million by 2025 — down from a forecasted shortfall of nearly $1 billion over five years. The district is “better than we were before, but obviously facing some significant fiscal challenges,” Monson told the board.

PSBA supports short-term budget passed this week
PSBA supports the short-term budget passed by the General Assembly this week under House Bill 2387. The spending plan recognizes the importance of public education in these difficult times by providing full-year funding for schools and maintaining investments without reductions in basic education, special education and other critical state subsidies. The new budget will enable school districts to move forward with the needed certainty from the state on matters of funding so they can plan appropriately at the local level. PSBA commends legislators for remaining steadfast in their support of public education as we move into the weeks and months ahead with the health and safety of our students in mind.

EDITORIAL: Climate of ignorance in West York
The York Dispatch Editorial Board Published 1:30 p.m. ET May 27, 2020 | Updated 5:41 a.m. ET May 29, 2020
Facts don't have biases, people do. And West York school board members seem more concerned with inserting their own prejudices into the classroom than arming the district's students with information required to think critically. And that's the crux. It all started this past week, when members of the school board appointed themselves censors-in-chief by pulling from the classroom a widely used textbook, "Rubenstein: The Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Human Geography, 13th edition." It's the go-to text for advanced placement geography courses throughout the country. But, alas, five board members were triggered when they learned it includes climate change as a significant factor that is, and will, drive human behavior and movement. Even worse, dissenting board members said, is that "Rubenstein" had the gall to say that rich industrial countries — the ones pumping carbon emissions into the air in the pursuit of electricity and iPhones — was hastening the melting ice caps. It's left-wing "indoctrination," cried board member Lynn Kohler. It's anti-capitalist, he protested. Well, how about this, Mr. Kohler?
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense, not exactly the capital of the liberal intelligentsia, published a report detailing how climate change is expected to destabilize entire regions by 2100. Up to 60 million people worldwide could be displaced as sea levels rise, the report says. Super storms are likely to destroy crops. Entire government systems, including that of the U.S., could be undermined. The Pentagon's interests here, of course, were matters of military readiness and global stability. And, according to its greatest minds, climate change is among the most real-world threats to those aims.

Reading School Board action means the end for I-LEAD Charter School
Reading Eagle By Jeremy Long @jeremymlong on Twitter  May 28, 2020 Updated 5 hrs ago
I-LEAD Charter School will close its doors at the end of June.
The Reading School Board passed three agreements Wednesday night that will effectively shutter Berks County’s only brick-and-mortar charter school. The board voted 7-0 to approve a global agreement among I-LEAD, the school district, Berks County, the city and the Downtown Improvement District. Board member Dr. Noahleen Betts was absent from the meeting. Angel Figueroa, CEO of I-LEAD Charter School, put out a statement that said the battle with the school district was too much. “Our team came to a difficult decision that if we could not have an amicable and constructive relationship with the school board members, we would not continue our relationship with them,” he said. “Our staff were not born to fight with the Reading School District, we were born for positive justice and service. We are determined to be responsible and to make peace so that we can return to productive work.” Despite the constant battle with the district, Figueroa was still proud of the school’s work. “We have helped more than 700 at-risk students graduate from high school and move confidently toward the future as leaders of their families and communities,” he said. “The results of the state audit of our operations proved our organizational integrity beyond a doubt.” Figueroa added that while the school may be closing it is not the end of its mission. “While we will not continue our charter school operations, and while the school as a corporate entity will be dissolved,” he said, “our mission of leadership development, education and community empowerment will continue in other even more dynamic and impactful forms. Do not be sad about this transition.” I-LEAD, the city, the county and DID previously voted to accept the agreement. That agreement settled all the back taxes owed and litigation between I-LEAD and those entities.

Is CDC guidance for schools feasible? Lancaster County educators say it raises more questions than answers
Lancaster Online by ALEX GELI | Staff Writer May 28, 2020
To reopen schools in the fall, Lancaster County school officials say they’ll need more than just a list of recommendations. Closed since mid-March because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, schools are expected to reopen in August. But with limited guidance, including a list of suggestions released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on COVID-19, school officials here say they need more information to make the important decisions that lie ahead this summer. While it’s only June, time is running out for both the state and federal governments to issue more concrete reopening guidance, they say. “School districts need more than recommendations and need ample time to plan, prepare and communicate next steps to our community,” Hempfield School District Superintendent Mike Bromirski said. Last week, the CDC issued interim guidance including three steps: first, schools remain closed but offer online learning opportunities; second, schools reopen only to students who live in the local geographic areas and with enhanced social-distancing measures; and third, reopen with social-distancing measures but restrict attendance to those from "limited transmission areas."

Peters Township proposes tax increase for coming year
The Peters Township School District is looking at a 0.35-mill tax increase for the 2020-21 school year. School directors May 18 unanimously approved a $70,787,491 proposed budget that brings the district’s millage to 14.16, or about $1,416 on every $100,000 of assessed property value. District officials cited an increase in debt service because of construction borrowing for the new Peters Township High School as well as teacher and staff salaries as the major contributors to the tax increase. The district has 24 teachers reaching the jump step, which comes with a salary increase. That’s nearly double the number of teachers in any other given year.
The board will vote on a final budget in June.

Fox Chapel Area School District residents could see slightly higher taxes
Trib Live by Tawnya Panizzi Thursday, May 28, 2020 | 11:41 AM
Fox Chapel Area residents could pay slightly higher property taxes next year after the school board approved the district’s tentative $102 million budget. Members approved the plan on Wednesday, calling for a 1.5% tax rate increase to 19.8 mills. The owner of a home assessed at $200,000 would pay $3,960 in school taxes, up from $3,914. The board may discuss the budget during its virtual meetings on June 1 and June 8, and is expected to vote on the final plan at a special meeting later in June. No date has been set. The proposal includes a number of reassignments and realignments expected to save money, members said, including the elimination of two municipal police officers who work as school resource officers at the high school and Dorseyville Middle School.

Allentown School District moves closer to tax increase
WFMZ by Stephen Althouse May 28, 2020 Updated 3 hrs ago
ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Allentown School District Board of Directors approved a proposed final 2020-21 budget, which includes a 4% tax increase on property owners, during its Thursday night meeting. The 4% figure is the highest amount permitted under the Act 1 Index allowed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education without a voter referendum. The district was ineligible to increase taxes beyond that amount, as it failed to qualify for state DOE exceptions for higher amounts. The tax increase means roughly a $90 annual increase on "an average property," which is a property assessed at $108,000 according to Jennifer Ramos, the district's deputy superintendent. Last year, the district raised taxes 1.75%. In 2018-19, the district raised taxes 3.7%. The 2017-18 budget featured a 3.8% tax hike. ASD wants to spend $361.6 million during 2020-21, but only has revenues of just over $354 million, equaling roughly a $7.6 million deficit. The district's situation is actually more dire. Thanks to a roughly $718,000 gap in this year's budget, the deficit is closer to $8.3 million. The district doesn't have an adequate fund balance to offset the deficit, according to Superintendent Thomas Parker. The 2020-21 proposed final budget, discussed during the directors' May 14 Finance Committee-of-the-Whole meeting, also makes what ASD calls "several significant assumptions, all of which are not a guarantee," the district says. ASD expects an increase of more than 8% in charter school costs and a 2.79% state pension contribution increase based on a 2.24% increase in contractually obligated salaries.

Allentown School District to hold virtual graduations in June, in-person ceremonies in August
The Allentown School District will have virtual graduation ceremonies for its three high schools, with in-person ones possibly occurring in August. In a 7-2 vote, the board approved its new graduation plan that had to be changed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Dieruff will have its virtual ceremony June 26, Allen on June 27 and Building 21 on June 28. Dieruff and Allen’s in-person ceremonies are scheduled both for Aug. 1 at the PPL Center, with Allen in the afternoon and Dieruff at night. Building 21, which has a significantly smaller class size, is scheduled for Aug. 3 at Symphony Hall. The graduation plan was part of a report that included other items such as an agreement with a company to provide after school programming at some schools and an enrollment report for April. The board voted on the items collectively 7-2.

Will students have to wear masks to school? Pa. superintendents face tough choices for fall
Penn Live By Christine Vendel | Updated May 28, 5:49 PM; Posted May 28, 5:12 AM
Like most superintendents across the state, Middletown Area School District Superintendent Lori Suski would like to have kids back in classrooms five days a week in the fall. But she knows that may not be possible because of COVID-19. And that’s why she, and other superintendents across the state, are facing tough decisions about how to best educate students while keeping everyone safe. While superintendents still grapple with how to finish out this school year through remote learning, they are preparing for three possible options to start the next school year: Full return to brick and mortar schools, full remote learning or a hybrid plan where students attend school in-person part-time while joining their class online on other days.Options that bring kids back into schools would then likely require social-distancing measures, or masks, or both.

Hite says that Philly school reopening in the fall may vary across the city
It will depend on conditions of specific buildings and neighborhood needs, he said.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa May 28 — 1:35 pm, 2020
Reopening school in the fall may look different across the city depending on the conditions and capacities of individual buildings and the needs of communities and neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Superintendent William Hite said Thursday. Hite said that several working groups are preparing for three different scenarios: full in-person learning, full online learning, and a “hybrid” that combines the two. It is possible that Philadelphia will see versions of all three. “This is going to depend on the context of individual schools and communities, grade levels, capacity utilization, and other issues,” he said.  “There’s not likely to be one plan.” In addition to following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials, Hite said, the District is planning to send out surveys to employees, teachers, students, and families “to talk about what this experience is like if, in fact, we have to go into some other type of model. We will be getting information from them as we make these plans.” The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers released a survey of its members earlier this week, in which most said they were wary of a full return to school without contact tracing and a vaccine and were skeptical of the District’s capacity to prepare and clean all the buildings to assure a safe reopening. Hite said that it is conceivable that many teachers and students will not want to return and that the District is also planning for that.

“A communal trauma:” Counselors help students combat stress amid pandemic
Counselors do weekly check-ins with students, offering emotional support and academic advice.
The notebook by Neena Hagen May 28 — 9:15 am, 2020
Faced with the hospitalization of loved ones and uncertainty about their future, it’s not surprising that many students feel immense stress amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At Masterman High School, juniors and seniors fret over the constantly changing college landscape. At Carver High School of Engineering & Science, many students worry about their financial aid packages. And at Strawberry Mansion High School, some students have run away from home because of unstable family situations. Helping students navigate these issues is the mission of their school counselors.  A counselor’s job has always been a delicate balancing act between offering students the right emotional support and handing out tips for academic success. But for many counselors, like Tatiana Olmedo, a counselor at Carver, the pandemic has made their jobs harder. Olmedo said reinventing ways of communicating with students has been a challenge. “If I needed to talk to a student, I used to be able to just pull them out of class,” Olmedo said. “But now I have to rely on their willingness to answer an email or a phone call.”

Board of Ed action meeting report: With budget settled, September looms
As state funds bring financial relief, parents seek role shaping reopening plans
The notebook by Bill Hangley Jr. May 28 — 10:41 pm, 2020
On the day that the Pennsylvania state legislature approved a budget that sustains school spending for the next year, the Philadelphia Board of Education unanimously approved its own revised budget, while authorizing millions in capital spending and renewing two charter schools. But with the District’s strategies for September still being shaped behind closed doors, the board also heard calls for increased community involvement as it plans for reopening schools.  “Families come to me with concerns they want to [bring] to the District, and they don’t think the District is listening. These families are hurting,” said parent advocate Cecelia Thomson. District officials, who are developing their reopening plans with the help of ten separate internal working groups, promised to reach out to parents soon to learn about community priorities and concerns for September. “We’re going to be surveying teachers, as well as families … just to inform the options or scenarios we come up with next year,” said Superintendent William Hite. Surveys will go out in early June, he said. “We can use that information as we begin to make plans … it’s not a one size fits all solution to this problem.”

“The effect is most clear in heavily gerrymandered states where one party’s candidates win a majority of the vote, but the opposing party nonetheless wins the majority of the seats—and control of the state legislature. This anti-democratic outcome is the status quo in North Carolina, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—three of the four states discussed in detail below. “
How Partisan Gerrymandering Hurts Kids
Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing district lines to unfairly favor particular politicians or political parties in elections.1 It is a political dirty trick—and an extremely harmful one—that turns democracy upside down, letting politicians choose their voters instead of voters choosing their politicians. Gerrymandering allows politicians to get reelected even if they fail to address the problems that the majority of the public wants them to solve. That failure has consequences for every issue that Americans care about, including efforts to expand health care and to protect Americans from gun violence—two issues that the Center for American Progress has written about at length.2 It also has very real and harmful consequences for some of the most vulnerable Americans: children. Redistricting is the process of redrawing district lines, which occurs every 10 years after a new census, to account for changes in district populations. In most states, redistricting is controlled by state legislators,3 who use this opportunity to solidify their power by drawing opposition voters out of their districts and maximizing the number of districts that can be won by their political allies. These gerrymanders can wipe out electoral competition and result in dramatically different political outcomes than if districts were fairly drawn.

Adopt the 2020 PSBA resolution for charter school funding reform
In this legislative session, PSBA has been leading the charge with the Senate, House of Representatives and the Governor’s Administration to push for positive charter reform. We’re now asking you to join the campaign: Adopt the resolution: We’re asking all school boards to adopt the 2020 resolution for charter school funding reform at your next board meeting and submit it to your legislators and to PSBA.

Over 245 PA school boards adopt charter reform resolutions
Charter school funding reform continues to be a concern as over 245 school boards across the state have adopted a resolution calling for legislators to enact significant reforms to the Charter School Law to provide funding relief and ensure all schools are held to the same quality and ethics standards. Now more than ever, there is a growing momentum from school officials across the state to call for charter school funding reform. Legislators are hearing loud and clear that school districts need relief from the unfair funding system that results in school districts overpaying millions of dollars to charter schools.

Know Your Facts on Funding and Charter Performance. Then Call for Charter Change!
PSBA Charter Change Website:

The Network for Public Education Action Conference has been rescheduled to April 24-25, 2021 at the Philadelphia Doubletree Hotel

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.