Tuesday, June 30, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for June 30, 2020: Press Conference: Fixing the Flaws in PA’s Special Education Funding System for Charter Schools

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for June 30, 2020
Press Conference: Fixing the Flaws in PA’s Special Education Funding System for Charter Schools

According to spreadsheets from the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, for the 2018-2019 school year Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS) received $27,515,059 in diverted tax dollars under the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC). BLOCS was reportedly the largest recipient of EITC funds. There are no fiscal or student performance reporting measures required under the program.

New report finds fewer than 50% of students with disabilities with high-cost needs are enrolled in charter schools than would be expected if charters served the same student populations as districts, renews calls for state legislature to reform charter school special education funding
What:  Press conference about a new Education Voters of PA report, “Fixing the Flaws in Pennsylvania’s Special Education Funding System for Charter Schools: How an Outdated Law Wastes Public Money, Encourages Gaming of the System, and Limits School Choice.”
Susan Spicka, Executive Director, Education Voters of PA
Ms. Paulette Foster, Pittsburgh Public Schools guardian and co-founder of the Education Rights Network
Lisa Lightner--Parent and advocate for students with disabilities, Chester County
State Representative Mike Sturla, House Democratic Policy Committee Chairman
State Representative Dan Miller, PA House Education Committee; Subcommittee Democratic Chair on Special Education; Chairman, Allegheny County House Democratic Delegation Chairman
Dr. Frank Gallagher, Superintendent, Souderton Area School District
Michael Churchill, Of Counsel, Public Interest Law Center
Cheryl Kleiman, Staff Attorney, Education Law Center
When:             Tuesday, June 30 at 1:00 pm Where:  Via Zoom
For more information contact: Susan Spicka, Education Voters of PA sspicka@educationvoterspa.org

PDE Charter School Tuition Rates by School District
The following documents contain charter school tuition rates for regular education and special education students by school district:

State Money to Religious Schools Hinges on Supreme Court Ruling
Bloomberg News Posted June 29, 2020By Andrew Kreighbaum
The U.S. Supreme Court could shape the future of state school choice initiatives, potentially opening public funding to religious institutions in states offering school vouchers, in a decision as soon as this week. At stake: a 2018 state supreme court decision that struck down a tax credit scholarship program, finding it violated a provision of the state constitution because the program allowed for the indirect use of public money at religious schools. Three Montana families sued in the case, Kendra Espinoza, et al. vs. Montana Department of Revenue, et al., U.S., 18 1195, and want the Supreme Court to restore the program. Supporters say a win on vouchers would add momentum to expand school choice in other states. Advocates of public education, including teacher unionists, say scrapping the restrictions on religious schools would siphon off more money from schools already struggling with the coronavirus toll on the nation’s economy. “We haven’t even gotten back to 2008-2009 funding levels for public schools,” said David Strom, general counsel at the American Federation of Teachers. “So it would be a big concern because of the limitation on resources available to public school students.”

How flat funding schools is actually a cut
PCCY June 26, 2020
As districts in the region draw up their tentative plans to reopen schools in September, the feasibility of maintaining social distancing and staggered class scheduling (to limit the number of students at any one time) remains largely unknown. But even if they are deemed safe, measures to protect students and staff from COVID-19 will surely be costly, leaving districts with the highest poverty rates and students with the greatest needs way behind the curve.   Districts like York, Morrisville, Norristown, Upper Darby, Pottstown, William Penn, Philadelphia, and Bensalem were already years into a crisis due to chronic underfunding by the state, strapped to the losing end of the widest school funding disparity in the nation. When Pennsylvania lawmakers passed the short-term budget in May, they averted what educators, parents, and advocates feared would be sweeping pandemic-related cuts, creating a doomsday scenario for public education. The budget flat funded schools, ensuring there would be no cuts in state funding levels this year. But flat funding schools is ultimately a cut. In fact, flat funding would have meant a cut for districts even without the pandemic.

Schools turn to physicians, nurses, hospitals to navigate reopening
Johnstown Tribune Democrat By Joshua Byers jbyers@tribdem.com Jun 27, 2020
Central Cambria school nurse Jackie Springer said it’s important to have medical professionals helping develop response plans for the COVID-19 pandemic. Springer is co-lead on the pandemic response team at Central Cambria in Ebensburg. She thinks the district has an advantage in developing a reopening plan with four health-care workers involved. “Together we’ve just been navigating these waters,” Springer said. On the school board there’s Dr. Thomas Woods who teaches in the physician assistant department at St. Francis University, retired nurse Patricia Albaugh and physician assistant Nate Martin. Additionally, the school physician, Scott Magley, has been and will continue to review the plan as it develops. “Collaboratively, we have a lot of great minds that can bring a lot to the table,” Springer said. Schools can consult with several sources while planning for reopening, including Gov. Tom Wolf’s office, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Pennsylvania School Reopening Task Force, and the American Association of School Administrators. Local districts have also turned to their school doctors and nurses. The input at Central Cambria has allowed for easier navigation of the ever-changing coronavirus landscape. “We’re all working as a team to stay up to date on everything,” Springer said. “As the coronavirus ebbs and flows in our area, we must be flexible and ride the wave. These truly are uncharted waters.”

Most Philly teachers say they want students physically back in class every other week
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Updated: June 29, 2020- 6:00 PM
When Philadelphia schools reopen, students should only physically attend on staggered weeks, most city teachers said in a new survey, and the School District needs to hire hundreds more cleaners to adequately scrub and sanitize buildings during the coronavirus pandemic. One-third of the 6,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, and other education professionals who responded to the survey by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers said public schools should remain fully remote when classes begin in September. But more than half said a hybrid in-person and remote model is likely the best way to balance education with health and safety. If the hybrid model is implemented, about 53% of those surveyed favored a staggered-weeks scenario, with students in school buildings one week and learning remotely the next, and groups of students alternating. An alternative of staggering by a smaller number of days drew more concerns.

Philly teachers prefer hybrid reopening model to full-time online or in school
Based on PFT survey, union suggests a staggered schedule in which students would attend on alternate weeks.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa June 29 — 3:49 pm, 2020
This story has been updated.
A majority of Philadelphia teachers responding to a union survey say that they prefer a hybrid school opening scenario partially online and partially in person with most indicating that they favor a week-on, week-off schedule. However, it was unclear exactly what was meant by “week on, week off.” It was described as “one week on, one week virtual, with groups of students alternating.” That would mean, presumably, that teachers would be in school every day, teaching half the students one week and the other half the next week. But only 15% of the respondents showed any preference for full-time, in-school teaching with social distancing in place. Despite the lack of clarity on what a staggered week model would look like, the PFT recommended that some version of this be adopted in the conclusion to the survey, which is the third one it has taken of its membership since the COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of schools. “Given the percentages of support for a staggered weeks model compared to the others, and given the overall preference for a hybrid model of returning to schools, we believe that some form of the staggered weeks model is likely best suited for the School District of Philadelphia,” the survey notes in the conclusion.

Wilkes-Barre Area students will have choice between in-person or remote learning
Also: High school grad dates set, budget passed with no tax hike
Times Leader By Mark Guydish mguydish@timesleader.com June 30, 2020
WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes-Barre Area School District students will have a choice between learning from home and learning in school when classes resume. At Monday night’s board meeting Superintendent Brian Costello gave a broad outline of the plan for when students return, which will be finalized in the next several weeks. That news came the same night the district passed a final budget with no tax increase. With enough Chromebook computers available for every student, the district plans to offer a hybrid program in which students who want to attend in person would do so while those who wanted virtual sessions could remain home, Costello explained. Attendance would be required in either case, and students who would be in a specific class in person at a specific time would have to sit in via computer at the same time. Costello also announced plans to hold graduations for all three high schools at 5 p.m. in the stadium, with social distancing, on July 20, 22 and 24. Budget passed: Wilkes-Barre Area School Board passed a final budget Tuesday night with no tax increase, sticking to the preliminary final budget passed last month that keeps property taxes at 18.4332 mills. A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

SCASD Plans for In-Person Classes, Expanded Virtual Option in the Fall
StateCollege.com by Geoff Rushton on June 29, 2020 3:51 PM
State College Area School District is planning to offer all students the option of attending class in-person or enrolling in its Virtual Academy cyber option this fall, Superintendent Bob O'Donnell wrote in a 
message to district families on Friday. The district has developed a draft a COVID-19 health and safety plan as mandated by the Department of Education, which requires plans to follow health department and Centers for Disease Control guidelines and must be approved by the school board before schools reopen. Health and safety, educational model and operations committees have been working on the SCASD plan with guidance from health professionals. Feedback is being accepted through the end of the day on Tuesday and the school board is expected to vote on a final plan on July 6. "We are planning to provide all students with the opportunity to attend school in a safe manner through our adherence to the district’s Health and Safety Plan," O'Donnell wrote. That will include social distancing of six feet and requiring all students, faculty and staff to wear masks, which O'Donnell said "are critical to the effectiveness of our contract tracing." Elementary students will be provided daily, full-day in-school learning.  Secondary students, however, will be provided full-day in-school learning every other day, "along with asynchronous experiences when not in school," O'Donnell wrote. Students with specific learning needs will have the opportunity to be in school every day. The district also will develop plans for each student with complex special needs on case-by-case basis. For buses, guidelines include scheduled cleaning and disinfection between routes, providing drivers with masks and gloves, hand sanitizers on all buses and signage and reminders about masking and distancing.

N.J. schools will reopen with masks, social distancing and sweeping new rules under just-released plan
New Jersey’s 2,500 public schools will open their doors for the 2020-2021 school year, but classes will be unlike anything students and teachers have ever experienced before, state officials announced Friday. Students will stay six feet apart in classrooms and on buses, lunch times will be staggered and teachers will be required to wear masks, according to sweeping new guidelines released by the state Department of Education. Students will also be “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings all day and will be required to wear them when they can’t maintain social distancing at school. The new rules are part of a long-awaited “The Road Back: Restart and Recovery Plan for Education” report compiled by state education officials that will serve as a blueprint as schools prepare for the return of the state’s 1.4 million students while the coronavirus pandemic continues. State officials said they do not have a one-size-fits-all plan for reopening, so each of New Jersey’s 577 public school districts will have to weigh its options and come up with its own proposal that meets or exceeds the minimum guidelines. That could mean big changes to school schedules and start times.

State College School Board Approves Budget with No Real Estate Tax Increase
StateCollege.com by Geoff Rushton on June 30, 2020 4:00 AM
The State College Area School Board on Monday approved a final 2020-21 budget that includes no real estate tax increase. Marking the first time in 13 years the district has not increased taxes, the property tax rate will remain at 46.0875 mills. For the average homestead residential property with an assessed value of $81,513, taxes for the year will be $3,757. Prior to COVID-19, the district was planning a 2 percent tax hike, but for the past three months has redeveloped the budget to have no increase because of the economic uncertainty resulting from the pandemic. 

Greensburg Salem keeps taxes flat, cuts librarians and band teacher
Trib Live by JACOB TIERNEY   | Monday, June 29, 2020 9:30 p.m.
The Greensburg Salem School District will keep property taxes flat and make several controversial cuts to library and band programs in its 2020-21 budget. The school board approved the tax rate and the $46.2 million budget in two 6-3 votes Monday. District leaders said the cuts were necessary to compensate for an expected 3% revenue drop caused by the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic. The real estate tax rate will remain at 89.72 mills, costing the average district property owner about $1,525 a year. The board voted to eliminate the middle school and elementary school librarian positions, the elementary school band teacher, tech ed teacher and community liaison. All of those positions were eliminated through attrition. One teacher will be furloughed but that position will be filled by one of the librarians. An earlier version of the budget called for furloughing two teachers, but one of those positions was preserved in the final version. Several members of the public spoke during the board’s virtual meeting Monday to ask leaders to consider raising taxes by one mill — about $17 for the average property owner — to avoid the cuts.

Hempfield school board approves 2020-21 budget with no tax hike
Trib Live by MEGAN TOMASIC   | Monday, June 29, 2020 7:13 p.m.
Hempfield school board members voted unanimously last week to pass the 2020-21 budget that does not raise property taxes. The $97.3 million budget passed 9-0, holding property taxes at 83.46 mills. This is the second year board members have not raised taxes following five years of gradual increases. Originally set at $97.67 million, Business Manager Wayne Wismar reduced budget expenditures by more than $497,900 through attrition, replacing five retiring employees with others at “more entry level rates,” eliminating a position, approving a request for leave and not replacing a support position. Superintendent Tammy Wolicki in May sent a letter to parents stating the budget did not include a property tax increase, adding, “We recognize the hardship that the pandemic has created for our community and have worked to reduce costs without impacting the quality of our programming by attritioning several staff positions through the retirement process.”

Garnet Valley's school tax increase is lowest in 20 years
Delco Times By Susan L. Serbin Times Correspondent June 29, 2020
CONCORD — The Garnet Valley School Board closed out the 2019-2020 school year with two June meetings which included passage of the 2020-2021 budget. Between the proposed final budget in May and the June document, the property tax increase was shaved .6 percent. The final general fund budget totaled $112,804,324, an increase of $110,081 (0.10 percent) in expenditures over the current year. The final budget required a property tax millage rate of 33.4028 (Bethel: 33.7842) mills, an increase of 1.00 percent over the current year. This represents the lowest district real estate tax increase in over 20 years, and is 1.60 percent below the district’s Act I index. Eighty percent of the district's revenue is funded by commercial and residential taxes

“Parker said that he didn't think it was a "tax conversation." Rather, he said that the approach should not be to fight one another for what is in the "proverbial bucket," but rather to change the dynamic "of the construct" as to how urban schools receive funding overall.”
Allentown School Board adopts budget with 4% tax hike on property owners
WFMZ by Stephen Althouse Jun 29, 2020
ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The Allentown School District Board of Directors, during a special meeting Monday night, adopted a final 2020-21 budget that includes a 4% tax increase on property owners. Voting for the $350.9 million spending plan and 4% tax hike were Charles Thiel, Audrey Mathison, Sara Brace, Nicholas Miller and Nancy Wilt. Voting against the budget and the 4% tax increase were Phoebe Harris, Lisa Conover, Linda Vega and Cheryl Johnson-Watts. Vega offered an amendment for a budget that would have lowered the tax increase from 4% to 2.5%. It was seconded by Harris. The amendment was rejected by a 4-5 vote. Vega offered another amendment for a budget that would have lowered the tax increase to 3%. That was also rejected. Harris said that anyone voting for the tax hike "had no empathy" with people struggling financially. "Shame on you," she said. "Stop putting the bill on the taxpayers and start looking at other resources," Conover said. 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.

Sharpsville school budget raises taxes
Sharon Herald By DAVID L. DYE Herald Staff Writer June 29, 2020
SHARPSVILLE — Property taxes are going up under the new budget for the Sharpsville Area School District. The budget for the 2020-21 school year calls for expenditures of $18,631,273, a 1.3 percent increase from last school year’s budget, Senior Business Manager Jaime Roberts said. Under the budget, property taxes were raised by 1.5 mills to 82 mills, a 1.  percent increase. For the owner of a property with the district assessed average of $17,250, Roberts said the millage increase would be about $30 per year. The school board approved the budget at its June 17 meeting in a 6-3 vote. Board members Nicholas Hanahan, Janice Raykie and Joseph Toth casted the dissenting votes, Roberts said. The school district was able to generate some savings from the school closures due to COVID-19, although other cuts included furloughing a teacher and reducing another teacher to 50 percent. However, Superintendent John Vannoy said there were still expenses that the school district could not change. “Cyber-charter would be something that we have no control over,” Vannoy said. Another expense outside the school district’s control is pension contributions to the Public School Employees’ Retirement System, which increased from 34.29 percent of salaries to 34.51 percent in 2020-21. This will cost the school district about $2,580,791, Roberts said.

Philly’s new student-led independent newspaper aims to keep District accountable
In the future, students hope to create larger, public discussions about educational inequity through forums and panels.
Commentary by Lola Milder June 29 — 10:23 am, 2020
Students are constantly asking permission. In May, the launch of The Bullhorn, Philly’s first independent student newspaper, created one space where they don’t need to.  The idea arose last fall as a proposal in a weekly meeting of Masterman High School’s chapter of the Philadelphia Student Union, a youth-centered group that focuses on organizing and leadership. Besides the project’s function as a newspaper, it gained excitement as a potential platform for unifying Philly students in future endeavors. Despite all that the 200,000-plus students in the Philadelphia School District and charters share, most students are limited to the activities and social media circles within their school. Little connection exists among schools, especially between neighborhood schools and magnet schools. By email and phone, The Bullhorn’s inaugural members reached out to English teachers and principals throughout the city, looking for interested students, often members of school newspapers and arts programs. Today, 15 schools are represented among The Bullhorn’s staff, and the students have organized into four teams: reporting, design, outreach, and editing.  Unsurprisingly, much of what draws in students is The Bullhorn’s independence. The website designers, the social media managers, the artists, the reporters, the press team, the editors – they’re all students. It’s liberating. 

Remote School Is a Nightmare. Few in Power Care.
Government should treat the need to reopen schools as an emergency.
New York Times By Michelle Goldberg Opinion Columnist June 29, 2020, 7:46 p.m. ET
Scott Stringer, the comptroller of New York City, has sons who are 7 and 8 years old. Over the last three months, like many parents, he’s tried to navigate what schools are optimistically calling “remote learning” while he and his wife both worked from home. It’s been, he told me, “one of the most challenging things I ever had to do in my life.” So when he hears from parents desperate to understand what’s happening with schools in September, he empathizes. As in many other cities, if New York public schools reopen, students will likely be in the classroom only part-time. But no one knows if that means that students will attend on alternate days, alternate weeks or — Stringer’s preference — in half-day shifts. “Parents have no more information today about what schools will look like in the fall than they did last March,” he wrote in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, last week. With expanded unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of July, many parents will have no choice but to return to work by September. Even for parents who can work from home, home schooling is often a crushing burden that’s destroying careers, mental health and family relationships. And online school has had dismal results, especially for poor, black and Hispanic students.

PSBA seeking Allwein Society nominations
PSBA is accepting nominations for The Allwein Society, the association’s award program recognizing school directors who are outstanding leaders and advocates on behalf of public schools and students. This prestigious honor was created in 2011 in memory of Timothy M. Allwein, a former PSBA staff member who exemplified the integrity and commitment to advance political action for the benefit of public education. Learn more and submit your nomination online.

PSBA Fall Virtual Advocacy Day: OCT 8, 2020 • 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Sign up now for PSBA’s Virtual Advocacy Day this fall!
All public school leaders are invited to join us for our fall Virtual Advocacy Day on Thursday, October 8, 2020, via Zoom. We need all of you to help strengthen our advocacy impact. The day will center around contacting legislators to discuss critical issues affecting public education. Registrants will receive the meeting invitation with a link to our fall Virtual Advocacy Day website that contains talking points, a link to locate contact information for your legislator and additional information to help you have a successful day.
Cost: As a membership benefit, there is no cost to register.
Registration: School directors can register online now by logging in to myPSBA. If you have questions about Virtual Advocacy Day, or need additional information, contact Jamie.Zuvich@psba.org.

Apply Now for EPLC's 2020-2021 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program!
Applications are available now for the 2020-2021 Education Policy Fellowship Program
The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC).  The 2020-2021 Program will be conducted in briefer, more frequent, and mostly online sessions, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The content will be substantially the same as the traditional Fellowship Program, with some changes necessitated by the new format and a desire to reduce costs to sponsors in these uncertain fiscal times.
The commitment of EPLC remains the same. The Fellowship Program will continue to be Pennsylvania's premier education policy leadership program for education, community, policy and advocacy leaders! The Fellowship Program begins with two 3-hour virtual sessions on September 17-18, and the Program ends with a graduation event in June 2021.
The application may be copied from the EPLC web site, but it must be submitted by mail or scanned and e-mailed, with the necessary signatures of applicant and sponsor.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of the Fellowship Program and its requirements, please contact EPLC Executive Director Ron Cowell at 412-298-4796 or COWELL@EPLC.ORG

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.

270 PA school boards have adopted charter reform resolutions
Charter school funding reform continues to be a concern as 270 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.