Friday, October 30, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for October 30: DeVos will let religious groups apply for charter grants, opening up new legal battlefront

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Keystone State Education Coalition

PA Ed Policy Roundup for October 30, 2020

DeVos will let religious groups apply for charter grants, opening up new legal battlefront



Congratulations to #312 @wasdpa for passing the charter funding reform resolution. Thank you to Rep. Paul Schemel, @SenMastriano and PSBA Ambassador @lynn_kohler



The Editorial Board endorses Joe Biden: Here are seven reasons why | PennLive Editorial

By PennLive Editorial Board Updated Oct 29, 8:21 AM; Posted Oct 29, 5:30 AM

This is not the first time Americans have faced a crisis. It’s not the first time we’ve face economic turmoil as well as suffering and death on a massive scale. And it’s not the first time Americans have been called to work hard, sacrifice and help our neighbors. During past times of turmoil and struggle, Americans have been blessed with leaders who inspired us to live up to our highest ideals as a nation and as one people. The next President of the United States will need to be that kind of leader. The next President of the United States will need to respect the values of those we have come to honor as the Greatest Generation. They showed us how to rise above chaos. They showed us how to put country above self. They showed us how Americans will always be victorious when we unite against any enemy – be it ideological or on the battlefield.


U.S. coronavirus cases surpass 9 million; daily total sets record


CHICAGO — The United States, which reported its first known coronavirus case in Washington state 282 days ago, surpassed 9 million total infections Thursday, including more than half a million in the past week, as COVID-19 spiraled out of control in the lead-up to Election Day.

Across the country, alarming signs suggested the worst was yet to come: The nation reported more cases Thursday — at least 86,600 — than on any other single day. More than 20 states reported more cases over the past week than at any time during the pandemic. Patients were sent to field hospitals in El Paso, Texas, and the Milwaukee suburbs. Growing outbreaks led to new restrictions on businesses in Chicago. Zero states reported sustained declines in cases.


DeVos will let religious groups apply for charter grants, opening up new legal battlefront

Chalkbeat By Matt Barnum  Oct 29, 2020, 2:55pm EDT

The law is clear: In order to be eligible for federal charter grants, charter schools must not be “affiliated with a sectarian school or religious institution.” But Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said earlier this week that she will no longer enforce this prohibition. Religious organizations should feel free to apply for federal money to open charter schools, she said, and a recent Supreme Court ruling is on her side. “Prohibiting religiously affiliated public charter schools is unconstitutional,” DeVos said at a forum in Kentucky. “The Department of Education in the Charter School Program will not discriminate and will allow for and welcome religiously affiliated applicants.” It’s not clear that DeVos’s move will prompt immediate changes in who tries to start charter schools, and it could be reversed by a Biden administration if President Trump loses reelection next week. But it amounts to the first shot fired in what’s likely to be a lengthy legal battle over charter schools and religion in the wake of two recent Supreme Court decisions.


Shenandoah Valley laments cost of cyber/charter funding

Republican Herald By John E. Usalis Staff Writer Oct 29, 2020 Updated 7 hrs ago

SHENANDOAH — The Shenandoah Valley school board has repeated a message that it believes charter/cyber school funding reform is needed. The board adopted a resolution by a 7-0 vote Wednesday calling for the Legislature to “meaningfully revise the existing flawed charter school funding systems for regular and special education to ensure that school districts and taxpayers are no longer overpaying these schools or reimbursing for costs the charter schools do not incur.” The district joins the Pennsylvania School Boards Association in “advocating for substantial change,” the resolutions states. It says the formula was established in 1997 under the state’s Charter School Law and has not been changed in the 23 years since. It states the formula is unfair in that it is not based on what it actually costs to educate a child in a charter school. Also, the calculation for charter special education tuition is based on the special education expenditures of the school district rather than the charter school, the resolution states. Although the General Assembly revised the special education funding formula in 2014, the formula was applied only to school districts and not to charter schools, it says, creating “wide discrepancies in the amount of tuition paid by different districts for the same charter school education and ... drastic over-payments to charter schools.” The tuition rates for regular education students can vary by almost $13,000 per student and by $39,000 for special education students, according to the resolution.



Philadelphia City Council October 29, 2020 Tomea Sippio-Smith, K-12 Education Policy Director, PCCY

Thank you for the opportunity to speak this morning. I’m here today in support of Resolution No. 200580. I’m calling on City Council to show its support for House Bill 526, which calls for ending the use of taxpayer funds to pay for cyber charter education when local school districts offer their own full-time cyber school programs. Supporting this bill is a fiscally responsible, common sense option for Philadelphia. By championing HB 526, sponsored by the Republican House Education Chair, Curt Sonney, City Council is taking a step back from the biting, ultra-polarized rhetoric that currently plagues our political system. Instead, by showing its support for this Republican bill, the Council is moving toward a bi-partisan solution to fix a significant part of Pennsylvania’s badly broken charter school law – cyber charters– an overhaul that is nearly 20 years past due.

Like 90% of the state’s districts, the school district of Philadelphia offers an in-house cyber program for students. Unlike other school districts, Philadelphia spent a whopping $106 million in cyber charter tuition during the 2018-2019 school year. And thanks to a jump in enrollment by more than 1,200 students this year alone, that amount is expected to grow by $15 million dollars. That’s an unacceptable jump in a year when school districts across the state are expected to face millions of dollars of increases in mandates, shortfalls in local revenue and significant costs related to Covid. For the amount of money the school district is pouring into cyber charters, one would expect a strong return on investment. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Cyber charters have never delivered on that expectation.


Superintendents' forum: Taking time to be grateful [Opinion]

Reading Eagle By Dr. Richard J. Mextorf Superintendent, Hamburg School District Oct 29, 2020

Life is hard. Sometimes bad things happen that are beyond our control and we are forced to deal with them. No one invited a pandemic, yet here we all are, doing our best to face the adversity and deal with whatever comes our way. While we are all frazzled, frustrated and a bit frayed at the edges, and there are still more questions than answers, I am inspired by how people have come together to support this great American ideal known as public education. We need to be grateful for the support of many. Our legislators have worked to provide relief to schools. As a school superintendent, sometimes I forget that education is only one of the many challenges facing our legislators. I am grateful for their continued efforts on our behalf. Our school boards have been with us every step of the way. These elected officials are unpaid volunteers who devote hours of time and effort to support our schools. I am quite certain that board members did not anticipate dealing with a pandemic when they agreed to serve. I am grateful for their ongoing support. I am grateful for our parents and families. They have done everything we have asked of them to help us provide the best education possible under adverse conditions. Thank you for trusting us. We will continue to do our best to earn your trust every day.


Philly’s Nov. 30 back-to-school plan threatened by rising COVID cases

Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, October 29, 2020

With an eye toward surging COVID-19 case counts in the region, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said Thursday that Philadelphia might not be able to bring back its pre-kindergarten- through second-grade students Nov. 30 after all. The Philadelphia School District is still planning for as many as 32,000 students to return to classes as announced earlier this month, but staff — many of whom are now scheduled to report to school buildings Nov. 9 — and students won’t come back unless it’s safe, Hite said. The district will “carefully monitor COVID-19 to make sure that conditions support in-person learning,” Hite said at a news conference Thursday. “We’re preparing for all scenarios, a scenario that will allow for us to bring some children back, a scenario that would allow for all children to remain virtual,” the superintendent said.

There is no date by which the district must make a final decision, Hite said; the fluid public health situation will dictate what happens.


With ventilation questions and coronavirus surging, many Philly parents and teachers wonder: Will classrooms be ready?

Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Posted:October 30, 2020

Stefanie Marrero badly wants her youngest child inside his first grade classroom at Richmond Elementary in Philadelphia. With a Friday deadline for Philadelphia School District parents to choose whether they want their prekindergarten through second grade children to return to school buildings Nov. 30, Marrero searched for information about ventilation conditions inside Richmond’s rooms to help make her decision. But none existed. Marrero finds herself in a situation common to scores of Philadelphia parents and teachers: skeptical of the school system’s track record, lacking full information to make decisions, wary of other schools’ data that shows inadequate ventilation in many schools, and “really troubled” at the prospect of sending children and teachers into the unknown in a pandemic.


Reading School District sticking with remote classes, sports still suspended

Reading Eagle By Jeremy Long @jeremymlong on Twitter Oct 29, 2020

The Reading School District will remain in a full virtual learning model, and extracurricular activities, including sports, will still not happen. The board voted 8-1 Wednesday night to keep things as they currently are in the district. Board member Patricia Wright was the lone no vote. “There are a lot of teachers who are dying to be inside of the schools right now to better teach,” Wright said before voting. “I believe that should be an option at this point. Not mandated but voluntary.” The district has been in a full virtual learning model since the beginning of the school year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The district also suspended all extracurricular activities, including sports, indefinitely. That was the bad news. The good news is Dr. Khalid N. Mumin, superintendent, promised to keep all options open and the district could start to slowly reopen, potentially before the end of November. The new recommendation can change at any time, Mumin said. For that to happen, the data has to improve, he said.


Two more COVID-19 cases reported in Tamaqua Area School District

Republican Herald BY JILL WHALEN STAFF WRITER Oct 22, 2020 Updated Oct 22, 2020

Two additional cases of COVID-19 were reported this week in the Tamaqua Area School District.

In a letter to families, Superintendent Raymond Kinder Jr. said one case is a high school student and the other is a middle school staffer. “Both individuals are now in isolation and doing well,” Kinder wrote, noting that the cases are unrelated. After learning of the positive tests Wednesday, school officials consulted with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The department did not identify any other individuals as being at risk and did not recommend quarantine for anyone else in the school setting.


Moon Area students move virtual after 5 COVID cases at middle and high schools

Daveen Rae Kurutz Beaver County Times October 29, 2020

MOON TWP. — After a fifth student tested positive for COVID-19 Wednesday evening, Moon Area School District officials moved middle and high school classes virtual until Nov. 5. Students at the middle and high schools have been attending classes in a hybrid format, with in-person classes four days each week. Beginning Oct. 30, students will attend classes virtually, Superintendent Barry Balaski told parents in an email Thursday afternoon.  The move is being made out of "an abundance of caution."  District administrators will re-evaluate data on Tuesday to determine if classes can resume at the schools on Nov. 5. Elementary students in the district will continue to attend classes in the hybrid model.


Leechburg Area School District will hold classes online for the next two Wednesdays

Trib Live by JOYCE HANZ   | Thursday, October 29, 2020 10:02 p.m.

Students at Leechburg Area School District will begin a modified two-week schedule beginning Monday, Nov.2 through Friday, Nov. 13. Wednesdays will revert to a fully-remote instruction day after the school board approved the change Wednesday. “We will not be offering any in-person education on Wednesdays,” wrote Superintendent Tiffany Nix in a email Thursday sent to parents. The district is currently holding classes in person all five school days each week. Nix wrote that students on Wednesdays will learn from home using Chromebooks and Google Classroom. Materials will be sent home with students next Tuesday. Parents will not need to come to campus to pick up anything. Rising covid-19 cases in Armstrong and Westmoreland counties was the main reason mentioned for the schedule change.


Abington Heights students to stay in hybrid program


Students in the Abington Heights School District will remain in a hybrid program, attending in-person classes two days a week, the school board affirmed Thursday. Winter sports athletes, including players on the girls and boys basketball, wrestling, cheerleading and swim teams, can also begin conditioning, Superintendent Michael Mahon, Ph.D., said during the special meeting. The board voted 8-0 to continue with the part-time, in-person learning, which began Oct. 5. Last Wednesday, the school board discussed possibly moving back to an all-remote schedule after Lackawanna County was designated “substantial” for the growing spread of COVID-19. But voted to continue hybrid instruction until at least Nov. 2 and would revisit the issue this week.


Old Forge students to return to hybrid schedule

Times Tribune by KATHLEEN BOLUS Oct 29, 2020 

Students in the Old Forge School District will return to a hybrid schedule beginning Monday.

The board voted Wednesday to revert back to a hybrid schedule, where students attend in-person classes two days a week, according to a press release on the district's Facebook page. The district began the school year hybrid but on Oct. 22, the board informally voted 6-2 during an emergency virtual meeting to begin remote instruction. The state Department of Education recommends that school districts within counties designated "substantial" for increasing COVID-19 cases educate students completely virtual. Lackawanna County began its second week "substantial" on Monday.


Bensalem district to reopen schools for hybrid learning Nov. 16

Peg Quann Bucks County Courier Times October 29, 2020

Most Bensalem district students will return to school Nov. 16 as the school board voted 8-1 Wednesday night for a hybrid Health and Safety Plan including both in-school and remote instruction. Special needs students are already going to school four days a week and will continue to do so under the updated plan, while students whose parents opt to keep them home will continue with the remote learning the district enacted for the first marking period due to the coronavirus pandemic.  School Superintendent Samuel Lee said that despite there being eight possible cases of COVID among employees, seven cases among Bensalem students and three among non-public school students in the district, the cases were not spread in the schools.


Erie School District studies numbers for reopening, closing as virus cases surge in county

GoErie by Ed Palattella Erie Times-News October 30, 2020

The Erie School District remains on schedule to start in-person classes for elementary school students on Nov. 9. When the district must halt those classes due to COVID-19 is the next big issue for the Erie School Board. Erie schools Superintendent Brian Polito and his administration are working on a plan that, with board approval, would require the district to temporarily close and clean elementary schools based on the number of staff and students who test positive for the new coronavirus. That is a shift from the district's previous approach. It was to focus on the percentage of people who tested positive within the boundaries of the school district, which encompass the city of Erie.


Williamsport Area School District to return to full, in-person instruction in November

WBRE/WYOU Posted: Oct 29, 2020 / 11:18 PM EDT / Updated: Oct 29, 2020 / 11:18 PM EDT

WILLIAMSPORT, LYCOMING COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The Williamsport Area School District Board voted 7-2 for the district to return to full, in-person instruction, beginning with elementary students on November 2nd. Secondary school students will return on November 9th. The district was previously using a hybrid learning model for all its schools, with families able to choose full-remote learning if desired. Those currently in that full-remote model have the option to stay remote, as long as they are demonstrating proficiency in that platform. In a statement, the district said in part “With growing academic and attendance concerns, a return to five-day, in-person instruction is what we believe is the best way for us to serve our students educationally.”


More than 130 COVID-19 cases have been reported at Lancaster County schools. Here's where they are [update]

Lancaster Online by ALEX GELI | Staff Writer October 29, 2020

More than 130 cases of COVID-19 have been reported at Lancaster County schools so far into the 2020-21 school year. The cases come from 16 school districts, plus a brick-and-mortar charter school in Lancaster city and the county's career and technology center.

And that might not be all.


Teacher strike planned in Danville

Teachers plan to go on strike on Monday, November 2 if an agreement is not met.

WNEP Author: Nikki Krize Published: 4:13 PM EDT October 28, 2020 Updated: 5:19 PM EDT October 28, 2020

DANVILLE, Pa. — School is now in session using a hybrid model at the Danville Area School District but that might not be the case for long.   According to Danville Education Association President Dave Fortunato, teachers are planning to go on strike starting Monday. Teachers here have been working without a contract since June of 2019. Teachers and district officials have not been able to agree when it comes to a deductible on health insurance and raises. "How many of us actually do get that, a zero deductible on our health insurance?  How many of us in the country are getting raises with so many of us out of work," asked Amy Fisher of Danville. Amy Fisher has three kids in the district. She and other parents we spoke with believe because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the teachers' timing could not be worse. "To have last year cut short, it was a hard summer for all of us, so to have it happen again now." District officials met with the Danville Education Association Monday.  The teacher's union president said quote: "We are disappointed the school board ended Monday's negotiation session and canceled Tuesday's session.  They have left us with no alternative but to move to a strike."


Testing Resistance & Reform News; October 21 - 27, 2020

FairTest Submitted by fairtest on October 27, 2020 - 12:41pm 

FairTest at 35: What's Happening Now, What's Next for Assessment Reform?



What's the connection between reading early and high school dropout rates? Learn with us at the Education First Compact on 11/5.

Philadelphia Education Fund Free Virtual Event Thursday November 5, 2020 9:00 am - 10:30 am

From Pre-K to Fifth Grade: Early Literacy as Dropout Prevention

It’s long been understood that literacy is the gateway to learning. No doubt you’ve heard the maxim: In grades K-3, a student must learn to read, so that in grades 4-12 they can read to learn.

In the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2014 report, “Double Jeopardy,” researchers also found a link between 4th grade reading proficiency and high school completion rates. Astonishingly, they discovered that students with low levels of proficiency were four times as likely to drop out of high school. In Philadelphia, the struggle to improve upon rates of early literacy is a collaborative one. At the center of these local efforts are the School District of Philadelphia, the Children’s Literacy Initiative, and various community partners engaged through Philadelphia’s Read By 4th Campaign. Join us for the November Education First Compact to probe such questions as: What lessons has been learned prior to and during COVID? What adjustments are being made during this period of distance learning? What challenges remain? And, most importantly, what role can the larger Philadelphia community play in the effort?


  • Caryn Henning, Children’s Literacy Initiative
  • Jenny Bogoni, Read By 4th Campaign
  • Nyshawana Francis-Thompson, School District Office of Instruction and Curriculum

Host: Farah Jimenez, President and CEO of Philadelphia Education Fund

Schedule: 9:00 – 9:45am    Presentation
9:45 – 10:15am   Q & A

Attendance is free, but registration is required.


Adopt the resolution against racial inequity!

School boards are asked to adopt this resolution supporting the development of an anti-racist climate. Once adopted, share your resolution with your local community and submit a copy to PSBA. Learn more:


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.

Resolution for charter funding reform (pdf)

Link to submit your adopted resolution to PSBA


310 PA school boards have adopted charter reform resolutions

Charter school funding reform continues to be a concern as over 300 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.

The school boards from the following districts have adopted resolutions calling for charter funding reform.


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.