Thursday, December 31, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for Dec.31: The state’s 501 school districts boosted their special ed spending by $2 billion between 2009 & 2019, but state aid during that same period grew by just $110 million

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Keystone State Education Coalition

PA Ed Policy Roundup for Dec.31, 2020

The state’s 501 school districts boosted their special ed spending by $2 billion between 2009 & 2019, but state aid during that same period grew by just $110 million


He seeks more black men to teach in Philly and beyond

Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, STAFF WRITER, Posted: December 30, 2016

Sharif El-Mekki vividly recalls every black male teacher who ever taught him: two in elementary school, two in high school. "They were transformative figures in my life," said El-Mekki, a veteran Philadelphia educator. For 2017, El-Mekki has a goal to organize 1,000 black men to show up for the first day of school, encouraging city youth to be their best. By 2025, his goal is much loftier - to double the number of black men teaching in the city. To that end, he has launched The Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice. Nationally, just 2 percent of the teaching force is made up of black men. In Philadelphia, the numbers are better, but still low - last year, fewer than 400, or about 5 percent, of Philadelphia School District teachers were black men. The Fellowship has three aims: to hold periodic convenings of black male educators, to influence education policy, and to expand the pipeline of black male teachers.


“Fix special education funding: …The state’s 501 school districts boosted their special education spending by $2 billion between 2009 and 2019, but state aid during that same period grew by just $110 million, concludes the Dec. 3 report by the Education Law Center and PA Schools Work, citing the most recent state data.”

Five things the Legislature can do to make Pennsylvanians’ lives measurably better in 2021 | John L. Micek

PA Capital Star By  John L. Micek December 30, 2020

In just a few days, lawmakers in the state House and Senate will be sworn into office, kicking off a two-year legislative session that, if past is prologue (and it almost always is), will be replete with bridge and bypass renamings, votes to declare June the official month of something-or-other, and plenty of partisan sound and fury signifying nothing much at all. But if 2020, for all its horror, pain, trauma and frustration taught us anything at all, it’s that government, when it functions at its best, can move swiftly and reasonably efficiently to do the most good for the largest number of people. As I observed back in April, congressional authorization of the CARES Act was an affirmation that government can move affirmatively to make people’s lives measurably better. And once that door was thrown open, there are fewer excuses not to do it again. It’s also a truism that the Legislature, whose mitts are in almost every sector of life here in the Commonwealth, is best-positioned to improve the lives of nearly 13 million Pennsylvanians as the level of government that’s closest to the people. And, as my friend and colleague Jan Murphy, of PennLive, reported earlier this week, lawmakers did just that, as they enacted a law cracking down on human trafficking, among other measures. As the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported back in July, lawmakers also approved, and Gov. Tom Wolf signed, a suite of police training and hiring reforms that were a first step on a much longer road. So as the 203 members of the House and 50 members of the Senate get ready to return to work in 2021, here are a few modest suggestions on how they can best channel their energies to do the maximum amount of good right away.


“We know that the current charter funding mechanism forces school districts to overpay cyber charter schools and overpay for charter special education costs by hundreds of millions of dollars each school year.”

OP-ED: Pa. schools are bleeding cash while students receive substandard education

York Dispatch Opinion by Eric Wolfgang, PA School Boards Association December 29, 2020

Eric Wolfgang is president of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there has been a huge increase in cyber charter school enrollment across the country, including in Pennsylvania, where cyber charter school enrollment is up by 63% to 62,000 students as of Oct. 1, 2020.   This trend should have Pennsylvania parents and taxpayers extremely concerned for two glaring reasons. First, this enrollment increase will have financial implications for school districts. To put this impact into numbers, school districts can expect as much as a $350 million dollar increase in their cyber charter tuition bills this year alone due to the pandemic-generated cyber charter school enrollment increases. It’s important to keep in mind that this massive sum is only part of the overall $475 million overall charter school tuition increase this school year that school districts are facing in addition to navigating through a global pandemic. The $475 million increase in charter school tuition this school year effectively nullifies the majority of the federal funds public schools received under the CARES Act. This means most of those funds will not have their intended impact — to aid our public schools in a time of crisis. Moreover, for many districts, their Act 1 index rate will not allow for them to increase property taxes to cover the gap in increased charter school payments, leaving hopelessly unbalanced budgets.


“Final briefs in the suit are due Jan. 8, a few days after senators are to be sworn in.”

Brewster vs. Ziccarelli: Legal wrangling continues over state Senate seat

JULIAN ROUTH Pittsburgh Post-Gazette DEC 30, 2020

The Democratic state senator from McKeesport whose electoral victory rests on a federal court case over a few hundred ballots asked the court to dismiss his opponent's suit Wednesday. Lawyers for Sen. Jim Brewster and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party argued in a motion that Republican Nicole Ziccarelli's claims — that he's not the rightful winner of the race for the 45th Senatorial District — are moot because the state already certified him as the winner, and that Ms. Ziccarelli had "failed to exhaust Election Code procedures to prevent that certification." Ms. Ziccarelli, who lost by 69 votes in the November, is suing Allegheny County's board of elections over its counting of ballots that were missing dates on their outer declaration envelopes, but were otherwise correct and received on time. She wants the court to toss those ballots, 202 of which went to Mr. Brewster and 108 to herself — enough to flip the race in her direction, hypothetically.


Erie School District to get $28 million in aid in new COVID-19 relief bill, tops in region

Ed Palattella Erie Times-News December 30, 2020

The newly passed federal COVID-19 relief bill provides about four times as much funding for K-12 schools as did the first coronavirus relief bill that Congress passed in March. The increase in funding for schools means a big boost for the Erie School District, which is continuing its financial recovery, and other school districts in the region. The Erie School District, the largest in northwestern Pennsylvania with about 11,000 students and a budget of $210 million, will receive $27,756,501 in aid under the new $900 billion relief legislation, according to preliminary estimates that Republican state senators in Harrisburg received this week. The Erie School District received $6,761,026 in aid through the previous legislation, the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The Erie School District is still reviewing the new legislation to determine how the district can spend the new $28 million in aid, but the bill, which Congress passed on Dec. 21, allows for a wide range of uses, including improving buildings and educational programs to meet the demands of teaching children during the pandemic. The legislation also allows school districts to use the money to stabilize programs that have suffered during the COVID-19 outbreak due to revenue shortfalls and other issues.


The PIAA dropped the COVID ball. Here’s a common-sense plan for winter and spring sports | Opinion

Lehigh Valley Live By Joseph Roy Express-Times guest columnist Updated Dec 30, 2020; Posted Dec 30, 2020

On Dec. 9, with a post-Thanksgiving coronavirus surge on top of the fall surge wreaking havoc, the board of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association held a closed-to-the-public executive session. People attuned to high school sports assumed the private session would include discussion of the frightening virus spread and whether winter sports should be postponed until after the holidays. To the surprise of many, the PIAA board failed to take a public vote on the most important issue facing high school athletics in the state — whether or not winter sports should be postponed. The executive session discussion followed by no vote spared the PIAA board from making a public decision about winter sports. The following day, it was left to Gov. Tom Wolf to suspend all sports activities until Jan. 4. The PIAA’s decision-making throughout this crisis does not engender confidence that the PIAA represents the concerns of schools during this pandemic. Prior to the Dec. 9 meeting, the PIAA executive director received letters from both the Pennsylvania Principals Association and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA, the superintendents’ group) calling for the PIAA to postpone winter sports. The PA School Boards Association (PSBA) also supported postponing the start of the season.


Gov. Wolf announces high school sports will be allowed to resume next week

Bucks County Courier Times by Matt Allibone York Daily Record December 30, 2020

There will be a winter high school sports season in Pennsylvania after all.  Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that a number of state-wide restrictions put in place three weeks ago to curb the surge in coronavirus cases will be lifted next Monday at 8 a.m, as originally planned. That includes the stoppage of youth and high school sports competitions and practices.  That means the PIAA will be allowed to resume practices this upcoming Monday, Jan. 4.  Teams will need to get in at least four practices before they resume competition, which means the earliest most teams will begin play is next Friday or Saturday.  Other restrictions on businesses, gathering limits and fitness centers will also be lifted.  Wolf said the state-wide positivity rate for the virus has reduced for the second week in a row and the number of new coronavirus cases reported each day has "plateaued."  "This does not mean we're out of the woods. Not by any means," Wolf said. "We still have significant mitigation efforts in place."  Wolf acknowledged it will be "months, not weeks" until the general population has access to coronavirus vaccines.


Mayor Jim Kenney appoints 3 new Philly school board members

Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Posted: 42 minutes ago

Mayor Jim Kenney on Wednesday named an engineer, a lawyer and a longtime activist for students with disabilities to fill three vacancies on the nine-member Philadelphia School Board. Kenney selected Lisa Salley, Reginald Streater, and Cecelia Thompson. All three are Philadelphia School District graduates; Streater is a current district parent, and Thompson’s child recently graduated from the school system. “I am proud to appoint these new members to the school board and believe they each will bring a valuable set of skills and diverse experiences to the table,” Kenney said in a statement. “I was inspired by their passion for public education and their eagerness to take on this critical work.” If approved by City Council, the three would fill vacancies that emerged this year on the unpaid panel that controls a $3.5 billion budget and oversees the education of more than 200,000 children.


Mayor Kenney nominates three new members to Philadelphia school board

Chalkbeat Philly By Dale Mezzacappa  Dec 30, 2020, 1:58pm EST

Mayor Jim Kenney nominated three new members to the Board of Education Wednesday, choosing a pioneering scientist, a long-time special education advocate, and an attorney active in the American Civil Liberties Union. These appointments would round out the membership of the nine-member board, which has operated with at least one vacancy since April. The City Council must now vote whether or not to approve the mayor’s selections. All the appointees are Black, and Streater will be the only male on the board if all receive the Council’s okay. The new appointments, all graduates of the Philadelphia district, are Lisa Salley, a metallurgical engineer and business executive who lives in Germantown; Reginald L. Streater, an attorney on the board of the local ACLU and parent of two district students; and Cecelia Thompson, the mother of a 22-year-old with autism who recently graduated from the system. Philadelphia is the only district in the state where the school board is appointed by the mayor, rather than elected.


“Overall, of Pennsylvania’s 17 counties with the largest number of college graduates, 12 went for Biden. All are predominately white. Montgomery, Centre, Allegheny, Bucks, and Delaware counties are ranked second through six. Next were Montour, Dauphin, Northampton, Leigh, Lackawanna, and Erie counties ranked 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, and 17, respectively.”

In elections, education, like demographics, is now political destiny | Mark O’Keefe

PA Capital Star By  Mark OKeefe December 31, 2020

Opinion contributor Mark O’Keefe, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., is the former editorial page editor of the Uniontown Herald-Standard.

Americans are more divided politically now than at any time since the Civil War. Democrats mostly live in cities or nearby suburbs. Republicans live primarily in small towns and rural areas. Democrats also are more generally more affluent than Republicans, who are drawing more low-income residents, especially under President Donald Trump. Another big difference is that white college graduates are increasingly voting for Democratic candidates, especially for president. That’s a significant change from 25 years ago when most college-graduates were Republicans. The political website noted that in the blue wall states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, which President-elect Joe Biden recaptured, voters were deeply divided by education, particularly among white voters. The website noted that across the most highly-educated counties in these states, including some populous suburban areas — Biden improved substantially on Clinton’s margins.


Are schools safe? A growing body of evidence suggests that, with the right measures, they contribute little to virus spread.

There is growing evidence that opening schools contributes little to coronavirus spread. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio reopened schools for young students on Dec. 7.

Washington Post By  Moriah Balingit Dec. 30, 2020 at 6:00 a.m. EST

When panicked administrators shut down schools in the spring, little was known about how the coronavirus could spread among students and teachers. Could children fall critically ill and spread it to peers and teachers, like the flu? Would asymptomatic young people pass it on to their parents or educators? More than nine months after schools closed, some of the answers to those questions are becoming clear. Emerging data on contact tracing — which illuminates the origins of infections — shows that the virus does not seem to spread much within schools when they require masks, urge social distancing, have good ventilation and when community spread is low. But because of a lack of a cohesive federal response, huge gaps in the data remain, and many say new information about school transmission is not sufficient to make far-reaching conclusions. A dearth of data has plagued many aspects of pandemic response, and it has left governors, school superintendents, school board members and parents on their own to interpret the shifting body of knowledge as they make decisions that could affect the lives of everyone connected to school communities. This, coupled with soaring infection rates, has made these decisions especially fraught as school officials weigh whether to reopen their doors next month.


Trump’s School Choice Executive Order: A Big Nothing

Deutch29 Blog by Dr. Mercedes Schneider December 29, 2020

On December 28, 2020, President Donald Trump issued this executive order to purportedly allow federal Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) funds to be used to finance “emergency learning scholarships” (school vouchers) “to disadvantaged families for use by any child without access to in-person learning”  This executive order will go nowhere. 

First, there is no time for the Department of Health and Human Services create an application process specific to this school voucher purpose and to process new grant applications for states or entities and for those states or entities to establish processes to identify and distribute funds to qualified individuals and for those individuals to locate private schools or other qualifying services, either before the school year ends (we’re a semester in) or before the Trump presidency ends. Second, even if states and other entities are allowed to redirect current CSBG funding toward Trump’s eleventh-hour voucher flash-in-the-pan, doing so would mean just that– taking money designated for other purposes– which is bureaucratically easier said than done in justifying the reallocation, actually redirecting the money, and establishing a process for its disbursement for a new purpose– and, again, the clock is running out on both the 2020-21 school year and the Trump presidency. This school choice executive order appeared on December 28, 2020, the day after Trump signed the latest COVID relief bill, which did not include the school voucher funding exiting US ed sec Betsy DeVos wanted. Also on December 28, 2020, DeVos publicly lamented the absence of voucher funding in the COVID relief bill. According to USA Today, DeVos was in on drafting this go-nowhere executive order:


Calls are growing for Biden to do what DeVos did: Let states skip annual standardized tests this spring

Washington Post By Valerie Strauss Dec. 30, 2020 at 2:54 p.m. EST

There are growing calls from across the political spectrum for the federal government to allow states to skip giving students federally mandated standardized tests in spring 2021 — but the man that President-elect Joe Biden tapped to be education secretary has indicated support for giving them. The issue will be an early test for Miguel Cardona, the state superintendent of education in Connecticut whom Biden picked for education secretary, and his relationship with teachers and others critical of giving the exams during the coronavirus-caused chaos of the 2020-2021 school year. The current education secretary, Betsy DeVos, approved waivers to states allowing them not to administer the annual exams last spring as the coronavirus pandemic led schools to close. She said recently she wouldn’t do it again, but Biden’s triumph in November’s elections means the decision is no longer hers. It’s up to Cardona — assuming he is confirmed by the Senate, as expected — and the Biden administration to decide whether to provide states flexibility from the federal law.



PSBA Webinar: New Congress, New Dynamics

JAN 14, 2021 • 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

The 2020 election brings significant changes to the 117th U.S. Congress. How will the newly sworn-in senators and representatives impact public education? What issues will need to be addressed this session? To become an effective legislative advocate you’ll need to understand the new players and dynamics. Our experts will profile key new members, discuss what big trends you can expect and highlight the issues that will be debated over the next two years.

Presenters: Jared Solomon, senior public advisor, BOSE Public Affairs Group
John Callahan, chief advocacy officer, PSBA

Cost: Complimentary for members.



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


337 PA school boards have adopted charter reform resolutions

Charter school funding reform continues to be a concern as over 330 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.

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