Tuesday, February 9, 2021

PA Ed Policy Roundup for Feb. 9, 2021: Proposed charter school reforms 'long overdue'

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


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Keystone State Education Coalition

PA Ed Policy Roundup for Feb. 9, 2021

Proposed charter school reforms 'long overdue'



See how Governor Wolf’s Proposed Charter Funding Reforms Would Impact Your School District (From PDE Website)

Estimated Charter School Reform Savings by School District (Excel)



“The best solution would be for the state government to establish actual charter school costs and set tuition at the corresponding amount. But Wolf has come with the next best solution — a flat (cyber) charter school tuition rate of $9,500 per student. The governor also would apply to charters the same special education funding formula that applies to conventional school districts. Together, the changes would provide up to $280 million in tuition savings for the state’s 500 school districts.”

Editorial: Proposed charter reform long overdue

Scranton Times Tribune BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD February 8, 2021

State lawmakers eagerly should embrace Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to fairly distribute the state government’s $6 billion in public education funding because, you know, it’s fair. But even if the Legislature chooses to continue shorting the Scranton School District by $33 million a year, and others by varying amounts, the legislators still should embrace another initiative that would save up to $280 million every year for school districts statewide. That money for local districts would come at no added expense to state or local taxpayers, because they already pay it. At issue is another distribution problem, due to an archaic and demonstrably illogical system for funding charter schools. Charter schools, regardless of whether instruction is online or in-person, are public schools funded by public money. Each school district in the state pays tuition to a charter school for each district student who attends one, based on the district’s own cost per student rather than the charter school’s actual cost per student. According to the state Department of Education, the tuition range paid by districts to charters is from $7,700 to $22,300 per student. So districts across the state could pay a statewide charter school any amount within that range, based on their own costs, even though the charter’s actual cost per student is not variable.



“Koons and the 12 Schuylkill County school district superintendents sent a letter to local legislators in October defending the need for cyber charter reform. The letter stated that the average cyber charter tuition paid by school districts is $12,660 per pupil in regular education and $27,699 per pupil in special education, compared to the average Schuylkill County school district tuition of $9,468 per pupil for elementary and $10,724 per pupil for secondary education.”

Proposed charter school reforms 'long overdue'

Hazelton Standard Speaker By Emily Graham Staff Writer Feb 7, 2021 Updated 8 hrs ago

Gov. Tom Wolf proposed some cyber charter school reforms, which many public school districts have said are needed to begin to reduce the increasing costs of cyber charter schools. Cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania charge public school districts between $9,170 and $22,300 per student per year. The governor’s plan would establish a statewide cyber charter tuition rate of $9,500 per student, saving an estimated $130 million a year. The governor also proposed changing the funding formula for special education at charter schools. Currently, charter schools receive funding for a special education population of 16%, regardless of the students’ needs. The new plan would put special education funding for charter schools through the same four-tiered formula that public school districts go through based on individual students’ needs. Gregory Koons, Ed.D., said in the 2019-20 school year, cyber charter tuition cost the Schuylkill County’s 12 school districts over $9.1 million of taxpayer money. “The costly tuition of cyber charter schools has created a fiscal strain on our local school district budgets,” Koons said. “The proposed cyber charter legislation would help reduce the draining of local school budgets and regulate the ever increasing cyber charter tuition costs.”



Columbia school district calls for reform after it says it wasted $300,000 in cyber charter tuition

KYLE KUTZ for LNP | LancasterOnline February 8, 2021

When: Columbia Borough School District board meeting, Feb. 2.

What happened: The school district is preparing to support funding reform after paying what it says were inequitable tuition rates to cyber charter schools for the 2020-21 school year.

Background: The district, according to chief of finance and operations Keith Ramsey, spent $922,995 in tuition, or $34,185 a learner, to enroll 27 special education students in cyber charter schools in 2020-21. That tuition rate, however, reflects an enrollment estimate from 2019-20 and not actual figures from the current school year. Ramsey stated the district would have saved nearly $300,000 on tuition fees this year if the charter schools’ funding formula were based on actual figures rather than previous estimates.

What’s next: The board expects to pass a resolution calling for charter school funding reform at its next meeting Feb. 18.



Blogger note: according to their 2018 990, Commonwealth Charter Academy spent $6,654,657 on advertising that year.



ProPublica Form 990 for period ending June 2018



Pandemic changes up Pennsylvania’s state budget hearings

Penn Live By Charles Thompson | cthompson@pennlive.com Updated Feb 08, 2021; Posted Feb 08, 2021

The late-winter ritual of state budget hearings is getting a coronavirus makeover in Pennsylvania this year. The House Appropriations Committee announced Monday that its three-week, department-by-department review of Wolf Administration budget requests will open in the main House chambers starting Feb 16, in order to give presenters and committee members a chance to follow all relevant social distancing protocols. Because the Capitol building is technically closed to the public under Gov. Tom Wolf’s emergency rules, this is also the first time in memory that the hearings will be closed to in-person attendance by members of the public. That’s a different thing, however, than being closed to the public, Appropriations spokesman Neal Lesher said, noting all of the sessions will be broadcast by the Pennsylvania Cable Network and live-streamed on the Internet by the Republican and Democratic caucus staffs. In addition, credentialed media - who have continued to have access to the Capitol throughout the closure - will be able to cover the hearings in person if they wish, Lesher said.



PA House Appropriations Committee Schedule for Budget Hearings
All will stream live on PAHouseGOP.com/livestreams and posted for later viewing
Monday, March 1

10 a.m. Dept. of Education

1 p.m.   Dept. of Education (part 2)

3 p.m.   Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges




10 a.m. Dept. of Education

1:30 p.m. Dept. of Education (continued)

3 p.m.   PA State System of Higher Ed



New life for shuttered Helen Thackston Charter School building?

Erin Bamer York Dispatch February 8, 2021

A plan is in the works to reopen the shuttered Helen Thackston Charter School building on East Philadelphia Street in York City. York Mayor Michael Helfrich said a group is currently cleaning up the building at 625 E. Philadelphia St. to eventually use it as a community center. A Facebook post by Cynthia Dotson said the building will be used for hosting events, including "youth activities and educational programs." Helen Thackston Charter School closed in 2018 after an unsuccessful appeal of the city school board's decision a year earlier to revoke its charter. The building has been vacant since then. Thackston started as a middle school since 2009, and high school grades were added in 2013. In 2012 the charter school operators began an $11 million project to add 41,000 square feet to the original 28,000-square-foot building, which was constructed in 1902. The York City School District approved a five-year renewal of Thackston's charter in 2014, just months ahead of a scathing audit from the state Auditor General's Office, which cited issues including an inadequate number of certified staff members and missing documentation. The York City school board voted to initiate revocation hearings in June 2017 — citing the overdue audits among her issues. The building has been vacant ever since. According to county real estate records, the owner is CSP York LLC, which is registered in Nevada but has an address listed in Santa Ana, California.



Allentown School Board to hold special meeting Thursday to discuss hybrid option


The Allentown School Board will hold a special meeting Thursday to discuss a hybrid learning model for the district, which has been doing online instruction since the beginning of the school year. The special board meeting will be held virtually after Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meetings, which begin at 7 p.m. In mid-January, school directors announced the district would remain in virtual learning through the end of the third quarter, with a possible reopening date in mid-April. The district then circulated a survey among families to gauge how many would choose to send their children to a modified in-person learning schedule or remain remote if given the opportunity after the end of the third quarter. The survey closed Jan. 29. Families will still have an entirely virtual option for the remainder of the school year, the district website states.

A link to register for the meeting will be posted on allentownsd.org.



Pottsgrove parent survey raises possibility of online classes next year

Pottstown Mercury by Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-centurymedia.com @PottstownNews on Twitter February 8, 2021

Pottsgrove School District officials are asking parents about their preferences for the school year that starts this fall, including the possibility that some families may prefer online classes due to the persistence of the coronavirus pandemic. The letter from Superintendent William Shirk, who will no longer be with the school district when these final options are chosen, makes it clear that there is no guarantee all three options outlined in the letter will be available from the start of the 2021-2022 school year in late August. "To be clear, a great deal of continued planning will be necessary to convert this from vision to reality. However, the district would benefit from parent feedback during the planning process. This communication does not suggest that only one learning option will be available," shirk wrote.

The three options about which families are being asked are:

  • Conventional, in-person instruction;
  • Asynchronous online instruction in which a student works remotely "at her own pace and time;"
  • Synchronous online instruction in which "the student works remotely but meets for online classes every day."

"Please understand that the district will use this information to prepare for next school year. However, the district cannot yet commit to every option being available," "Shirk wrote.



Scranton School Board votes to begin in-person learning for elementary students

Times Tribune BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL STAFF WRITER Feb 9, 2021 Updated 15 min ago

Elementary students in the Scranton School District will return to their classrooms next month. At the end of a more than five-hour meeting, Scranton school directors voted early this morning to move to a hybrid schedule for the district’s youngest students. All staff will return to buildings March 1, with elementary students starting to return March 15. The resolution passed 7-2, with board President Katie Gilmartin and Director Sarah Cruz voting no. The plan can be adjusted based on recommendations expected this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The hybrid plan includes learning in a classroom two days a week and from home three days a week for elementary students. The district hopes for secondary students to start a hybrid schedule in the spring. Students will still have a virtual option under the hybrid plan. “Virtual learning is not helping us,” Anna Hill, a fifth grade student at Prescott Elementary School, said when called to speak four hours after the meeting started. “It’s hurting us mentally, socially and academically. For my siblings and I, we are not getting the education we deserve.”

Leaders assured school directors that buildings would be ready for students’ returns, from already installing hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations, to having masks for students and face shields for staff. About 150 staff members with either pre-existing conditions or age 65 or older received vaccines Sunday. Rosemary Boland, president of the Scranton Federation of Teachers, asked the board to consider waiting to resume in-person instruction until more employees have the opportunity to be vaccinated. “Make sure you realize, you’re voting tonight on something we consider life or death,” Boland said.



In public protest, thousands of Philly teachers pushed back against reopening schools

Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham and Maddie Hanna, Updated: February 8, 2021- 7:26 PM

Thousands of educators gathered outside closed public school buildings across the city Monday, publicly pushing back against a Philadelphia School District reopening plan they say endangers staff and students. As they waited for a neutral third party to determine whether the school system has met safety conditions necessary to reopen, school staff waved signs and bundled up against frigid weather, teaching from tents and folding chairs rather than go inside buildings as Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. had instructed. “We want to work,” said Elanda Tolliver, an educational assistant at Samuel Gompers Elementary in Wynnefield. “But we want to come back safe. That’s all we’re asking.” Educators cheered news that the city, school system, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have plans to set up vaccination sites for teachers and other school workers inside district buildings by the end of the month, but many teachers said vaccination alone is insufficient without other assurances.



Philly teachers protest return to classroom plan as officials wait for mediator decision

WHYY By Miles Bryan Emily Rizzo February 8, 2021 Updated at 7:40 p.m.

Philadelphia teachers braved sub-freezing temperatures Monday to stage citywide protests against the school district’s attempt to bring them back to school buildings. District officials had been demanding some teachers return to school buildings Monday, ahead of a planned return of up to 9,000 young children on Feb. 22. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers had refused, citing grave concerns about the quality of ventilation in the school buildings and arguing that any staff asked to come back should be vaccinated against COVID-19 first. The district had threatened to discipline teachers who did not report for work, but the city intervened to diffuse the showdown Sunday night, allowing teachers to work remotely until a neutral mediator makes a decision on whether school buildings are safe for return.



Philadelphia partners with CHOP to vaccinate educators at pop-up clinics

WHYY By Miles Bryan February 8, 2021 Updated: 3:45 p.m.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is partnering with the city’s department of public health to administer COVID-19 vaccines to teachers, child care providers, and other people who work with children in the city. The effort is expected to begin by the end of February and include pop-up clinics in school buildings throughout the city, according to a press release issued by Mayor Jim Kenney’s office Monday. Those eligible include staff at all district, charter, independent, and parochial schools, as well as child care and pre-K providers. “Getting children back into classrooms throughout the city is vitally important to their future, so I am absolutely thrilled to see Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia stepping up in a major way for our children,” Kenney said in a statement.



Mayor unveils vaccination plan as Philadelphia teachers protest return to school buildings

Chalkbeat Philly By Johann Calhoun and Dale Mezzacappa  Feb 8, 2021, 4:57pm EST

Mayor Jim Kenney unveiled a vaccination plan for teachers and school staff after some Philadelphia teachers protested outside their schools Monday morning, saying they don’t want to return until they are convinced the buildings are safe. Kenney announced that Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will assist the city Department of Public Health in a new vaccination program for teachers, principals, and staff at all schools. It includes staff at district, charter, and private schools, as well as at child care centers and prekindergarten providers. Classroom aides and cafeteria workers also will be included. The stepped-up vaccination effort could address one of the concerns of teachers who protested reopening Monday, the day early-grade teachers had been expected to return to classrooms for the first time since March. Speaking as they took short breaks from teaching students virtually from outside their buildings in the cold, some educators said they were hesitant to teach in-person until they were fully vaccinated. “As we near the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, getting children back into classrooms throughout the city is vitally important to their future,” Kenney said. He said that he was in “full support” of Superintendent William Hite’s hybrid learning plan that will get students in prekindergarten to second grade back in classrooms the week of Feb. 22.



Keystone Oaks students return to classes this week as teachers’ strike ends

Trib Live by BRIAN C. RITTMEYER   | Monday, February 8, 2021 10:15 a.m.

Classes in Keystone Oaks School District will resume Wednesday following a teachers’ strike, the district announced. The date when students and teachers must return was revised after the state Department of Education reviewed the district’s calendar. The department determined that the Keystone Oaks Education Association strike can last up to seven days. “We have not received any communication from the Keystone Oaks Education Association that they plan to conclude the work stoppage early,” district spokeswoman Sarah Welch said Monday. A union spokesman could not be reached for comment. All classes will be online when they resume Wednesday, the district’s notice states. The strike started Feb. 1 after the union and school board were unable to agree on a new contract. The last contract expired on June 30.



When Black kids, shut out from the whitewashed world of children’s literature, took matters into their own hands | Opinion

PA Capital Star Commentary By Paige Gray  Capital-Star Op-Ed Contributor February 8, 2021

Paige Gray is a professor of Writing and Liberal Arts at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She wrote this piece for The Conversation, where it first appeared.

Hanging on the wall in my office is the framed cover of the inaugural issue of The Brownies’ Book, a monthly periodical for Black youths created by W.E.B. Du Bois and other members of the NAACP in 1920. The magazine – the first of its kind – includes poems and stories that speak of Black achievement and history, while also showcasing children’s writing. Although much of American children’s literature published near the turn of the last century – and even today – filters childhood through the eyes of white children, The Brownies’ Book gave African American children a platform to explore their lives, interests and aspirations. And it reinforced what 20th-century American literature scholar Katharine Capshaw has described as Du Bois’ “faith in the ability of young people to lead the race into the future.” Most likely inspired by The Brownies’ Book, several Black weekly newspapers went on to create their own children’s sections. While the children’s publishing industry may have shut out Black voices and perspectives, the editors of these periodicals sought to fill the void by celebrating them, giving kids a platform to express themselves, connect with one another and indulge their curiosities.



An investment in education is an investment in crime prevention

GoErie Opinion By Matthew T. Mangino February 8, 2021

Matthew T. Mangino is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and an adjunct professor at Thiel College in Mercer County.

Gov. Tom Wolf recently unveiled, as part of his 2021-22 budget, a plan to invest $1.3 billion in public schools.  Investments are typically made with an eye toward cashing in. Can an investment in education pay dividends? Several years ago the Alliance for Excellent Education, which advocates for raising the high school graduation rate, reported that America could save billions of dollars in annual crime costs if school districts could raise the male high school graduation rate. While graduation rates have increased according to a 2019 Alliance report, males and "historically underserved students" have lagged behind. 



Summer School, Extended Learning a Priority in $129 Billion COVID-19 Relief Bill

Education Week By Andrew Ujifusa — February 08, 2021  4 min read

The latest COVID-19 relief proposal in Congress would require districts to use at least 20 percent of their aid on addressing “learning loss” through programs like summer school, while states would have to set aside 5 percent of the money for similar purposes. Schools could also use the funding to improve HVAC systems, reduce class size, implement social distancing, hire support staff, and address a wide variety of other needs and expenses to help schools reopen safely. The bill now before the House education committee includes requirements intended to protect state and local spending on economically disadvantaged students. The $129 billion aid package for K-12 was released Monday by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. Democrats plan to include relief for schools as part of a larger coronavirus aid deal through a process known as budget reconciliation. In total dollar amount, it essentially matches the $130 billion in relief for schools proposed by President Joe Biden shortly before his inauguration. The proposal isn’t final, and could change as it advances through Congress. Scott’s committee is due to consider and advance the legislation at a Tuesday hearing, where it could be amended.



A Utah School Made Black History Month Optional. Then It Reversed Itself.

The Maria Montessori Academy, a charter school in North Ogden, allowed parents to opt their students out. But after an outcry and discussions with the parents, it changed course.

New York Times By Christine Hauser Feb. 8, 2021

A public charter school in Utah allowed parents to withdraw their children from a Black History Month curriculum, but reversed its decision after a public outcry and meeting with parents to address their concerns. Micah Hirokawa, the director of Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden, an elementary and junior high school about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, said in a statement on Sunday that the school had, with “regret,” sent an opt-out form to parents who had requested the option. He did not give details about the parents’ concerns or say how many had tried to withdraw their children from the events and activities that the school had scheduled as part of the monthlong program. But he said in the statement, which was published on the Utah Montessorians Facebook page, that the episode was “alarming” and that the school had been trying to “change hearts and minds with grace and courtesy.” He said that the families “that initially had questions and concerns have willingly come to the table to resolve any differences” and that “at this time no families are opting out of our planned activities and we have removed this option.” “It’s been a tough road as we work to honor and follow each child’s and each adult’s personal journey,” he said.




Environmental destruction and violence threaten one of the world’s most extraordinary insect migrations.

The New Yorker Photography by Brendan George Ko Text by Carolyn Kormann February 8, 2021

Every November, around the Day of the Dead, millions of monarch butterflies descend on a forest of oyamel firs in the mountains of central Mexico. The butterflies have never seen the forest before, but they know—perhaps through an inner compass—that this is where they belong. They leave Canada and the northeastern United States in late summer and fly for two months, as far as three thousand miles south and west across the continent. The journey is the most evolutionarily advanced migration of any known butterfly, perhaps of any known insect. But climate change and habitat loss, both in the forest (photographed here in February last year) and in the U.S., are fast eroding the monarchs’ numbers.




PA Schools Work Next Lunch & Learn Webinar: A Deep Dive on the Budget Tuesday, February 9th at Noon
Join PA Schools Work partners on Tuesday, February 9 at noon for our next Lunch & Learn webinar, where we will explain the details of the education components of Governor Wolf's budget proposal. 
You can register for the webinar here. 


PA State Board of Education Student Representative Application Now Available


On May 22, 2008 the Pennsylvania State Board of Education (SBE) amended their bylaws to add one nonvoting senior student member and one nonvoting junior student member. Since September 2009 two high school students have served on the SBE. For the past year those students have been senior Anne Griffith from Radnor High School and Junior Eva Rankin from Upper St. Clair High School. These SBE positions have provided public school students with an unprecedented opportunity in Pennsylvania to interact with the 22 adult board members and have helped shape long-term education policy for the 1.8 million K-12 students in our state and the 680,000 students impacted by our state system of higher education. The Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils (PASC) was first charged with the responsibility of recommending two students to hold these positions for the 2008-2009 school year. PASC is currently accepting applications for our new junior student representative.

Current 10th grade students (Class of 2023) enrolled in public high schools in Pennsylvania are eligible to apply for this position. The introductory letter, commitment forms and application can be found here. Applications are due back on March 8th, 2021. Interviews will be conducted virtually. One student will be selected for a two-year term at that time.

More information can be found at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GZdrMuzBfYw009nbeUC3JGqxwCipCpsnx1ZlCGPipTw/edit?usp=sharing . Questions may be directed to the two current student representatives at sbe2021@pasc.net and sbe2022@pasc.net.


Virtual Town Hall on education fair funding co- sponsored by Avon Grove Charter School and Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools set Feb. 24

West Chester Daily Local by MediaNews Group February 6, 2021

WEST GROVE—There will be a virtual Town Hall Meeting on Fair Funding in Education on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 7 pm. The public is invited. The Town Hall is being co- sponsored by Avon Grove Charter School and Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. Topics include: problem solve fair funding solutions; learn how public schools are funded in PA.;  learn about the differences between charter & district schools funding.

All are welcome. RSVP Link - https://forms.gle/8of8ARxr7Zfdfmp97.


PSBA Spring Virtual Advocacy Day - MAR 22, 2021

PSBA Website January 2021

All public school leaders are invited to join us for our spring Virtual Advocacy Day on Monday, March 22, 2021, 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 spring 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: Complimentary for members

Registration: Registration is available under Event Registration on myPSBA.org.



Attend the NSBA 2021 Online Experience April 8-10

NSBA is pleased to announce the transformation of its in-person NSBA 2021 Annual Conference & Exposition to the NSBA 2021 Online Experience. This experience will bring world-class programming, inspirational keynotes, top education solution providers, and plentiful networking opportunities. Join us on April 8-10, 2021, for a fully transformed and memorable event!



NPE/NPE Action Conference In Philly was rescheduled to October 23/24 due to concerns w/ COVID19.

Network for Public Education

NPE will be sending information to registrants very soon!



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


348 PA school boards have adopted charter reform resolutions

Charter school funding reform continues to be a concern as over 340 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:




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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