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Education Update for November 24, 2014

In Budget and Funding News...

State Unemployment Update – The PA Department of Labor & Industry last week reported that Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate decline by 0.3 percent from September to 5.4 percent. The national rate is 5.8 percent.

Basic Education Funding Commission Update – The commission is holding a meeting today in Lancaster as members continue to gather information and testimony on school funding issues as they work toward developing a new basic education funding formula by June 2015.

During hearings in Philadelphia last week, parents, school principals, education advocates, experts, city and school district officials, and charter school representatives spoke about the underfunding of Philadelphia’s public schools and the impact on students. “The district cannot cut its way to high student achievement, nor can we cut our way to solvency,” Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said. He noted that many other districts in the state grapple with funding cuts and would benefit from a predictable formula. “Our students don’t get a do-over just because we lack sufficient resources.” Read more about the hearing by clicking on links to stories on philly.com (“Officials in Philly Seek Fair Funding for Educationand Pa. Lawmakers Take Heat over School Funding”) and on The Notebook website.

To date, scheduled meetings of the commission include the following:

  • Monday, Nov. 24, at 10 a.m.: I.U. 13, Lancaster     

  • Thursday, December 4 at 10 a.m.: East Stroudsburg        

  • Wednesday, December 10, at 10 a.m.: Lancaster

To view video of previous hearings, see the commission website.

In Legislative News…

Legislative Calendar – The 2015-16 General Assembly will convene in Harrisburg on Jan. 6 to be sworn in and formally elect Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore within the respective chambers. Tom Wolf will be sworn in as governor on Jan. 20. Committee chairmanships also will be finalized in January.

In Post-Election News…

Wolf Transition Team: On the State Budget – An analysis released by the Wolf Transition Team last week described the state financial crisis. “Last week’s news from the Independent Fiscal Office is only the beginning of what we will learn about the structural mess left behind by the Corbett Administration,” it states.  “But one thing is certain: the extent of the gap is massive and we do not yet know the full scope of the problem.” The overview notes the anticipated negative cash flow, state borrowing, unsustainable revenues and a general structural imbalance in the 2014-15 state budget. “The numbers provide a dark reality,” it notes. Click here to read their report, “Pennsylvania in Peril: A Financial Crisis.”

Gov.-Elect and Education Spending – After warnings from his team about Pennsylvania’s nearly $2 billion projected shortfall, governor-elect Tom Wolf says he still plans to push to increase education funding next year, but the newly elected Democrat acknowledges the end result will depend on negotiations with the General Assembly, which even larger Republican Majorities will control in January. “They key is that we have a $29 billion budget, and with that amount of money, part of what any governor needs to do is look at priorities,” Mr. Wolf said in a telephone interview last Thursday. “There’s still plenty of money to make sure that our commonwealth is spending whatever dollars it has intelligently and that we establish the right priorities. Education has to be a priority. We’re going to have to find the funds.” Read the rest of the story: “Wolf Plans ‘to Find Funds’ to Raise Education Spending” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/21/14).

In State News…

York City Schools and Chartering – The York City School Board, faced once again with hours of comment from community members who urged them not to turn district schools into charters, voted to table the idea to get more information on a proposed contract with Charter Schools USA. The move came with conditions listed by the board, including that meetings be held with the nonprofit charter board and district recovery officer, a revised contract be submitted and that the matter come up for a vote again no later than Dec. 17. In response, state appointed Chief Recovery Officer David Meckley said he may petition the court for a receivership in the distressed school district. Read the rest of the story: “York City School Board Tables Vote on Charters, Approves Teacher Contract” (from The York Daily Record, 11/20/14).

School Performance Profiles -

  • Cyber Charters and SPP: While Pennsylvania’s education secretary mulls applications for three new cyber charter schools, a Philadelphia research group has released a paper stating that none of the 14 existing cybers meets state academic standards. The results of the state’s school performance profiles, released this month, show that cybers “continue to lag far behind both traditional public and charter schools,” according to a policy brief that Research for Action released Monday. The report also notes that the number of special education students at cybers jumped nearly 24 percent. Read the rest of the story: “Pa. Cyber Charters Given Poor Grades by Researchers” (from philly.com, 11/20/14).    

  • Economics and the SPP: The recently released state School Performance Profiles once again show a correlation between the economic makeup of top-performing districts and those in the bottom of the academic rankings in Allegheny County. “You didn’t even need to look at the scores,” acting Wilkinsburg superintendent Dan Matsook said. “All you need to look at is the market value of commercial and industrial buildings in the district and wealth-to-aid-ratio to see how well those students perform.” Read the rest of the story: “Economics a Factor in Results of School Performance Profiles” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/20/14).

Across the State…

Volunteers and Background Checks – After months of study and meetings with parent groups, administrators in the North Allegheny School District thought they had found the perfect compromise for a policy to require criminal clearances for volunteers. However, all that is changing because of Act 153, which was signed into law in late October. The law mandates updated clearances for all school employees and volunteers every 36 months. “Act 153 goes beyond the policy and procedures we were developing and creates a significant obstacle in implementing what we were considering,” said Robert Scherrer, assistant superintendent of the North Allegheny SD. Read the rest of the story: “North Allegheny Officials Say New State Law on Volunteers Problematic” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/20/14). Click here to read a summary of the law in the Nov. 10 issue of the Education Update (Legislative News section).

Courting Chinese Investment – After buying the Waldorf-Astoria, the General Motors Building, and billions of dollars of U.S. Treasury bonds, the Chinese may be looking to invest in something completely different - a broke and struggling school system. The head of the Chester Upland School District announced Wednesday that he would travel to China to work out a deal in which an elite school would pour up to a billion dollars into the Delaware County district, which is in state receivership, and the communities it serves. The state Department of Education has expressed grave reservations about the plan, which might seem too surreal for even Hollywood. It calls for Chinese benefactors to put up staggering amounts of money to turn low-performing schools into elite academies that send students to top universities. "If we're successful in making this work, it would change the way our district looks," said Joe Watkins, who was appointed the district's receiver by Gov. Corbett. Read the rest of the story: “School Chief Wants China to Invest in Chester-Upland” (from The Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/21/14).

In National News…

Superintendents in Washington – Avonworth, Elizabeth Forward and South Fayette school districts are a step ahead of many districts around the country when it comes to technology, and President Barack Obama recognized their superintendents’ efforts last Wednesday at “ConnectED to the Future,” a White House education summit. They were among 100 school systems highlighted as examples for the rest of the country, where the president wants to improve Internet access and empower schools with technology that can transform teaching and learning. Read the rest of the story: “Pittsburgh Educators Immersed in Obama’s Technology Initiative” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/20/14). The Pennsylvania superintendents who attended the event included Thomas Ralston (Avonworth), Carrie Rowe (Beaver Area), Samuel Lee (Bristol Township), Erica Kola (McGuffey), Bart Rocco (Elizabeth Forward), Bridget O’Connell (Palisades), William Hite (Philadelphia), and Bille Rondinelli (South Fayette Township).

Education in the Next Congress – Higher education, preschool funding, the Common Core and the future of No Child Left Behind are just a few of the education policies that will be in play under the new Republican-controlled Congress. How will these things change? Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is expected to become chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee when Republicans assume the majority in that chamber next month, recently spoke with NPR about his priorities for education. Click here to read the report.

On the Calendar…

  • Nov. 25 – monthly school funding Twitter chat (hashtag #FairFundingPA)   
  • Nov. 27-28 – PASA office closed     
  • Dec. 9 – Education Congress Follow-Up Session, Prof. Dev. Subcommittee meeting (PASA office)      
  • Dec. 24-25, 31 – PASA office closed

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