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Education Update for April 13, 2015

In State Budget and Funding News...

Hearing on School Funding Policy – State Rep. Mike Sturla, a Democrat from Lancaster, offered some advice on how to advance Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to cut property taxes and increase education funding. During a Democratic policy committee hearing at Wilkes University last Tuesday, Sturla told two local school district superintendents to publicly disclose how they would spend additional state funds from Wolf’s proposed budget. “It raises the expectations of the public to say we expect this to happen. And that puts the pressure on us as legislators to say we’re going to figure out how to make it happen,” Sturla said, adding it would also provide a rebuttal to claims that school districts will waste additional funding. Read the rest of the story: “Schools Urged To Assemble Funding Plan” (from The Citizens Voice, 4/8/15).

York City Recovery Officer – Carol Saylor, a former school district superintendent in Lancaster County who’s been in education for almost 40 years, has been appointed as the York City School District’s new chief recovery officer. Saylor most recently worked as superintendent of the Manheim Central School District from 1996 to 2009. Since retiring, she's been the owner and managing partner of Carol Saylor Associates, a company that focuses on career and leadership coaching. Gov. Tom Wolf announced Saylor's appointment on Thursday afternoon. She replaces David Meckley, who resigned on March 13, citing the governor's opposition to turning the district's schools into charters. It is unclear if, or how much, she will be paid as chief recovery officer. Read the rest of the story: “York City School District Gets New Chief Recovery Officer” (from The York Daily Record, 4/10/15).

Pension System Fees – Pennsylvania’s push to erase more than a $50 billion pension fund shortfall could come to a head this year as the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and its Democratic governor try to negotiate a solution that both sides can live with. Gov. Tom Wolf wants to shore up the funds by significantly reducing the $662 million in investment management fees that the state’s two pension funds pay each year, by contributing $80 million of profits from modernizing state liquor stores and by issuing a $3 billion pension bond to reduce the $35 billion deficit of the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System. Read the rest of the story: “Gov. Wolf Thinks Pension Funds Paying Too Much in Fees” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/12/15).

School Funding Events –

  • County Meeting on Public School Funding: School officials and community members in the Lehigh Valley County are invited to join a community meeting about public school funding on Wednesday, April 22, at 7:00 p.m. (Penn State Lehigh Valley, 2809 Saucon Valley Road, Center Valley). Local school district leaders will discuss how state funding issues are impacting children's educational opportunities, local taxes, and communities. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and learn how to support fair and adequate state funding for their respective county's schools. All state lawmakers who represent these counties have been invited to attend to learn about challenges facing area schools. The events are hosted by Education Voters of PA and supported by the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, a state coalition working to ensure that all students have access to a quality education, no matter where they live. PASA, along with PASBO, PARSS, PSBA and PAIU, assisted in organizing these forums. Click here for more information.               

  • School Funding SymposiumTemple University’s Center on Regional Politics will host a symposium on Wednesday, May 6, from 7:30-10:00 a.m., for state legislators, policymakers and advocates with the theme “Beyond a New School Funding Formula: Lifting Student Achievement to Grow Pennsylvania’s Economy.” The event, to be held in the auditorium of Harrisburg University (326 Market Street), will feature RAND Corporation’s study of the economic payoff to Pennsylvania from raising student test scores and high school graduation rates, and an internationally recognized expert’s look at how other countries helped their students move to the top of world rankings while the U.S. hovered just above or below the average for developed nations. The RAND study, “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gaps in Pennsylvania’s Public Schools, is the first to replicate at the state level a 2009 report by McKinsey & Company, an international business consulting firm, which estimated that the achievement gaps in America’s public schools were the equivalent of “a permanent national recession,” costing the economy more than $1 trillion. The symposium is sponsored by the University Consortium to Improve Public School Finance and Promote Economic Growth. Register at www.temple.edu/corp.

In Legislative News…

Legislative Schedule – The House and Senate return to session this week and are expected to remain at the Capitol for three days of voting session per week until the Memorial Day holiday (May 25). While budget negotiations have not yet gone into full swing, the Legislature is planning for a busy week.

Last Week’s Committee Meeting – The House Republican Policy Committee held a public hearing last week with Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to discuss school district audits. The Auditor General indicated that the vast majority of LEA audits result in no or very minimal findings, spoke in opposition to the use of interest rate swaps by school districts, discussed the GASB changes to how pension debt is reflected, and discussed the ACCESS program and the Department of Human Services’ administration of the program. He also discussed the difficulty encountered by the agency in their audit of PDE. (See an article on the latter issue published in The PLS Reporter.)

This Week’s Floor Calendar – The following bills may be considered this week:

In the House:

  • HB 342 (amends the Pennsylvania Election Code to clarify that all candidates for the office of school director will be required to submit 10 signatures for nomination. Initially, the bill would have required 25 signatures.)         

  • HB 423 (provides immunity to school bus drivers who administer epinephrine to students suffering allergic reactions in compliance with school district policy and training)    

In the Senate:

  • SB 333 (prohibits the ability of a municipality to mandate that all employers within its borders provide certain types of vacation or other forms of leave not required by Federal or state law. The bill exempts any mandates imposed by a municipality on its own employees.)    

This Week’s Committee Meetings –

Tuesday, April 14: House Finance – hearing on HB 860 (implements a property tax relief plan for school district taxpayers by increasing the statewide PIT to 3.7% for the purpose of providing millage rate reductions and increasing the sales tax (without expansion of the base) to 7% for the purpose of increasing homestead/farmstead exemption allocations)     

Wednesday, April 15:

  • Joint Legislative Budget & Finance Committee – to release a report on the feasibility of alternative methods of authorizing charter schools         

  • Senate Finance – hearing to discuss pension plan design proposals

Other Upcoming Committee Meetings –

  • April 27:  Basic Education Funding Commission – to hold a final hearing (University of Pittsburgh)   

  • April 28: House Democratic Policy Committee – to hold a hearing on education and property tax reduction (Johnstown)

Across the State…

E-Learning Day – Carlisle students attended class from home Monday as the district debuted eDay. Rather than students filing into classrooms for a day of lessons, they traded the classrooms for the comfort of home and attended class via the Internet. Stephanie Douglas, district technology director, said Monday was a trial of the program that is designed to ensure the district meets the 180-day attendance requirement, even when school is canceled due to, say a snowstorm. Read the rest of the story: “Carlisle Students Get to Work from Home with District’s First eDay” (from The Patriot-News, 4/6/15).

Editorial: EITC Program – In a recently published editorial, the Philadelphia Daily News editorial board called for accountability in the EITC program. “A program that gives generous tax credits for donations to scholarship programs for low-income students to attend private and parochial schools may strike some as a laudatory way to equalize educational opportunities,” the editors write. “Some might even say that the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program is a way to address the civil-rights wrongs of a public system that leaves too many poor and minority children behind, while the privileged few who can afford to send kids to more expensive private schools get an unfair leg up…. In theory, the program expands the choices for students, especially those who can't afford private and parochial tuitions. But under its current framework, it's hard to see it as anything but a way to funnel public dollars into private education - with no accountability for how effectively those dollars are being spent.” Read the rest of the editorial: “Who Gets the Credit for This?” (4/7/15)

Immunizations and Cyber School – Nearly 17 percent of kindergartners at the state’s largest cyber charter school won’t be immunized, according to state immunization reports. That’s the highest percentage of students with exemption requests from state-required immunizations at the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in the past five years, a Beaver County Times analysis shows – and higher than at any school district during the 2013-14 school year…. The biggest problem, says school nurse Dana Marquis, is that parents don’t submit the paperwork in a timely fashion. Since she doesn’t see students on a daily basis, it’s more difficult to track down missing paperwork. State regulations allow a school to bar a child from classes if not in compliance with immunization requirements. But that’s not something that PA Cyber wants to do, Marquis said. “We’re a cyber school – it doesn’t make sense to exclude them from classes,” she said. Read the rest of the story: “PA Cyber Faces Same Struggles to Immunize Students” (4/7/15).

District Recognition: Online Instruction – Think about this: Your teacher gives you an online, optional homework assignment. Would you do it? At West Mifflin Area Middle School, 421 students opted in for the extra work and earned the top middle school rating out of 723 schools nationwide participating in an annual spring study marathon administered through the web-based standards mastery program Study Island. The school serves students in fourth through eighth grades. The school was awarded the title of “The Elite 20,” which means it had 20 or more students in the top 100 earning blue ribbons for success in online lessons. Read the rest of the story: “W. Mifflin School Tops the Nation in Online Study” (from triblive.com, 4/9/15).

Science Fair Projects and the White House – Last week Acting Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera congratulated four Pennsylvania students who were selected to showcase their science projects at the fifth annual White House Science Fair last month. The four students are:

  • Sahil Doshi, 14, Upper Saint Clair HS, Upper Saint Clair SD (Allegheny Co.)   

  • Nikhil Behari, 14, North Allegheny HS, North Allegheny SD (Allegheny Co.)    

  • Corine Peifer, 17, Wallenpaupack Area HS, Wallenpaupack Area SD (Pike Co.)    

  • Kristian Sonsteby, 18, Wallenpaupack Area HS, Wallenpaupack Area SD (Pike Co.)

Each of the students' projects was inspired by a real world issue. Doshi designed a carbon-dioxide powered battery to impact electricity shortages around the world. Behari found that keystroke-based authentication could be used as secondary measure to prevent data breaches at retail stores. Peifer and Sonsteby, as part of a larger team, designed a generator to convert a boat dock's movement in a body of water into power.

"These presenters represent the exemplary work Pennsylvania students are doing in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics," Rivera said. "The process of examining a problem, researching it, devising a solution, and then designing and constructing a project demonstrates the students' commitment and enthusiasm for learning. These four undoubtedly have bright futures."

The Secretary said the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is also encouraging students to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines by partnering with the state's Intermediate Units to coordinate a statewide STEM competition. The Governor's PA STEM Competition finals are scheduled for May 29, 2015, at Thaddeus Steven College of Technology in Lancaster. Click here for more information on The Governor's PA STEM Competition. (from a PDE press release, 4/10/15)

In National News…

ESEA Reauthorization: Senate Action – After nearly two months of negotiating behind closed doors, Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chairman and ranking member of the education committee, appear to be nearing consensus on major pieces of a bipartisan draft to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, according to sources. In what seems to be a departure from Alexander’s original draft legislation, unveiled in January, the version being negotiated likely wouldn’t allow Title I dollars for low-income students to follow them to the school of their choice, sources said. Still, Title I portability is a big priority for Republicans in a rewrite of the ESEA. Read the rest of the story: “Senate Education Leaders Close In On Bipartisan ESEA Rewrite” (from Education Week, 4/3/15).

Supreme Court and PA Case – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to step into a case involving allegations that a Pennsylvania school district systematically funneled a disproportionate number of African-American students into special education. The justices refused without comment to hear the appeal of seven students and their parents in Allston v. Lower Merion School District (Case No. 14-926). The black families had sued the 7,000-student Lower Merion district under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars race discrimination in federally funded programs, alleging that the students were wrongly classified as having learning disabilities and kept in special education for years without re-evaluation. Read the rest of the story: “U.S. Supreme Court Declines Case on Race and Special Education” (from Education Week, 4/6/15).

Poverty and School Meals – America's schools are no longer just a place for students to learn their ABCs. They are also increasingly where children eat their three squares. The classroom has become a dining room as more children attending public schools live in poverty. More than half of students in public schools — 51% — were in low-income families in 2013, according to a study by the Southern Education Foundation. Read the rest of the story: “Schools Becoming the ‘Last Frontier’ for Hungry Kids” (from USA Today, 4/5/15).

FYI: Professional Development Opportunity…

Working with the Media – PASA, PAIU, PASBO, PSBA and PARSS are offering to school leaders a special workshop focused on “Understanding & Working with the Media.” In this workshop, participants (to include superintendents, school business managers, communications professionals and school board directors) will receive the knowledge needed to effectively manage their media strategy and image to promote school funding reform by understanding how the media works, developing effective media tactics, and preparing successful messaging strategies. Effective media strategies are essential for staying ahead of the media and getting your district’s message out to your public. This all-day workshop (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), is designed to provide practical and hands-on tools that will give participants a skillset in working with the media and the public. 

Dates and I.U. locations for this workshop are as follows:

  • April 17 – Midwestern I.U. 4   

  • April 20 – Chester County I.U. 24  

  • April 27 – Montgomery County I.U. 23   

  • April 29 – Bucks County I.U. 22   

  • April 30 – Riverview I.U. 6     

  • May 6 – Central Susquehanna I.U. 16   

  • May 7 – PSBA office (Mechanicsburg)     

  • May 14 – Allegheny I.U. 3    

  • May 14 – Lancaster-Lebanon I.U. 13

Cost per person is $10. Register online today at: www.cciu.org/mediatraining.

On the Calendar…

  • April 17 – Resolutions Committee meeting (PASA office)      

  • May 3-5 – Women’s Caucus Conference (Hershey)   

  • May 5 – Legislative Committee Lobby Day at the Capitol     

  • May 6 – Professional Development Committee meeting (PASA office)    

  • May 15 – Education Research Symposium (PASA office)

(pdf for printing)

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