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Education Update for August 25, 2014

Due to the Labor Day holiday, the Update will not be published on Sept. 1.  The next Update will be published Sept. 8.

In Budget News…

Recent Editorials –

  • Fund Balances: Editors of The Citizen’s Voice write, “Many Pennsylvania school districts have begun to cannibalize their long-term reserve funds to balance their operating budgets — a short-term fix that can only lead to more long-term problems. The situation illustrates further that the state government pays an inadequate share of public school funding.” Read the rest of the editorial: “School Districts Reserves for More Than Pensions” (8/19/14).  

  • Funding Formula: Editors of The Carlisle Sentinel write, “Maybe the folks just over the state line — or even a few states away — have a better idea when it comes to providing adequate funding of Pennsylvania’s public schools. Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, thinks it’s time the state take a look. He’s spot on with that suggestion. Pennsylvania is in sour company when it comes to states unable to provide a formula for stable education funding — we’re one of three, according to the nonpartisan Education Law Center.” Read the rest of the editorial: “Our View: Looking for School Funding Ideas” (8/23/14).

In Legislative News…

Legislative Calendar – The General Assembly remains in recess and is schedule to return to voting session on September 15. The Senate is scheduled to be in voting session for 10 days in the fall and the House for 11 days before the General Election on Nov. 4.

Funding Commission – The Basic Education Funding Commission met last week to get a briefing on the current basic education funding system. Created by passage of HB 1738 (now Act 51 of 2014), the commission is charged with examining current basic education funding and making recommendations on a new formula for the distribution of basic education funding. The Commission’s recommendations must be provided by June 2015.

During the meeting, Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq and Nichole Duffy, Deputy Secretary with the PDE Office of Administration, offered an overview of the basic education funding formula over the past 30 years.

Following that review, PASA Executive Director Jim Buckheit and PASBO Executive Director Jay Himes gave a presentation that included a basic education overview (demographics, delivery system, trends and outcomes), education terminology, education “numbers” (revenues, spending, Act 1 and fund balance), cost drivers, an overview of funding history and results of a recent survey of school officials concerning a funding formula for education. Their presentation emphasized the diversity among Pennsylvania’s public schools, the impact of NCLB and other mandates on school finance, the financial and achievement gaps between and within schools, the underlying calculations that have governed school funding for numerous years, and the results of a recent poll of school leaders concerning school funding.  Click here (pdf) to see their PowerPoint. Click here to view the meeting video.

The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for September 9 in the Lehigh Valley.

Pension Reform Discussions – House Majority Leader Mike Turzai is calling on the House Democratic leadership for a meeting to air pension reform, asking for dialogue as the two caucuses maintain their divergent solutions. House GOP leaders met last week to discuss the issue, Turzai said, and he's sending a letter to House Democrats to request a meeting before the fall session starts. No Democrat has voted to advance the plan Turzai's caucus still prefers, the so-called "hybrid" plan introduced by Rep. Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill Haven. Gov. Tom Corbett also prefers the plan and has been pushing it during his statewide stump for pension reform, the cornerstone of his re-election campaign. Despite the support from GOP leadership, 15 House Republicans were also among those voting to kill discussion on Tobash's bill last month. Read the rest of the story: “Turzai Looking to House Democrats for Talks on Pension Reform” (from The Patriot-News, 8/20/14).

In State News…

Immigrant Children and Education – The PA Department of Education last week provided school districts with updated information concerning the recent influx of unaccompanied immigrant children and their educational rights.

According to the PDE, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is opening a number of short-term shelters in a number of locations throughout the country, including several known in Pennsylvania: the United Methodist Home in Mechanicsburg (Cumberland County); Bethany Children’s Home in Womelsdorf (Berks County); Kids Peace in Bethlehem (Northampton County); and Holy Family Institute in Pittsburgh (Allegheny County).

The children at these short-term shelters will be cared for until they are released to sponsors, on average, within 35 days. HHS pays for and provides all services for the children while they are in the care of the shelter. This includes providing food, clothing, education, medical screening, and any needed medical care to the children. During their time at the shelters, the children will NOT be enrolled in the local school district. The children’s basic education services and activities will be provided by HHS grantees at the shelter.

However, when students are released to an appropriate sponsor, typically a parent, relative or family member, or other adult sponsor, while awaiting immigration proceedings, they have a right – just like other children living in their community – to enroll in local schools regardless of their or their parents' actual or perceived immigration or citizenship status. A small number of children in HHS custody are placed in long-term foster care instead of being released to a sponsor. These children will enroll in a public school in the community where their foster care is located. Children in all other care settings will receive education at an HHS facility.

School districts that are contacted by a parent, relative or adult sponsor to enroll an immigrant child should follow the district’s normal enrollment procedures and, if needed, consult PDE’s Basic Education Circular entitled “Enrollment of Students” on the PDE’s website. Students who are placed with a parent, relative or adult sponsor in Pennsylvania may be eligible for supplemental educational support services as a migratory child. Guidance and resources also are available on PDE’s website. A fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Education regarding this issue, titled Educational Services for Immigrant Children and Those Recently Arrived to the United States, is available online. For additional information, please contact PDE’s School Services Office at 717-787-4860 or via email.

I-Tunes U – Now online for educators, parents and students is “Pennsylvania Learns” on ITunes U, a collection of free, online educational resources.

The new resource, developed through a partnership between Pennsylvania and Apple, Inc., brings state standards-aligned resources to the world’s largest online catalog of free educational content that helps educators create courses, including lectures, assignments, books, quizzes and syllabi, and offer them to millions of iOS users. PASA, along with PAIU, PAESSP and PASCD contributed to the project, which was developed by educators working with the PDE in course and content development. The first phase of Pennsylvania Learns includes course resources for grades 6-8 in math, Algebra I, biology and grades 9-12 in English language arts.

"Along with the collaboration and creativity between the educators working on this project, the best part about this work was our constant and consistent focus on Pennsylvania's students," said Anthony Gabriele, curriculum supervisor at Garnet Valley School District. "While collecting the resources and building the courses, we constantly asked: 'What resources and tools would engage our students? What skills and takeaways would empower our students? How will this tool best help our teachers reach each and every student in his or her classroom?'"

The Department of Education is continuing to work with Pennsylvania educators to provide additional course resources through Pennsylvania Learns in the future. Those desiring to access the new resources will go to iTunes U and download the app in order to search the library for “Pennsylvania Learns.”

Across the State…

Pittsburgh: Free Lunch for All – If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, imagine what a free breakfast and lunch will do. Starting with the 2014-15 school year, all students in Pittsburgh Public Schools will receive free breakfasts and lunches regardless of family income, courtesy of the Community Eligibility Provision. Though the program is new to Pennsylvania, it has been in a pilot stage in 10 states and Washington, D.C., since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010. The act aimed to provide nutritious food to the 32 million students who eat lunch and 12 million students nationwide who eat breakfast at school each day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Read the rest of the story: “Pittsburgh Public Schools to Offer Free Lunches to All Students” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/20/14).

ALS/Back-to-School Challenge – In a unique back-to-school video challenge, Dr. Paul Brennan, superintendent of the Riverside SD, raised money for ALS in the “ice bucket challenge” – and challenged his teaching staff to “leave that classroom every day with no regrets, and when those kids walk into your classroom, make sure they don’t want to walk out.” See his video on YouTube.

Tax Abatement Program – In light of a collaboration between the Harrisburg School Board and city officials about a proposed tax abatement program, school board Vice President James Thompson hailed a payment in lieu of taxes program as a possible – and perhaps even a greater – method of generating new revenue. "There are a lot of things to consider,” Thompson said. “We all agreed that we would put our heads together with the city in a cooperative way to go through a consideration of a tax abatement program." The city's proposed program – Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, commonly referred to as LERTA – aims to attract new businesses and property owners into the city through incentives like tax abatement. There are currently hundreds of condemned properties in the city, and city officials are hoping that a tax-free period will spur long-overdue development. Read the rest of the story: “Charging Nonprofits Could Be Key to Harrisburg School District's Success” (from The Patriot-News, 8/19/14).

Letter to the Editor on PlanCon – In a recent letter-to-the-editor, Dr. Chester Mummau, superintendent of the Wyalusing Area SD, urges citizens to contact their state representatives to encourage them to support legislation that would reform the PlanCon system. He notes that reforming the process would not only benefit school districts, but students and taxpayers as well. Click here to read his letter, published Aug. 19 in thedailyreview.com.

In National News…

From the USDE: Testing – Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced last week that waiver states could submit a request to delay the use of test results in teacher-performance ratings by another year, an acknowledgment, in effect, of the enormous pressures mounting on the nation’s teachers because of new academic standards and more rigorous standardized testing. Using language that evoked some of his fiercest critics, Mr. Duncan wrote in a blog post, “I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools,” and he added that teachers needed time to adapt to new standards and tests that emphasize more than simply filling in bubbled answers to multiple-choice questions. Read the rest of the story: “States Given a Reprieve on Ratings of Teachers” (from The New York Times, 8/21/14).

Across the Nation…

Delaware: Teacher Evaluation – Zero percent of Delaware teachers were rated ineffective and only one percent were rated "needs improvement" during the last school year, leaving more than half of teachers to be rated effective and almost half to be rated highly effective. The new evaluation system stirred controversy when the state announced it would be factoring in standardized test scores. Some educators argued test scores don't necessarily measure good teaching and don't account for outside factors like parent involvement. And they worried their evaluations, and job situations, could suffer for circumstances beyond their control. But in both years when test scores were considered, 99 percent of teachers received passing grades. Read the rest of the story: “Virtually No Delaware Teachers Receive Poor Evaluations” (from delawareonline.com, 8/21/14).

Florida: Testing and More Testing – Classes for the 2014-15 year began for students in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest district in the country, on Monday, Aug. 18.  And so did student standardized testing. Yes, it’s time not only for class but also for a new slew of standardized tests in Miami and everywhere else in the country — and this year, more of these exams are expected to be given to students than ever so that kids be assessed and so can their teachers, and their principals, and their schools and their districts. Thanks to then Gov. Jeb Bush well over a decade ago, the state of Florida has been a national leader in the use of high-stakes standardized tests in public schools. And this year, thanks to a requirement for end-of-course exams for every subject — including music and physical ed and dance — in every grade (including kindergarten) so that the results can be used to evaluate teachers, the school year calendar is jam-packed with tests. Read the rest of the story (and a look at the yearly testing schedule): “A School System’s Stunning Test Schedule for 2014-15” (from The Washington Post, 8/25/14).

Ohio: Another Standards Change – In what could reignite a controversy that raged about eight years ago, a bill to repeal Common Core education standards in Ohio would allow intelligent design and creationism to be taught alongside evolution in science classes. House Bill 597 says new state science standards must “prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.” Read the rest of the story: “Intelligent Design Could Be Taught with Common Core’s Repeal” (from The Columbus Dispatch, 8/20/14).

Washington: ‘Failing,’ But Not Really – Many parents in Washington State are being told that their public schools are being considered as failing — even though it isn’t true. They are learning this from the superintendents of their school districts, who don’t want to do it but are being forced to. What’s going on? It’s because the federal waiver for the state has been revoked – and therefore all students in the state are expected to be proficient by 2014 under existing ESEA rules. Read the rest of the story: “Superintendents Forced to Tell Parents Their Schools Are Failing, Even Though They Aren’t” (from The Washington Post, 8/16/14).

On the Calendar…

  • Sept. 1 – PASA office closed    

  • Sept. 16-17 – New Superintendents’ Academy Part 2 (PASA office)     

  • Sept. 18-19 – Board of Governors’ meetings (PASA office)   

  • Oct. 21 – Education Congress Act 45 Follow-Up Session (PASA office)   

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