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Education Update for April 21, 2014

In Budget News…

PA Unemployment Rate – Pennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined by two-tenths of a percentage point in March to 6.0 percent, the lowest rate since October 2008. The commonwealth’s rate was seven-tenths of a percentage point below the U.S. rate, which was unchanged from February at 6.7 percent. The state rate was down 1.7 percentage points from its March 2013 rate of 7.7 percent. (from a press release, PA Department of Labor & Industry)

State Funding for Education –

  • Funding Formula: Pennsylvania needs an education funding formula that will better support the needs of students living in poverty and English language learners, acting state Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq said last Monday.  “You need additional resources to target those populations to close the achievement gap,” Dumaresq said.  “They can learn and get to the same rigor of the outcomes when they graduate.  Their trajectory might be a little steeper and they need more supports to get there, but they can learn at that rigor.”   Dumaresq lobbied for such a formula during a wide-ranging interview Monday with the Daily Times editorial board.  Earlier, she presented a pair of schools in the Springfield School District with the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Academics.  Read the rest of the story: “Acting Education Secretary Discusses Funding Formula” (from The Delaware County Daily Times, 4/14/14).     

  • Trying to Stay Afloat: If the state's funding distribution method does not change, Greencastle-Antrim School District officials say they will have to take drastic measures to keep afloat financially.  G-A could recover a $1.5 million deficit it is facing in the 2014-15 school year by cutting kindergarten.  It could cover half of it by not replacing seven outgoing teachers; $600,000 of it by ending involvement with Franklin County Career and Technology Center; or a third of it by getting rid of extracurricular activities.  Read the rest of the story: “G-A Officials: District Faces Financial Crisis” (The Chambersburg Public Opinion, 4/18/14).    

  • Editorial: School Funding – In a recently published editorial, The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board writes, “The drama created by the Philadelphia School District's attempt to force new work rules on the teachers' union doesn't mean the inequitable funding that hamstrings schools across Pennsylvania is any less of a problem.  In fact, there's a good case for making school funding the top issue in this year's governor's race.  Voters should place the fiscal shape of local schools in context with Gov. Corbett's business tax breaks, which have yet to be matched by job creation.”  Read the rest of the editorial: “For Schools Money Matters” (4/20/14).    

  • Parents Stepping In – In his column published in The Times Tribune, Chris Kelly writes, “Like most of the state’s 501 school districts, Valley View is cash-strapped.  So are the taxpayers who pay its bills.  From his first budget, Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Drillers, has shortchanged education at the expense of students, parents and the future of Pennsylvania.  ‘Because the state has not met their fair share, they have not met the responsibilities to provide the technology in the classroom. … Parents are trying to step in,’ said Pennsylvania PTA President Deborah Dunstone, who lives in Peckville.  ‘It’s happening in other places across the state. I wish it wouldn’t have to.’”  Read the rest of the column: “Parents Step In To Do What State Refuses: Spend Money on Education” (4/20/14).

Poll on School Funding, Economic Development – Tomorrow PASA, along with PASBO, PARSS, PSBA and the Central Pennsylvania Education Coalition, will hold a press event with Dr. Terry Madonna of Terry Madonna Opinion Research concerning the findings of his latest statewide poll on public schools and the economy.  Details of the poll’s findings will be released after 11:00 a.m.

Gaming and Property Tax Relief – The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board last week reported that table game revenues from Pennsylvania casinos went up $67.9 million last month, its highest level since table games were legalized (July 2010).  However, slot machine revenues were down 5.7 percent from March 2013.  As a result, total gaming revenues were down 4.2 percent compared to last year’s total.  (from a press release)

Despite the lower numbers from 2013, Budget Secretary Charles Zogby last week certified that more than $779 million in gaming revenue will be available for property tax relief in 2014.  The balance in the Property Tax Relief Fund is more than $394 million.  Gaming revenue from now through Oct. 15 is projected to add about $399 million to the relief fund, bringing the total amount in the fund at that time to approximately $793 million, which includes a projected balance of approximately $14 million in the Fund.  The amount of property tax relief will vary by school district.  The amount of property tax relief in each school district will vary, and that information will be available online in early May at the School District Property Tax Relief section of the PDE website at (from a press release, 4/16/14)

Looking at Gas Tax – The Associated Press recently reported that “slapping Pennsylvania's booming natural gas industry with a new tax has long been the currency of Democrats, and now an increasingly grim budget picture is turning Republican heads in the GOP-controlled state Legislature.  Some Republicans in the Capitol are predicting that a tax on natural gas extraction could end up in whatever final budget legislation emerges, probably in late June.  The multinational industry has been a lightning rod since it arrived in Pennsylvania five years ago, and raising taxes on it would be preferable to cutting aid to schools or the poor, some Republicans say.  One obstacle is Gov. Tom Corbett.  The Republican has publicly opposed a tax on the industry, both before and after he was persuaded by the Legislature's Republican leaders to sign legislation in 2012 that imposed an impact fee on the industry.  Still, the tax-like impact fee is equivalent to a much lower tax rate than many other gas-producing states charge the industry, and the issue of raising taxes on Pennsylvania's natural gas industry is popular in opinion surveys.  For now, Republican budget makers are watching the performance of April's state tax collections and keeping their options open.”  (4/20/14)

In Legislative News…

Legislative Schedule – Harrisburg is quiet again this week as the General Assembly remains in recess this week.  Lawmakers are scheduled to return to session the week of April 28.

In State News…

PSEA and Charter School Teachers – Teachers at the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School have voted for representation by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, giving the state’s largest teachers union its only charter school members.  PSEA has represented charter school teachers in the past, said spokesman Wythe Keever, but the approximately 115 teachers from the statewide online public school will be the only such members now.  Read the rest of the story: “PA. Cyber Charter Teachers Join Union” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/14/14).

School Safety – If there's one thing school safety experts agree on, it's this: There is no perfect solution to preventing school violence.  "The good news is that schools are actually getting much better at preventing violence, but the bad news is we will always have incidents that slip through the cracks because you are dealing with human behavior," said Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services in Cleveland.  In the wake of the recent mass stabbings at Franklin Regional High School, there have been calls for metal detectors and increased physical security in schools and questions about how school violence continues in spite of security measures and training undertaken by districts.  While metal detectors can be part of a school's overall security plan, the majority of schools across the nation do not have them, and safety experts and school officials say metal detectors represent a simplistic fix that do not address a complex problem.  "More than metal detectors, you need mental detectors," Mr. Trump said.  Read the rest of the story: “There Is No Perfect Solution to Preventing School Violence” (from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/14/14).

Political Ads on Education – With the primary election coming next month, gubernatorial candidates increasingly are running TV ads focused on education.  Governor Corbett’s latest ad features First Lady Susan Corbett discussing the governor’s focus on education.  Democratic candidates likewise have focused attention on education issues, including ads from Rob McCord, Tom Wolfe, Katie McGinty and Allyson Schwartz.  Also, see a story on the WHTM-TV website (“Campaign Ads Contradictory on Corbett's Education Record”) reviewing the funding issue as portrayed in the ads (4/18/14).  For more information on the candidates’ positions on education, click here to see more on the EPLC website.  The primary election is on May 20. 

Cyberbullying and Students – The Patriot-News recently published a series of reports on the issue of cyberbullying and its effect on students.  “Cyberbullying is a relatively new problem, having evolved with the Internet and development of social media websites and apps,” one article states.  “It's easily as devastating as face-to-face bullying, if not more, and it's slashing and burning through school districts across the U.S.  More than half of the country’s young people have reported that they have been cyberbullied, and of the young people who reported cyberbullying incidents, one-third of them said their bullies issued online threats, according to 2014 bullying statistics published by anti-bullying website,”  Read the series online: “Cyberbullying Leaves Staggering Statistics in Its Wake” (4/18/14).

Across the State…

Vo-Tech Students and National Competition – Three Lehigh Career & Technical Institute students will compete this summer in the national SkillsUSA Championships after finishing first at last week's state competition.  Northwestern Lehigh High School students Robert Metzger and Austin Fenstermaker, respectively, won the CNC turning specialist and precision machining technology events at the SkillsUSA Pennsylvania Championships in Hershey, Pa.  Austin Berger of Northern Lehigh High School won the power equipment technology event.  Read the rest of the story: “Lehigh County Vo-Tech Students Head to National Championships After Wins at State Event” (from The Express Times, 4/16/14).

Surplus and Teacher Salaries – Comparing projected revenues to spending, Harrisburg School District could end the current school year with a surplus of more than $8 million, according to figures presented to the school board's Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee last week.  The news inspired Harrisburg Education Association President Sherri Magnuson to hope that the board would restore a 5 percent salary cut accepted by teachers and non-teaching staff in August when the district thought it was facing a $4.5 million budget deficit for 2013-14.  Instead, in January, district officials reported finding an additional $11 million.  Read the rest of the story: “Harrisburg Education Association Hopes for Pay-Cut Restoration from Projected $8 Million Surplus” (from The Patriot-News, 4/14/14).

In National News…

Importance of Pre-K – While lawmakers continue to debate the long-range impact of preschool on participants, 62 percent of parents in a new poll commissioned by a day-care and pre-K provider said they believe the skills gained in early-childhood education programs last a lifetime.  Such opportunities were seen as "essential" to learning social and emotional skills—and were rated as just as important as traditional academics, states a national poll released April 7 by the Novi, Mich.-based Learning Care Group. The company runs 900 day-care operations and schools in 36 states for children ages 6 weeks to 13 years.  Read the rest of the story: “Parents in Poll Say Effects of Pre-K Last a Lifetime (from Education Week, 4/15/14).

K12 Lawsuit – A recently filed federal lawsuit accuses the publicly traded company K12 Inc. of misleading investors by putting forward overly positive public statements during much of last year, only later to reveal that it had missed key operational and financial targets.  The lawsuit also alleges that former K12 CEO Ronald J. Packard "reaped the rewards" of the bullish company projections by selling millions of dollars’ worth of stock in the months before an October announcement of disappointing news sent its stock price plummeting.  Read the rest of the story: “Investor Lawsuit Targets K12 Inc. and Stock Sales of Former CEO” (from Education Week, 4/14/14).

New SAT Test – It might be fair to describe the major changes that are coming in 2016 to the nation's most-recognizable college-admissions test, the SAT, as "intense."  In fact, understanding how the word intense is used properly in an essay is one of the sample questions that the College Board, which oversees the SAT, rolled out last Wednesday to give students and educators an idea of how the admissions test will change in two years.  In addition to making the controversial essay portion optional, in its most sweeping overhaul in years, the Princeton-based testing service said its new questions will be more geared toward gauging what students actually learned in high school, problem-solving, and reading comprehension in the real world.  Read the rest of the story: “SAT Unveils ‘Intense’ Changes in Test Question” (from The Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/17/14).

Across the Nation…

Tennessee: Voucher Bill – A bill that would have allowed Tennessee parents to use vouchers to move their children from a failing public school to a private school stalled in the state's House of Representatives last week.  The school voucher legislation proposed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam was pulled from the House finance committee Tuesday, according to a story from the Associated Press.  Although the state Senate passed the bill this month, lawmakers in the House didn't have enough votes to pass the measure.  Read the rest of the story: “Tennessee School Voucher Bill Fails to Garner Support From Lawmakers” (from Education Week, 4/16/14).

On the Calendar…

  • April 29 – Professional Development Committee meeting (PASA office)           

  • May 4-6 – Women’s Caucus Conference (Hershey)   

  • May 26 – PASA office closed     

  • June 3 – Legislative Committee Lobby Day (Capitol)    

  • June 16-17 – Course Development Team meeting (PASA office)

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