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Education Update

Below is the current Education Update.  Click here for a list of other recent updates.

August 19, 2019

Governor's Initiatives to Address Flaws in PA's Charter School Law…
 
News Reports  Gov. Tom Wolf is calling for some radical changes in Pennsylvania’s charter school law, a law that he calls flawed, outdated and one of the worst in the nation. At a news conference in Allentown last Tuesday, Wolf announced executive actions he is undertaking to reform the 22-year-old law. “We must update our flawed and outdated charter law for the benefit of every student and every taxpayer in the commonwealth," he said. Wolf acknowledged at the news conference that “there are charter schools out there doing an excellent job ... unfortunately this is not the case for all charter schools, especially among cyber schools." The governor, lawmakers and groups representing the traditional public schools argue the current charter school law doesn’t hold these schools accountable for the money being put into them. Additionally, they point to a study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes’ 2019 that identified “overwhelming negative results from online charter schools" in Pennsylvania and implored policy makers to reassess policies and practices applicable to charter schools. Wolf said the changes he is proposing “will level the playing field for all taxpayer-funded public schools, strengthen the accountability and transparency of charter and cyber charter schools and better serve all students.” Read the rest of the story: “Wolf Moves to Reform Pa.’s ‘Flawed’ Charter School Law That He Calls One of the Worst in the Nation” (from The Patriot-News, 8/13/19).
 
Click here to read another story about the news conference published in The Morning Call (8/13/19).
 
About the Governor’s Initiatives The executive actions the Governor is taking would make changes in charter school law through regulatory changes, PDE action and changes in the charter appeals process, and proposed legislation.
 
First, the governor is directing the Department of Education to develop regulations that will strengthen accountability for taxpayers and improve outcomes for students in charter schools. This will include regulations to limit enrollment in underachieving charter schools, management transparency, sound fiscal practices, more transparency in decision-making and practices of a Board of Trustees and operating/charter school management companies, more detailed charter applications to provide better analysis of actual operations, and a process for accurately documenting real costs to prevent over-charting school districts for educational services.
 
In addition, the governor has instructed the PDE to establish a fee-for-service model to assess fees on charter schools to recoup the staff costs associated with administering the charter school law.
 
Finally, the governor plans to propose comprehensive charter school reform legislation that will include establishing performance standards, establishing a moratorium on new cyber charters and capping current enrollment until outcomes improve, requiring charter management to be subject to RTK and the Ethics Act, establishing a Charter School Funding Commission, and creating fair, predictable and equitable funding for school districts, including the areas of special education and charter school payments.
 
Click here to read Gov. Wolf’s plan. Click here to read a press release from the Governor’s Office.
 
PASA supports the Governor’s efforts to make these overdue changes in current law and to require the same level of accountability and transparency for student outcomes, management practice and financial operations as is required of Pennsylvania’s school districts. In addition, PASA strongly supports the Governor’s efforts to bring meaningful change to the oversight and regulation of cyber charter schools to ensure academic and fiscal accountability to students and taxpayers.
 
Response from Charter Schools  Pennsylvania’s charter schools took issue with Gov. Tom Wolf’s plans to revamp Pennsylvania’s charter school law. Earlier Tuesday, the Democratic governor announced plans to update the state’s charter school law. The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools sharply criticized Wolf’s proposals, saying they are ill-considered, potentially illegal and could be considered discriminatory. Ana Meyers, the coalition’s executive director, said in a statement that some of Wolf’s plans represent “blatant attacks” on charter schools. The coalition said it would pursue court action if the state’s charter school law is broken. Meyers slammed the governor for not reaching out to the charter school community before announcing his plans and for not spending time in charter schools to see their value. “And yet, he has the audacity to propose stripping these families with their right to choose an educational option that meets the needs of their children and trapping students in failing district schools, simply because they don’t have the economic means to access a better education,” Meyers said in the statement. “Some would go as far to describe this type of action as discriminatory to the economically disadvantaged and minority students who make up the majority of PA’s charter school population.” Read the rest of the story: “Charter Schools Decry ‘Blatant Attacks’ in Gov. Tom Wolf’s Plan to Revamp State Law” (from The Patriot-News, 8/13/19).
 
In School Safety News…
 
Bullying and ‘a Sense of Belonging’ – While some may argue in favor of punitive measures for students who bully and others side with improving school climate, a recent survey singles out another factor that may help curb bullying: a sense of belonging. "The more a child feels like they can connect with their family, their peers, and their school, the less likely they are to engage in bullying behavior," said Christopher Slaten, a co-investigator for the survey and an associate professor for the University of Missouri's College of Education. The research team found a connection between students' relationships at home, their relationships at school, and patterns of bullying behaviors. "If they feel like they belong with their family, then they're more likely to feel like they belong at school, which in term makes them less likely to perform bullying behavior," said Slaten. The results spell out the importance family plays for all students, whether they are bullied or do the bullying. Read the rest of the story: “Students Who Feel They Belong Are Less Likely to Bully, Study Finds” (from Education Week, 8/15/19).
 
Gov. Wolf: Executive Order on Gun Violence – Governor Tom Wolf last week signed an executive order making unprecedented sweeping changes to executive branch agencies and programs to better target the public health crisis of gun violence in Pennsylvania. He was joined by advocates, legislators, cabinet secretaries and Charles Ramsey, chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), who will use his expertise in a new role advising the executive branch on implementing these changes. “Too many Pennsylvanians are dying from gun violence. We need to fix our weak gun laws and pass reforms focused on increasing safety and reducing danger to our citizens.” Gov. Wolf said. “The action I am announcing today includes provisions for Pennsylvanians of all walks of life and looks at gun violence from all angles.”
 
The governor’s executive order names Ramsey as a senior advisor charged with coordinating and facilitating gun violence reduction. Ramsey will lead a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the PCCD, and the office will contain a Special Council on Gun Violence tasked with meeting within 60 days to begin developing a plan to reduce gun violence in the commonwealth. The executive order also creates the Division of Violence Prevention within the Department of Health. The two new offices will work together to tackle gun violence from both the gun safety and public health perspectives. Together, they will establish new oversight and data sharing, reduce community gun violence, combat mass shootings, and halt domestic violence-related and self-inflicted shootings.
 
Click here for more information on the governor’s initiatives regarding gun violence.
 
In Legislative News…
 
Hearing on Charter School Funding – Some of state's cyber charter schools often found themselves on the defensive during a Senate Education Committee hearing on their accountability and funding last Wednesday. But while public school administrators from Bedford, Cambria and Clearfield counties and several charter school executives didn't agree on much during the more than three hour session at Everett High School, both sides told lawmakers a fairer funding formula would serve as one solution to what has become a decades-long dispute between them. Read the rest of the story: “Senate Hears Calls for 'Fair' Funding Changes to State’s Cyber Charter Schools” (from The Tribune-Democrat, 8/14/19).
 
Legislative Workshop on Property Taxes – Why Pennsylvania has struggled for decades to come up with a different funding source other than property taxes to pay for public schools became apparent during a two-hour discussion last Tuesday. At a well-attended workshop in a Spring Garden Township auditorium, state representatives and senators heard from school officials who aren’t opposed to moving to a different way of funding schools. What they are worried about though is being starved for money to pay for mandated costs such as pension, charter school and special education over which they have no control. Businesses, meanwhile, don’t want to end up bearing a larger tax burden. No one wants to see retired people on fixed incomes lose their home because of unpaid taxes. Renters want guarantees their rents will decrease if the tax burden gets shifted to higher income or sales taxes. Some thought taxing retirement income of Pennsylvania’s growing senior citizen population should be considered; others did not. Senate Majority Policy Committee Chairman David Argall, R-Schuylkill County, who led the conversation, expected to hear such diverse views, saying afterward with a laugh, “This wasn’t supposed to be the Hallelujah chorus.” Read the rest of the story: “Lawmakers Hear Calls for Action on Property Tax Reform; ‘We’re Reaching the Breaking Point” (from The Patriot-News, 8/13/19).
 
Scheduled Committee Meetings –
 
September 3 – 1 p.m. - Senate Communications and Technology
Monroe County Safety Center, 100 Gypsum Road, Stroudsburg
Public hearing to discuss improving access to high-speed broadband internet in the Commonwealth
 
September 4 – 2 p.m. - House Democratic Policy Committee
Furness Horace High School, 1900 South 3rd Street, Philadelphia
Public hearing with Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler on school building toxic conditions and emergency funding
 
September 5 – 10 a.m. - Senate Communications and Technology
PSU Fayette Eberly Campus, Magerko Hall, Community Center, 2201 University Drive, Lemont Furnace
Public hearing to discuss improving access to high-speed broadband internet in the Commonwealth
 
September 23 – 10 a.m. - Senate Communications and Technology
Capitol, Room 8E-A, East Wing
Public hearing to discuss improving access to high-speed broadband internet in the Commonwealth
 
September 24 – 9 a.m. – Senate Judiciary Committee
September 25 – 1 p.m. – Senate Judiciary Committee
Hearing Room 1, North Office Building
Public hearing on behavioral health, second amendment rights, and other gun related issues
 
September 26 – 10 a.m. - House Democratic and Republican Policy Committees
Huntingdon County Career & Technical Education Center, 11893 Technology Drive, Mill Creek
Joint hearing on rural broadband accomplishments
 
Advocacy Update: IDEA Funding…
 
One of the most expensive items in every district’s budget is special education. When the IDEA law was passed in 1975, it was passed with congressional intent to cover up to 40% of the costs of programs and services with federal dollars. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Federal funding has never gone beyond 18% and currently hovers around 14% annually, leaving the majority of the cost of funding special education programs and services to states and local districts.
 
When Pennsylvania changed its funding system for special education from an “excess-cost” system [costs above the average cost for regular education students] and moved to a formula system that exempted the state from covering excess costs, the financial burden increasingly fell on local taxpayers. Costs, meanwhile, continued to rise. While total school enrollment has dropped over 2.5% since 2010, the number of students who qualify for special education has increased by over 2%. (data from PSBA)  In addition, state funding for special education has increased only moderately over many years, sometimes not even at the rate of inflation.  And those moderate increases, along with low levels of federal funding, increasing costs of providing services and programs for increasingly high-need students in a “least restrictive environment” (technology, aides, specialized services, professional development, etc.), and the high cost of charter and cyber charter special education tuition charged to school districts have placed a higher burden on local taxpayers.
 
AASA, The School Superintendents Association® reports that this year there are bipartisan IDEA Full Funding bills in both the House and Senate. Both bills would restore federal funding for special education to 40% over a span of ten years, the percentage initially promised. While, these bills won’t get a lot of attention this year, they do provide a pressure point in our annual appropriations process to make sure we are protected in FY20 conversations. AASA recommends that, when possible, talk or write to your senators and congressman about the impact of IDEA under-funding on your district. How many local dollars do you have to use to cover the federal shortfall? If IDEA were more fully funded, what would you be able to do with the freed up local dollars? 
 
Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr. [D-PA] has signed on to the IDEA Full Funding Act (S 866) in the Senate. Ask Sen. Toomey to do the same.
 
In the House, six Pennsylvania members have signed on to the IDEA Full Funding Act (H.R. 1878). They are: Rep. Brian K. Fitzpatrick* [R-PA-1], Rep. Brendan F. Boyle* [D-PA-2], Rep. Madeleine Dean [D-PA-4]Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon [D-PA-5], Rep. Chrissy Houlahan [D-PA-6], and Rep. Glenn Thompson* [R-PA-15] (*original co-sponsors). Last week Congressmen Fitzpatrick and Boyle led a six-county discussion of H.R. 1878 at William Tennent High School in Bucks County, an event sponsored by PSBA. Contact your House member to either thank them for support or urge them to sign on to the bill.
 
In National News…
 
Another Immigration Rule, More Concern for Schools – A new Trump administration rule regarding immigrants' use of federal benefits could have an indirect but significant impact on schools if it deters families from seeking assistance under certain programs, education advocates warn. Federal school meal programs or other K-12 benefits aren't on that list; the administration's Department of Homeland Security considered adding the Children's Health Insurance Program to that list, but ultimately did not. However, when the Trump administration was gathering feedback on public charge, school groups sounded the alarm. They said changing public charge in this way would lead significantly more immigrants, and by extension their children, to avoid participating in many benefit programs, such as CHIP, out of fear of a change in their immigration status, even if accessing those programs wouldn't impact the status of their visa or permanent residency. And that shift, in turn, would make many children increasingly reliant on school-based nutrition, health, and other services, putting a new stress on many public schools, the argument from those groups went. School groups have also said that the loss of federal benefits would hurt students' readiness to learn, in part because of this "chilling effect."  Read the rest of the story: “Schools Worry Over New Trump Rule on Immigrants and Federal Benefits” (from Education Week, 8/12/19).
 
Teen Access to News – It's not a surprise that teenagers are more likely to turn to online sources for news than they are to, say, an old-fashioned newspaper. But it turns out teenagers are also likely to avoid professional news altogether, and look to YouTube or other online influencers for information about current events, a survey released Tuesday by Common Sense Media found. Read the rest of the story: “Teens More Likely to Turn to YouTube for Current Events Than a News Organization, Survey Finds” (from Education Week, 8/14/19).
 
Across the Nation…
 
Kentucky: Posting the Motto – When Brittany Pike saw the back of a dollar bill framed at Lexington’s Athens Chilesburg Elementary School last week, she couldn’t have been more pleased. Pike took a photo and posted it on Facebook Wednesday along with this message about Fayette County Public Schools’ response to Kentucky’s new law that requires the national “In God We Trust” motto to be displayed prominently at schools: “This school year Kentucky began requiring schools to place “In God We Trust” in the building. I absolutely love living in a school district that wants to follow the law while also ensuring EVERY student feels welcomed back regardless of religious beliefs. Thank you so very much Fayette County Public Schools for simply posting a dollar with ‘In God We Trust.’ My kids don’t feel awkward or excluded for not believing in any God.” Read the rest of the story: “Kentucky District Meets 'In God We Trust' Mandate by Framing Dollar” (from Education Week, 8/15/19).
 
Oklahoma: Inquiry into a Profitable Charter School – Epic Charter Schools, which has no schoolhouse and serves pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students who attend online, has exploded in growth in the eight years since it launched and now boasts an enrollment that rivals the biggest districts in Oklahoma. Last year, the school reported more than 21,000 students and received nearly $113 million in state funding. But those numbers are now coming under scrutiny from state investigators who revealed last month they are looking into whether the school's two founders, David Chaney and Ben Harris, artificially inflated the number of students and pocketed millions of dollars illegally. Read the rest of the story: Oklahoma Latest to Grapple with Online School Problems” (from The New York Times, 8/12/19).
 
On the Calendar…
 
August 21         Research & Dev. Committee meeting (virtual)
Sept. 2              PASA office closed
Sept. 4              Professional Development Committee meeting (virtual)
Sept. 10            Technology Committee meeting (virtual)
                         School Construction Workshop (PASA office)
Sept. 12-13       Board of Governors’ meetings (PASA office)
Sept. 13            Elections Committee meeting (PASA office)

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