Below is the current Education Update. Click here for a list of other recent updates.
January 27, 2020
In Budget & Finance News…
Equity in Education– In a column published on The Hechinger Report, Andre Perry states that, “When it comes to education spending, middle-income Americans typically don’t put their money where their mouth is. How often do we hear politicians and parents wax poetic about education being the great equalizer? Yet they do nothing about lopsided budgets that favor wealthier districts.” Noting that “An oft-cited education-finance report, published last year by the nonprofit EdBuild, found that predominantly white school districts received $23 billion more in funding in the 2015-16 school year than districts that serve mostly students of color,” Perry goes on to say, “It’s impossible for education to be an equalizer if budgets don’t meet every kid’s needs. School districts rely heavily on the revenue that comes from local property taxes, creating funding disparities between rich and poor districts. Since race and income are highly correlated due to the pervasive discrimination that has blighted this nation’s history, whiter districts receive more money than majority-minority districts.” Read the rest of the story: “Education Can Be the Great Equalizer, But It Isn’t Yet” (1/16/20).
In Charter School & Voucher News…
Supreme Court Case Weighs Tuition Grants for Religious Schools – The U.S. Supreme Court heard an intense hour of arguments last Wednesday in one of the most significant K-12 education cases in years, with conservative justices suggesting they were inclined to rule for parents who seek to reinstate a Montana tax credit funding scholarships for use at religious schools. "Why isn't this excluding religious people, telling them that they're not entitled to equal treatment under the Constitution," said Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh in hearing the arguments on Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue (Case No. 18-1195). "Why isn't that a straight violation of the Trinity Lutheran principle?" Kavanaugh referred to a 2017 decision, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer, before he joined the court. The court ruled 7-2 in that case that Missouri had violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of free exercise of religion when it denied a church participation in a state program to improve the safety of playgrounds. But several liberal members of the court questioned whether there was still a valid case because the entire Montana tax credit program had been struck down, so no scholarships were flowing to religious or secular private schools. "There is no discrimination going on at this point, is there?" Justice Elena Kagan said. "Whether you go to a religious school or you go to a secular private school, you're in the same boat at this point." Read the rest of the story: “In Arguments, U.S. Supreme Court Leans Toward Support for Religious School Aid” (from Education Week, 1/22/20).
Segregation Strategies: Charters and Vouchers – Steve Suitts was the founding director of the Alabama Civil Liberties Union, the executive director of the Southern Regional Council, and the executive producer and writer of the Peabody-winning public radio series Will the Circle Be Unbroken, about the Southern civil rights movement. His new book, due out in just a couple of weeks, is Overturning Brown. In this slim but heavily researched volume, Suitts shows the parallels between the current school choice movement and the segregationists of the not-so-distant past. The echoes are striking, and perhaps not as well known as they should be. For many Americans, Suitts observes, “segregationist” calls up images of men like George Wallace and Bull Connor, the hard-bitten whites who stood in the school door and declared, “No, not one.” But Suitts reminds us that there were other segregationists whose efforts were more “sophisticated, self-aware, and nuanced” than the extreme versions of racism who lit up U.S. TV screens, and in many cases, it was their more subtle approaches that shaped the attempts to undo Brown v. Board of Education. These segregationists developed strategies and language that are strikingly familiar. Seven Southern states developed voucher programs, aimed mostly at creating three parallel systems of white, black and segregated schools. Various school choice programs were promoted without ever discussing segregation or even race, but by focusing on “freedom” and the necessity for parents to choose their own child’s educational setting. South Carolina’s governor argued that competition would help schools improve. Georgia enacted tuition tax credits, an early version of Betsy DeVos’s Education Freedom vouchers, in 1958. In 1964, a Mississippi defender of segregation stopped talking about “states’ rights” to segregate and started speaking out against the “monopoly” of “government schools.” Read the rest of the story: “Suitts: Overturning Brown And The Segregationist Legacy Of The Modern School Choice Movement” (from Forbes, 1/20/20).
Making Choice Decisions – Give parents choice, and they’ll flock to the best schools. Those schools will then flourish, either forcing poorly performing ones to improve or edging them out entirely. The idea is appealing in its simplicity: Introduce competition into public education, and market pressure will improve schools more efficiently than the government ever could. There’s also a compelling moral component to school choice: Freeing families from their zoned neighborhood schools can give low-income kids immediate access to higher-quality schools. School choice, many advocates argue, is not just a policy, it’s a right. These ideas are the pillars of the school choice movement. And they have been raised repeatedly by none other than the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. But parents don’t necessarily pick schools for their academic performance. And if school quality is not driving parent choice, what is? Sometimes it’s practical considerations, such as location. While there may be a better school across town, a family may not be able to realistically get there. Then, there are the ways that the brain processes information, and how that subconsciously drives our actions. The reality is, parents—like all people—often do not make decisions with the cool, calculated rationality policymakers and academics may expect. They often react to the world and systems around them in surprising and less than optimal ways. Read the rest of the story: “Why Don't Parents Always Choose the Best Schools?” (from Education Week, 1/7/20).
In School Health and Safety News…
Funding for School Buildings with Environmental Problems – With budget season approaching, Gov. Tom Wolf's administration is developing a plan to help deal with aging school buildings plagued by environmental problems, including lead paint and asbestos insulation, his office said. Wolf must deliver a budget proposal to the Legislature on Feb. 4, and lawmakers who are pressing for state aid to address what they call a massive and growing problem have asked the Democratic governor to include money in the spending package. Wolf has discussed the need in the past, saying that a sprawling infrastructure plan he floated last year could have been a source of help. But that plan — a $4.5 billion infrastructure proposal to be paid off by imposing a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production — never saw a vote in the Republican-controlled Legislature, and Wolf's office said he will try a new strategy to deal with deteriorating school buildings. Read the rest of the story: “Governor to Seek School Construction Aid Amid Health Issues” (from an AP article published on usnews.com, 1/24/20).
Availability of Mental Health Services – Black, Hispanic, and rural students have a harder time getting mental health support in school, according to a new survey of thousands of students who took the ACT. Even in schools that offer mental health services, students are not always aware they are there. These findings come from the latest study in a series produced by ACT, the nonprofit group that administers the college admissions test, to learn more about students' perceptions on safety and mental health support in their schools. While nearly all students, 97 percent, reported that there was either a nurse, counselor, or social worker at their school, far fewer, 67 percent of students, said the people in those positions were available for helping students deal with basic mental health issues. Read the rest of the story: “Mental Health in Schools: Black and Hispanic Students Say They Have Less Support” (from Education Week, 1/23/20).
Egrant Availability for Training System – The School Safety and Security Committee (SSSC) established within the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and delinquency has announced the availability of up to $721,086 in federal funds to support the development and delivery of a comprehensive, evidence-based threat assessment curricula tailored for K-12 multidisciplinary teams, utilizing a train-the-trainer approach to increase capacity and promote sustainability. Funding also will support the delivery of technical assistance for school districts seeking to establish or enhance multidisciplinary threat assessment teams, in compliance with newly-enacted states mandates (Act 18 of 2019). The “Pennsylvania K-12 Threat Assessment Technical Assistance and Training Network” solicitation is open to non-profit organizations, institutions of higher education (not-for-profit) and for-profit organizations. Click here for information.
National Safety Standards – The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) is leading a new effort to create the first-ever national set of best practices for preventing school violence. The goal is to create an accessible and easy-to-use guide and curriculum for districts, and training for district and school leaders to put those practices into place locally. The organization recently got a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department to develop the violence-prevention protocol for K-12 schools. The Alabama-based NASRO is partnering with the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado, Boulder; the National Police Foundation; Safe and Sound Schools; and the "I Love U Guys" Foundation. It is forming an advisory group that will include teachers, principals, and school mental health professionals. "If we can create more consistency in how schools and districts prepare for and try to prevent violence from occurring, I think that's a pretty big accomplishment," said Mo Canady, NASRO's executive director. Read the rest of the story: “Stopping Violence in Schools: Effort to Create National Guidelines Underway” (from Education Week, 1/24/20).
In Legislative News…
Session Schedule – Only the Senate is in sessions this week (Jan. 27-29). Both chambers will be in session for three days in early February, as Gov. Wolf unveils his 2020-21 state budget plan on Feb. 4 before a joint session of the legislature. That will be followed by six weeks of House and Senate appropriations committee hearings on the budget.
Hearing on Cyber Education – Dr. Eric Eshbach, superintendent of the Northern York County SD and chairman of the PASA Legislative Committee, testified last Tuesday before the House Education Committee on cyber education and HB 1897. The bill, introduced by committee chairman Curt Sonney, would require all school districts to create a cyber learning program by the start of the 2021-22 school year and would dissolve all current cyber charter schools at the end of the 2020-21 school year. PASA is supporting this bill.
“While we realize this will be a significant change to the cyber learning industry in Pennsylvania, a change that will require school districts and current cyber charter schools to reorganize their cyber learning responsibilities and services, we believe it has the potential to be a positive change for students and families,” Eshbach said.
“Neither PASA nor a large majority of its members have ever been opposed to the concept of on-line or blended learning and, in fact, have utilized such methods to obtain and maintain the credentials required of all public school administrators. We have, however, continually questioned the accountability, transparency, and fiduciary responsibilities of the current laws guiding cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania…. PASA believes this will result in significant savings to school districts and taxpayers as most districts and consortiums operate their cyber learning programs at approximately half the cost of what is currently paid by districts for cyber charter school tuition,” he said.
Click here to read the testimony.
In Last Week’s Bill Action –
* HB 283: Right-to-Know Fees; passed by the House, 177-15. The bill amends the Right-to-Know Law to allow a public entity to charge an additional standard fee for a request for records that will be used for a commercial purpose. The bill would provide an exclusion for journalists, non-commercial scientific institutions, and nonprofit educational institutions.
Committee Calendar –
Monday, Jan. 27
Senate Appropriations Committee (meeting off the floor) to consider SB 462. The bill repeals outdated provisions of the School Code.
Tuesday, Feb. 18
Senate Appropriations Committee: 10:00 a.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building
Budget Hearing: Independent Fiscal Office
House Appropriations Committee: 1:00 p.m., Room 140, Main Capitol
Budget Hearing: Independent Fiscal Office
Thursday, Feb. 27
Senate Appropriations Committee: Budget Hearings, Hearing Room 1, North Office Building
10:00 a.m. - Department of Education
3:00 p.m. - Department of Community & Economic Development (manages EITC program)
Monday, March 2
House Appropriations Committee: Budget Hearings, Room 140, Main Capitol
10:00 a.m. - Department of Education
1:00 p.m. - Department of Education (continued)
Turzai Leaving the House – Last week Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) announced he will not seek re-election in 2020 for another term. Turzai, a strong proponent of low taxes, the natural gas industry, charter schools, vouchers and restrictions on abortion, joins a growing group of House members who have indicated they will not seek re-election. Others to-date include: Stephen Barrar (R-Delaware), Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks), Cris Dush (R-Jefferson), Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), Neal Goodman (D-Schuylkill), Marci Hahn (R-Northampton), Mark Keller (R-Perry), Bill Kortz (D-Allegheny), Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery), Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery), Harry Readshaw (D-Allegheny), Justin Simmons (R-Northampton), Mike Tobash (R-Schuylkill) and Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery).
In State News…
Reminder about PIL Requirements – The PDE is reminding school superintendents to ensure that their administrative staff subject to PIL/Act 45 requirements are aware of the law and consequences of failing to fulfil the requirements. Click here for a summary of Act 45 Continuing Professional Education Requirements. Click here for a summary of Act 45 Principal Induction Requirements.
In National News…
2020 Quality Counts Report – The nation faces persistent challenges amid marginal progress when it comes to assuring that school systems and socioeconomic factors provide all children with bright prospects over the course of a lifetime, the latest analysis of federal data by the EdWeek Research Center shows. Based on 13 cradle-to-career indicators that make up Education Week's annual Chance-for-Success Index, the nation receives a grade of C-plus on this year's tally, with a score of 79.2 out of 100 possible points, up 0.2 points over last year's result. It's the 13th straight year of C-level grades when all indicators are factored together. Massachusetts (91.3) leads the nation, with the only A-minus. It's followed by five states at B-plus: New Jersey (89.1), Connecticut (88.0), Vermont (87.7), Minnesota (87.5), and New Hampshire (87.1). Pennsylvania ranked a B. Also, cnsistency is the exception, not the rule: Most states earn higher scores on some measures and lower ratings on others. Roughly half the states finish with grades between C-minus and C-plus. Read the rest of the story: “Nation Shows Scant Progress in Assuring Bright Prospects for All Students” (from Education Week, 1/21/20).
On the Calendar…
Jan. 29 PASA Webinar: Six Critical Components of a Trauma-Informed School
Jan. 31 Aspiring to Leadership Workshop (PASA office)
Feb. 6 Commonwealth Budget Seminar (Pittsburgh)
Feb. 7 Commonwealth Budget Seminar (Riverview I.U. 6)
Feb. 12 Commonwealth Budget Seminar (webinar)
Feb. 13-15 AASA National Conference on Education (San Diego)
(pdf for printing)