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Education Update

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

October 14, 2019

In Budget & Finance News…
 
Growing School Lunch Debt  At the end of last school year, taxpayers paid off nearly $30,000 in meal debt that Quakertown students racked up. The unpaid meals were considered bad debt, and covered with money in the district’s general fund budget. That’s why the school board is considering a drastic measure that some other area districts have already taken—a policy that would send any student’s unpaid meal debt to a collection agency when the balance exceeds $1,000. Under the proposal, Quakertown students could be prevented from participating in events like school dances and graduation ceremonies. Pennsylvania banned lunch shaming a year after a cafeteria worker in a Western Pennsylvania district did not follow the school’s policy of refusing a hot meal to a student who had more than $25 in lunch debt. The story made national news. Experts say the practice of lunch shaming stigmatizes children and places blame on them for their parents being unable or to refusing to pay meals. That’s why districts point to the law change for the increase in meal debt. Four years ago, Northampton Area’s debt was under $6,000. At the end of the 2018-19 school year, the district was almost $30,000 in the red for unpaid meals. Read the rest of the story: “Soaring School Lunch Debts Driving Pennsylvania Districts to Collection Agencies” (from The Morning Call, as published in Education Week, 10/11/19).
 
In Charter Schools News…
 
Encouraging More Charter Schools – Private consultants will work with charter school networks to assist in opening more of the publicly funded, independently managed schools in economically distressed areas under a plan announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos last Thursday. Investors who build in those areas—identified as Opportunity Zones under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by President Donald Trump in 2017—qualify for the use of an investment vehicle called an Opportunity Fund, allowiing them to defer taxes on capital gains by investing them in projects in those zones instead. And investors could potentially avoid taxes for profits they make within opportunity zones altogether. DeVos already made locating within an Opportunity Zone part of the education department's priorities for competitive grants, which could be directed toward charter schools. The department awarded nearly $4 million in new funding to applicants serving Opportunity Zones in 2019, after giving the projects within the zones priority in two of its Charter Schools Program grant competitions, the agency said. Read the rest of the story: “DeVos Announces Plan to Encourage More Charter Schools in Opportunity Zones” (from Education Week, 10/10/19).
 
Charter Schools and Accountability – Charter school advocates have long argued that one reason that charters don’t need much formal government oversight is that they are subject to a greater accountability, that they must answer to parents who can “vote with their feet.” But the feet of charter parents don’t exert very much pressure. The vast majority of charter school operators have nothing in common with phone scammers, but the same basic market principle applies. A charter school doesn’t need to corner a market; it needs to attract just enough customers to keep the business going. Out of the large pool of possible students, it only needs a bucketful. It can even afford to push some potential customers away–to encourage them to vote with their feet–in order to make space for a customer who’s more to its liking. it doesn’t need to adjust its business model or shift its pitch to appeal to everyone. Yes, a charter that wanders seriously, disastrously into the weeds might manage to put itself out of business, but in some cases even flagrantly bad charters have pulled in enough loyal customers to keep going. Read the rest of the story: “Why Market Forces Will Not Provide Charter School Accountability” (from Forbes, 10/10/19).
 
In Legislative News…
 
Session Schedule – Today state government is closed for Columbus Day. Both the House and Senate are in recess until next Monday, October 21.
 
Scheduled Committee Meetings –
 
October 18: 10 a.m. – House Democratic Policy Committee
Lionville YMCA, 100 Devon Drive, Exton
Public Hearing with Rep. Danielle Friel on Youth Mental Health
 
October 28: 11 a.m. – House Education Committee
Room G-50, Irvis Office Building
Public hearing on: SB 751 and HB 1607 (educator evaluation reform)
PASA will testify at this hearing.
 
From the PDE…
 
Mandatory Training on Fiscal Verification – The US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has oversight of states’ compliance with federal special education regulations and requirements, which includes a fiscal verification review. Part of that fiscal verification includes a review of the use of funds for coordinated early intervening services, maintenance of effort, and general use of federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part B (IDEA-B) funds.
 
To assist local education agencies (LEA) with these components of the federal on-site visits, the PDE is providing training to familiarize special education directors and business administrators with clarifying information. This training will address three topics: IDEA Fiscal Programming, Contingency Funding, and Approved Private School Electronic Management System (new enrollment system for Approved Private Schools/Chartered Schools for the Blind and Deaf). 
 
Each school district and charter school is required to send participants to this training.  Because the training is highlighting the fiscal program data verifications associated with the IDEA-B fiscal reporting requirements, it is strongly recommended that the participants representing your LEA be your special education director and business administrator.  If a school district or charter school contracts for business services, its contracted business representative should attend as well.
 
This training will be held on the following dates:
Sept. 25: 9-12, PaTTAN East (Malvern)
Oct. 8: 9-12, PaTTAN Central (Harrisburg)
Oct. 15: 1-4, I.U. 20 (Easton)
Oct. 16: 9-12, I.U. 29 (Pottsville)
Oct. 28: 12:30-3:30, PaTTAN West (Pittsburgh)
Oct. 29: 9-12, I.U. 4 (Grove City)
Oct. 31: 9-12, I.U. 26 (Philadelphia)
 
Please register at www.pattan.net for the training sessions. Questions regarding the fiscal training should be directed to Dr. Del Hart, Chief, Division of Analysis & Financial Reporting, at (717) 772-1114 or dehart@pa.gov.  Questions about registration should be directed to Sharon Kennedy at PaTTAN-Harrisburg at (717) 901-2265, (800) 360-7282 (in PA only), or skennedy@pattan.net.
 
Competitive Equipment Grant Applications – Applications for the Career and Technical Education Equipment Grants are now being accepted. Approximately $1.2 million in competitive state funds are available for the purchase of equipment to enhance the hands-on training of students in approved career and technical education programs.  Programs must also be aligned to national or state industry certifications, and national or state industry standards. Each grant will be awarded on a matching basis, one state dollar for every local dollar. Click here for the Career and Technical Education Equipment Grant guidelines. Deadline for applications is November 8, 2019 at 5 p.m. Questions should be directed to Monique Burton at moburton@pa.gov or (717) 346-3188.
 
In National News…
 
Interoperability Toolkit for Administrators – Interoperability — the ability of disparate computer systems to seamlessly share information and integrate their capabilities with one another — is of critical importance for educators interested in operating effective and cost-efficient K-12 learning institutions. To this end, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) released an interoperability toolkit last week that bundles past resources created by the nonprofit group and also includes a couple new ones. The toolkit contains a quiz that allows institutions to self-assess their own systems’ interoperability, a calculator to estimate the costs associated with systems that don’t work well together, documentation on interoperability standards, case studies, language for drafting procurement documents that keep interoperability in mind and communication tools for opening discussions about interoperability with school administrators who may not have the technical expertise needed to understand the full importance of the issue. (from EdScoop)
 
Changing Attitudes – Teach For America alumni are more likely to attribute differences in student outcomes to societal inequities and less likely to support vouchers and charter schools than applicants to the program who didn't make the final cut, a new study finds. Researchers surveyed more than 19,000 TFA applicants for the 2007-15 cohorts. They compared the responses of applicants who scored just above the cutoff point used to admit candidates with those who made it to the final round of admissions but were not admitted. "The idea is that since candidates on either side of the admissions cutoff are likely to hold similar incoming beliefs, this approach allows for a rigorous, non-biased estimation of the impact of TFA participation itself," said the study, which was published in the journal Education Next.” Read the rest of the story: “Here's What Teach For America Alumni Believe About Charters, Vouchers, and Societal Inequities” (from Education Week, 10/8/19).
 
ESSA: Spending Accountability – For decades, "per-pupil spending" has been the public's main lens on how $700 billion in K-12 funding gets spread around at the school district level. But experts have long argued the yardstick does little to illuminate districts' academic and financial priorities or spending inequities. The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in 2015, requires states for the first time to break out how much districts spend on each school. Advocates hope such detailed data will revolutionize the public's understanding of K-12 finance and drive academic- and fiscal-policy shifts at the state, federal, and local levels. It could also land like a dud and confuse the public even more about how taxpayers' dollars are distributed. Either way, the flood of new district spending data is coming. It's become apparent, though, that as with other kinds of data dumps—such as the competing array of student-test scores and -performance rankings—school spending numbers can be misinterpreted or even exploited to serve particular policy agendas. With all that in mind, here's a guide to what ESSA's new data-reporting mandate means for different players in the education community. Read the rest of the story: “Your Guide to ESSA's New School-by-School Spending Mandate” (from Education Week, 10/8/19).
 
Across the Nation…
 
Changing Teacher Evaluation Policies – It has been a decade since researchers declared that nearly all teachers were rated satisfactory in evaluations, and advocates began pushing to toughen evaluations to try to improve student achievement. States went whole hog on teacher-evaluation reform, and many incorporated student test scores into educators' ratings. But in recent years, the tide has shifted. Since 2015, 30 states have walked back one or more of their teacher-evaluation reforms, according to a new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based group that is in favor of measuring teacher effectiveness through objective data like test scores. The most significant change involved student test scores. In 2009, only 15 states required student-growth data in teacher evaluations, but by 2015, that number increased to 43 states. However, including student-growth measures, especially standardized test scores, was controversial among educators. Teachers' unions have raised concerns that some of the factors that go into student test scores are beyond teachers' control. Read the rest of the story: “Most States Have Walked Back Tough Teacher-Evaluation Policies, Report Finds” (from Education Week, 10/8/19).
 
New York: Teacher Evaluation Changes – New York State’s controversial system of evaluating teachers based largely on computer-generated student “growth” scores formally ended Tuesday, with the adoption of a new process giving local school districts and their unions greater control over job ratings. Under the new system, approved unanimously by the state Board of Regents, about half of teachers’ ratings will continue to depend on students’ test performance, with the other half based on classroom observations by principals and other supervisors. However, local districts for the first time will be empowered to choose the testing criteria, rather than leaving that decision to Albany. Read the rest of the story: “New York Board of Regents Gives Districts, Unions Greater Control Over Teacher Evaluations” (from Education Week, 10/9/19).
 
On the Calendar…
 
Oct. 16-18         PASA/PSBA School Leadership Conference (Hershey)
Oct. 16              PASA Recognition Luncheon (Hershey)
Oct. 23              Webinar: Employee Ethics Act
Nov. 6-7             Session 1: AASA/PASA National Superintendent Certification Program (PASA office)
Nov. 12              Women’s Caucus Board meeting (virtual)
                          Women’s Caucus SE Region dinner (King of Prussia)

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