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Education Update

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

May 26, 2020

In Budget & Finance News...
 
Partial 2020-21 State Budget on the Table This Week Pennsylvania lawmakers are hoping to complete work on a partial year budget this week before the last month of the state’s 2019-20 fiscal year even begins. According to House and Senate Republicans and Democrats, the spending plan expected to be considered is intended to be a five-month temporary budget that keeps the state moving forward and allows time for the revenue picture to become clearer. According to multiple other sources, the proposal includes flat funding for all levels of education from preschool to colleges and universities for all of 2020-21, which undoubtedly will be helpful to school districts as they finalize their annual budgets next month. It also provides for full-year funding for food programs that have seen unprecedented demand as the state’s jobless benefit claims topped 2.1 million since March 15. Read the rest of the story: “Pa. Lawmakers Expected to Tackle Partial Year State Budget This Week” (from The Patriot-News, 5/26/20).
 
Approving a fiscal-year budget in two parts means that lawmakers would be crafting a second-part budget during a lame-duck session following the November election. As the Capitol remains closed to the public and many lawmakers are working and voting remotely, it is difficult to get information about either the budget or other legislation that could be considered during budget debate. For that reason, it is likely that, once a basic budget plan is reached, things will move quickly. Stay tuned…
 
Coronavirus Update…
 
List of Resources – PASA has set up a web page of links to resources concerning the Coronavirus and Pandemic Preparation. This includes a continually updated list of FAQs developed by PASA and seven other education associations in consultation with the PDE as a response to school leader questions and concerns, along with updated guidance from the PDE and USDE, and other important updates from the state and federal levels.
 
CARES Funding –
 
* More Pushback on USDE “Equitable Services” Guidance: Top Democrats for education in Congress told U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos last week that her guidance about federal coronavirus relief is way out of bounds and that she should abandon it. A letter sent last Wednesday to DeVos by the heads of two House education panels and a top member of the Senate education committee says that through that guidance, DeVos "seeks to repurpose hundreds-of-millions of taxpayer dollars intended for public school students to provide services for private school students, in contravention of both the plain reading of the statute and the intent of Congress." They also cite analyses provided by states about the amount and share of relief aid that would shift from public to private school students due to the guidance. "Given that the guidance contradicts the clear requirements of the CARES Act, it will cause confusion among States and [school districts] that will be uncertain of how to comply with both the Department's guidance and the plain language of the CARES Act," the letter says. It was accompanied by a press release that says the guidance is "robbing public schools of COVID-19 relief funding." Read the rest of the story: “Lawmakers Tell Betsy DeVos Her COVID-19 Guidance Is 'Robbing Public Schools'” (from Education Week, 5/20/20).
 
* Advocacy in Opposition to USDE Guidance on CARES Funding: AASA and the AFT recently released a statement criticizing the department’s interpretation of the CARES Act. Click here to read the complete statement. On May 7 PA Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera sent a letter to the USDE on this issue, questioning the department’s interpretation of the CARES Act and noting that the calculation favoring private schools is not in line with the intent of targeting funds to schools with high numbers of students in poverty, as is Title I funds. PASA likewise opposes the guidance as released. AASA has created a quick and concise template to assist school leaders in letting members of Congress see how the flawed interpretation's failure to calculate the private school share based on poverty results in a significant increase in private school allocations. Complete the template with your name, district name, and the percentage of your district's FY19 (2019-20 school year) Title I and Title II set-asides for equitable services. For information on how to submit your comments to Congress, please reach out to PASA or Chris Rogers at AASA (crogers@aasa.org.)
 
* Congress and CARES Money Distribution: The chairman of the U.S. Senate education committee says he has a different interpretation than the head of the U.S. Department of Education of how much federal coronavirus aid should be available to private school students. But Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., also said that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos might have the authority to try to direct the money in the manner she has, and indicated he might take another look at the issue. Later on Thursday, when asked about Alexander's response and whether she plan to revise or abandon the guidance, DeVos reiterated the department's position that CARES money is meant for all K-12 students who need assistance during the pandemic. She added that traditional public schools should "work together" with private schools to see what private school students need. In their latest relief bill that's not expected to become law, House Democrats included a provision that would overturn the guidance. Read the rest of the story: “Sen. Alexander Splits From Betsy DeVos on COVID-19 Aid to Help Private Schools” (from Education Week, 5/21/20).
 
Pennsylvania Legislation, Waivers and Policy - 
 
* Moving Toward Fewer Restrictions: Gov. Wolf last Friday announced that more counties will be moving into the “yellow” phase later this week, and some may soon move into the “green” phase, although the administration continues to call for precautionary measures and crowd restrictions even in those places.
 
* PDE Guidance on the Keystone Exams: Last week the PDE updated its guidance on the Keystone Exam waiver in 2019-20 and the impact on LEA practice. The update guidance addresses LEA use of the Keystones for graduation purposes, the impact on accountability data and the schedule for Keystones in 2020-21. Click here for information.
 
Federal Legislation, Waivers and Policy: From AASA –
 
AASA is partnering with Stand for Children and AFT for the recently launched Protect Public Education campaign, a way for school system leaders to both weigh in with Congress about the very real needs facing schools in light of the COVID pandemic and to help engage community members and parents in the dialogue and advocacy.

Students everywhere are falling behind due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly millions of students with special needs and the twelve million students who lack home internet access. While Educators are deeply committed to providing students the best possible education and support during the challenging year ahead, The painful truth is this: without more federal funding, public schools will have to cut teachers and staff at the worst possible time.

The House just passed the HEROES Act, a robust relief package with too little dedicated K-12 education funding to prevent layoffs and ensure digital learning is accessible for all students. The U.S. Senate needs to act as quickly as possible and do more, which is why superintendent and community member involvement is needed more than ever. With just one click, you can request that U.S. Senate leaders and your U.S. Senators pass a next COVID-19 relief package with the $200 billion in Education Stabilization funding needed to prevent layoffs and the $4 billion through the E-Rate program needed to ensure all students can learn from home. Please act now by clicking here.
 
Returning to School –
 
* School Districts & the Cost of COVID-19: The coronavirus is driving a steep and unprecedented increase in classroom costs that’s going to sweep through the nation’s school system as early as this fall. In total, America will need to spend $41 billion, or 5 percent, more next year to roll out remote learning, expand food service for a growing number of low-income students, and extend the school year to make up for lost days, according to a recent analysis by Michael Griffith, a senior school finance researcher and policy analyst for the Learning Policy Institute. Griffith has created an interactive tool to give an estimate of how much more money states will need next year to provide an adequate education in a post-COVID-19 world. Read the rest of the story: “How COVID-19 Will Balloon District Costs This Coming School Year” (from Education Week, 5/18/20).
 
* The High Cost of Reopening Schools: A growing number of school district leaders say they won’t be able to afford the extraordinary efforts required to safely reopen school buildings this fall. Instead, they are considering opening for a few days a week or, worst case scenario, waiting to reopen buildings until a vaccine is developed. Without another federal bailout in sight, most states’ lawmakers will reconvene over the next several weeks to cut billions of dollars out of school districts’ budgets for the 2020-21 school year to deal with a precipitous drop in sales and income tax revenue. Those cuts will prevent administrators from instituting the sort of health protocols that some medical professionals, teachers, and parents are demanding to further prevent the spread of the virus, including hiring more teachers and increasing bus routes to avoid student crowding, purchasing sufficient face masks and touchless thermometers, and installing protective barriers around teachers’ and office secretaries’ desks. Read the rest of the story: “Too Expensive to Re-Open Schools? Some Superintendents Say It Is” (from Education Week, 5/21/20).
 
* Wearing Face Masks When Schools Open: Face masks would become common, cafeterias would be closed to prevent crowding, and extracurricular activities would be cancelled in areas heavily affected by the coronavirus, if schools adhere to new and long-awaited guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on reopening schools. The guidance includes recommendations that could alter nearly every part of the school day, from bus rides to recess. And it could present major challenges to educators returning after a long period of remote learning. The agency quietly posted the document this week after education groups complained that federal agencies had not provided enough clarity about how to safely operate schools during the pandemic. It comes as many states have already started the massive task of planning to reopen schools that were shuttered to contain the illness. Some states are assembling task forces to make plans for both academic and logistical issues associated with starting the new school year. Read the rest of the story: “When Schools Reopen, All Staff Should Wear Masks, New CDC Guidance Says” (from Education Week, 5/20/20).
 
Free Webinar: Student Mental Health…
 
Effective School Solutions, a PASA Business-Level Sponsor, is offering a free one-hour webinar on May 28 to Pennsylvania superintendents from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m. “COVID-19 and Student Mental Health: Reacting to the Present, Planning for the Future” will focus on best practices in supporting the mental health of students during school closures and in preparing for the mental health realities of the post-closure environment. Topics include: the relationship between COVID-19 and mental health; best practices for supporting students during school closures; the importance of building a mental health continuum in a post-closure environment; the concept of “blended” mental health; and self-funding mental health initiatives during a time of budget uncertainty. Click here to register.
 
In State News…
 
Charter School Embezzling Case – Federal officials have charged a top official of a midstate charter school with embezzling more than $61,000. According to filings in U.S. Middle District Court, Eliseo Sierra, operations manager for the Lincoln Charter School in York, already has struck a tentative deal to plead guilty in return for a pledge by prosecutors to recommend a probationary sentence. Sierra is accused of stealing money the school received from the U.S. Department of Education in 2014. His plea deal calls for him to plead guilty to a charge of federal program theft and to pay $61,337 in restitution. Read the rest of the story: “Central Pa. Charter School Official Charged with Stealing More Than $60K in Federal Funds” (from The Patriot-News, 5/20/20).
 
Chester Upland and Charter Schools – A Delaware County judge has directed the struggling Chester Upland School District to move forward with proposals to outsource the management of its schools — a step that could lead to the entire district being turned over to charter operators. The order, issued Thursday by Judge Barry Dozor, opened the door to what could be one of the widest expansions in Pennsylvania of charter schools, which are independently run but publicly funded. It also drew protests from advocates of traditional public education, who said such a step would further deplete district resources and lacked adequate accountability measures. “The last thing that students in the Chester Upland School District need is an expansion of charter schools that will drain more resources from their neighborhood public schools,” said Chris Lilienthal, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the union that represents district teachers. Read the rest of the story: Judge says Chester Upland Can Consider Possible Takeover by Charter Schools” (from The Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/19/20).
 
Activity in the PA Legislature…
 
Session Schedule – This is likely to be a busy week in Harrisburg, as both the House and Senate are in session, a change from the posted schedule last week, which had the Senate in recess. As noted above, developing and finalizing a five-month state budget is likely the focus this week (and possibly next week) in both chambers.
 
Last Week’s Legislative Action –
 
* HB 703: School Board Emails; passed by the House, 200-2. The bill requires email addresses of local school board members to be posted on their district’s website. The bill was amended to require similar publication for members of the board of trustees of charter schools.
 
* HB 1076: Senior Volunteers and Property Tax; signed into law as Act 20 of 2020. The bill would allow school districts to establish a program benefitting taxpayers 60 years or older who provide volunteer service to the school district by granting a reduction in their property taxes. The volunteer services provided by participants in the program could not replace or supplant existing job positions, and districts would be permitted to seek private and public funding sources to support the program.
 
HB 2460: Tax Penalties; amended and approved unanimously by the House Finance Committee. The bill extends filing deadlines for Pennsylvanians who pay school property taxes. The discount period would be extended by one month to September 30, and the face amount period would be extended to December 31, 2020. 
 
This Week’s Floor Calendar – Beyond budget bills, a number of education-related bills are pending consideration in both the House and Senate, although it is unclear which ones, if any, will be considered this week. 
 
Pending in the House:
* On Second Consideration: HB 434 (cultural competence training), HB 785 (employee rights notification), HB 1800 (Speaker Turzai’s voucher bill), HB 1881 (school police officers), HB 2431 (school property tax freeze) and HB 2460 (school property tax deadline extensions)
* On Third Consideration: HB 1316 (limits on state spending)
 
Pending in the Senate:
* On Third Consideration: HB 355 (charter school “reform”), HB 494 (bidding and contracts) and SB 530 (student suspensions)
 
This Week’s House Committee Schedule –

Wednesday, May 27
 
* House Finance Committee
9:30 a.m., Room 205, Ryan Office Building
To consider HB 2519 (Amusement Tax). The bill would forbid any school district or municipality from levying, assessing or collecting an amusement or admission tax under the Local Tax Enabling Act for two years.
 
* House Local Government
10:00 a.m., Room G-50, Irvis Office Building
To consider HB 2536 (Tax Anticipation Notes). The bill would give taxing authorities longer than one year to pay back their tax anticipation loans.
 
Thursday, May 28
 
* House Education Committee
1:00 p.m., Room G-50, Irvis Office Building
Informational meeting to discuss plans to safely reopen schools in the fall due to COVID-19. PASA will be participating in this meeting.
 
In National News…
 
Rehearing a Right-to-Literacy Case – A full federal appeals court last Monday set aside April’s groundbreaking decision by a panel of that same court that found a U.S. constitutional right to a basic minimum education guaranteeing access to literacy, and it will hear new arguments in the case. The order by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, was brief but loaded with implications for the 2-1 ruling by a panel that sided with Detroit schoolchildren whose lawsuit challenged deplorable conditions stemming from a long period of control of the city's school system by the state of Michigan. "A majority of the judges of this court in regular active service has voted for rehearing en banc" of the case known as Gary B. v. Whitmerthe order says. "Accordingly, it is ordered, that the previous decision and judgment of this court are vacated, the mandates are stayed, and these cases are restored to the docket as pending appeals." Read the rest of the story: “Full Federal Appeals Court to Reconsider Ruling on Right of Access to Literacy” (from Education Week, 5/19/20).
 
On the PASA Calendar…
 
June 9….…..PASA Webinar: Building Student Resilience from the Inside Out       
June 23 ……PASA Webinar: A Community Commitment to School Safety
June 24…….AASA/PASA National Supt. Certification Program (a.m. - virtual)
June 25….…AASA/PASA National Supt. Certification Program (a.m. - virtual)

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