Thursday, June 30, 2011

SB 330 and budget update 6/30/11 5:00 pm

Here's a late afternoon update; they are still haggling over SB330, the Act 1 exceptions elimination bill

Republicans battle over school-tax bill as Pennsylvania budget remains unsigned

Published: Thursday, June 30, 2011, 3:40 PM     Updated: Thursday, June 30, 2011, 3:48 PM
As lawmakers scrambled to finish up a package of budget bills Thursday, an 11th-hour dispute erupted among senior Republican lawmakers and fellow Republican Gov. Tom Corbett over a bill to further limit the ability of school boards to raise property taxes.
Signing the bill is a priority of Corbett's before the Republican-controlled Legislature closes session and lawmakers leave Harrisburg for their traditional two-month summer break.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said the sides were trying to iron out a disagreement over a key bill that the House was poised to send to the Senate today. But one of the changes in an amendment added to the bill by the House late Wednesday night caused ripples with Senate Republicans.
The amended bill would eliminate most existing exemptions from a so-called "back-end" referendum requirement for certain school property tax increases that exceed a rate similar to inflation. But it also would place too many restrictions on districts that have construction debt or need to erect new school buildings, Scarnati said.

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Eleventh-Hour Voucher Plan Dies For Lack of Support

Eleventh-Hour Voucher Plan Dies For Lack of Support
(PSBA -Wednesday evening, June 29) -- Thanks to your calls and email, the last-minute push from Gov. Corbett and Senate Republicans to run a voucher bill will not happen prior to the General Assembly’s summer recess.  Hundreds of calls and emails flooded Capitol offices on Wednesday morning and afternoon, and with no clear agreement reached, the “compromise deal” sought by Corbett and Senate Republican leadership will not be finalized in time for a vote before the summer break. 

Budget goes to Corbett

House approves first on-time state budget in eight years, but work is left to do.

10:43 p.m. EDT, June 29, 2011
The Pennsylvania Legislature has sent Gov. Tom Corbett the first on-time state budget in eight years, though a last-minute push to legalize school vouchers stalled.

Tea Party Finds Power Leads to Policy Splits

New York Times, By KATE ZERNIKE Published: June 28, 2011
HARRISBURG, Pa. — When Tea Party groups celebrated their victories here in November — they had helped take the governor’s office and the legislature — it seemed that one of their priorities, school choice legislation, would have an easy time passing.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fwd: Education Chair Issues Statement on School Choice Legislation

For Immediate Release
June 29, 2011

Education Chair Issues Statement on School Choice Legislation

HARRISBURG – Senator Jeffrey E. Piccola (R-15), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, issued the following statement today regarding school choice legislation.
"I am extremely disappointed that a comprehensive compromise proposal including school vouchers, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, and charter schools did not cross the finish line this month.  The school children of Pennsylvania and their parents have lost out, not to mention the taxpayers.  Kids trapped in failing schools remain trapped; parents who wish to make educational choices for their children largely remain without assistance.  The monopoly system of public education – good, bad, or indifferent and expensive remains in place.
"As we approach these last days in June, the Senate at the request of the Governor made a comprehensive, balanced and fair proposal to the House including many components of which we thought they had an interest.  Unfortunately, the House was unable or unwilling to engage in any meaningful discussions to finalize this proposal.
"This is a lost opportunity to fundamentally change the Commonwealth's approach to education.  We are aiming to implement proven methods to enhance academic achievement for all students.  While it will be more difficult, I stand ready to work on this issue in the future.  Over the last several months, House leaders and some in the Governor's administration have said this is an issue to address in the Fall 2011.  I am ready but it is clearly the responsibility of the Governor if this remains on his agenda to define the parameters, initiate the process and drive that process to a successful conclusion."


Gov. Tom Corbett links state budget to school tax decisions
Published: Tuesday, June 28, 2011, 2:49 PM
Patriot News By The Associated Press 

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said today that passage of a bill to limit the ability of school boards to raise property taxes was "crucial" to the state budget under consideration in the Legislature.

He also said his staff has been working behind the scenes on a proposal to make it easier for parents to take their children out of the public schools they currently attend and send them to private or other public schools. "We'd like to see this bill passed before we adjourn for the summer," he told reporters, shortly after signing a bill that changed how liability is apportioned in civil negligence lawsuits.

Posted on Wed, Jun. 29, 2011

Despite state aid, ax falls hard on Chester Upland

$9.6 million helps, yet the district still laid off 40 percent of its staff, including 150 teachers.

By Dan Hardy Inquirer Staff Writer
A last-minute infusion of state education funds for the financially drowning Chester Upland School District might have averted the worst-case situation for students, but for now, at least, the district has laid off more than 40 percent of its total staff.

Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 06/29/2011

How Walton Foundation spent $157 million on ed reform (in D.C. and other places)

Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss

Teacher Grades: Pass or Be Fired

New York Times By SAM DILLON, Published: June 27, 2011
165 Washington teachers were fired last year based on a pioneering evaluation system that places significant emphasis on classroom observations; next month, 200 to 600 of the city's 4,200 educators are expected to get similar bad news, in the nation's highest rate of dismissal for poor performance.
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Wednesday June 29th


Thank you for your help thus far; it has been invaluable.

However, we need your calls again this morning.


House and Senate Republican leaders met with the administration last night and will take an 11th hour shot at vouchers today before the legislature leaves town for the summer, amending HB 1330 in the Senate Ed Committee.



Senate contact info here



House contact info here





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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Committee refuses to consider bill limiting school boards' voting powers near elections

Committee refuses to consider bill limiting school boards' voting powers near elections

Published: Tuesday, June 28, 2011, 2:35 PM 
Patriot News By The Associated Press 
A bill that would curtail the voting powers of Pennsylvania’s school boards in election years encountered stiff resistance today from members of the House Education Committee.

The legislation, which sailed through the Senate a week ago, was left on the committee’s back burner and won’t be considered before lawmakers break for their summer recess in the coming days, said committee Chairman Paul Clymer, R-Bucks.


Posted on Tue, Jun. 28, 2011
Phila. schools post test-score gains again
By Kristen A. Graham, Inquirer Staff Writer
City schoolchildren's state test scores are up for the ninth straight year, according to preliminary data released by the Philadelphia School District on Monday night.


MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2011, Posted by Amy Worden
Philadelphia Inquirer Commonwealth Confidential Blog
State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis said Monday he is pushing to enact school tuition voucher legislation before state lawmakers breaks for their summer recess, joining the governor and special interest groups calling for immediate education reforms.
Tomalis aired his position in an address to the Pennsylvania Press Club, warning that improvements in Pennsylvania students' test scores have slowed over the past decade despite rapid spending increases on education.


PSBA Budget Update  (Monday Afternoon):
House Republicans Release General Fund Budget, School District Spreadsheets
On Monday afternoon the House Republican Caucus released aspreadsheet for the 2011-12 General Fund budget.  In addition, the caucus released a spreadsheet for education funding for each school district.  These numbers are NOT the final budget, but PSBA is forwarding this information to you at this time.[capwiz:queue_id]


Analysis of Pending PA School Budget and School Code Bill by Education Law Center


Questions or Opinions on the PA School Budget?

Post and follow on PA School Talk's website:


 Public Education Stakeholders can use Education Voters PA website to email and call your local legislators regarding the budget and keeping vouchers out of the budget bill.

Please forward this link to any public education stakeholders


Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg

Monday, June 27, 2011


The PA House adjourned last night without taking up vouchers, charters, or any school code bill.  Please keep up your contacts with your legislators.

Senate Republicans expected to unveil budget plan today
Monday, June 27, 2011
By Laura Olson, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- Those waiting on details of the state budget agreement had to be patient Sunday, as lawmakers reshuffled their agenda for the rare weekend work day.

Read more:


Pennsylvania laws pitting public schools against private

By Amy Crawford, TRIBUNE-REVIEW Monday, June 27, 2011

Gov. Tom Corbett has laid out a vision for public education in Pennsylvania in which schools compete to offer students the best chance at success.
But some educators complain that Pennsylvania's 500 school districts and 145 charter schools might not be playing on an even field.
Jeanne Allen, head of the Center for Education Reform, said she believes unions -- or a lack thereof -- make all the difference."

-------  BEGIN COMMENTARY --------

Back in May, Governor Corbett was a keynote speaker at the DeVos' American Federation for Children conference in Washington DC.  His remarks focused on what he said was the main problem with public education: teacher's unions.

Here's Newsweek's 2011 Beauty Contest, with 18 Pennsylvania High Schools making the list.  Curiously, they all have unions…….


-------  BEGIN COMMENTARY --------


Newsweek: America's Best High Schools 2011

June 19, 2011

These are challenging times for secondary education. Cash-strapped school districts are cutting back; No Child Left Behind mandates test results; parents and students stress unabated. NEWSWEEK, which has been ranking the top public high schools in America for more than a decade, revamped its methodology this year in hopes of highlighting solutions. We enlisted a panel of experts—Wendy Kopp of Teach For America, Tom Vander Ark of Open Education Solutions (formerly executive director for education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), and Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford professor of education and founder of the School Redesign Network—to develop a yardstick that fully reflects a school's success turning out college-ready (and life-ready) students. To this end, each school's score is comprised of six components: graduation rate (25%), college matriculation rate (25%), AP tests taken per graduate (25%), average SAT/ACT scores (10%), average AP/IB/AICE scores (10%), and AP courses offered (5%).



Public Education Stakeholders can use Education Voters PA website to email and call your local legislators regarding the budget and keeping vouchers out of the budget bill.

Please forward this link to any public education stakeholders


Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fwd: Ed Law Center: Proposed Education Cuts and Reforms Increase the Gap Between Rich and Poor

Below is a brief analysis of the background, timeline, impact, and alternatives of the drastic education budget cuts and last minute proposals for vouchers and charter schools now being considered in the General Assembly.

 For more information, see our website or contact us.
 Education Law Center (ELC)    

·         New report on public education, "Pennsylvania's Best Investment" --
·         Analysis of state budget for education --
·         Information about tuition voucher proposals --
·         Analysis of proposals for charter school reform --


Political Budgeting Hurts Poor Kids and Schools
Proposed State Cuts Increase the Gap Between Rich and Poor
Last Minute Bills for Vouchers and Charters Do Not Help the Neediest Students

SUMMARY.  This week state legislators will be asked to vote on a new budget for public education, covering the 2011-12 school year.  Unless drastic changes are made, the budget is expected to scratch the wealthiest communities, cut those in the middle, and lacerate the poorest.  Massive, costly bills are also being thrown into the mix at the last minute for tuition vouchers and charter school reforms, falsely claiming to help struggling students but really leaving out the neediest children.

Public schools are Pennsylvania's best investment.  The state can keep its commitment to our children, or we can all pay the social and economic price in terms of more dropouts, unemployment, crime, health costs, and community decline.  The proposed state budget cuts and expensive bills for vouchers and charter schools threaten to cause great harm to struggling students, schools, and communities and pass off the costs in the form of higher property taxes.

TIMELINE OF CUTS.  The foundation of the education budget structure was first weakened last year. The General Assembly cut back state dollars for public schools in order to make room for federal stimulus dollars. The cutbacks were greatest per student for the school districts with the highest poverty.  In addition, many smaller programs benefitting struggling students were cut or eliminated.  Districts did not openly complain because the federal stimulus still gave them more money than the previous year, but it was only a one-year illusion.

Instead of shoring up the weakened foundation, Governor Corbett proposed a budget in March that made funding cuts up to ten times larger in high-poverty schools than in wealthier schools.  Corbett's cuts totaled $1.1 billion, including the elimination of crucial programs for early childhood education, tutoring for struggling students, and more.

Two school districts in Berks County provide a good example.  The Governor proposed to cut state funding for Reading School District (90% student poverty) by $1,083 per student, but only cut Wyomissing School District (22% student poverty) by $112 per student.

Even though the House of Representatives added back over $200 million in school funding in May, it gave away these dollars based on politics and not the real needs of students and schools.  150 school districts, including some of the poorest in the state, got none of the $100 million added for basic education.  And once again the poorest districts received far less per student than wealthy districts of the funds put back for early childhood programs, primarily through the Accountability Block Grant Program.

Initially, the Senate said it would fix the inequities of the House budget, by adding sufficient funding to avoid the worst cuts for high-poverty schools.  But now it appears that these promises will also be broken.  The final details of the new budget agreement have been kept secret until the last minute.  It appears that less than 1% of the education budget will be restored, and that the added funds will be given to both rich and poor schools.

IMPACT.  The impact of these budget inequities is devastating for the neediest students and schools.  Over 10 percent of all teachers are being laid off in poor schools, including teachers for children with disabilities.  But some of the wealthiest districts are advertising to hire new staff.  School libraries are being boarded up in some places, while new computers are being purchased in others.

Why are elected officials in the Capitol making plans that are so obviously unfair and short-sighted?  There can be no doubt that such severe cuts in struggling schools will undermine the academic progress made in recent years and will make it almost impossible to continue this progress for the next few years.  National organizations have recently recognized Pennsylvania as the leader in raising student achievement, especially for poor students.  These improvements will not last given the budget, voucher, and charter school proposals, except in wealthy schools where the state is not imposing such severe cuts and upheaval.

In past years, communities could respond to slow-downs in state funding for education by partially filling the gap with local property taxes.  For the last 30 years the state share of total education spending has fallen from 55% to 35%, and this explains why property taxes have increased to make up the difference.  But local taxes are now so high in many poor communities that school districts losing state funding have no option except to cut programs and teachers. 

In the long run, the state must decide whether it has a role in ensuring that the education of all children is supported by similar resource levels, regardless of where they live.  This kind of fairness seems to be what our state constitution means when it promises a "thorough and efficient" education for all children. 

In order to accomplish this worthy and constitutionally mandated goal, the state would need to stop using the political method of forming education budgets and policies.  The bad decisions about public education by the Governor and the General Assembly have been made to fit an ideological agenda and support sound bites in press releases, not to meet the real needs of students.  And the neediest children always lose when politics drives state policy for schools.

What are the alternatives?  First, the state could distribute every penny of education funding using an objective, data-driven formula measuring the number of students and real costs of meeting their educational needs.  This kind of formula was put into state law in 2008, but is being ignored.  The result is disproportionate cuts for the poorest students and schools.

Second, politicians could wake up and realize that this is not the right time to add massive new state bureaucracies and expenditures for hundreds of new charter schools run out of the Capitol or costly tuition vouchers and tax credits for private and religious schools.  The General Assembly is rushing to vote this week on bills that would create the "State Commission on Charter Schools" and the "Education Opportunity Board" to implement these vast new experiments and would spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, taking much of this money directly from the poorest schools that are already being hit hard by the budget cuts.

In contrast, state officials rarely talk about the $400 million in extra funding that they have built into the budget over the last 10 years for school districts where such increases were based on political payoffs and not on real needs – student enrollment in some of these districts has actually dropped by 25 percent.

These are the facts.  Our elected officials are getting ready to ignore them, thus condemning struggling students, schools, and communities to a future that will have less potential, less opportunity, and greater impoverishment.   Public schools and the children who graduate from them are the backbone of Pennsylvania's local towns and townships.  Public schools are open to all children and the state must fulfill its obligation to meet their educational needs, not use them as pawns in political games.


In a rush for more charter schools? Questionable Academic Performance and Results for Kids Great “Gold Standard” Results for Owners, CEOs, Politicians

Sunday June 26, 2011  Tweet from PA House GOP:

The #pahouse will be in session starting at 3:00 pm today. Watch live on




In a rush for more charter schools?
Questionable Academic Performance and Results for Kids

Great "Gold Standard" Results for Owners, CEOs, Politicians

This KSEC commentary was faxed to all members of the PA General Assembly this weekend


KSEC is also faxing this OP/ED by PSBA Executive Director Tom Gentzel to all members of the PA General Assembly this weekend:

Voucher Legislation: Don't let General Assembly let it slip through

Published: Friday, June 24, 2011, 5:00 AM
Patriot-News Op-Ed  By Thomas Gentzel
Senate Bill 1 — the taxpayer- funded tuition voucher legislation — has been steadily losing favor in the halls of the state Capitol recently despite massive amounts of pressure and dollars being spent by out-of-state interest groups to keep it alive. 

Even many of the organizations in favor of vouchers are publicly acknowledging that SB 1 is no longer a viable option to forward their radical agenda of using tax dollars to pay for a small segment of the population to go to private and religious schools.


Forget Anthony Weiner, Twitter is here to stay

Published: Saturday, June 25, 2011, 12:35 PM

Despite the Weiner incident, Twitter is an effective communication tool for elected officials who believe in good government. It is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to interact with constituents and keep government transparent. Several members of Pennsylvania's House of Representatives are great examples of how Twitter can be used effectively.


Republican Challenges Administration on Plans to Override Education Law

New York Times, By SAM DILLON, Published: June 23, 2011
In a sharp rebuke to the Obama administration, the Republican chairman of the House education committee on Thursday challenged plans by the education secretary to override provisions of the federalNo Child Left Behind Law, and he said he would use a House rewrite of it this year to rein in the secretary's influence on America's schools.
Responding to Education Secretary Arne Duncan's promise to grant states waivers to the education law's most onerous provisions if Congress failed to rewrite it, the committee chairman, Representative John Kline of Minnesota, sent Mr. Duncan a letter on Thursday demanding that he explain by July 1 the legal authority that he believed he had to issue the waivers.


Public Education Stakeholders can use Education Voters PA website to email and call your local legislators regarding the budget and keeping vouchers out of the budget bill.

Please forward this link to any public education stakeholders


Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg

Commentary: In a rush for more charter schools?

This KSEC commentary was faxed to all members of the PA General Assembly this weekend

In a rush for more charter schools?

Questionable Academic Performance and Results for Kids

A new study by Stanford University casts doubt on whether Pennsylvania charter schools are a better choice for students.  The study by Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) concluded that "students in Pennsylvania charter schools on average make smaller learning gains" when compared with their traditional counterparts.

It notes that strong examples of quality charters do exist in the state, but policymakers need to "drive quality throughout the sector."

Researchers reported that students at 25 percent of the state's charter schools made significantly more learning gains in reading and math.  But they found that students at nearly half of the charter schools made significantly lower learning gains in both subjects than their traditional public school counterparts. 

Researchers also reported what they described as "alarming" results among all cyber charter schools.  Cyber students in Pennsylvania perform substantially lower than students at traditional public school in both subjects.  In May, 2011 it was reported that students graduating from the growing ranks of online high schools are running into a hurdle if their goal is to join the military: The Pentagon doesn't want many recruits with non-traditional diplomas.  A Department of Defense spokesperson noted that “Those who've opted out of the traditional educational system just don't stick with military service, she said. That includes students from what she called "any computer-based, virtual-learning program."

Since 2003, scores on the benchmark National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered to be the gold standard in K-12 standardized assessment, have never shown an advantage for charter schools as compared to regular public schools. 

A June 2009 Stanford University/CREDO study done in partnership with the pro school choice Walton Family Foundation and Pearson Learning Systems looked at charter performance in 15 states and the District of Columbia covering more than 70 percent of the nation’s charter school students.  It found that only 17% of charters had academic gains better than traditional public schools; 37% were worse and 46% showed no significant difference.

A June 2010 study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research and commissioned by the US Department of Education found that, “On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress.

Governor Corbett recently attended the graduation at Philadelphia’s Boys Latin Charter School.  The combined proficient and advanced math and reading PSSA results for Boys Latin were 29.2 percent - the 29th worst out of 3051 schools statewide last year.   Sixteen charter schools had combined PSSA scores that would place them on the list of our 144 failing schools; somehow charter schools were not included on that list when it was prepared in support of the voucher bill, SB1.

Governor Corbett also visited the state’s largest charter school, Chester Community Charter School, which is operated under contract by a management company.  If you examine the AYP status of Chester Community compared with the five traditional elementary school in the Chester Upland School District it does better than some and worse than some.

Statewide, 2008-2009 data on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website showed 75 % of public schools making AYP; for the charters this was closer to 60%.   For 2009-2010, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reported that about 75 percent of Pennsylvania public school students scored advanced or proficient in reading and math, compared with about 59 percent of charter school students.  When raising these statistics to charter school supporters they tell us that their students come from disadvantaged and challenging backgrounds.  Somehow that same excuse is not acceptable when mentioned by advocates of traditional public schools.

We regularly hear that competition will improve performance for all, or that charter schools that do not perform will be shut down by market forces.  There are presently 135 charter schools in Pennsylvania.  To our knowledge, since Pennsylvania passed its charter school law in 1997 only one charter school has been closed for academic performance reasons.

Great “Gold Standard” Results for Owners, CEOs, Politicians

There is little doubt, however, that the owner of Pennsylvania’s largest cyber charter, who took $10 million of taxpayer money from his school’s fund balance to build a state-of-the-art performing arts center for his town, would tell you that charters are an unbridled success; with potential we have not yet seen.  So would the owner of Pennsylvania’s largest charter school, who, according to Pennsylvania’s Campaign Finance Reporting website is able to regularly write large political donation checks.

Political Contributions of Vahan Gureghian from 2007 to present:

2007 YTD
2008 YTD
2009 YTD
2010 YTD
2011 YTD

A June 2009 Inquirer article cited state records showing that the management company contracted to run the Chester Community Charter School had been paid $60.6 million in public funds since 1999.  Those records showed that the portion of the school's expenditures going to business and administration was consistently among the highest for Pennsylvania charter schools, and its spending percentage on instruction was among the lowest.  The management company had sued to block release of the records, citing trade secrets. 

While the compensation of all of our public school superintendents is public knowledge, no one seems to know what Mr Gureghian’s compensation is as the owner of Charter Management Company.  Doesn’t the public have a right to know how public funds are spent by public schools and by private management firms that receive those public funds?

In April 2010, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Superintendent of the Lower Merion School District, one of the highest performing public school districts in the state, with 6943 students was being paid $201,800.   

Compare that with the reported salaries of 5 Philadelphia charter school CEO’s and their respective enrollments:

$ 241,033 with 588 students
$193,510 with 929 students
$189,844 with 155 students
$155,000 with 896 students
$153,629 with 1202 students.

It is interesting to note that at the same time that we have been debating whether to consolidate school districts to save money on buildings, superintendents and senior staff we would advocate creating additional charter schools, each with their attendant overhead costs. 

Difficult enough in traditional public schools, public scrutiny and accountability become all the more difficult as these entities and their attendant for-profit management companies proliferate.  Charter school boards, owners and operators should be subject to the same fiscal transparency, accountability and reporting requirements as traditional public school boards.

Keystone State Education Coalition Co-Chairs:
Lawrence A. Feinberg, School District of Haverford Township, Delaware County
Shauna D’Alessandro, West Jefferson Hills School District, Allegheny County
Lynn Foltz, Wilmington Area School District, Lawrence County
Mark B. Miller, Centennial School District, Bucks County
Keystone State Education Coalition  2023 Olcott Avenue, Ardmore, PA 19003-2916
Phone: 610-896-3880  Fax: 610-896-3890