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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Voucher Bill Moving in the Senate..Call your Senator TODAY!

Information taken from the PSBA | Legislative Action Center:

Call your senator today. Click here to find out the contact info of your legislators. Afterwards, let us know how the call went by emailing us at

Taxpayer Funded Voucher Bill Positioned to Move Quickly: Call Your Senator Today

This morning in the Senate Education Committee:
The Senate Education Committee will be meeting at 10 am today to consider amendments to SB 1, voucher legislation originally sponsored by Sen. Jeff Piccola. The expected plan is to gut the existing language from SB 1 and insert a comprehensive amendment that includes proposals for taxpayer funded vouchers that is phased in over a three year period for low-income children. and expansion of charter schools and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. The amendment will be offered by Senators Piccola and Anthony Williams as Amendment # A05700. (It is not being offered on behalf of Gov. Corbett’s office and does not include all elements of the plan suggested by the governor earlier this month.) PSBA received a copy of the amendment late yesterday and a summary is provided below.

What’s Next:
If reported out of the Senate Education Committee this morning, SB 1 is expected to be placed on the calendar for third and final consideration by the full Senate on Wednesday. It is critical that you call or email your senator as quickly as possible to voice your opposition to SB 1. Ask your senator how he or she intends to vote, and press for a commitment if necessary. Tell them to vote “No” on SB 1.

Piccola/Williams Amendment Summary:
Vouchers: The amendment creates a voucher program that provides taxpayer dollars to religious institutions without accountability. Beginning in 2012-13, low-income children who both: (1) attend a low achieving school during the current (2011-12) school year or will be a kindergarten student during the 2012-13 school year, and (2) will live within the attendance boundary of a low achieving school as of the first day of classes of the 2012-13 school year are eligible for a voucher. In the following year, 2013-14 and each school year thereafter, low-income children who will live within the attendance boundary of a low achieving school as of the first day of classes of the school year for which the opportunity scholarship will be awarded.

The amount of the voucher is 100% of the state’s per pupil subsidy to the resident school district for those household income up to and including 130% of poverty. The amount of the voucher would be 75% of the state’s per pupil subsidy to the resident school district (not to exceed the actual tuition) for those individuals in households above 130% of poverty, up to and including 185% of poverty. Accountability for the use of those taxpayer dollars is not equal to those of district-led school districts. Beginning in 2012-13 school year, the amendment defines low achieving schools to be those public elementary or secondary schools ranking in the lowest 5% of its designation as elementary or secondary, based on combined math and reading scores from the assessment administered in the most recent school year. In 2018-19 school year and each school year thereafter, the voucher is applied to low achieving schools, but the definition shifts to include a public elementary or secondary school with this Commonwealth in which 50% or fewer of its students scored proficient or above in math or 50% of fewer students scored proficient or above in math or 50% or fewer of its students scored proficient or above in reading on the assessment administered in the most recent school year.

Charters: The amendment does not include language creating a statewide authorizer for charter schools and retains school boards as the authorizing body. The State Charter School Appeal Board (current law) within the Department of Education is expanded from seven members to nine. The amendment includes a charter school administrator and a cyber charter school administrator to that panel, as well as a parent of a student who attends a charter/cyber charter school. The amendment expands the renewal term of a charter school from five years to 10 years without adopting any self-executing revocation of low-performing charter schools. Equally troublesome is the amendment removes any requirement from the law that would require the charter school to serve as a model for other public schools, which runs contrary to the original public policy objective of giving charter school greater freedom from state-imposed mandates in exchange for creating innovation in education and serving as a model to district-run schools. A statewide advisory committee would be created to explore charter school and cyber charter school funding issues and make recommendations to the General Assembly and the governor. The bill requires payments from the Department to flow directly to the charter or cyber charter school. The school district will no longer serve as a pass-through for funding to charters or cybers. The department will be charged with developing forms for all charter school applicants and school board directors to follow throughout the process. The application will also contain more information upfront about the role the education management service provider will play in the charter school, if any.

EITC Tax Credits: The amendment also expands the educational improvement tax credit (EITC) program from $67 million to $92 million for the next two fiscal years and then to $115 million in 2014-15 for scholarship organizations and educational improvement organizations. It also proposes a 5% escalator (beginning in 2015-2016 and each fiscal year thereafter) in the amount of the tax credits if 90% of the total aggregate amount of tax the tax credits available are approved. There is no additional accountability of those tax credits.

Talking Points in Opposition to SB 1 and the Piccola/Williams Amendment

* Unaccountable to Pennsylvania taxpayers as there is no provision to require any follow-up on the academic progress of students who enter into nonpublic or private schools using a voucher and no oversight of the taxpayer dollars that will flow to private and religious schools.
* Unaffordable to taxpayers, to schools, and to the students who will remain in struggling schools. The costs of this program would come at a time when many taxpayers are facing unemployment or under-employment and the loss of benefits and when many school districts are facing severe economic challenges. Sending valuable taxpayer dollars out the door to private and religious schools undermines a school district’s ability to provide the remaining students with the quality education they deserve.
* Unpopular with Pennsylvania residents, as 65% of residents opposed taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers based on a recent survey by Terry Madonna Opinion Research. This is the third time in a year that the majority of Pennsylvanians have responded to this question with a resounding “no”.
* Unconstitutional, possibly violating three provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Charter School Reform:

* Perpetuates the injustices of the current charter school funding formula to taxpayers and school districts. In these challenging economic times, our school districts are losing valuable taxpayer dollars to charter schools based on a funding formula that is based upon the cost of educating a student in the resident district, not in the charter school. Any charter reform proposal must include modification of the funding formula to reduce or eliminate the financial burden of charter schools on school districts, ensuring that taxpayers are not overpaying for the services these schools provide. Moving forward with this proposal before remedying the funding formula is irresponsible to taxpayers and school districts, especially as this proposal gives charter schools direct funding and places the burden of proof on school districts to show that funding has been incorrectly allocated to a charter school.
* Purges charter schools of innovation. Despite the fact that charter schools were originally granted freedom from many of the state-imposed mandates so they could develop innovative educational techniques and practices that could serve as a model for school districts, this important public policy objective has been exorcised entirely from Amendment #A05700, no longer obligating charter schools to strive for innovation in education. If charter schools are no longer required to fulfill these public policy goals for which they were created, then there is no longer any need to continue to relieve them of state-imposed mandates.

The expansion of the EITC program:
* Must include increased accountability. Where public tax dollars are involved, in this case state tax credits, accountability to the public is necessary. Public schools are accountable on many levels for compliance with state and federal laws and regulations. While public school performance on assessments and corrective action is all public, nonpublic school students are not required to take the PSSA, Keystone Exams or any state measure of student achievement, and nonpublic schools do not have to tell anyone anything about how their students perform. Students who enter into nonpublic or private schools using EITC scholarships should be subject to follow-up on the students’ academic progress. Any school entity benefitting from public tax dollars should be subject to the same fiscal and academic reporting standards as public school entities.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gov. Corbett Continues to Advocate for an Unsuccessful Voucher Program

Last week the Governor outlined his plan for education. It included plans to implement a voucher program, expand the Education Investment Tax Credit (EITC) program, and make changes to the way charter schools are approved and regulated, in ways that could take away community oversight. But as State Senator Piccola mentioned, “This isn’t anything new.” Vouchers are still an breathtakingly expensive program that has no evidence of successfully increasing student achievement. After having more than $900 million cut in state funding for public schools, Pennsylvanians cannot afford it.

We know that every child, not just some select children, should get an opportunity to learn, regardless of where they live and how much money their parents make. The critical problem with vouchers is that they don’t solve the problem. It turns a blind eye to the fact that we have significant opportunity gap. What is worse than that? We know what we should be doing and are simply flat out refusing to do it.

By nearly a 2-1 margin, Pennsylvanians oppose vouchers. A recent poll by Terry Madonna Opinion Research shows that (65%) strongly oppose and (43%) somewhat oppose the use of tax dollars to send to school to private school. This poll strongly reflects a recent national PDK/Gallup poll that was recently released that stated that only one of three Americans favor allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend with public dollars. Despite this opposition to vouchers, Corbett seems more concerned with catering to a few special interests rather than what his constituents want or need.

The Governor is hoping to change the way charter schools are governed, allowing an expansion of authorizers that could take away a community’s ability to have a say in how schools are handled (so much for “choice” eh?). This will force local taxpayers to pay for charter schools that never had input from local voters.

Vouchers take precious state resources away from children in traditional public schools and are not an effective strategy in closing the opportunity gap: they don’t raise student achievement, they reduce the rights of students, they are unconstitutional and they are expensive. We need REAL solutions that support all of Pennsylvania’s students and are proven to work. Every child deserves an equal opportunity for a successful future.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What would SRC reform look like? | Philadelphia Public School Notebook

What would SRC reform look like? | Philadelphia Public School Notebook: "What would SRC reform look like?"

It is very clear at this point that the SRC needs to change. It needs to rebuild trust, engage with the public and be responsive, establish credibility and guidance for ethical conduct, define its role more clearly and share that with the rest of us. I would add, the SRC also needs to demonstrate that they are in control, get a handle on the District's finances, and improve transparency.

How will we know that change is happening? What does each of these things look like? What will be the manifest signs of change?

Reconstituting the SRC

For starters, we need a short timetable and transition to an all-new SRC. That means the two current long-serving members, Joseph Dworetzky and Denise McGregor Armbrister, should step down. In turn, the slots need to be nominated and confirmed quickly so the body can get to work. The governor, the mayor, the state senate, and the current members should coordinate and cooperate in order to make it happen. Each will have to be flexible about political prerogatives, demonstrating that they want a new era as well. My two cents? I think we need an education expert and a financial expert.

They need to talk about students, education, and community. I would like to know what each member thinks should be:

  1. the biggest priority for the next 12 months, and

  2. their personal priority and where they will devote their focus and energy?

The members should make some public statements. Tell me what your platform is. You may have the job, but let me know what you are going to do with it. Woo me a little.

Focus on finances

We need clear signs that the SRC is getting a handle on the budget. I think we are going to need some multi-year projections, or perhaps even multi-year budgets. We need an aggressive inventory of existing contracts and some sort of metric for contract review. Show us the money. I would like to hear, sometime by early December, some steps that the SRC will take to improve the financial situation. They don’t have to be earth-shattering, just specific.

Improve accessibility and community engagement

This is a government body. They represent us and need to make that clear. They can do so by having meetings that are accessible to people, at times that, let’s say, parents, students, and teachers could attend. They can have some discussion and ask questions in public, so we see what the process is. Listen to some complaints and acknowledge them. We know it isn’t the most fun part of the job, but do it anyway. Then have a monthly report that demonstrates that you had a few of them checked out. Hold a listening tour. Build a direct relationship with the people you represent.

My big wish? The SRC will take on the role of the keeper of the flame: the body that provides both vision and stability through transitions, and helps represent the public in discussions with the superintendent. I’d know it was happening from what they choose to focus on in the coming year.

For me, this would be a start. What about you? What would have to happen, what would you want to see, for you to start a sentiment that goes something like this: “Actually, I think things have started to change…”?