Tuesday, May 24, 2016

You can bet on this????

Pension reform and Internet gambling rolled into budget talks

Morning Call by Steve Esack Contact Reporter Call Harrisburg Bureau May 23, 2016

Pension reform and Internet gambling rolled into PA budget and tax talks

HARRISBURG — With Memorial Day just days away, half of the state Legislature is expected to act this week on a series of bills that could become bargaining chips in final budget talks that will heat up next month.  The House's voting calendar, always subject to change, says lawmakers are scheduled to take up a bill changing the state pension system for new hires. Another bill on the docket would legalize fantasy sports and online gambling while putting slot machines in airports.

The governor will consider the pension and gambling bills as part of broader budget talks, specifically pertaining to new sources of revenue, said Wolf's spokesman, Jeff Sheridan.  The Republicans who control the House and Senate want Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to enact the pension changes to limit taxpayer risk over time by reducing the percentage of the guaranteed retirement payments workers get. Under the bill, state employees and school teachers would have their retirement savings invested in a guaranteed pension plan if they earn below $50,000. Retirement savings for income above $50,000 would be put in a 401(k)-style plan.



Badams: 'You deserve to know'

By MADELEINE O'NEILL madeleine.o'neill@timesnews.com24 May 2016 — Erie Times-News

Erie schools Superintendent Jay Badams on Monday spoke to those who will be most affected by potential cuts to the district's budget: the students.  Badams traveled to the Erie School District's four high schools to explain why he has asked the Erie School Board to consider major budget cuts to make up for an expected $4.3 million shortfall in 2016-17.  He has also proposed closing the district's high schools and busing those students to other area schools as soon as 2017-18 to make up for the educational inequities a slashed budget would create.  "It's kind of scary to hear about," said Alina Bovkun, a senior at Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, who said that rumors have been flying in the days since news broke of Badams' proposals. "We've just been hearing they're going to be closing down the schools."  Badams spoke to a full house in Collegiate Academy's auditorium, his first stop on a one-day tour that also included Central Career and Technical School, East High School and Strong Vincent High School.  



W-B Area approves plan to cut programs, jobs

Citizens Voice BY MICHAEL BUFFER Published: May 24, 2016

WILKES-BARRE — The Wilkes-Barre Area School Board voted 8-1 Monday night to proceed with a plan to cut programs and lay off dozens of teachers.  Ned Evans was the sole dissenting vote.  More than 200 people packed the meeting to witness the fate of a plan to suspend library services and education courses in technology, family/consumer science and art.  Monday’s regular board meeting at GAR Junior Senior High School began at 7 p.m. The public comment portion of the meeting included more than 40 speakers and continued late into the night.  The school board was considering a “horrible idea” to lay off 37 teachers and not replace 12 retiring teachers, said Jeff Ney, president of the Wilkes-Barre Area teachers’ union.  “It’s not about myself,” said Deborah Pride, a family/consumer sciences teacher at Meyers Junior Senior High School. “I implore you to reconsider. It’s about the kids.”  The layoffs and the cuts to programs and services would take effect after the current school year.



Letter to the Editor: Inadequate school funding jeopardizes Wilkes-Barre schools and state’s future

Letter by Russell A. Carpenella MAY 23RD, 2016  11:22 AM

The Wilkes-Barre Area School District is expected to cut its budget by $11 million over four years. At least two high schools will be combined, class sizes will be larger, and there will be fewer teachers.  The population of Wilkes-Barre isn’t going down significantly. Most kids in Wilkes-Barre schools don’t have the economic choice of moving.  These facts make me fear for the future of this city – and the state as a whole. It’s well-known that poor education is a precursor to poverty, and poverty is a precursor to crime.  Unless Republican leadership in the state Legislature steps up and starts funding our schools, many cities such as Wilkes-Barre across the Keystone State will suffer. We can raise property taxes only so high. We need a state budget that funds our schools.



Leechburg Area School District projects real estate tax increase but tries to pare budget

Trib Live BY MARY ANN THOMAS  | Monday, May 23, 2016, 11:40 p.m.

Leechburg Area School District residents' real estate taxes could increase by about 4 percent in Armstrong County and 6 percent in Westmoreland County for next school year.

The school board gave preliminary approval to a $13.9 million budget that is about $700,000 more than this year's.  Leechburg and Gilpin residents can expect an average annual increase in property taxes of $76, while in West Leechburg, the district's lone Westmoreland County community, residents will pay about $132 more.  The preliminary budget is a “work in progress,” said school board member Anthony Shea and Bill McNamee, the district's interim business manager.  The state Department of Education approved the district's request to raise taxes beyond the state-set limit of 3.5 percent because the money is needed for increased pension and special education costs.  Shea said the preliminary budget is a “placeholder.”  “No one wants to raise taxes,” he said. “We will try to get the budget closer to a zero tax increase. That may not happen, but that is our goal.”  The uptick in the 2016-17 budget mainly is because of increases in contracted salaries and contributions to the Public School Employees' Retirement System, McNamee said.



No hike planned for Apollo-Ridge taxpayers

Trib Live BY GEORGE GUIDO | Monday, May 23, 2016, 11:40 p.m.

Real estate taxes will remain the same in the Apollo-Ridge School District next year.

The school board on Monday approved a $24.1 million preliminary budget for the 2016-17 school year that keeps the tax rate at 62.9 mills for residents of Apollo, North Apollo and Kiski Township. Real estate taxes in the Indiana County portion of the school district will remain at 14.9 mills.

Through an equalization process mandated by the state, residents in different counties pay about the same in real estate taxes even though the counties have different assessments.



Millcreek district passes budget

By ERICA ERWIN erica.erwin@timesnews.com24 May 2016 — Erie Times-News

Millcreek Township residents will pay more in property taxes to their school district as part of a budget that also eliminates some programs but largely retains staff.  The Millcreek School Board on Monday passed a $95 million final budget for 2016-17 that includes a nearly 0.20 mill tax increase, bringing the millage rate to 13.7788. The increase translates into a roughly $20 increase in annual property taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home or, put another way, an additional $2 in taxes for every $10,000 of a home's assessed value.  Board members Lou Aliota and Mike Kobylka were the only "no" votes.  "I cannot vote for a tax increase," Aliota said.

Millcreek schools Superintendent William Hall called the increase a good compromise. It is below the 0.39 mill increase, or index, permitted under Act 1, the state's property tax relief law.



Penn Hills School Board Trying To Move Forward After District Audit

KDKA May 24, 2016 12:17 AM By Ralph Iannotti

PENN HILLS (KDKA) — The Penn Hills School Board met Monday night in the first meeting since last week’s bombshell audit report from the state auditor general, which strongly criticized the district’s financial mismanagement.  Virginia Dougherty, of Penn Hills, said, “We feel we are caged animals, and in frustration, we turn on one another.”  Former School Director Carolyn Faggioli admitted when she was on the board, members knew they were faced with a worsening financial situation.  Faggioli said part of the problem, she believed, was due to outside influence.

“We need to get our heads out of the sand,” Faggioli said. “We need to take politics out of the school board; we will be much better off.”



Demand for Pre-K is high, but availability varies across neighborhoods

The notebook by Fabiola Cineas May 23, 2016 — 4:38pm

The School District is making its spring push to enroll as many of the city’s 3- and 4-year-olds as possible in pre-kindergarten for the fall.  Although the District wants more families to sign up, this year the challenge is less about pre-K awareness among families and more about access.

That’s because in certain neighborhoods, there just aren’t enough pre-K seats to match demand.

In Kensington and the Lower Northeast, for example, enrollment has already outpaced the available seats. And when this happens, the enrollment process becomes a game and Philadelphia is “like a big chess board,” said Diane Castelbuono, deputy chief of the Office of Early Education, who leads the enrollment effort.



School District may miss out on ride-sharing revenue

Inquirer by Jason Laughlin, Staff Writer  @jasmlaughlin Updated: MAY 24, 2016 — 1:07 AM EDT

An agreement between Philadelphia, the Parking Authority, and ride-share businesses virtually guarantees that the School District will not see a financial benefit if a bill to regulate such services as UberX and Lyft is passed as written.  Under the tax structure proposed by the bill, ride-share businesses would likely have to generate much more money than anticipated to create enough taxable income for the schools to benefit. The structure is primarily designed to ensure that the Parking Authority will recover the cost - as much as $4 million - expected to be spent on regulating an estimated 15,000 vehicles used in ride sharing, a PPA spokesman said.  The point of the bill was to ensure that ride sharing had a legal framework in the city, said Brian Abernathy, a deputy managing director and a mediator in negotiations. Money to the district would have been a nice side benefit, but wasn't the goal.  "The city would love to see the School District get additional revenue, but this isn't a School District revenue bill," he said.



“Tax” on Uber and Lyft Would Actually Be a $4 Million Windfall to the PPA

And guarantee nothing for Philadelphia schools. At least that’s how the bill is written right now.

PhillyMag BY JARED BREY  |  MAY 23, 2016 AT 7:30 AM

First it looked like it was for the kids, and now it looks like it’s for the Parking Authority.

A bill in the state Senate that would allow alternative taxi services like Uber and Lyft to operate legally was initially written so that the tax revenue the services generated in Philly would be split between the Philadelphia Parking Authority and the Philadelphia School District, with two thirds of the money going to education. But the bill, which was approved by the state House Committee on Consumer Affairs earlier this month, has undergone an obscure but meaningful change. In the current version, PPA is guaranteed $4 million in revenue from Uber and Lyft before the schools can collect a dime.  The first version of the bill levied a 1 percent tax on the total revenue from all fares in Philadelphia. Two thirds of that was to be given to the School District, with one third given to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which would be charged with regulating the services in the city. But the latest version of the bill approved by the House committee lays out a different scheme.

Read more at http://www.phillymag.com/citified/2016/05/23/uber-lyft-tax-philadelphia-school-district/#F6JBzWygJpLA7KTX.99


DN Editorial: Charter Schools Office rightly exercising its power

Philly Daily News Updated: MAY 23, 2016 — 3:01 AM EDT

IMAGINE A FEW students whose year-end report cards show so many failing grades that the teacher recommends that they not graduate. Now suppose the principal intervened and said, "Not so fast, let's give them another chance."  This would not be good for the students, or for teachers, or for the school system, and it would be bad for education overall.   In a way, that's what happened last week during the process of renewing a handful of charter schools, during a meeting of the School Reform Commission. The district's Charter Schools Office recommended nonrenewals for four schools; Vare and Audenreid, run by Kenny Gamble's Universal Companies, and Stetson and Olney High School, run by Aspira.  The SRC essentially passed on voting to support these nonrenewals, and gave Aspira a week to prove it can fix the many financial and governance problems that were brought to light in the charter office's renewal reports, which evaluates schools on academic success, organizational viability, and financial health and sustainability.



What Are Massachusetts Public Schools Doing Right?

Widely seen as the best public-school system in the U.S., the Massachusetts school system’s success can offer lessons to other states.

The Atlantic by ALIA WONG  MAY 23, 2016

When it comes to the story of Massachusetts’s public schools, the takeaway, according to the state’s former education secretary, Paul Reville, is that “doing well isn’t good enough.”  Massachusetts is widely seen as having the best school system in the country: Just 2 percent of its high-schoolers drop out, for example, and its students’ math and reading scores rank No. 1 nationally. It even performs toward the top on international education indices.  But as Reville and others intimately familiar with the Bay State’s school-improvement efforts emphasized in a panel at the Education Writers Association National Seminar earlier this month, the “Massachusetts story” is complicated. The Bay State’s famous successes are juxtaposed with stubborn achievement gaps and concentrations of poverty that have made across-the-board strides all but impossible. Income-based disparities in academic performance have actually grown over the last decade or so, and last year the state’s achievement gap was the third highest in the nation.



Opt Out 2.0: Snapshot of Spring Testing Season

Education Writers Association BLOG: THE EDUCATED REPORTER MAY 20, 2016  by ERIK ROBELEN

With state testing season wrapping up, the decision by some families to skip the K-12 exams in protest this spring has once again sparked widespread discussion – and news coverage around the country.  In San Diego, for example, teachers handed out fliers to parents earlier this month informing them of the right to keep their children from taking state tests, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. A local teachers’ union official cited worries about the amount of testing, as well as its relevance and accuracy for gauging student learning.  In Tennessee, where the opt-out movement appeared to be gaining steam this spring, as reported by Chalkbeat Tennessee and other outlets, it became a moot point after the bulk of state testing for grades 3-8 was canceled altogether in April. That decision followed a series of problems with the administration of the assessments for English language arts and math.  The actions come as concerns have risen about the volume of standardized testing at the K-12 level, its perceived impact on instruction, and its use in evaluating schools, students and teachers.



Supreme Court rules Virginia lawmakers didn't have the right to appeal redistricting

Vox Updated by Libby Nelson on May 23, 2016, 10:23 a.m. ET @libbyanelson

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that a group of Virginia Republican lawmakers appealing over a court-ordered redistricting plan didn't have the legal standing to bring their case. This ends a long argument over redrawing Virginia's third congressional district without implying that incumbent lawmakers have the right to a fair shot at reelection.  The case, Wittman v. Personhuballah, dealt with the argument around Virginia's 3rd congressional district, redrawn as part of the state's redistricting in 2012. The new boundaries drawn by the state legislature slightly increased the share of black voters in the district, which is heavily Democratic, from 53 percent to 56 percent.  A federal trial court ruled that this was racial gerrymandering — that the Republican-dominated state legislature was drawing boundaries based on voters' races, which isn't allowed, rather than for other, permitted purposes, such as protecting incumbents. And after the Virginia legislature couldn't agree on how to redraw the district, the court did it for them.



Why a social media fight between Campbell Brown and her critics matters

Washington Post Answer Sheet By Valerie Strauss May 23 at 12:01 PM

Another day, another fight in the education world. This one is worth delving into because it is really not about who said what but about fundamental understandings — and misunderstandings — of standardized testing data and how it drives policy.  This one started when education activist Campbell Brown said that two-thirds of U.S. eighth graders are below grade level in reading and math. Tom Loveless, a former Harvard professor and teacher who researches student achievement, then tweeted that he has never seen data showing that, and asked Brown to explain her sourcing. She said that she was referring to proficiency rates on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  NAEP, as the test is known, is sometimes referred to as “the nation’s report card” because it is seen as the most consistent measure of U.S. student achievement since the 1990s. It is administered every two years to groups of U.S. students in the fourth and eighth grades, and less frequently to high school students. When Loveless told her that NAEP proficiency scores do not refer to grade level, a social media fight ensued between Campbell and her critics.  In this post, Carol Burris, a former award-winning high school principal who got involved in the Twitter exchange, explains why the substance of this debate matters.




Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Furlough bill update

Capitolwire: Republicans appear to link teacher furlough bill to increased education spending.

The article text follows:

Capitolwire: Republicans appear to link teacher furlough bill to increased education spending.

By /cwMailForm.asp?recipient=csmith@capitolwire.com Christen Smith <br>Staff Reporter<br>Capitolwire

HARRISBURG (May 17) - No budget season at the state Capitol would be complete without some horse trading behind the scenes - a tradition that's appeared to be absent from this year's negotiations, in their infancy, thus far. 

That was, until, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, offered a thinly-veiled threat Tuesday should Gov. Tom Wolf veto House Bill 805, as he's promised. 

"I don't advocate for the status-quo, but I can tell you this: If he does veto the bill - and we're going to have a budget done very soon I hope - and the governor is going to want more dollars for education,  well guess what we're going to want, we're going to want this piece of legislation to go along with any new dollars in education," Corman told reporters during a press conference with Republican caucus leaders on the fate of the controversial teacher furlough bill.

Republican leaders have been pressuring Wolf to change his mind about HB 805 cwArticle.asp?articleId=2400518 since it passed the Senate last week.  

The bill, which would base teacher furloughs more on performance, not just seniority, has been characterized by the administration as a misguided attempt to meddle in local-level school board decisions and encourage "mass layoffs."

"This is not the type of policy we should be discussing," said Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan via email Tuesday. "We should all be focused on ensuring schools are appropriately funded and students are learning the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century."

The administration's tunnel vision, Republican leaders say, stands in the way of improving school performance. 

"At the end of the day, the discussion on education does not begin and end just with more money," said House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana. "It's part of the discussion, but the discussion cannot just be about the quantity of the dollars provided. We've also got to focus on the quality of the product produced with those dollars and this bill moves us forward in that direction."

Steve Miskin, Reed's spokesman, said it's the same position leadership has held since the bill was introduced last year - increased spending without accountability won't produce the results Wolf and his allies seek.

Jenn Kocher, Corman's spokeswoman, agreed, saying "this is nothing different than what we have been saying for a long time."

But until Tuesday, leaders had not tied that idea to budget negotiations. Now, it appears, HB 805 could be a part of any deal brokered between the administration and the General Assembly, much in the same way pension reform and liquor modernization factored into the failed "framework" of last year's budget. 

Corman stopped short of declaring HB 805 a linchpin, however.

"Look if we get into a budget discussion soon, which we all hope we will, and he doesn't sign this, we're not going to walk away from this," he said. "It's too important to walk away from. It will be like every other piece of the budgetary process negotiation. We do education as part of the budget. This is something we think is very, very important."

"I'm telling you this is something we will be advocating strongly for," he added.

Kocher further clarified Corman's position in an email after the press conference.

"The Senator never said we would not be doing a budget without this measure to protect excellent teachers," she said. "It is not a line in the sand. It's simply a very important issue that can provide reform to a system to ensure that our schools continue to have excellent teachers working with our children."

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union, chided Republicans for politicizing the bill.

"After a nearly $1 billion school funding cut and 27,000 K-12 jobs lost in the last four years, the Republican leadership in the General Assembly ought to be focusing on how to adequately fund schools and bring class sizes back down instead of trying to get rid of more teachers and making threats to hold Pennsylvania children's education hostage," said PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever.

The criticism doesn't appear to phase the leaders.

"We shouldn't be preserving the job of a low performing teacher and furloughing a high performing teacher merely because one has more seniority over the other," Reed said. "It's a pretty basic concept that I'm pretty sure almost every single parent across this state would agree with."

"The solution for continuing to ensure that we have excellent schools is not simply putting more and more taxpayer dollars into the system," Kocher said. "We must also take a close look at how we can use reforms to improve the system. This bill is a commonsense way to achieve that. We just provided $200 million in additional money for education and throughout that - we were not the ones who were using children as hostages. Far from it."


Copyright 2006 GovNetPA, Inc.

Capitolwire.com, a service of GovNetPA, Inc., provides a comprehensive news and information service to subscribers with a need to monitor or influence the actions of state government and to track key issues such as Healthcare, Transportation, Education and the Environment.  Our customization platform allows relevant news and information to automatically flow directly to subscribers creating an awareness and speed-of-response advantage.

If you liked this story, sign up for a trial subscription.
For more information on capitolwire.com, write to info@capitolwire.com or call us at (717) 986-0225.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Funding Trick

Capitolwire: New budget season revives a familiar education bill.

By Christen Smith
Staff Reporter

HARRISBURG (May 2) — Lawmakers returned to the state Capitol Monday intent on averting last year's record-breaking budget stalemate — and the corresponding fiscal fallout — with an old trick in mind. 

The House Education Committee advanced legislation Monday that would guarantee funding for schools during any future budget gridlock, much in the same way state employees and elected officials continue receiving paychecks during impasses.

House Bill 1159, sponsored by Rep. David Hickernell, R-Lancaster, advanced out of committee on a vote of 18-8. 

“It's a pretty simple bill,” Hickernell said. “We'd never again have to risk schools closing or borrowing money when we have state dollars sitting in the Treasury.” 

It's an idea that's bounced around the Legislature for over a decade — ever since then-Gov. Ed Rendell vetoed the first iteration of HB 1159 in 2004 for violating his constitutional right to disapprove of or alter funding levels in the General Appropriations bill. The legislation made it to his desk in the months following a budget cycle that hit some familiar beats: a first-year Democratic governor at odds with the Legislature over education funding, resulting in a six-month stalemate and schools threatening to close their doors after the Christmas holiday.

Hickernell had sponsored that bill, too, and said, at the time, the General Assembly discussed a possible veto override, but ultimately abandoned the idea. 

“I think many of us wish we would have taken it a step further at that time because we wouldn't have had to endure what we endured the past few months,” he told the committee Monday.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration did not respond to questions Monday about the governor's position on HB 1159.

Education Committee Minority Chairman James Roebuck, D-Philadelphia, chided the bill for resolving “any urgency to reduce a state budget crisis.”

“It serves as a disincentive to increase basic education funding or restore cuts from a previous administration...,” he said. “We have a responsibility to look at what is needed for our school districts, our children and to debate it in good faith and to resolve our differences and pass a budget each year. I think this cuts that legislative process.”

Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, said he empathized with Roebuck's concern, but not enough to oppose the bill.

“I think that boat sailed a long time ago,” he said of protecting the legislative process. “It's a reality we face ... school districts were left holding the bag.”

Rep. Dan Truitt, R-Chester, was less forgiving in his remarks.

“It seems to me that the only purpose for not voting for this is to leave the option for either side, the Legislature or the governor, to use school children as hostages during budget negotiations,” he said. “There’s simply no excuse for that.”

The 2015-16 budget impasse forced districts statewide to borrow upwards of $1 billion. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale estimated last week those loans cost taxpayers $50 million in interest payments.

Education Committee Majority Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, says “the money just isn't there” to replace the millions lost on borrowing costs, either.

“This is not about Gov. Wolf or Gov. Corbett or any governor,” he said. “This is simply about children. In the end, this is only one part of the budget but it's a part of the budget that is critical. This bill at least protects those children and makes sure our education system continues to work ... and more importantly, our taxpayers are not hurt paying interest payments while we squabble here in Harrisburg.”

Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, did not respond to questions about when or if the bill will be considered by the full House.

It's not on the Senate Republican Caucus's priority list either, at the moment.

“There are a number of similar bills that have been introduced in the Senate,” said Jenn Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre. “At this point, we haven’t discussed it recently as a caucus so it’s not clear what the direction will be.”


Capitolwire - Exclusive
Updated 5/3/2016 10:23:15 AM
Copyright © 1998-2012 Capitolwire.com / GovNetPA, Inc. All rights reserved.  598