Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Outbreak of Common Sense in the Commonwealth?

AYP? Ummm, NOT SO MUCH: Once the federal government
required all charter schools 

to analyze their test scores
the same way as traditional public 
schools, there were no more
smiles or banners for cyber-charters; 
zero of which actually
made Adequate Yearly Progress.
So apparently all hope for sanity in Pennsylvania, hanging by the thinnest of threads, is not lost.

It was announced in Tuesday's papers that Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis Monday rejected all eight applications for new cyber-charter schools.

You can read Elizabeth Chute's article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here; the Harrisburg Patriot-News article here; or the article in The Philadelphia Public School Notebook here.

Or, if you're an originalist, you can read PDE's press release here.

As this blog sputtered on about Sunday, it seemed ludicrous that the state would be considering allowing eight more cyber-charter schools -- a 50 percent increase -- when not one of them had met the federal benchmarks set out under the No Child Left Behind law.

There is still a small chance that some of the eight cyber-

charter schools rejected by Ron Tomalis, shown here, will
ultimately be approved.
But Tomalis did not cite this statistic among the reasons for his rejection.

This is what he did say:
“The proposals submitted by the applicants lack adequate evidence and sufficient information of how prospective students would be offered quality academic programs. In addition, the financial plans presented call into question each applicant’s ability to maintain a long-term, viable educational program for the benefit of Pennsylvania students.”
While this may seem like a sudden epidemic of common sense, it is probably proper to add a pinch of caution here, as Benjamin Herold of Newsworks did in his Notebook article.

Rhonda Brownstein
Herold quoted Education Law Center executive director Rhonda Brownstein, who said: "as we saw last year, the department rejected seven applications in January, only to approve four of those applicants in June after they re-applied.”

This year’s applicants may also resubmit their applications, or choose to appeal their denials.

All of this news comes as the House Republican Caucus announced an ambitious  set of proposals to reform several aspects of Pennsylvania's charter school laws.

The suggested changes deal only with funding, which is indeed a hot mess, and not with the actual success of charter schools, only 30 percent of which make the Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, required by the federal law; or cyber-charters, none of whom made AYP.

Pa. Rep. Mike Reese (R)
And GOP dogma does require the following statement from Rep. Mike Reese (R-Fayette/Westmoreland): "Pennsylvania’s charter schools and cyber charter schools have generally worked well and have benefitted many Pennsylvania families, particularly those students in low-performing school districts."

How 30 percent and zero percent equates to "working well" is a kind of math we'll have to address some other time, because the proposed funding changes are worth considering.

Here are the key provisions:
  • Special Education Funding. Re-introduce legislation to create a commission to address inequities in the special education funding formula. The commission will be charged with determining how the Commonwealth should fund charter and cyber charter special education students.
  • Pension/Doubledip. Introduce legislation to allow deductions for school district pension payments prior to calculating payments to cyber charter schools. This one change will save approximately $165 million for school districts over the next five years. Blogger's Note: (This was the subject of an Aug. 19 post in this space.)
  • Cyber Funding Reforms. Reese will introduce legislation to make the following additional changes to the current cyber charter funding formula for non-special education students: 
  1. A new “Cyber Program” deduction to spur on competition between school districts and cyber charter schools. School districts will be permitted to deduct 50 percent of the costs of any cyber program they offer to their own resident students. Blogger's Note: (This would affect cyber-charter schools begun in the Pottstown, Spring-Ford and Boyertown school districts to directly compete with the outside schools.)
  2. Districts would be allowed to make additional deductions in calculating their payments to cyber charter schools; these deductions represent costs that occur in a brick-and-mortar setting, but not necessarily in a cyber setting. The proposed new deductions are:
  3. The “Extracurricular Activities” deduction will allow districts to deduct 50 percent of the costs they incur for extracurricular activities. This deduction will not change the availability of extracurricular activities to cyber charter students who choose to participate in their home school district’s activities.
  4. The “District Pupil Services” deduction will allow districts to deduct 100 percent of the costs associated with certain services that are offered in a brick-and-mortar setting but are not necessarily offered by cyber charter schools. These deductions will include student health services, food services and library services.
Those are the changes the traditional public school districts would probably like, as it addresses some of the complaints they have made over the years.
"There are some promising pieces in it that could benefit school districts across the commonwealth," the Pennsylvania School Boards Association wrote in a release reacting to the proposals.

"PSBA has been in favor of eliminating such items as the pension double dip and creating a funding formula that more accurately aligns with the true costs of operating cyber charter schools, both of which promise to be addressed in future legislation," the organization said.

Other significant parts of the proposal include:
  • Direct Payment of Charter Schools. Recognizing the concerns of charter and cyber charter schools not being timely paid by school districts, the Commonwealth will provide their funding directly.
  • Longer Charter Terms for Predictable Financing. The term of a charter will be lengthened from the current three years for an initial charter and five years for renewals, to five years for the initial charter and 10 years for renewals. Longer terms will allow charter schools to more easily secure predictable and consistent bank financing; the shorter terms have made private financing difficult for a number of charters in the state.
Both of these seem reasonable on the face of them.

And don't think that the irony of this flurry of charter and cyber-charter school news coming during "Pennsylvania School Choice Week" has been lost on the Digital Notebook staff.

Eighty-four events to mark the week have been scheduled across the Commonwealth.

No comments:

Post a Comment