A daily round-up of education news and views for the Keystone State.
11th June 2021

A daily round-up of education news and views for the Keystone State.

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Majority of fourth graders now back in classrooms
For the first time since the pandemic began, the majority of 4th graders nationwide have finally made it back to classes in person full time, according to the latest federal data. The National Center for Education Statistics says that by April, nearly all K-8 schools offered at least some in-person instruction, with 56% providing full-time instruction on campus. “Today’s data reaffirms what we’ve been seeing and hearing for months—that we’ve met and exceeded President Biden’s goal of reopening the majority of K-8 schools, and that as a nation we continue to make significant progress in reopening as many schools as possible before the summer,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement on the data. A separate report from Burbio, covering 1,200 districts, including the 200 largest, found that in general, conservative-leaning states reopened schools faster than liberal-leaning ones. There was strong variation among the latter, however; those in the  Northeast and the Midwest reopened a lot faster than the West Coast, which has the highest concentration of remote learners. White students were the least likely of any racial or ethnic group to be learning virtually; Asian American students were the most likely. 
Pennsylvania school pension leaders urged to quit
Several trustees of Pennsylvania’s $64 billion Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) are demanding the ouster of two top staff members, citing years of poor investment performance, high expenses and missteps that led to a federal investigation. The trustees made their demands in a letter signed by state Treasurer Stacy Garrity, former Treasurer Joseph Torsella, acting state Education Secretary Noe Ortega, state Banking and Securities Secretary Richard Vague, state Sen. Katie Muth and Pennsylvania School Board Association Chief Executive Nathan Mains. PSERS, which is the largest public pension in Pennsylvania, is in the midst of a two day meeting at present.
Lewisburg Schools approves budget
The Lewisburg Area School Board has adopted a $36.9m operating budget for the 2021-22 school year, balanced in part with a previously announced property tax increase of nearly 3%. Spending and revenue is balanced at $36,975,698, an increase of $883,936 above the 2020-21 budget, and the budget includes a 0.52-mill property tax increase, raising the rate to 18.23 mills. In March, the board agreed to eliminate a budget transfer of $350,000 to capital reserve and the targeted reduction of cyber charter school payments by $310,000. An additional $714,013 in projected tax revenue made up the bulk of a remaining deficit.
Allentown School District delays budget discussion until state numbers come in
There was no discussion on the Allentown School District's 2021-22 proposed budget during Thursday night's Finance Committee of the Whole meeting at Trexler Middle School. Director Charles Thiel blamed the state for delays. "Given the fact that the state has not released their budget yet, we decided not to address it this evening, There are a lot of variables coming in from the state that are going to affect decisions and deliberations that we as a body would make," he said, adding: "In order to do that in a more intelligent and effective manner, we're going to give it some time and look at it again next week and give the state some time to release information." On May 27, directors passed the 2021-22 proposed budget. The $365m spending plan includes a 4.6% tax hike, the highest percentage permitted under the Act 1 Index allowed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education without voter referendum.
Philadelphia School District details summer learning provisions
Philadelphia School District managers announced Thursday that approximately 15,000 students had enrolled in summer programming starting the week of June 28. Ali Robinson Rogers, Executive Director of the District’s Higher Education Preparation Office, comments: “This year, we’ve gone beyond traditional summer schools to provide direct academic support so that all students have the opportunity to continue learning during the summer in a fun and safe environment.” The program runs directly at schools in the city for students enrolling in grades 1-12.
How unions in America's largest districts are handling school reopenings
The 74 looks at how teacher unions in the United States' four largest school districts have handled school reopenings. Unions in New York and Miami-Dade County reached agreement on reopening last fall, while Chicago’s union didn’t come to terms until March. The Los Angeles union didn’t come to terms until April, and most LA schools won’t reopen until this fall. Some asked for additional staff to address mental health issues and learning loss, while others went further afield, wanting an end to standardized tests. Some demands, however, are universal. Each union wants smaller class sizes, which means more teachers, and more support employees to occupy various new programs.
U.S. state legislators move to restrict teaching about racism and bias
Over the last several months, officials nationwide have raced to enact new laws and introduce new policies meant to shape how students discuss race and bias in both the past and the present. Some have focused on restricting the use of critical race theory, a framework that examines how policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism. In other states, lawmakers have tried to restrict specific kinds of antiracism training or the teaching of “divisive” concepts. Chalkbeat has drawn up a map showing which states have introduced efforts to restrict education on racism, bias, the contributions of specific racial or ethnic groups to U.S. history, or related topics; ranging from Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign a bill banning elements of critical race theory in the classroom, and potentially prohibiting classroom simulations and community service projects, to Michigan, where a bill introduced by senior lawmakers in the stat Senate last month would cut funding to districts that teach critical race theory, the “1619 Project,” or a list of “anti-American and racist theories.”

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