A daily round-up of education news and views for the Keystone State.
29th June 2021

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

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School enrollment drop 'largest in decades,' NCES says
According to preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, public school enrollment in 2020-21 fell by 3% compared to the previous year, marking the largest decline since the start of this century, according to researchers. The changes were concentrated in pre-K, which saw a 22% decrease, and kindergarten, which experienced a dip of 9%. Changes also differed by grade groupings, with a 13% decrease in pre-K and kindergarten, a 3% decrease in grades 1-8, and a slight increase of 0.4% in grades 9-12. NCES Acting Commissioner Peggy Carr in a statement called the numbers "preliminary but concerning," noting the enrollment decreases were "widespread and affected almost every single state and every region of the country." Mississippi and Vermont had the largest declines at 5%, according to the NCES analysis, with Washington, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Maine trailing not far behind at 4% or more. The District of Columbia, South Dakota and Utah saw the smallest enrollment drops, at less than 1%. Illinois was the only state to not submit data. 
Pennsylvania school districts to receive record funding
The finalized $40.8bn state budget includes yet another record-high amount being spent on K-12 education in Pennsylvania. Overall, it boosts funding for basic education to support district operations to more than $7bn, a 4% increase, while special education funding rises to more than $1.2bn, a 4.2% increase. The increase in the basic education budget line includes $200m more spread across the commonwealth’s districts with $100m more for the 100 historically underfunded districts that disproportionately serve students of color, students in poverty, students with disabilities and English learners. In the southcentral Pennsylvania counties of Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York, those underfunded districts are: Shippensburg Area in Cumberland County; Harrisburg and Steelton-Highspire in Dauphin County; Lebanon in Lebanon County; Columbia Borough, Ephrata Area and Lancaster in Lancaster County; and York City in York County. All but seven school districts will receive an increase in their state funding to support basic education. York Suburban School District is due to receive the biggest percentage boost of all districts at more than 20%. Some 225 districts will receive between a 2% and 5% increases, including many in southcentral Pennsylvania counties. As for special education, all but 12 districts across the commonwealth will see an increase in the aid they receive from the state to educate students with disabilities. Dauphin County’s Steelton-Highspire School District will see an 11.9% increase, which is the fourth highest percentage increase in the state. The district receiving the highest percentage increase, with 14%, is Lackawanna County’s Riverside School District. Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to formally sign the budget this week.
'Historic' summer learning program begins in Philly
Philadelphia's summer learning program began Monday, bringing students in all grades back into school buildings for what is anticipated to be among the largest programming series in the school district's history. More than 15,000 students have signed up for a wealth of summer activities, ranging from an extended school year program for students in special education to a “quarter 5” for 10th through 12th graders who need to make up credits lost during virtual learning. Deputy Mayor Cynthia Figueroa, who heads the city’s Office of Children and Families, says there are 24 providers working with the city and district this year, many of which staffed the city’s digital access centers during the school year where students could go for internet access and supervision while they participated in classes online. "This is a historic level of cooperation,” she asserts.
Bethel Park Schools approves budget with tax increase
Officials with the Bethel Park School District have approved their 2021-22 budget with an estimated 3.5% tax hike. The board voted 8-1 at its June meeting to set next school year's millage rate to 22.5272, an increase of 0.7618 mills, which is expected to generate about $1.95m for the district. A presentation listed 2021-22 revenues at about $94.01m and expenses at $94.653m, while officials plan to pull about $642,800 from the nearly $25m reserve fund to balance the budget with no program or staff cuts. About 75%, or $71m, in costs are for salaries and benefits for district employees. The budget also accounts for a 4% increase in pension costs and 10% increase in health care costs.
Easton Area finance executive leaving
The Easton Area School District’s top finance administrator has submitted his resignation. Chief Operating Officer Michael Simonetta will leave the district within 60 days of the submission of his June 1 resignation letter. His departure completes the turnover of officials in the top ranks of the administration. Simonetta joined the district in 2011 and served alongside Superintendent John Reinhart, who retired in 2019, and Assistant Superintendent Alyssa Emili, who left in October.
Educators encouraged to incorporate consent beyond health classes
Educators don’t need to confine the idea of consent to health classes, but can instead broaden the idea into other subjects across middle and high school, according to Laura McGuire, a sexuality educator, trauma-informed specialist, and inclusion consultant at the National Center for Equity and Agency. She argues that the more opportunities educators offer pupils to share and communicate about consent and similar topics, the better they serve their students. For example, English language arts classes can ask students to study consent and topics close to it for research papers, and science courses can explore the way the human body and mind react to trauma. By utilizing such strategies, educators can help to bring concepts like consent into other subject areas and increase the development of empathy, communication and compassion within a student community.
Districts wrestle with challenges of construction projects
With COVID-19 spread beginning to recede, and state legislatures firming up K-12 spending for next year, school officials and policy makers are grappling with the challenge of maintaining and improving school buildings so they’re safe and appealing for students, staff, and the broader public to visit daily. Key issues include a nationwide shortage of highly skilled workers who can handle the complexities of maintenance projects, as well as construction projects like building a new addition or a new school, a rise in the cost of materials such as steel, and a lack of clarity on how districts can spend their federal stimulus funding. Recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Education lists construction as an eligible use of stimulus dollars, if the district can explain how the project relates to recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Replacing HVAC units is likely to be acceptable, but building a new gymnasium might not be. All of these pressures could lead some districts to be less ambitious with their design planning, or to hold off on necessary work until a later date, said Joe Dixon, a former school facilities administrator in California public schools who now consults with school districts across the state.

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