A daily round-up of education news and views for the Keystone State.
30th June 2021

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

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Pandemic 'widened in-person learning disparities,' CDC warns
New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that the pandemic widened disparities in full-time, in-person learning between white and minority students. While in-person learning increased for all school children in 2021, it increased the most for white students. In-person learning increased to 74.6% for whites from January 2021 to April 2021, to 63.4% for blacks, 58.9% for Hispanics, and 56.9% for all other races. Though the study had a number of limitations, including sampling primarily from larger school districts, researchers found that students in the South had the highest rate of in-person learning, on average, at 62.5%. The rates in the Midwest, Northeast, and West were 37.1%, 16.2%, and 21.8%, respectively. Separately, a survey by the Rand Corp. indicates that the percentage of Black and Latino parents who reported being uncertain about or against the fall return to class was just under 30%, nearly three times as high as the 10% for White parents. Similarly, research from the University of Southern California shows 30% of Black parents and 18% of Hispanic parents surveyed from mid-May through June 22 are planning for remote instruction or are unsure about returning to school for fall, compared with just 12% of White and Asian parents.
More districts announce budget decisions
Chartiers Valley area property owners will have to pay a little more in real estate taxes next school year as part of officials' $72.1m budget. School directors approved a tax hike of just under 3% in setting the new millage rate at 18.758 mills. Projected expenses and revenue were listed around $72.1m, while income includes about $43.4m in real estate taxes, including delinquent collection and $5.4m in earned income taxes. About 75% of the budget, nearly $54.1m, is allocated for salaries and benefits for district employees. The district also plans to draw a little less than $61,000 in reserve funds to help balance the budget. No cuts to programs or staffing were noted. The Plum School Board voted 8-0 Tuesday night to pass the district's $65.7m spending plan for 2021-22, with no tax hike or program cuts. Administrators were able to close a projected $600,000 gap outlined in January with staffing adjustments, retirements and drawing from an estimated $3.6m in federal stimulus funds. Residents within the Carlynton School District will see an increase in taxes for the 2021-2022 school year, after school board members approved a final balanced general budget of almost $31m. According to Superintendent John Kreider, a millage rate increase comes from the rise in Public School Employees' Retirement System (PSERS) contributions, which has obviously been an ongoing challenge for many of the state's schools districts. In addition to PSERS contributions, he noted, employee benefit rates and charter school tuition continue to increase.
'Level up' funding boosts Erie schools
As a result of Pennsylvania's Level Up state funding initiative, the Erie School District will receive an additional $2.8m in basic education funding. The district's total basic education increase for 2021-22, including the Level Up funding, amounts to $6.5m, which figures show is a boost of 7.9% over the 2020-21 amount. The state budget also allocates an additional $650,000 to the district for special education, bringing total state funding for the district's special education to $11.8m, a 5.8% increase over the allocation for 2020-21. The Erie School Board agreed in May to a preliminary budget with a 3% tax increase, which would raise nearly $1.5m in additional revenue. The 2021-22 budget would amount to about $208.6m if the additional tax revenue were included.
Supreme Court declines case challenging transgender bathroom rights
The Supreme Court has rejected a request from the school board of Gloucester County, Virginia to reinstate its policy barring a transgender boy from using the boys’ bathroom. An appeals court had ruled that the policy violated the Constitution and a federal law by prohibiting the student, Gavin Grimm, from using the same bathrooms as other boys. The school said Mr. Grimm could use a private bathroom. As is the court’s practice, it gave no reasons for declining to hear the appeal. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they would have granted the school board’s petition seeking Supreme Court review. The court's action puts an end to Mr. Grimm's seven-year fight against the district. Beginning in his freshman year in high school, he identified as male and began taking hormones. “I am glad that my years-long fight to have my school see me for who I am is over,” he said. “Trans youth deserve to use the bathroom in peace without being humiliated and stigmatized by their own school boards and elected officials.”
Biden's electric school bus deal 'lacking'
In an opinion piece for The Hill, Phillip Burgoyne-Allen, a 2021 Clean Energy Leadership Institute fellow and a policy professional focused on transportation and environment issues, examines the school transport elements of the $1.2tn infrastructure bill backed last week by President Joe Biden. The framework includes $7.5bn to help replace thousands of diesel-powered school and transit buses with electric models; a sum Mr. Burgoyne-Allen describes as "certainly better than nothing," but which nevertheless "falls far short of what’s needed to protect students and the environment." He says that, at current costs, even $25bn would only electrify about 20% of school buses, adding that school districts only spend $27bn total on school transportation each year.
Springfield students recognized for community work
The Springfield Volunteer Memorial Fund has recognized five students from the senior class of Springfield High School who have performed "exemplary" volunteer service. Parents and school officials were among those who attended the event.
Juul to pay North Carolina $40m over claims it targeted youth
Juul Labs has agreed to pay North Carolina $40m to settle the first of a spate of lawsuits brought by states and localities claiming the e-cigarette company’s marketing practices fueled widespread addiction to nicotine among young people and created a new public health problem. Thirteen other states, including California, Massachusetts and New York, as well as the District of Columbia, have filed similar lawsuits. The central claim in each case is that Juul knew, or should have known, that it was hooking teenagers on pods that contained high levels of nicotine. “North Carolina is now the first state in the nation to hold Juul accountable for its instrumental role in creating a youth vaping epidemic, “ said Attorney General Josh Stein after a Monday morning court hearing on the settlement. The money will be used to help teens who are addicted to Juul products, as well as preventive programs, he added.

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