A daily round-up of education news and views for the Keystone State.
1st July 2021

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

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Pennsylvania's public school funding package signed
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday signed the bumper $40bn budget package lawmakers passed last week, as he championed the importance of new funding for public schools. He touted $300m extra for school district operations and instruction, including the idea of setting aside $100m of that strictly for school districts historically-disadvantaged by how Pennsylvania distributes aid to schools. As a result, large urban school districts like Philadelphia, Allentown, Reading, York, Erie, Harrisburg, Scranton, Lancaster and Chester-Upland, will get a bigger slice of state aid than they would have, had that money gone through the state's six-year-old funding formula.
Penn Hills officials approve budget with tax hike
Penn Hills property owners will have to pay a little more in real estate taxes due to the school district's $94.6m spending plan for 2021-22. The board unanimously passed next school year's budget with a 1.3% tax hike. The real estate tax rate is among the highest of school districts in Allegheny County. Projected revenues and expenses are projected to be about $94.6m. “I do see this budget as a call to action and accountability for us,” board member Elizabeth Rosemeyer says. “For the first time, we're not drowning financially. We have a little bit of space to get our head above water. I see this as a time that we can offer more support to our students, to our teachers and hopefully also to our administrators.”
Woodland Hills wins national green award
The Woodland Hills School District, which was the first in Pennsylvania to adopt a climate change resolution, has been named as the winner of a national award for its work organizing and promoting green initiatives. The Green Schools National Network and Center for Green Schools announced the district had won the 2021 Best of Green Schools Award in the school systems category. The award recognizes the district for organizing, educating and collaborating with the community on green initiatives, including sustainability, climate change and energy efficiency.
Philly school renamed for Fanny Jackson Coppin
The Philadelphia Board of Education has unanimously voted to rename Andrew Jackson School after Fanny Jackson Coppin, a former enslaved woman turned educator with Philadelphia ties. Jackson, the country’s seventh president, was a slave owner. “The School District of Philadelphia recognizes that school names are an important part of students’ learning environments and should cultivate a sense of pride in the history and traditions, to ensure that all students, staff, and families feel respected, seen, and heard,” the district said in a statement.
Research challenges student poverty figures
A new research paper argues that the schools and government agencies basing aid distribution on the proportion of students receiving free or reduced-price meals are using an outdated proxy for measuring poverty. Co-authors Ishtiaque Fazlul, Cory Koedel, and Eric Parsons, from the University of Missouri, say that conflating poverty with the number of students getting free or reduced-price meals leads to inaccurate and misleading assertions. Those meal programs, the paper argues, often include students who don’t meet the technical definition of eligibility for the program. As a result, that metric doesn’t provide a granular understanding of which students are actually living in families with severe economic challenges. They found that the number of students in families below the poverty criteria for free or reduced price meal eligibility is lower than the number of students enrolled in free and reduced-price meal programs. Programs that offer free meal programs are particularly “oversubscribed,” the report says. While not entirely dismissing free school numbers as a way of measuring poverty, they suggest that school neighborhood poverty metrics from the National Center for Education Statistics could potentially serve as a more precise indicator of which districts are most in need of aid. 
Civil rights groups urge Biden administration to place limits on school police
Civil rights group The Education Trust has written to the Department of Education offering a roadmap for shrinking the role of police in schools. The document sets out a vision for a shift in civil rights enforcement, along with a candid accounting of potential pitfalls; it also calls on the Biden administration to warn that the presence of police in certain schools, and police involvement in routine discipline, could violate students’ civil rights. The group says the federal government should discourage police from routinely interacting with students, and discourage schools from putting police in schools that serve higher numbers of students of color, especially Black and Native American students. They want federal education officials to say those actions could constitute a federal civil rights violation.
New coalition aims to improve school district data systems
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Council of the Great City Schools have come together to help make school district data systems more secure and user-friendly. The partnership already has agreements in place with state education agencies in California, Massachusetts, and Nebraska, and 20 large school districts, to improve their systems’ interoperability, meaning make it easier for disparate systems to communicate with one another. The goal will be to create a set of tools and processes that any state or district can turn to when looking to tackle incompatible systems and/or secure their data. “We know that having access to the right data and right information is really powerful for educators to make those really informed decisions to support student learning,” explained Mindy Frisbee, the senior director of learning partnerships at ISTE. Funding for the project was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. 
Catholic School Association Working To Recover
The National Catholic Educational Association will welcome Lincoln Snyder as its new chief executive this week, as the agency seeks to rebound from its biggest one-year enrollment drop since the 1970s. Amid the pandemic, more than 200 schools closed permanently and enrollment at the 5,981 remaining schools fell by 6.4%, or more than 111,000 students, for the 2020-2021 academic year, according to the NCEA, which oversees Catholic schools across the United States. Catholic school enrollment decreased by more than 8% in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Total enrollment was about 1.63 million, down from a peak of more than 5.2 million in the early 1960s. The overall enrollment drop was 8.1% at the 4,812 Catholic elementary schools, and 2.5% at the 1,169 secondary schools. The reduction in school staffing was relatively modest however, at 2.3%, due in part to the availability of the federal Paycheck Protection Program in the spring of 2020.

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