Heck, many districts will probably “voluntarily” decide to make passing the test a graduation requirement just to force their students to take them seriously.
So anyone who’s out celebrating that the Keystone Exams are dead is premature.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman, at least, understands this.
“Remember, the Keystones have been delayed and the graduation requirement associated with them has been stopped, but they will still be required in Pennsylvania schools for federal accountability,” he said in statement.
“Meanwhile, we know they are expensive, redundant and unnecessary and I will continue to work to end them once and for all.”
Dinniman, a Democrat, is minority chair of the Senate Education Committee.
It’s a problem all too typical in the state.
Most lawmakers are too timid to take any type of real stand. They’d rather support some half-measure so they can claim to be in favor of either or both sides of an argument.
For instance, consider the time it takes to finish the tests.
If schools follow the state’s instructions and give students this exam in reading, math and science 3 to 5 times a year, that’s an additional 50-90 minutes per test. That comes to 22.5 hours of additional testing!
However, County Council and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald would have to do the work of actually creating all this stuff. They’d have to pass an ordinance establishing how this all works, what powers the advisory commission has, etc. They would have to determine whether the money goes to existing programs or new ones. They’d have to set up audits of the money every five years, conduct a study to recommend goals and a focus for how the funding is spent.
That’s an awful lot left undecided.
It makes no sense for voters to hand over the money BEFOREwe figure all this other stuff out.
It’s not at all how good government works.
You’re supposed to define a problem or need and then come up with a plan to meet that need. You prepare a budget that justifies raising taxes and then you vote on it.
This is exactly the opposite. We’re getting the money before the plan of how to spend it.
That’s a recipe for fraud and financial mismanagement.
2) It’s Unclear Who Would Be In Charge of the Money
Who would be accountable for this money?
We know who gets to decide this – County Council and the Chief Executive. But we don’t know who they will pick or what powers they’ll delegate to these people. Nor do we know what kind of oversight there will be or what kind of regulations will exist for how it can be spent.
This is a blind statement of trust.
It’s like saying – “Here’s $18 million. Go buy us something nice.”
What if they mismanage the money? And what would that even mean for money with so few strings attached? And how would we know? How transparent would this process be?
It’s kind of hard to approve such a plan with so many variables up in the air.
Financial documents show that the whole initiative has been funded by various nonprofit organizations that could, themselves, become beneficiaries of this same fund.
According to the Children’s Fund’s own campaign finance report, as of June there were three nonprofit corporations who donated $427,000 to the campaign: the Human Services Center of Turtle Creek gave $160,000, Pressley Ridge Foundation gave $150,000, and Allies for Children gave a donation of $45,000 and another for $72,000.
That’s like McDonalds spending a hundred thousand dollars to fix up the school cafeterias so it could land a multi-million dollar annual contract!
It’s a huge conflict of interest.
At very least, it’s purposefully misleading.
Many of those “volunteers” gathering signatures weren’t working for free. They were part of the $100,000 spent by the campaign to hire Vote Goal Organizing for paid signature collectors.
That doesn’t look like charity. It looks like philanthrocapitalism – when corporations try to disguise grabs for power and profit as philanthropy.
“First and foremost, we have not had any conversations with the organizers of the referendum,” board president Regina Holley said. “There are lots of ifs and whats that have not been answered.”
Kevin Carter, another city school director added, “In my role as a school board member, they didn’t talk to us about this at all.”
“When you leave your largest school district in the region out of this conversation, are you doing this around children?” he asked, citing that the district serves 25,000 students daily.
This has been a common thread among officials. No one wants to say they’re against collecting money that’s ostensibly for the benefit of children, but it’s hard to manage the money if you’re not part of the process.
And it’s not just protocol. Many are worried that this lack of communication may be emblematic of how the fund will be run. If organizers aren’t willing to work with local governments to get the job done, how will they know what each community needs? How will they meet those needs? Is that even what the fund will really be about?
Richard Livingston, Clairton school board president, noted concern that the money collected might not be spent evenly throughout the county. For all he knows, it could just be spent in the city or in select areas.
Indeed, this is not the best way to start any endeavor funded by all, for the benefit of all children.
5) It’s Redundant
While it’s true that the county could use more funding to meet the needs of students, numerous organizations already exist that attempt to provide these services.
There are a plethora of Pre-K, after school tutoring and meal services in the Mon Valley. In fact, much of this is done at the county’s various neighborhood schools.
If organizers were only concerned with meeting these needs, why form an office within county government that would have an appointed advisory commission? Why not just increase the funding at the local schools and/or organizations already doing this work?
“At PIIN, we believe that the faith community is a sacred partner with our public schools, and we have long been supportive of both the community schools model and increasing state funding to provide an excellent, high-quality education to every child in our region. We believe in funding for early childhood learning, after school programs, and nutritious meals. However, we cannot support a ballot initiative that creates an unnecessary entity, with an unknown advisory board, and an unclear process for directing our tax dollars.
This is why we are urging our membership to reject the Allegheny County Children’s Fund Initiative at the polls this November.”
Pam tried to bring up a few other topics – about how Republicans in our state of Pennsylvania are actively working to cut this man’s healthcare, calling this man’s generation “the greediest generation” and other topics.
But it did no good. Fox News had gotten there first.
So we handed him our campaign literature, thanked him and went on our way.
Sometimes that’s the best you can do.
And it’s not nothing.
If you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you’re a lot like me.
It will take all of us, doing incremental good, every day we can.
So my suggestion is to make a commitment to voting this Nov. 6.
I know our electoral system is a mess. I know many people are being purged from the rolls and our districts are gerrymandered and the entire system is set up against us.
But if all of us try to vote, we can still win.
Find a candidate you can support and go out there and campaign for him or her.
I know there are a lot of phonies running for office. There are an awful lot of fake progressives who will talk nicely to your face and then sell you out to corporations and the wealthy at their first opportunity.
Just know that they’re not all like that.
Find yourself someone you can trust – probably someone new to the game coming on the scene to change things.
She’s an amazing lady with real conviction running for State Senate in the 38th District – that’s most of Northern Allegheny County from Franklin Park eastward, as well as Highland Park and sections of East Liberty in Pittsburgh.
When her campaign literature says she “won’t back down” fighting for working families. That’s what it means.
And her priorities – education, healthcare and labor – aren’t pie in the sky promises. She has a fiscally responsible plan to support them by creating a severance tax on natural-gas drilling and closing a loophole that allows businesses headquartered in other states to avoid state taxes. She wants to keep taxes low for homeowners while making sure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share.
Perhaps that’s why a conservative dark money organization aligned with her Republican challenger, Jeremy Shaffer, has created knockoff campaign signs that look just like Williams with the word “Socialist” emblazoned on them.
It’s a desperation tactic.
Shaffer is down in the polls. The district – once a Republican stronghold – went to Hillary Clinton in the last election.
Even Shaffer, a Ross Township supervisor, is a throwback – he’s a far right extremist who primaried incumbent state Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Shaler) in May.
So not only is Williams a candidate I can believe in, her race really matters to the overall state picture. If the Democrats only pick up her seat in November and don’t lose any others, we’ll crush the GOP’s veto-proof majority!
But I didn’t come out this weekend just for Williams.
I also was there to canvass for Betsy Monroe, a Fox Chapel medical professional at Highmark running for State House in the same North Hills area.
She noticed that state Rep. Hal English (R-Hampton) had run unopposed in the last two elections, so she decided to run against him, herself.
Monroe was particularly angered by English’s vote to criminalize abortions after 20 weeks for all women in the Commonwealth. (The bill was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf back before the GOP had a veto proof majority.) She thought it was unfair for lawmakers to decide what adult women can do with their own bodies.
However, there was one other woman I was there to support – my own daughter.
For someone in elementary school, she is incredibly interested in politics. I caught her on Saturday literally writing political stump speeches for her stuffed animals. Let me tell you, Eeyore the donkey from the Hundred Acre Wood has some mighty progressive views on women’s rights!
I wanted my little one to see real women in politics, fighting to make a difference.
The news is always so grim. I wanted her to see that there are people out there fighting for the good.
And you know what? It helped me, too.
At this point I need to pause and give a huge “Thank You” to two people – Pamela Harbin and Jodi Hirsch.
Jodi is an amazing organizer who put together the event in the first place.
I wanted to get more involved in the election and Jodi knew exactly how I could do that and which candidates I’d be most interested in.
The defining moment of Pennsylvania’s one and only gubernatorial debate wasn’t made by incumbent Tom Wolf or his challenger Scott Wagner.
It was made by former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
At least it was made by him seven years ago.
Before voters overwhelmingly choose the Democratic Wolf to replace him, Corbett told a whooper about his administration and education funding – namely that he DIDN’T cut almost $1 billion from the poorest schools in the Commonwealth.
“Trebek: What you have not mentioned is education suffered immensely about seven years ago when Gov. Corbett knocked off about a billion dollars. And…
Wagner: That’s totally false.
Trebek: Oh, it’s false.
Wagner: That’s totally false. Those were federal stimulus dollars. Gov. Wolf went around and told that. It was a lie. Gov. Corbett … (Clapping)… And the stimulus money came in during Gov. Rendell’s administration. And so Gov. Corbett’s here tonight. People need to know that Gov. Corbett did as much for education as really any governor. (Clapping) And he needs to be remembered for that. He didn’t cut the billion dollars. It was a billion dollars of stimulus money that came in and they were told – the education system – I wasn’t there – Don’t hire teachers, don’t… They did all that. Guess what? Here’s the problem with the system, Alex. The billion dollars. It’s gone. We have nothing to show for it.”
Here’s the crux of the bedtime story he’s telling.
The big bad federal government gave us money, and when that money was spent, we didn’t have it anymore. So what mean ol’ Gov Wolf calls a budget cut was no one’s fault.
It’s as if someone gives you a couple hundred dollars for your birthday and then your boss stops paying you your salary. That may work this week, but next week you need your paycheck. Otherwise you don’t have money to pay the bills.
Your boss can’t say to you: I’m not cutting your wages. Look I gave you just as much money this week as last week.
But now that his campaign has seen how unpopular that position is, very recently he’s changed his tune.
Suddenly he says we should increase education funding.
And good for him.
However, if he’s using the Corbett playbook, it seems that “increase” really won’t be anything of the sort.
It will just be more creative accounting and fantasy storytelling. He’ll pay for pensions and say he’s increasing school funding. Or maybe he’ll fudge something else from column A and pretend it’s funding column B.
It’s disingenuous, dishonest and Pennsylvanians aren’t going to put up with it.
Perhaps that’s why Wolf is leading in the polls.
Wagner may have found a way to get his supporters into the debate hall – they certainly clapped loud at his points – but they are a minority among voters.
I wish Trebek had called him out on it.
I wish Gov. Wolf had challenged him.
But time was running short and Wagner still had to complain about a college swimming coach with too high a pension, and he had to whine about mean old Wolf demanding the Marcellus Shale industry pay its fair share of taxes.
There were plenty of other sparks at the debate.
Wagner raged about this and lied about that. He thinks running a state like Pennsylvania is like managing his $75 million garbage hauling company. But if given the chance, it will be our children’s future’s that are left in the trash.
Meanwhile, Gov. Wolf looked like the adult in the room, soberly explaining the improvements he’d overseen in his term in office (a balanced budget, healing some of the Corbett education cuts, etc.) and outlining where we need to go in the future.
Every time Wagner slammed him for taking support from unions, I wished he’d spoken up. But he just let it pass like Casey at Bat looking for a perfect pitch.
Twitter squeaky wheels thought the Jeopardy host’s moderation was weird. I’ll admit a tangent into the Catholic church and pedophile priests may not have been necessary. But he made the entire event more watchable and he called out Wagner’s lies more often than not.
He hates science. He hates schools. He hates teachers. And if students get in the way, he’ll hate them, too.
These are the qualities he thinks Pennsylvanians are looking for in their next governor.
The York Township Republican will challenge incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf on Nov. 6, 2018.
So who is this guy?
Wagner’s a college dropout who made a fortune starting a garbage hauling firm. He became a state senator four years ago after winning a write in campaign during a special election where only 17% of the electorate could be bothered to vote.
And ever since, he’s been consistent about one thing: he really, Really, REALLY hates teachers.
“We have 180,000 teachers in the state of Pennsylvania,” Wagner said in 2015. “If we laid off 10 percent of the teachers in the state of Pennsylvania, we’d never miss them.”
That’s a deficit we still haven’t recovered from. Even today, state schools are staffed at a 10-year low. Class sizes are at an all time high.
Yet Wagner wants to fire even more teachers!?
That’s not the policy of a man who wants to help improve life throughout the state for all. That’s not the policy of a man who wants to help kids learn.
It’s the policy of a man who has a personal grudge against educators.
And his other legislative objectives?
Wagner wants to further slash education funding. He wants to spend whatever is left inequitably. And he really wants to help his heroes Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos enact school vouchers so business people like him can continue to cash in on children from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and all places between.
By contrast, in his four years in office, Gov. Wolf has pushed to increase education funding, pushed to spend it more fairly, and even cut the time it takes for students to take high stakes standardized tests.
The good news: voters throughout the Commonwealth have never had a clearer choice for governor.
The bad news: when has that ever stopped them from getting it wrong?
“We have created a special class in this state and the special class is the public sector union employee,” Wagner told Keystone Crossroads in a 2015 interview.
“Teachers are doing very well in this state,” he said. “People would be appalled if they knew what their teachers made, in certain areas.”
Unfortunately, Wagner has no idea, himself.
He keeps quoting a bogus salary figure that I’m not going to repeat. It’s not true statewide, it’s not an average, nor is it true in his home district.
In truth, the low end for teachers entering the field nationwide is around $30,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). So go to college, get a four – sometimes five – year degree including a rigorous internship of student teaching and you make a mere $10,000 above the most generous minimum wage!?
According to that data, Pennsylvania teachers make on average $63,063 per year. Of neighboring states, teachers in Maryland ($65,247) and New Jersey ($71,687) make more. Teachers in Ohio (59,063) and Delaware ($59,853) make less.
In other words, if prospective teachers want to make more money, all they have to do is switch majors.
That may be part of the reason for our national teachers shortage. Not only have states like ours laid off tens of thousands of educators, many don’t stay in the field if given the chance. Across the country , 46 percent of educators quit before reaching the five year mark. And it’s worse in urban districts, where 20 percent quit every single year!
“There are teachers that will exceed expectations while teaching a classroom of 100 of the toughest-to-teach students. There are also teachers that would struggle to teach just one student at a time. I want the first teacher to make a small fortune, and I want the second teacher to find a new career that is better suited for him or her.”
So if you teach the best students, you should make the most money? And if you teach struggling students, you should be fired?
But It’s Not Just Teachers. He Hates Other Working People, Too
If there is a corner to cut, he wants to take it – especially if it screws a working person. As a state senator, Wagner even introduced a bill that would exempt school districts from paying laborers the “prevailing wage” on construction projects.
Cheaper labor, shoddier work. That’s surely a recipe for success in buildings housing school children!
I’m sure reducing teaching to a career without benefits, workers rights or protections will do wonders for the educational quality students receive.
Teachers working conditions are students learning conditions. Putting children in a building that has fewer safety precautions because there’s no union to collectively bargain for them is a great way to cut costs. But parents aren’t thrilled about having their kids try to learn in a sweat shop filled with Trump brand Russian asbestos.
Charter schools, funding private and parochial schools with public tax dollars. He’s in for all of it.
So long as it hurts public schools and enriches private businesses without helping students learn at all.
Go ahead! Take scarce funding from public schools and divert it to programs with little to no accountability. Let private school operators fraudulently misrepresent enrollment data. Let them fail to provide safe and academically appropriate learning environments. Let them game the system in any and every way.
That’s what Wagner calls fiscal accountability.
It doesn’t matter that these schools don’t improve student achievement. Evaluations of voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., have all found no statistically significant differences in the academic achievement of voucher students compared to public school students. And recent evaluations of programs in Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana revealed that voucher students scored lower than their peers attending public school.
But who cares about facts? This is all ideology for Wagner.
Vouchers have a record of undermining student’s civil rights – especially students with disabilities. Private school students give up due process and other rights guaranteed in public schools. Private schools are allowed to discriminate by denying admission based on religion, sexual orientation, citizenship status, English language proficiency and disability. Private schools that enroll students with disabilities may decide not to provide the services or accommodations guaranteed to such students in public schools. Or they may charge parents extra for them. Moreover, there is nothing to stop them from segregating these kids from other children. And, finally, private schools often suspend or expel students without due process.
This may be Trump and Wagner’s ideal. But it is certainly not what Commonwealth voters want for their children.
He Wants to Get Rid of Many State Colleges
Wagner caused an uproar when he said the state’s 14 state colleges will not be around in four years. “So, for those of you who think your school’s going to be around four years from now, it isn’t going to be around,” Wagner said.
Fewer institutions of higher learning. Fewer opportunities to get a college degree. That sounds like the policy of a college dropout.
But that’s either too complicated for Wagner or he just doesn’t care.
He supported Gov. Corbett’s plan to decimate Pennsylvania’s schools. And he doesn’t think the culling should be over.
When asked point blank about Corbett’s cuts in 2011, he said, “Yes, I believe that Governor Corbett needs to stick to his plan.”
He’s said repeatedly that we spend “enough money” on public schools, while stressing the need for frugality and fewer regulations.
He Wants to Play with How Schools Are Funded
He’s an advocate for legislation that would eliminate school property taxes and replace them with increased state sales and income taxes.
True we need a better funding mechanism than local property taxes. But you can bet Wagner’s plan is worse than the current system.
It would lock funding inequities among Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts into place.
He Thinks Global Warming is Caused by the Earth Getting Closer to the Sun
Wagner is an incredibly stupid man who thinks he’s rather intelligent.
But of all the dumb or evil things that come spewing out of his mouth, this one has to be my favorite.
When asked about global climate change, he didn’t simply deny that it was happening. He had an alternative theory to why it was taking place.
It’s not business and industry or fossil fuels that is causing global temperatures to rise. He actually said that it’s because the earth is getting closer to the sun every year. Another cause? Human bodies on the planet are giving off enough heat to raise the global temperature.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a person who hates schools and teachers so much knows very little, himself.
These comments made him a national laughing stock.
His words were repeated on every late night comedy show across the country for giggles and guffaws.
The question is “Will the joke be on us come Election Day?”
It’s not “How dumb is Scott Wagner?”
It’s “Is Pennsylvania dumb enough to vote for him?”
NOTE: Special Thank you to Sue Goncarovs for the Wagner cartoon with which I began this piece. I love your work!
That’s less than two years in jail for defrauding tens of thousands of students and multiple districts across the Commonwealth.
In addition, once he serves his time he’ll be on probation for 3 years.
And even though there is no mystery about the amount of money he defrauded from the Internal Revenue Service by shifting his income to the tax returns of others – $437,632, to be exact – the amount he’ll have to pay back in restitution is yet to be determined.
One would think that’s easy math. You stole $437,632, you need to pay back at least that amount – with interest!
And what of the $8 million? Though I can’t find a single explicit reference to what happened to it in the media, it is implied that the money was recovered and returned to Pa Cyber.
Yet there seems to be no discussion of a financial penalty for embezzling all that money. If my checking account dips below a certain balance, I’m penalized. If I don’t pay the minimum on my credit cards, I’m charged an additional fee. Yet this chucklehead pilfers $8 million and won’t be docked a dime!? Just paying it back is good enough!?
But what makes this sentence even more infuriating to me is the paltry jail time Trombetta will serve.
They each got three years in prison, seven years probation, $10,000 in fines and 2,000 hours of community service.
So in America, cheating on standardized tests gets you a harder sentence than embezzling a fortune from school kids.
I’m not saying what the Atlanta teachers and administrators did was right, but their crime pales in comparison to Trombetta’s.
Think about it.
Atlanta city schools have suffered under decades of financial neglect. The kids – many of whom are students of color – receive fewer resources, have more narrowed curriculum and are forced to live under the yoke of generational poverty.
Yet their teachers were told to increase test scores with little to no help, and if they didn’t, they’d be fired.
I can’t imagine why they tried to cheat a system as fair as that.
It’s like being mugged at gunpoint and then the judge convicts you of giving your robber a wooden nickel.
The worst part of all of this is that we haven’t learned anything from either case.
High stakes standardized testing has become entrenched in our public schools by the newly passed federal law – the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
And though Trombetta resigned from his post as CEO of PA Cyber in September 2013, cyber charters are as popular as ever.
You can’t turn on the TV without a commercial for a cyber charter school showing up. You can’t drive through a poor neighborhood without a billboard advertising a virtual charter. They even have ads on the buggies at the grocery store!
Yet these schools have a demonstrated track record of failure even when compared to brick-and-mortar charter schools. And when you compare them to traditional public schools, it’s like comparing a piece of chewed up gum on the bottom of your shoe to a prime cut of filet mignon.
Keep in mind there are only 180 days of school in Pennsylvania!
That means cyber charters provide less math instruction than not going to school at all.
When it comes to reading, the same study found cyber charters provide 72 days less instruction than traditional public schools.
That’s like skipping 40% of the school year!
And this isn’t just at one or two cyber charters. Researchers noted that 88 percent of cyber charter schools produce weaker academic growth than similar brick and mortar schools.
They concluded that these schools have an “overwhelming negative impact” on students.
AND THAT’S ALL LEGAL!
In Pennsylvania, nearly 35,100 of the 1.7 million children attending public schools are enrolled in cyber-charter schools. With more than 11,000 students, PA Cyber is by far the largest of the state’s 16 such schools.
If Trombetta had just stiffed Pennsylvania’s students that much, he wouldn’t have been in any trouble with the law.
However, he got even greedier than that!
He needed more, More, MORE!
Justice – such as it is in this case – was a long time coming.
Trombetta was first indicted back in 2013 – five years ago.
He was facing 11 counts of mail fraud, theft or bribery, conspiracy and tax offenses related to his involvement in entities that did business with Pa. Cyber. He pleaded guilty to tax conspiracy almost two years ago, acknowledging that he siphoned off $8 million from The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.
He has been free on bond all this time.
His sister, Elaine Trombetta, agreed to cooperate with prosecution, according to federal court filings. She pleaded guilty in October 2013 to filing a false individual income tax return on her brother’s behalf and has yet to be sentenced.
It was only yesterday that her brother – the kingpin of this conspiracy – was ultimately sentenced.
A truckload of taxpayer wealth would be redistributed away from the public school and into the religious one.
And this is for children who weren’t attending public school in the first place.
Imagine what an impact that would have on the two schools. At the Catholic middle school, not much would change. At most a few more kids might enroll. And wealthy parents would get to pay less in tuition.
At the public middle school, however, the results would be disastrous. It would have to survive on much less funding than it was already receiving. Services for the majority of students in the district would be degraded. Class sizes would balloon. Educational quality would take a nose dive.
So why wouldn’t more kids from the public school move to the Catholic one?
Well, first of all, few kids in the district are Catholic. Should they be forced to be indoctrinated in a faith in which they don’t believe?
Second, tuition at the Catholic school costs more than the price of the voucher. Parents would have to pay above and beyond what they’re paying now to make tuition at the Catholic school. And this is a mostly poor neighborhood. Parents simply can’t afford it.
SB 2 would target students living in districts with the most underfunded schools serving the most impoverished populations. You know – “failing schools.”
If passed, kids living in these neighborhoods would have whatever the district sets aside for each student put in a savings account to be spent in almost any way parents see fit so long as they could somehow justify it as educational.
Send your kids to a private or parochial school?
Homeschool your child?
Go on a trip to the life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark in Williamstown, Kentucky?
And the best part is there is hardly any accountability built in to the law, so we probably wouldn’t even know how this money was spent.
Your tax dollars at work. Somehow. Somewhere. Out of sight.
I guess that’s what Pennsylvania Republicans like DiSanto call fiscal conservatism.
If passed, the bill would affect 800 schools – the 15% lowest performing in the state – including mine.
Every school serves mostly poor students. Every school is severely underfunded.
Pennsylvania ranks 45th out of 50 for school funding. There are only five states in the country where the state government pays less of the cost of educating students. The Commonwealth relies on local municipalities to make up the difference. That means local property taxes, so the richer an area you live in, the more money it can afford to pay to educate children. The poorer an area where you live, the less it can pay.