Pittsburgh is Lucky

School board elections used to be a rather sleepy affair. A few local people would pay attention and the average candidate expected to spend a few thousand dollars to run a campaign. But now some of the wealthiest people on the planet are running around pouring money into elections in cities where they don’t even live, trying to stack school boards with corporate-reform-minded majorities.

We saw this in Los Angeles earlier this year, where the mayor of 3,000-miles-away New York, Michael Bloomberg, spent $1 million to promote corporate reform candidates. He was joined by Michelle Rhee and members of the Walton family (of the Wal-Mart fortune), who have been pumping their wealth into state and local elections. [See “School Boards Matter”] Now we are watching the vultures circle Denver. A school board member in the Mile-High-City just announced she won’t be seeking re-election and familiar players are swooping in to protect the corporate-reform agenda they’ve got under way there.

Dr. Kenneth Wong, chair of education policy at Brown University, explained to the Denver Post that these “national groups have homed in on a small number of public-school systems with split school boards,” such as Denver. He said, “It’s an investment on their part to protect their previous investment.” Meanwhile, the executive VP of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a bastion of corporate-reform, acknowledged freely that they view Denver as one of their “bright spots” because the city’s “policies on merit pay and charter schools have thrived.” [Denver Post, 4-17-13] Never mind that merit pay doesn’t work and charter schools have not solved the problems facing public education. [On charter performance, see “Talking Turkey About Charters”; on merit pay, see Albert Shanker Institute, 1-12-12; Washington Post, 10-6-12; VOX economic research, 9-26-11]

Once again, we here in Pittsburgh are lucky. We’re lucky we aren’t Denver. Or L.A. We’re lucky our school board has not bought into privatization schemes. And while 5/9 of our school board slots are up for election this May (with only one incumbent running unopposed, meaning we will have four new people joining the board), the deep-pocketed corporate reformers have so far stayed away from the Steel City. Find something wood to knock on right now.

These elections matter a great deal. If you live in the city, please make sure you know your school board district and learn about the candidates. Yinzercation is co-sponsoring a city wide candidate forum on May 8th, hosted by A+ Schools and the League of Women Voters, from 6-8PM in the Hillman Auditorium, Kaufmann Center (1835 Centre Ave. / 15219).

We’re also lucky here in Pittsburgh that our mayoral candidates are talking about education. The two front-runners, Bill Peduto and Jack Wagner, appeared at a real-estate developers breakfast together yesterday (candidates Jake Wheatley showed up at the end and A.J. Richardson never appeared) and then spent the day getting specific about their education agendas. [Post-Gazette, 4-18-13]

I appreciate that as former state auditor general Jack Wagner looked into school finance issues (his office issued the report revealing that Pennsylvania taxpayers are over-paying cyber charter schools by $1 million per day). But his statements on education here in Pittsburgh feel out of touch: speaking through a spokesman, Wagner’s campaign said it would “concentrate on expanding student programs — with a special emphasis on math and science programs.” Has Mr. Wagner been paying attention to what is happening in Pittsburgh schools? Math and science programs are lovely – but we are missing hundreds of teachers, art and music classes, full-time librarians, nurses, counselors, and much more.

Mr. Wagner has not been at a single education event I have attended in the past year and a half. If he had been there, he would know what Pittsburgh families are talking about and what the real needs are in our schools. His campaign told the Post-Gazette he is interested in “after-school activities, internships and summer employment” for our students. [Post-Gazette, 4-18-13] All noble things, but here in the grassroots we’ve been talking about priority issues such as:

  • A rich, engaging, and culturally relevant curriculum for every student with full art, music, library, science, history, and world language programs in addition to reading and math.
  • Safe, orderly, respectful and nurturing learning environments.
  • Appropriate facilities and adequate books and materials in every school.
  • Smaller class sizes.

This is just a partial list from our shared “Vision for Great Public Schools” – a document we created after many grassroots conversations, rallies, and meetings – and a list so powerful, that resonated so widely, that it was picked up and shared nationally by education historian and advocate Diane Ravitch

Bill Peduto has been at every one of those town-hall meetings, rallies, small group conversations, and education press conferences. He shivered in the cold with over 250 people in a February snowstorm last year as we protested state budget cuts. He was at the Rally for Public Education this February in the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater as we talked about the disproportionate impact of those cuts on our poorest students and communities of color. I have seen him at PIIN community meetings and A+School gatherings. We were tweeting together from the press conference last week at which all of the school board candidates signed the Equity and Excellence pledge. Those were school board candidates and had nothing to do with the mayor’s race, but Bill Peduto was there.

Where was Jack Wagner when Rev. David Thornton of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church delivered the “State of Public Education” in Pittsburgh with such passion the crowd was on its feet cheering? Bill Peduto was there – and listening. And he heard Vanessa German’s heart-wrenching spoken word piece that reminds us all of what is really at stake in our fight for public education.

That’s why I was thrilled to see Mr. Peduto’s announcement yesterday that he wants to focus on early childhood education. [Post-Gazette, 4-18-13] If we could only do one thing on our list, many education researchers and advocates agree it should be to invest in quality early childhood education programs. Bill Peduto has proposed offering free, universal high-quality early childhood education to every child in Pittsburgh. Right now Mr. Peduto tells us that less than half of all the city’s pre-school age kids are in any kind of program – and too few of those children are in programs rated highly by Pennsylvania’s Keystone STARS certification. Quality early childhood education pays off big dividends – for the child, families, and our society. Various studies have shown that every dollar spent now on programs like the one proposed by Bill Peduto save up to $17 later on. Mr. Peduto has some other innovative ideas that he has been releasing every day this week in a series of education policy papers. I encourage you to check them out.

And I really encourage you to vote on May 21st! This is the primary, but given the politics in Pittsburgh, this is where both our school board and mayoral races will essentially be decided. The last day to register to vote is Monday (by 5PM on April 22nd). Independent voters can participate by registering temporarily as a Democrat. Download a registration form here. Or find a list of registration locations here.

We’re lucky here in Pittsburgh, indeed. Lucky to have some great candidates to vote for!

School Boards Matter

Pittsburgh’s school board is about to get a major shake up. Five of its nine spots are open this year, and there are multiple candidates running in some districts. Because of the nature of city politics, many of these seats are likely to be decided in the May primary, so we just have a couple months to get to know those who are running.

Making this election cycle more confusing, the city has just re-drawn school board lines, moving entire neighborhoods into new districts. [See Post-Gazette, 11-12-12 for list of changes.] And the new map does not align with other political boundaries such as those for city council, state representatives, or even school catchment areas. But these are extremely important races and it’s worth taking a minute to make sure you know which district you are in.

New board members will be making crucial decisions about school closings. (And we know for sure Pittsburgh will see more devastating loss of neighborhood schools in the next couple years.) Board members also sign-off on accepting grant money from foundations and approve contracts with consulting firms. [Remember “PPS: Planning a Privatization Scheme?”] And they approve new charter schools, which are frequently opened to replace the public schools that just closed.

In fact, charter schools and the use of high-stakes-testing for teacher evaluation are two of the hottest school board issues across the country right now. In Los Angeles, mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tried to take over the school board in 2006 as several other large cities have done (called “mayoral control,” this has been a key strategy to remove power from democratically elected school boards, allowing for swift imposition of the corporate-reform agenda, especially school closure). When his attempt failed, Mayor Villaraigosa switched to backing school board members who support corporate-style reforms. He solicited donations from New York’s billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gave a whopping $1 million, and from Michelle Rhee, whose StudentsFirst group gave another $250,000. [New York Times, 3-4-12]

We need to seriously question why these wealthy individuals and astro-turf groups are dumping millions into the Los Angeles school board races. The good news this morning is that it appears all those dollars did not work: with returns now in, it looks like school board member Steve Zimmer, a moderate who dared to question privatization, has retained his seat against an opponent who was backed by the mayor, Bloomberg, and Rhee, as well as the Los Angeles Times editorial board and billionaires Eli Broad (of the Broad Foundation that trains school superintendents) and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. [DianeRavitch, LA Upset] That’s a major victory for public education advocates in California – and a lesson for us in Pennsylvania.

School board elections matter. They matter a lot. And one of the benefits of being in Pittsburgh, say, and not Los Angeles, is that – at least so far – we don’t have ultra-wealthy outsiders tromping in with their dollars and agendas, trying to trounce on our democratic process. So please do your part and get to know your local candidates. Here’s the perfect chance to ask questions and learn where your future school board members stand on privatization, school closures, charter reform, high-stakes-testing, and sticking up for adequate state funding: on Monday, March 11, 2013, PIIN will host a town hall meeting from 6:30-9PM with all the school board candidates at University Prep 6-12 at Milliones, in the Hill District (3117 Centre Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15219).

In advance of this town hall, Yinzercation has been working with a coalition of education partners to develop a vision statement for Pittsburgh public schools, including a pledge for school board members. Members of the coalition include PIIN, the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, Action United, OnePittsburgh, and A+Schools. We want school board members who are more than just fiscal watchdogs in these challenging financial times. With the district scheduled to run out of money in 2015, it will be too easy to let budgets drive decision-making.

In other words, we need school board members with vision, who are:

  1. Careful policy makers and objective evaluators of data and research-based reforms
  2. Wise stewards of public school resources
  3. Promoters of public education as a public good
  4. Fearless advocates for restoring adequate State funding for our schools
  5. Advocates for enhanced revenues and fair executors of the school board taxing authority to ensure that everyone pays their fair share.
  6. Committed to achieving equity by supporting teachers, parents, students and community members in developing school specific plans to implement the District’s Equity Plan.
  7. Real partners with all stakeholders to set the highest professional standards and nurture collaboration across our school system
  8. Leaders who engage parents, educators, administrators, and community members in authentic, ongoing dialogue that improves our school and enriches our democracy
  9. Committed to implementing community driven solutions that come from real engagement and collaboration between parents, students, educators, administrators and community not outside consulting firms.

This is some of the language we have been working on. What do you think? Please come to the town hall on Monday and get this crucial conversation going. Keep the grassroots in our elections so there’s no room for the billionaire corporate-reformers to play with Pittsburgh’s school board.

PPS: Planning a Privatization Scheme?

Around here, the acronym PPS usually means “Pittsburgh Public Schools,” but now it might mean “Planning a Privatization Scheme.” The district has hired two consulting companies to help it craft an education plan that addresses equity issues for students and its looming financial crisis. But it turns out those two companies – Bellwether and FSG – support privatization of public schools. Hello? Who invited them to the party?

Actually, the PPS administration did, and then received approval from the Pittsburgh school board to pay them $2.4 million for their advice. The money is coming from local foundations as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been pouring money into teacher evaluation systems across the country, including the one here in our city. In fact, the funders made sure that the contract stipulates, “A commitment that on-going current programs, for example but not limited to … Empowering Effective Teachers, will continue to be implemented while the planning process is in progress.” [PPS Board January 2013 Legislative Session]

Remember, there is nothing wrong with teacher evaluation per se. However, the current national obsession with evaluation starts with the faulty assumptions that we have a crisis of bad teaching in our schools (while ignoring the very real crises of poverty, budget cuts, equity, and more); that we must weed out “low performing” teachers; and that we can identify “bad” teachers based on the test scores of their students. [For more on the serious problems of this obsession, please see “The VAM Sham”.]

But concerns with the teacher evaluation system aside, the Pittsburgh school board voted to approve the contract with FSG (with Bellwether as a subcontractor) without asking a single question about the philosophy of these two companies. Only board members Mr. Mark Brentley and Dr. Regina Holley voted “no” after inquiring if there weren’t local organizations that could do this consulting work, keeping all those dollars in the regional economy (an important point). But what’s worse than sending those dollars out of state, is that we will be spending $2.4 million on a plan formulated by people who actually believe we ought to be handing our public schools over to private companies.

Let’s start with Bellwether Education Partners. Mary K. Wells, a co-founder and managing partner at Bellwether, told the Post-Gazette that the group does not necessarily advocate charterizing public schools. “We’re for high-performing schools that serve all kids really well. I think we’re quite agnostic around whether that is the traditional public school setting or the charter school setting.” [Post-Gazette, 2-19-13] Yet Bellwether’s small group of five partners includes Andy Smarick, who just published a new book, The Urban School District of the Future, that “argues that the traditional urban school district is irreparably broken, and that … it must be replaced.” Smarick, who helped start a charter school in Annapolis, Maryland, believes that, “Vastly better results can be realized through the creation of a new type of organization that properly manages a city’s portfolio of schools using the revolutionary principles of chartering.” [Bellwether: Can Chartering Replace the Urban District]

Seriously? This is their starting point. That Pittsburgh’s schools are beyond hope and our only way out is to hand them over to charter operators. Education historian Diane Ravitch responded to the premise of Smarick’s book saying, “Suffice it to say that his arguments begin with the assumption that the schools and the system are broken, whereas I have concluded that the schools are struggling to educate children who have been harmed by poverty and societal neglect. … If poverty is the cause of low academic performance, as it appears to be on every standardized test and in every nation, then we might see better results by reducing poverty than by opening charter schools.” She points out that Smarick, like most corporate-style “reformers” has spent no time as an educator. Ravitch continues:

Smarick doesn’t like public education. He likes privately managed charter schools getting public money. Given his limited experience, I wonder whether he has ever spent any time in good urban public schools. I doubt it. Nothing that I have seen from his pen acknowledges that charters experience failure on the same scale as public schools. Nothing acknowledges that urban charters get no different results from public schools unless they somehow manage to minimize the number of students with disabilities and students who are English language learners and to exclude the students with behavioral and academic problems. If this is the case, then what exactly would be accomplished by dismantling urban public education and handing it over to entrepreneurs? [DianeRavitch, 10-23-12]

Back in September, Diane Ravtich also went head to head with another Bellwether partner, Andrew Rotherham, on Diane Rehm’s national public radio show. Rotherman and two other conservatives blamed unions for all problems in schools and claimed that even in “right-to-work” states (which severely curtail unions), unions are too powerful. While Ravitch explained why the Chicago public teachers were striking to defend the education of their students, Rotherman was publicly rooting for the Chicago mayor to defeat the union. [DianeRavitch, 9-12-12]

These are the people who founded Bellwether. They were management consultants and investors (Ms. Wells herself worked at Bain & Company) and they have MBAs, not education credentials. Bellwether’s own client list reads like a who’s-who of charter schools and corporate reformers. So I’m not particularly inclined to take their word for it when they tell us that they are “agnostic” as to whether charter schools are the path of Pittsburgh’s future.

Brad Bernatek, the FSG director working with the Pittsburgh public schools, also claims that his company is “fairly agnostic” on privatization. [Post-Gazette, 2-19-13] But the FSG website makes it very clear that they believe in school choice – often code for charters, vouchers, and tax credit programs in the corporate “reform” lexicon – saying that their expertise is in “Unleashing the potential of technology and ensuring that a range of high-quality school options exist to meet the needs of all students.” In the fall, Bernatek authored a report on “blended learning” as the future of education, looking at how schools – especially charter schools – are combining cyber learning with traditional classrooms. [Blended Learning in Practice: Case Studies from Leading Schools]

Last week the district asked me to meet with Mr. Bernatek to share my vision for the future of Pittsburgh’s public schools. I talked about the things our grassroots movement has been fighting for: art, music, library, science, history, and languages for all our students. Our teachers back in the classroom and smaller class sizes. A restoration of our tutoring programs, nurses and social workers in every school, parent engagement specialists, and community-based wrap-around services that address poverty and whole neighborhood needs. I want to see our district and our school board take a public stand and boldly insist that state legislators deliver adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding for all our students. And I want them to start talking about public education as a public good that must be cherished and promoted.

But I don’t see any of our priorities reflected in the process FSG/Bellwether will be using to work with Pittsburgh public schools. They have established an advisory group that will split into six subcommittees to look at: “finance and budget analysis; student outcomes and effectiveness; organization and human capital; information technology and operations; stakeholder engagement and communication; and the types of available schools and the external landscape.” [Post-Gazette, 2-19-13]

Where is a rich curriculum for our kids? Where are teachers? The only subcommittee that even mentions students is “student outcomes and effectiveness,” which sounds like more emphasis on the testing, evaluation, and measurement that’s turning our children into data points and is not about real learning. When I told Bernatek that we want an end to the punitive culture of high-stakes-testing, he admitted to me, in the interest of full disclosure (for which I give him credit), that when he worked for the Seattle school district as director of research, evaluation, and testing he helped to select the very test that teachers there are now refusing to administer to their students. (For more on that test and the Seattle opt-out movement that is spreading like wildfire, please see the series of posts under our Opt-Out Movement category.)

Does all this mean Bernatek and his team will recommend more testing, charterizing our public schools, or blended cyber-learning as the answer to Pittsburgh’s challenges? I don’t know. But I do know that the district and school board ought to have asked a lot more questions before hiring these two companies. This information is all available on the web (many thanks to Yinzercator Pam Harbin for the internet sleuthing for this story). Which leads me to suspect that the district knew full well just who they were dealing with. And that raises a lot more questions. Is PPS really Planning a Privatization Scheme?

The VAM Sham

It’s a new year, but for public education it looks like we may be seeing more of the same old thing. Tonight the Pittsburgh School Board will be reviewing a new teacher evaluation plan developed by the District based on highly problematic data drawn from all those high-stakes-tests our kids have been taking. Not only is the data bad, but the uses to which it is being put should be setting off alarm bells in every parent’s head as it actually damages our schools, our teachers, and even our children’s education. To understand why, Yinzercation talked to Dr. Tim Slekar, an education researcher and Head of the Division of Education, Human Development and Social Sciences at Penn State Altoona.

Pittsburgh’s plan comes just as Pennsylvania has introduced a new law mandating that every school district in the state must implement a teacher evaluation system, basing half of the evaluation on classroom observation and the other half on “multiple measures of student achievement.” We’ll get to these halves in a moment, but let’s start with the very premise of this new evaluation system. Pennsylvania and many other states around the country have introduced these laws as part of the corporate-reform-movement, which rests on the idea that public schools are failing, and that we must measure students with tests that will then be used to hold teachers accountable and even close down or “turn around” low performing schools (often by firing all the teachers). This seductive reasoning centers on the assumption that teachers are responsible for how their students perform on tests and that tests are an accurate measure of their teaching.

However, there are multiple problems with this logic. First, and perhaps most importantly, Dr. Slekar explains that abundant research demonstrates that out-of-school factors are far and away the largest contributors to student achievement. As much as 80% of student achievement can be directly attributed to issues such as family stability, number of books in the home, exposure to cultural resources, and whether or not a child had breakfast before school. Of the remaining 20%, teachers are certainly the most important in-school factor affecting student achievement, but by no means the only one.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) did a major study a few years ago in collaboration with 25 countries around the world looking at effective teaching. They concluded, “The first and most solidly based finding is that the largest source of variation in student learning is attributable to differences in what students bring to school – their abilities and attitudes, and family and community background.” The report noted that, “Such factors are difficult for policy makers to influence.” [OECD “Teachers Matter” report, 2005]

Furthermore, while teacher quality definitely matters, the OECD report found that most measures of teaching effectiveness have concentrated on factors that can be easily quantified – usually correlating student test data with teaching credentials, years of experience, and such. While there is a positive relationship between these things, the research shows that these matter to a “lesser extent than may have been expected” and that the teacher characteristics “which can be vital to student learning” are “harder to measure.” These include the things we should all care about in our teachers, such as “the ability to convey ideas in clear and convincing ways; to create effective learning environments for different types of students; to foster productive teacher-student relationships; to be enthusiastic and creative; and to work effectively with colleagues and parents.” [OECD “Teachers Matter” report, 2005, p. 2]

Another huge problem with the current frenzy of teacher evaluation systems is that they are also premised on the idea that we have too many “bad” teachers and must get rid of them. As evidence, the “reformers” often cite the statistic that current evaluation methods result in 99% of all teachers in the state receiving a satisfactory, or “qualified,” grade. The logic seems to be that we couldn’t possibly have so many qualified teachers. Naturally, a sensible counter-argument would be, “Why not?” It’s not like we’re hiring people off the street: teachers have to go through many gates, including training, certification, and then hiring by a school district, before they get their own classrooms.

While there may be a handful of ineffective teachers in any given district, I’m not seeing a plague of bad teaching: if anything, the teaching I see on a regular basis is quite good, despite the immense odds stacked against our teachers. Sure, where there is ineffective teaching, I want an improvement plan put in place, proper supports offered to that teacher, and then if none of that works, guide the person out the door. This is why we have a three year probationary period and the best districts train principals in good observation and feedback techniques, then make sure they have time to perform this most critical function.

In fact, if you think about it, the very best teaching evaluation system would be highly qualitative, one in which the principal takes on a teaching mentor role, creating what Dr. Slekar refers to as “a framework to discuss the classroom experience.” If anything, if there is a problem with current evaluation systems based on observation, it’s not that too many teachers receive a satisfactory grade, it’s that the quality and quantity of observation is insufficient (frequently just a quick once a year visit) and often inconsistent across districts (varying from building to building). The solution to that problem has nothing to do with student achievement scores.

Ah, but therein lies the rub. The entire evaluation system depends on what Dr. Slekar calls “the mythology of objectivity.” This is the idea that we can quantify everything, come up with the perfect formula, and reduce all aspects of teaching to numbers that will not lie – after all, they are numbers. But this lure of objectivity masks the reality that every standardized test we give our kids – and then want to use to evaluate our teachers – is in fact subjective. Slekar explains that the PSSAs are not objective measures at all and actually contain a great deal of cultural bias which continue to skew scores against our poorest students and students of color.

But even if we assume for the moment that those high-stakes-tests our children are taking yield legitimate results, there are still serious problems with using those tests to evaluate teaching. First, they were only designed to measure student achievement – not how well our teachers are teaching. As any scientist will tell you, when you want to examine something, the measurements have to be designed to actually look at what you’re interested in. And second, they completely omit many of the most important elements of teaching – you know, those very things we as parents and concerned community members think about when we recall our very best teachers.

Now let’s get back to that new state mandate which requires districts to base at least half of our teachers’ evaluations on student test scores. This half is supposed to use “multiple measures of student achievement,” but what that really amounts to is using the PSSA scores and breaking them apart and putting them back together in different ways. Pittsburgh has been working on a system to get out ahead of the new law, and wants to use a slightly different breakdown of percentages within this half than the one dictated by the state: the district “proposes 5 percent for building-level results, 30 percent for teacher-specific data and 15 percent for elective data,” which in most cases means “student surveys of individual teachers.” [Post-Gazette, 12-31-12]

For the building-level and teacher-specific data, Pittsburgh wants to use what is known as Value Added Measurements (VAM), which take into account how much a student has grown academically in a year, rather than taking a single snapshot of year-end performance on a test. While VAMs sound like a huge improvement, the reality is that VAM systems are still in the experimental phase and so far there is no evidence that any of them work. The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) reviewed VAM research funded by the Gates Foundation and found that “a teachers’ value-added for the state test is not strongly related to her effectiveness in a broader sense. Most notably…many teachers whose value-added for one test is low are in fact quite effective when judged by the other.” What’s more, the researchers warned, “there is every reason to think that the problems with value-added measures … would be worse in a high-stakes environment,” calling the results of the study “sobering about the value of student achievement data as a significant component of teacher evaluations.” [NEPC, Review of “Learning About Teaching,” 2011]

Dr. Slekar explains the problem with VAM quite simply: “Value Added Measurement systems will incorrectly rank teachers one out of every three times—at best.” [@theChalkface, 1-2-13] Just last week, education researcher Dr. Mercedes K. Schneider published an excellent investigation of the VAM system proposed by the state of Louisiana. Her careful analysis is worth reading in full if you are interested in the mathematics behind these measurements, but the crux of the problem comes down to this: VAM systems rank teachers, and in any ranking some will be at the top and some will be at the bottom (I find this itself a problematic underlying assumption). If you are going to use a tool to rank the teachers, then it ought to at least be stable, reliable, and consistent.

Dr. Schneider uses this analogy: “It is like standing on a bathroom scale; reading your weight; stepping off (no change in your weight); then, stepping on the scale again to determine how consistent the scale is at measuring your weight. Thus, if the standardized tests are stable (consistent) measures, they will reclassify teachers into their original rankings with a high level of accuracy. This high level of accuracy is critical if school systems are told they must use standardized tests to determine employment and merit pay decisions.” However, the VAM system frequently re-ranked teachers who had been at the top, down to the middle or the bottom, even when they had not changed a thing in their teaching. The bottom line? Dr. Schneider says, “I would discard the bathroom scale.” She concludes, “Yes, teachers should be evaluated. However, attempting to connect teacher performance to student standardized test scores cannot work and will not improve education in America. VAM does not work; it cannot work and needs to be discarded.” [“Value Added Modeling (VAM) and ‘Reform’: Under the Microscope,” 12-28-12]

So if VAM is a sham, why are we wasting our time – and untold taxpayer dollars – on this stuff? Pittsburgh appears to be smitten with the idea that it can keep jiggling the numbers until it finds the magic formula: the district says it will adjust for variables like “free- or reduced-price lunch eligibility, the number of English language learners, the number of gifted students, and other characteristics.” [Post-Gazette, 12-31-12] But as Dr. Slekar remarked, “VAM is garbage in, garbage out. There’s no research that shows a way to account for out of school factors. This is all in the experimental phase. No one has done it. In two different years you get two different results.” He asks, “How can a teacher be successful one year and not the next? When researchers look at this over 3, 4, 5 years, the reliability is zero.” And he points out that those teachers getting bad VAM scores can be the very ones who get the highest ratings from parents, those who inspire kids and are most humane.

Dr. Slekar also points out the difficulty in combining this VAM and student test score data with the other half of the teacher’s evaluation, which is supposed to be classroom observation. In Pittsburgh, this half comes from a system it developed called RISE (Research-Based Inclusive System of Evaluation), based on the work of education researcher Charlotte Danielson. But Slekar argues that RISE is a “distortion of [her] original work on quality teaching. Danielson’s qualitative system of evaluation was never meant to be merged with a invalid and unreliable quantitative evaluation system—Valued Added Measures.” [@theChalkface, 1-2-13]

At this point your head may be spinning. What’s the big deal? Why should we care? The take away is this: we are wasting precious resources on a system that will not give us good results, resources that we know would be far better spent on early childhood education, or even textbooks for our schools. Pittsburgh may feel it has no choice other than to comply with the new state law, but it has been preparing this system for a while. I would like to see our elected school board representatives have a real conversation about this at tonight’s meeting, find its backbone, and take a public stand. Enough is enough. These high stakes tests – and the VAM sham they perpetuate – are damaging our schools, our kids, and our teachers.

 

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Students and Sequestration

When students speak, we need to listen. And when students advocate for their own public education, their voices speak truth to power. Yesterday, two Pittsburgh students made themselves heard loud and clear with eloquent letters to the editor about the impact of budget cuts on our schools. (See full text at the bottom of this post.)

Both students were speaking specifically about the looming federal tax and spending cuts that will come with sequestration. That’s the “fiscal cliff” that we’ve been hearing so much about – which, according to economists is actually the wrong metaphor, since it is more of a slope – that will trigger automatic, across the board budget cuts to departments including education, unless Congress gets its act in gear and makes a deal. Those cuts would be felt starting next fall, for the 2013-14 academic year, and would hit programs such as Title I and Head Start, which provide support for low income students.

The Pittsburgh Public School District alone estimates that it will lose $3.5 million next year if sequestration takes effect. That’s an 8.2% decrease in funding that it simply cannot afford, and would take a huge bite out of direct support for equity programs. [Post-Gazette, 11-20-12] I applaud the Pittsburgh Public School Board, which took a stand a few weeks ago and passed a resolution opposing sequestration. This Board has not been terribly vocal on many policy issues affecting public education, and this could signal a welcome change as we all stand together for our schools.

Federal funds account for only about ten cents out of each dollar for most school districts. But as with most budget cuts, some of the poorest districts will be hit the hardest. (To view the impact of sequestration on your school district, see this data which I have pulled from an analysis performed by the American Association of School Administrators: Impact of Sequestration on PA School Districts.) And while both of the students writing letters yesterday to the Post-Gazette are rightfully worried about the potential loss of federal dollars, they also expressed a real understanding of what is happening to our public schools.

Angelina Winbush, a senior from Bloomfield, tutors students in a Pittsburgh Public School that lacks enough textbooks for children to take home to study. “Inadequate funding for education is not only causing a textbook shortage,” she said, “it is causing art programs to vanish, teachers to be laid off, schools to close and students to drop out.” Winbush argues, “Education is not a gift — it is an investment in our nation’s future.”

Lamar Shields, a Pittsburgh Public School graduate from Homewood, now attends Community College of Allegheny County and hopes to transfer to the University of Pittsburgh to study child psychology. He writes, “Our schools need enough support to keep class sizes small and higher education needs to be affordable.” He worries that additional budget cuts “may cause teacher layoffs, and consequently larger classes, leading to less attention and support for students.” Both of these students argue that it’s time to allow the Bush era tax cuts for the top 2% of earners in this country to expire.

Wise words from two young people. Our legislators had better be listening.

——————

Invest in education, not in top earners

In response to “Little Movement Is Made on Fiscal Cliff Budget Talks” (Dec. 7), instead of extending the Bush tax cuts for the highest-earning 2 percent, we can better serve our nation by investing in education.

As an active volunteer within the Somali refugee community in Pittsburgh, I have spent much time helping Somali students with their homework. One of my regular students whom I tutor is a 10th grader studying at her neighborhood Pittsburgh public high school, working toward her dream of becoming teacher. She is incredibly studious and takes academics seriously.

I was surprised to learn during a tutoring session that her school has an insufficient number of books and thus does not allow students to take textbooks home. Inadequate funding for education is not only causing a textbook shortage, it is causing art programs to vanish, teachers to be laid off, schools to close and students to drop out.

Education is not a gift — it is an investment in our nation’s future. But as long as only our suburban and private schools can afford new books, science equipment and educational innovations, our country is at risk of being left in the dust by countries that have fully recognized the role of public and nationally subsidized education in creating a strong economy. We must fight to end the Bush administration tax cuts for the top 2 percent so that a good education is not a privilege but an opportunity for all.

ANGELINA WINBUSH
Bloomfield
The writer is a high school senior.

Help the students

I am a recent graduate of Pittsburgh Public Schools and a student at Community College of Allegheny County, and I am extremely concerned about the potential cuts to education. Our schools need enough support to keep class sizes small and higher education needs to be affordable.

When I was in elementary and high school, there was at least a handful of kids in most classes who would act up and distract other kids in the class. Kids act out when they’re confused or behind. Sometimes I was one of those kids. I didn’t learn everything I was supposed to learn.

I’ve been a student at CCAC for three years, and I have overcome tremendous obstacles to make it this far. I am finally really learning how to study effectively. My vision is to transfer to the University of Pittsburgh and become a child psychologist.

I want to help children where I went wrong, but there are potential federal cuts to education that would compromise my dream of students being well-supported and able to afford higher education. These cuts may cause teacher layoffs, and consequently larger classes, leading to less attention and support for students. Such cuts would also slash certain programs that make college financially feasible for some students.

Instead of cutting education or any of the programs that strengthen our communities, like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other human services, we should allow the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of earners to expire.

LAMAR SHIELDS
Homestead

Where are the Real Republicans?

Real Republicans don’t vote to take away local control. Real Republicans don’t try to concentrate power in the hands of the state and with small groups of political appointees. Real Republicans don’t thumb their noses at public accountability. Yet this is exactly what Governor Corbett and the legislature are trying to do with the latest charter school “reform” bill that goes before the Senate Rules Committee today. [Senate Bill 1115]

This deeply flawed bill was Gov. Corbett’s latest attempt to ram through a statewide authorizer, which would take control away from local, democratically elected school board representatives and permit only a state commission of political appointees the right to open new charter schools and to supervise them. [See “Real Charter Reform” and “Now That’s More Like It” for details.] It now appears that the governor’s office and legislative leaders have agreed to set aside the authorizer portion of the bill so they can focus on other pieces of the legislation. That is a partial victory for our grassroots movement, which has made a big noise about this issue. But a spokesman for Senate Republicans said there is still “broad support for a statewide authorizer among Senate Republicans.” A spokesman for House Republicans said views were more “far-ranging” in that chamber. [Post-Gazette, 10-15-12] We know this issue will be coming back.

Meanwhile, the bill retains equally terrible measures that should have all citizens up in arms, liberal, moderate, and conservative alike. Perhaps most egregious, SB 1115 will exempt charter school operators from Pennsylvania’s Right to Know law. We taxpayers are supporting charter and cyber charter schools to the tune of $1 billion. As the Delco Times editorial board wrote yesterday, “Given the growing influence – and cost – of charter schools, you would think the public would want to know as much as we possibly can about their operation and their financial dealings, given the increasing amount of public dollars flowing into their coffers.” They also noted, “Make no mistake, the charter school explosion in Pennsylvania has become a big business, a very lucrative business.” [Delco Times, 10-14-12] Since when do good Republicans want less accountability for taxpayer dollars?

Let’s remember charter school management corporation owner Vahan Gureghian, who was Governor Corbett’s single largest individual campaign donor and a member of his Education Transition Team. In the first ten years after Gureghian started his charter operation in 1999, he had already collected $60.6 MILLION from the public coffers. While salary data for public school administrators is public information, we don’t know what Gureghian is paid – or his wife, who is general counsel for their company. The Philadelphia Inquirer originally filed a right-to-know request all the way back in 2006 asking for salary figures: the Commonwealth Court ruled they had to disclose that information, but the Gureghians have appealed and six years later the case is still bouncing around. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 2009-06-11] Meanwhile, last fall Mr. and Mrs. Gureghian bought two Florida beachfront lots for $28.9 million where they plan to build a 20,000 square foot “French-inspired Monte Carlo estate.” [Palm Beach Daily News, 2011-11-18]

And on this side of the state, PA Cyber Charter School is under federal investigation for what appear to be far ranging financial misdeeds. Just Friday, the Post-Gazette reported that the school’s founder, Nick Trombetta, bought a Florida condo for $933,000, and then sold it “to a business created by one of the school’s former executives for just $10.” [Post-Gazette, 10-12-12] These are the people raking in millions and millions of public dollars, yet fighting tooth and nail to keep their business dealings away from public scrutiny. When was the last time your local school administrator bought a Florida condo for close to a million dollars? Why should the public not have the same access to the financial records of charter school operators as they do to traditional schools? What happened to Republicans’ fiscal conservatism?

The proposed bill also contains a measure that would allow the state to pay charter schools directly. While this seems benign, the Keystone State Education Coalition (KSEC) points out that this would effectively “deny local school districts any ability to monitor the validity of charges and payments of taxpayer funds before they are paid.” [KSEC, 10-15-12] In other words, this is another way to remove local control from democratically elected school boards who represent the interests of their communities and taxpayers. Conscientious Republicans value real oversight.

And last but not least, SB1115 would create a statewide charter funding advisory commission. Again, boring sounding bureaucratic details – until you realize that three quarters of the members of the commissions would be charter school and cyber charter operators in addition to the Governor’s political appointees. KSEC notes that, “Of 17 members, only 3 would represent school districts.” [KSEC, 10-15-12] Where’s the accountability to taxpayers in that plan?

The real Republicans I know would not be in favor of SB1115. It’s far from fiscally conservative, eliminates accountability and oversight, and strips away local control. In fact, this bill is fairly radical and it’s time our legislators see it for what it is. They also need to know that here in the grassroots we are paying attention to those details. Would Pennsylvania’s real Republicans please stand up?

Now That’s More Like It

See, it can be done. Yesterday, state representative James Roebuck, a Democrat from Philadelphia and Democratic chair of the House Education Committee, announced a new bill that would represent a big step forward in really reforming the rules governing charter and cyber charter schools. [For an explanation of Gov. Corbett’s current attempt to impose anti-reforms, overriding local elected officials, and hiding the actions of his friends operating some of the state’s largest charter schools, see “Real Charter Reform.”]

House Bill 2661 would subject charter school fund balances to the same regulations that traditional public schools must follow (so they can’t keep huge sums of public taxpayer dollars essentially as profit). It would also tighten up pension funding rules that are allowing charters to “double dip” right now and limit special-education payments to charter schools to the actual amounts spent by the school district on special ed (currently, special-ed can be a cash cow for some charters). Significantly, this bill would not exempt charter operators from our Right to Know Laws. (H.B. 2661)

What’s more, Rep. Roebuck wants to see results this school year. Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, he explained, “If we are overfunding some charter and cyber charter schools, as appears to be the case, that money needs to be returned to the school districts this school year, not held until 2013-14 or later.” [PA House.com 10-2-12] In a press, release, Roebuck laid out some of the details, explaining that the bipartisan bill would:

  • Limit unassigned fund balances for charter and cyber charter schools, consistent with the limits already in effect for traditional public schools. In 2010, the auditor general reported that charter schools had $108 million in reserve funds. Nearly half of charter schools had a cumulative reserve fund balance above traditional public schools’ limit of 12 percent of their annual spending. The charter school balances ranged as high as 95 percent.
  • Remove the “double dip” for pension costs by charter and cyber charter schools. Presently, a school district’s cost for retirement expenditure is not subtracted from expenditures in the tuition calculation that determines funding for charters. This sets up a “double dip” since state law guarantees charter schools reimbursement for their retirement costs. The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials estimates that between 2011-12 and 2016-17, eliminating the “double dip” would save school districts $510 million, including $45.8 million in savings for 2012-13.
  • Limit the amount of special education funding that a charter or cyber charter school receives per student to the school district’s total per-pupil spending for special education services. The state funding formula’s 16 percent cap on school district special education population does not apply to charter schools. An official of Bensalem Township High School in Bucks County testified last year that this results in paying $3,425 more per charter school special education student than Bensalem is paying for its own special education students.
  • Require year-end audits by the state Department of Education to determine the actual costs of education services of charter and cyber charter schools, followed by an annual year-end final reconciliation process of tuition payments from school districts against those actual costs. Any overpayments would be returned to the school districts. In the 2010-11 school year, non-special education tuition rates per student ranged from $4,478 to $16,915.
  • Increase transparency for contractors that provide management, educational or administrative services to charter and cyber charter schools by requiring disclosure of a financial relationship with for-profit providers. [PA House.com 10-2-12]

This is exactly the kind of bill that our grassroots movement should get behind. Five of the bill’s 39 sponsors are from Southwest PA: we applaud Rep. Dan Frankel (Allegheny County), Rep. Frank Dermody (Allegheny County), Rep. R. Ted Harhai (Fayette and Westmoreland Counties), Rep. Tim Mahoney (Fayette County), and Rep. Harry Readshaw (Allegheny County).

However, we need to see more legislators from the ten counties here in the heart of Yinzer Nation standing up for public education. If your legislator is one of these five, by all means, please let them know you support their stand on charter reform. But if your legislator is missing from this list, your voice is all the more important! Please contact your state Representatives and Senators to let them know that H.B. 2661 is the kind of real reform we need in Pennsylvania, moving us closer to adequate and equitable funding for all our public schools. [Look here to Find Your State Legislator]

Real Charter Reform

They’re at it again. Our state legislators returned to work last Monday after a nearly three month summer break – and will only be in session through next week, before adjourning again for several weeks for the election season. That means Governor Corbett only has a few days to get some of his top priorities through both the House and Senate. And by all accounts, charter “reform” legislation is at the top of his list.

We indeed need charter reform in Pennsylvania. A broken funding formula is currently sucking resources away from traditional public schools and allowing some charter schools – especially cyber charter schools – to line the pockets of their corporate directors with wads of taxpayer cash. But what Gov. Corbett has in mind is not reform at all: it’s a sly new way to hand more power to the state. He wants a “state authorizer,” creating a new state commission that would take away local control over establishing new charter schools, sidestepping the elected school boards who now make those decisions.

In June, our grassroots movement scored a real victory, making enough noise that we prevented Gov. Corbett from pushing through his state authorizer during the last minutes of the budget debate. The Governor acknowledged recently, “We came very, very, very close to getting charter reform,” and added what should be a warning to those of us in the grassroots, “now, we need to get that done.” Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (a Republican from Delaware County), boasted that, “leaders from both the Republican-controlled House and Senate have used the summer to iron out differences,” and said, “I don’t see any reason why we should not be able to resolve them.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9-24-12]

Apparently, the plan these “leaders” hatched over the summer involved hijacking a bill that was meant to reform special education funding, by adding the charter school amendment. This special-ed bill actually has broad bi-partisan support and is desperately needed. Right now, the state gives every school district a set fee for each student who needs special education services, regardless of what that service is (some disabilities require extensive and expensive interventions while others do not). The current state law also caps payments to districts at 16% of their enrollment, while many school districts have 20 or event 25% special-need populations. The proposed special-ed bill would solve many of these problems and create far more equity in school funding across the state. Yet, as state Rep. Michael Sturla (a Democrat from Lancaster) put it, the bill “is being held hostage,” to twist the arms of legislators who might not want to vote for Gov. Corbett’s charter authorizer scheme. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9-29-12]

State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis explained the attempted hijacking saying the administration “thought it would be faster.” [CBS Philadelphia, 9-27-12] Sure. It’s always faster to bully and use strong-arm tactics. But we’re talking about legislation that will take away the voices of local communities by cutting out their elected representatives. By handing control over charter authorization and oversight to a state board appointed by Gov. Corbett, our legislators will be handing the fox the keys to our henhouse. [Look no further than who the Governor has put in charge of struggling school districts: see “Taking the Public out of Public Education.”]

And to add insult to injury – and to cover the trail – the proposed charter amendment will exempt records of charter school “vendors” from our Right to Know Law. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9-28-12] In this case, that means that for-profit, corporate charter school operators will not have to reveal the very basic facts we expect all schools to make public – such as the salaries of their top operators. Remember Vahan Gureghian, who runs the state’s largest charter school through his management company? Gureghian is Gov. Corbett’s single largest campaign donor – and a member of his education transition team – who has collected over $60 million in public taxpayer dollars through his charter management company, but has been fighting a right-to-know lawsuit for the past six years to prevent the public from learning his actual salary. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Gureghian recently purchased two Florida beachfront lots for $28.9 million where they plan to build a 20,000 square foot “French-inspired Monte Carlo estate.” [See “Soaking the Public”.]

We can expect more of this nonsense, and worse, if we do not prevent the current charter “reform” bill from going through. As Susan Gobreski, Executive Director of Education Voters PA explains, “Charter schools are part of the public education landscape and we need high quality reform in order to help ensure that good charters can thrive and that we address the problems that have occurred.” Ed Voters proposes that good charter reform legislation would:

  • Fix the funding formula that hurts ALL kids: we need to address the reality that current law means that funding charter schools siphons funds from community schools. A good funding formula would help both charter schools and traditional community schools,
  • Address the financial and quality problems with virtual charter schools,
  • Ensure that communities continue to have a say in how all public schools function in their community, and
  • Improve fiscal and operational transparency, protecting the rights of students and taxpayers.

Please call your legislators today and let them know you are paying attention to this issue. [Look here to Find Your State Legislator] There is no state-wide “call in day” for this action as we did last spring several times for the budget process – we are hoping you will pick up the phone and call them now, or send an email while you are on the computer. Governor Corbett and his allies are counting on this flying under the radar. This is really in the policy weeds and there are only a few of us paying attention: but we are paying attention, aren’t we? If you’ve read this far, you are the one who is going to make a difference. So please, use your voice and tell your legislators: We need real charter reform.

Insane, Irrational, Irresponsible

The Governor has added another new talking point. Now he is suggesting that we should blame school districts for cutting programs because they aren’t tapping their supposedly vast reserve accounts to pay for them. Speaking during his regular appearance on a Philadelphia radio program, Gov. Corbett criticized school districts because they “are making a concerted effort not to go into those reserves.” [Delco Times, 5-16-12]

Actually, as Gov. Corbett well knows, over 70% of the state’s school districts are already spending down their reserves to balance their budgets this year. [Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, September 2011 study] Those reserve accounts are meant to be used for major planned construction projects or for emergencies such as a broken furnace. Not all districts have reserves, and those that do are certainly planning to use them for the massive spike in pension costs that are coming our way. (See why the state’s refusal to deal with the looming pension crisis is creating a recipe for disaster in “Pension History 101”.)

For example, last year when Pittsburgh Public Schools learned of the Governor’s nearly $1 BILLION in state cuts to education, it projected that it would deplete its reserves entirely by next year. The school board’s sound fiscal policy requires the district to maintain 5% of the current year’s budgeted operating expenses in reserve, but the district was already starting to run an operating deficit that would eat into those reserves. With the massive state cuts, Pittsburgh and other districts around the state were suddenly facing a dire situation: they would have to immediately cut programs, lay off teachers, and increase class sizes while continuing to eat into reserves and while knowing full well that the pension spike looms on the horizon. [Data from PPS presentation May 19, 2011.]

Yet here is the supposedly fiscally responsible governor telling school districts to essentially wipe out their savings accounts to pay for Kindergarten and other academic programs. As Jay Himes of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials points out, “To take the governor strictly on his own advice would be the same thing he criticized the school districts for doing with the federal stimulus funds. … This is one-time revenue. It shouldn’t be used haphazardly or without discipline.” [Delco Times, 5-16-12]

Since February, Gov. Corbett has been telling everyone who will listen that he has actually increased state spending on education (funny, then, that districts everywhere face huge budget gaps and are cutting programs). This past week he added a new talking point, telling us that we should blame school districts for cutting arts education because they are the ones making that choice. (For more on the etymology of this talking point, see yesterday’s piece, “The Governor’s Rash.”) And now Corbett tells us that if districts with reserve accounts cut those programs, “that’s their decision to do that, because they have the money in reserve, but the parents don’t know that.” [Delco Times, 5-16-12]

Wow. So now he not-so-subtly implies that school districts are trying to horde money and not tell parents about it? This is another tactic from the divide-and-conquer playbook and we will have none of it.

Right now school districts are making draconian cuts to essential but not legally required programs, like Kindergarten, because the state has left them with no alternative. Jim Buckheit of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, points to the abundance of research on the critical importance of early childhood education and says, “Most educators would rather get rid of high school before they got rid of kindergarten, but we’re mandated to have high school.”

While Corbett points his finger at local school board members, many of them are shaking their heads in disbelief at the empty bag the governor has left them holding. The Harrisburg school district announced yesterday that without state funding, they will eliminate Kindergarten, all athletics, and student transportation – and they will still have a $7-8 million budget gap next year. Harrisburg school board member Brendan Murray said, “This is absolutely insane, I never thought running for office we would have to say those [programs] are off the table.” [Penn Live, 5-16-12]

Insane is the right word for it. Irrational comes to mind. We can see through this new talking point, too, Governor Corbett. And it’s fiscally irresponsible.

Up Go Property Taxes

Struggling to balance their budgets, 199 Pennsylvania school districts have asked the state for permission to raise local property taxes, the state Department of Education announced yesterday. That’s forty percent of all the districts in the state. Faced with Governor Corbett’s $1 BILLION in state cuts to public education, school districts have few alternatives.

Because of the 2006 Taxpayer Relief Act, Districts may not raise their local property taxes without either seeking voter approval (by local referendum), or requesting an exemption from the state. School boards know that it is extremely difficult to convince voters to raise their own taxes: the ballot option frequently fails, leaving Districts with no revenue options.

Now the state has made it even harder to apply for exemptions. Districts used to have ten reasons they could petition, but Governor Corbett signed a new law last June limiting the number of exceptions to three: school districts can only raise taxes due to school construction projects that were already underway before the law went into effect, to cover special education costs, and to pay for pension obligations.

Of the 199 school districts requesting permission to raise property taxes, 35 are here in Yinzer Nation (see the full list below). The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that districts are trying to deal with the uncertainty created by the current state budget cuts. “We’re in the same position as every other district,” Ligonier Valley School Board President James Cunkleman said. “We don’t know what we’ll be getting, but we do know that we have obligations that we have to meet. We’d like to not have to raise taxes at all, but that might not be an option.”

Not all school districts that request permission to raise taxes will wind up doing so, but recent evidence suggests that most will. Last year, for instance, 135 of the 228 districts that asked for exemptions – or 59% – raised local property taxes. Those taxes are based on “mills”: one mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in assessed property value. In other words, a homeowner with a house worth $100,000 would pay $100 in property taxes for each mill.

That brings us to millage rates. The Department of Education approved millage increases ranging from 0.06 mills in the Riverview School District to 4.41 in Ligonier Valley. Other districts on the high end of millage increases include Seneca Valley (3.60 mills), Slippery Rock (3.52 mills), Franklin Regional (3.43 mills) and Uniontown (3.34 mills). The massive state cuts to public education are forcing even the wealthiest schools to raise local property taxes: for example, Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair are both on the list.

As you read through the following list of school districts and their approved millage rate increases, remember that local property taxes are the worst way to pay for public education, leading to horrible inequity in school funding. And these are just 35 of 199 school districts looking to raise taxes: that’s 199 more reasons the state needs to reverse these devastating budget cuts and start providing equitable and sustainable funding for public education.

Albert Gallatin — 0.60
Ambridge — 1.51
Avonworth — 0.60
Baldwin-Whitehall — 0.56
Beaver — 1.04
Bethel Park — 0.41
Burgettstown — 0.19
Central Greene — 0.30
Clairton City — 0.35 for buildings; — 8.69 for land
Ellwood City — 1.62
Franklin Regional — 3.43
Freeport — 1.7 Armstrong; — 2.8 Butler
Gateway — 0.41
Hempfield — 0.25
Highlands — 0.63
Karns City — 1.02 Armstrong; — 1.55 Butler; — 0.00 Clarion
Ligonier Valley — 4.41
Mt. Lebanon — 0.61
North Allegheny — 0.32
North Hills — 0.33
Peters — 2.15
Pine-Richland — 0.51
Quaker Valley — 0.63
Riverview School District – 0.06
Seneca Valley — 3.60
Sharon — 1.38
Sharpsville — 0.28
Shenango — 0.30
Slippery Rock — 3.52
South Fayette — 0.41
Uniontown — 3.34
Upper St. Clair — 1.23
Washington School District – 2.88
Western Beaver — 2.51
Wilkinsburg — 0.85