Kevin McCorry

Jessica Kourkounis for Keystone Crossroads

(KEYSTONE CROSSROADS) A powerful coalition of Pennsylvania lawmakers is promoting a forthcoming education savings account (ESA) bill that would allow hundreds of thousands of students in the state to use public money to pay for private school tuition.  

Jessica Kourkounis for Keystone Crossroads

Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released a draft of its plan to comply with the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Under the new law, states were given more leeway in how to set education policy and spend federal public school dollars. The most notable news within the report was the announcement that PDE plans to unveil a new school quality metric in 2018 that it believes will foster a more holistic student experience, one less narrowly focused on state standardized tests. 

Jessica Kourkounis for Keystone Crossroads

(KEYSTONE CROSSROADS) - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a ruling this week that gives traditional public school districts more power to limit charter school growth. 

Lindsey Lazarski, WHYY

(KEYSTONE CROSSROADS) - Much of the debate in Harrisburg this summer has been centered on how Pennsylvania should overcome its $2.2 billion deficit. But, as usual, there has also been a great deal of focus on issues related to public school funding and policy. 

Brad Larrison for NewsWorks

KEYSTONE CROSSROADS - The Pennsylvania Department of Education will unveil a new school quality metric in 2018 — dubbed the Future Ready PA Index — that it believes will foster a more holistic student experience, one less narrowly focused on state standardized tests. 

Kevin McCorry, Keystone Crossroads

A telecom technician by trade, Schuylkill County homeowner Ron Boltz is not your typical suit-and-tie Harrisburg lobbyist. He's a self-taught policy wonk who walks the halls of the Capitol in jeans and polo shirt — burning endless vacation days in an effort to convince lawmakers to abandon nearly 200 years of history and reimagine the state's tax structure and school finance scheme. 

Keystone Crossroads

(Keystone Crossroads) Recently, we published a story that analyzed the effects of the dramatic enrollment swings that have taken place in Pennsylvania school districts over the past 25 years. The interactive graphic above was included in that piece, but it's worth noting as a tool in and of itself.

(Keystone Crossroads) School district enrollment levels have dramatically shifted in Pennsylvania over the past 25 years. Many rural districts in the western part of the state have seen steep declines, while many urban, suburban, and eastern districts have grown. In all, more than a third of the state's 500 districts have either grown or shrank by more than 25 percent since 1991. 

Emma Lee/WHYY

CORRECTED AND UPDATED: Oct. 19, 2016

(Keystone Crossroads) Some charter schools operate like islands — day-to-day they run independently of any higher or centralized power. Others contract with a management organization — sometimes part of a big network, sometimes not. Sometimes for-profit, sometimes not. 

Emma Lee, WHYY

Thomas Short loves that his two sons attend St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary school in South Philadelphia. He says it makes a world of difference for his boys — fearing they would falter in a less structured environment. 

 (Keystone Crossroads) The interactive map above allows you to see how each of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts would be affected if lawmakers chose to implement the state's new funding formula more rapidly. The new formula has been lauded for bringing a measure of rationality and fairness to the state's funding scheme.

In northwest Pennsylvania, along the edge of Lake Erie, you'll find the city of Erie.

There, the superintendent of the more than 12,000-student district has forwarded a plan that's causing a stir — calling for leaders to consider shutting down all of the district's high schools and sending students to the wealthier, whiter, suburban districts.

Why?

Superintendent Jay Badams says it's a "matter of fairness."

Bastiaan Slabbers/ For NewsWorks

Pennsylvania continues to wrestle with an essential question for the future of its people and its economy: What should a high school diploma mean, and what should it take to earn one? In the past decade, the state has moved towards prioritizing standardized testing as a graduation requirement. But the pendulum now seems to be swinging in the opposite direction. 

Kevin McCorry, Keystone Crossroads

Urban school districts in Pennsylvania face a particularly cruel logic. They serve the poorest, most needy students, yet, when it comes to state funding per pupil, most of them don't make the top of the list. That dynamic has come to a head in the city of Erie, where leaders of one of the largest school systems in the state are contemplating closing all high schools. 

AP Photo/Matt Slocum

A bill that would substantially revise Pennsylvania's charter school law for the first time since its inception nearly twenty years ago is being hotly debated in the capitol.  Charter school advocates are couching the bill as a fair compromise, while traditional school advocates say it's an unwise overreach.

Last week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a new formula for distributing state education money. As a general rule, public school money that comes from the state is meant to help level the playing field for districts who have a harder time generating local revenue.

Education advocates across Pennsylvania are celebrating the fact that the state is about to commit to a new student weighted formula for distributing state aid. But not everyone is happy.

Jessica Kourkounis

The advocacy group Public Interest Law Center says the commonwealth's own data point to the need for at least $3.2 billion in added state funding. When the state's bipartisan basic education funding commission published its report last year, it came up with a new formula for distributing new state education dollars. The formula acknowledges that districts face added burdens, for instance, when educating students in poverty, or those still learning English.

The Pennsylvania school code says teacher layoff decisions can only be made according to who has the least seniority. The Republican-held general assembly passed a bill this week to change that, but it's facing a veto pledge from Governor Tom Wolf.  The bill does two main things. It changes the conditions under which layoffs can happen and it changes which teachers should be laid off.

This winter, high school junior Jameria Miller would run to Spanish class. But not to get a good seat.

"The cold is definitely a distraction," Jameria says. "We race to class to get the best blankets."

Because the classroom has uninsulated metal walls, Jameria's teacher would hand out blankets. First come, first served. Such is life in the William Penn School District — an impoverished, predominantly African-American school system situated among Philadelphia's inner-ring suburbs.