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Pennsylvania budget limbo has 'everybody on edge': 5 things to know today

Natasha Lindstrom
| Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, 4:48 p.m.
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg.
AP Photo / Matt Rourke
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg.

"Everybody is on edge," Jay Himes, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, told me by phone from Harrisburg this morning.

More than two months after the 2017-18 state budget became law without Gov. Tom Wolf's signature , the Legislature has yet to resolve how to come up with $2.2 billion more needed to fully fund the $32 billion spending plan.

Caucus leaders met with taxpayer advocates to work on a compromise and had planned to bring the amended version of the House GOP's latest budget plan up for a vote as early as today, but that seemed unlikely by early afternoon.

Resolving the issue is important for schools because they account for one of the largest portions of the state budget, and Democratic lawmakers have warned that the state could start reducing payments to the likes of local governments , human service providers and school districts as soon as Friday. House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin argued that plenty of money is flowing into the state to prevent reductions and doing so would be a voluntary move by the Wolf administration. State Treasurer Joe Torsella, a Democrat, has warned he may not continue loaning money from reserves.

Meantime, any legislative action remains on hold for the still-in-limbo state school code .

Onto your daily recap of education news. Here are five things to know today:

(Tip: No. 5 contains one of the most adorable animals on the planet)

1). SCHOOL SHOOTING SPURS LOCKDOWN.

One student died and three were injured in a shooting Wednesday at Freeman High School south of Spokane, Wash., The Spokesman-Review reports .

Authorities detained the suspect and lifted the lockdown at the school of about 331 students.

At least three victims were being treated at a local hospital, and the hospital's chief of surgery made eight spaces available for victims.

"We're all hands on deck," the hospital chief told The Spokesman-Review.

Details were still emerging as of 2 p.m. Check out Spokesman.com and SeattleTimes.com for more updates.

2). CHARTER SCHOOL COSTS ANALYZED. (Spoiler: School districts say charters get too much money.)

Pennsylvania's school districts recoup an average of 44 to 70 percent of the actual cost of students leaving their districts to attend charter schools, a new report found .

The issue can be especially concerning for smaller districts that are losing students but have persisting fixed costs such as keeping up school buildings, said Himes of PASBO, which partnered with Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, Coalition of Public Charter Schools and Research for Action to do the research.

In Pennsylvania, funding for charter schools gets passed through traditional districts based on how much a district spends to educate its average student, minus a series of deductions such as costs for transportation and capital needs the charter school doesn't have.

The report examined financial and enrollment data from a sampling of districts statewide, including Quaker Valley in Allegheny County.

Two independent finance experts reviewed the findings before publication, the report's authors said.

Some charter advocates weren't impressed.

Tim Eller, executive director of the Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said the report failed to point out that public charter school students receive less funding — about 25 percent, on average — than traditional public schools do. He argued that it's the fault of districts for failing to "right-size their operations when a large number of students leave for public charter schools."

"Instead of focusing on dollars, perhaps Research for Action and like organizations should focus their efforts on why parents and students are fleeing traditional public schools to attend public charter schools," Eller said.

Related: Why Pennsylvania's cyber charters keep growing , via the Trib's Jamie Martines.

3). IS THE SCHOOL DAY TOO SHORT?

Districts across the country are deciding to extend the school day to improve student achievement and avoid the brain-drain that happens with too much time out of school while avoiding the costs of extending the school year, reports WBUR , an NPR station in Boston.

Lengthening the daily schedule is a route taken in recent years by at least 700 schools nationwide , according to the National Center on Time and Learning in Washington. About 75 percent of them were charter schools, which are public schools that operate with more flexibility and independence than traditional ones.

4). PLUM HIGH SCHOOL EMBRACES ROBOTICS.

The national nonprofit BEST Robotics has selected Plum High School for its first partnership at a public school in greater Pittsburgh, the Trib's Michael DiVittorio reports .

BEST Robotics — Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology — was founded in Texas in 1993. It moved its headquarters to Pittsburgh in July.

Plum students who participate will get to take a bot from the design to marketing phases and present it at a competition at Grove City College on Oct. 13-14.

More than two dozen schools are expected to take turns battling teams in a 24-by-24-foot arena.

5). TWO WORDS: MINI HORSES.

Students with special needs who could benefit from a service animal in Baltimore's public schools now have the choice between dog or miniature horse, The Baltimore Sun's Talia Richman reports .

These adorable tiny creatures — which tend to be 24 to 36 inches measuring to the shoulders — have "very loving and loyal personalities" and a longer life expectancy than dogs, Alison Stonecypher of the American Miniature Horse Association told the Sun.

"People take to them really well," Stonecypher said.

Um, no kidding. Browsing photos while researching this post — and this awesome video of a dozen mini horses running amok — basically made my day.

Related: 15 Mini Horses You Don't Want Your Kids To See (via BoredPanda.com)

EXTRA CREDIT: Still not sure what the fuss over DACA is all about? The Trib has you covered with this explainer on DACA , whom it protects, what it does and doesn't do and why even DACA recipients don't have a clear path to citizenship.

Don't forget to follow the TribLIVE Education Team on Twitter:

• Emily Balser @emilybalser (Valley News Dispatch newsroom)

• Debra Erdley @deberdley_Trib (Greensburg newsroom)

• Jamie Martines @Jamie_Martines (Greensburg newsroom)

• Natasha Lindstrom @NewsNatasha (Pittsburgh newsroom)

Or email us your schools-related tips and story ideas to schooltips@tribweb.com.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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