April 26th, our time to shine.
Education funding, Pennsylvania-style
When Tom Wolf ran for governor, his campaign promises were simple: jobs that pay, government that works and schools that teach. Those last two have gotten all tangled up with each other as the recently-resolved, nine-month budget impasse continues to play out on the smaller stage of education funding.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Republicans disagree with Wolf’s plan on how to distribute $200 million in education funding. But now Democrats are speaking out against it too, in a move that’s sure to hurt the plan’s viability.
In Wolf’s plan, all districts will get a boost in funding. But districts that have seen greater funding cuts over the years will get more of a boost. Republicans (and Democrats who represent districts that would see less of an increase) say everyone should get proportionate funding increases.
It doesn’t help that the districts that benefit from Wolf’s plan are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chester-Upland. If you’re a lawmaker from the middle of the state, it’s hard to see more tax dollars heading to the cities on either side of the state even if those dollars may be due to them. And therein you have one of the fatal flaws in the whole concept of Pennsylvania.
But at least, on this issue, Pennsylvania isn’t alone. As the NPR Education team reported this week, all over the country there are education funding issues, where some districts end up with far, far more money per student than other districts. Assuming they are all trying to be schools that teach (trademark Tom Wolf) that creates disparities in education quality. According to NPR data, Pennsylvania spends more per student than most, but there are inequalities across the commonwealth.
Everyone’s day in court
Pennsylvania saw some ongoing legal battles resolve themselves this week, while others are just getting going.
Remember PERC? The Pennsylvania Employee Retirement Commission was defunded by Gov. Wolf, prompting Republican legislators to enter a lawsuit to have the agency re-instated. PERC is responsible for overseeing the municipal pension systems statewide, an important job in a state with severely underfunded pensions.
Last week, Wolf agreed to let PERC resume it’s duties, concluding this particular dispute … for now.
A woman living in Gallitzin, in Cambria County, is suing for the right to stay in her home. Gallitzin is one of a handful of Pennsylvania communities that ban landlords from renting to those with felony drug charges in the past seven years. Darcy Smith was arrested in 2012 and spent two years in prison. Now that she’s out, she wants to live near family in Gallitzin. But the borough could fine her landlord $1,000 a day for offering her a place to live.
Smith and her kids can stay in their apartment while the lawsuit proceeds. Her lawyer argues that the felon tenant ban violates due process and multiple state laws. Opening arguments were held Wednesday.
And in the ongoing saga in Allentown and Reading, another criminal charge and another resignation.
Mike Fleck, a former political consultant to the mayor or then-mayor in the cities, is pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion, as part of a large-scale FBI investigation of corruption. (If you’re picturing the former Republican state rep, you’ve got the wrong Fleck.)
Francis Dougherty, Allentown’s managing director, stepped down Monday. According to the Allentown Morning Call, Dougherty has not been charged with anything, but he joins the police chief, city planner, director of the bureau of housing standards, 911 superintendent and director of community and economic development in resigning since the investigation began. Three other city officials have been charged and subsequently stepped down.
In Reading, former city council president Francisco Acosta was sentenced to two years in prison for accepting a bribe. Eron Lloyd, a special assistant to former mayor Vaughn Spencer, is the only other person yet charged in Reading.
The candidates are coming
This Tuesday is election day, part I. If you’re registered to vote, go do that thing! Go in the morning, go in the afternoon, go with a friend, go with your mom. No excuses: find your polling place here. (Mine is at a retirement home. Even if you’re not that lucky, go anyway!)
What you do once you’re there is your own business. But if you need to brush up on some of the positions you’re voting for, WPSU has put together some handy explainers. There are some interesting races, from attorney general to U.S. Senate (if you’re voting as a Democrat.)
Candidates for president have descended on Pennsylvania, and there’s more to come before primary day.
Bernie Sanders visited Penn State on Tuesday, eating at local restaurant India Pavilion and speaking to a packed house. Hillary Clinton was in Philadelphia, speaking about gun violence, while her husband, Bill, hit the state capitol.
Sort-of native son John Kasich (he was born in McKees Rocks, but then defected over the border) has been campaigning across the state, from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. Politico reports that Ted Cruz is “over New York and onto Pennsylvania.” And Donald Trump, who seems to be a huge fan of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, held a rally in Harrisburg last night.
Just think, by this time next week, we’ll already be looking ahead to the general election, which is only … seven months away. Speaking of elections, did you remember to look up your polling place?