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5 takeaways from our GOP gubernatorial debate

Plus, what we've learned from our school safety survey so far.

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April 21, 2022 | spotlightpa.org

Governor guide, debate recap, school survey, jail deaths, progressive snubs, election money, Civil War gold, bird flu fears, and drop box removed.
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When Democrats head to the polls on May 17 for Pennsylvania’s 2022 primary election for governor, there will be just one choice on the ballot.

Republicans will face a much different situation, with nine candidates and still no clear frontrunner.

Want to know where the candidates stand on major issues and who has endorsed them? Spotlight PA has you covered with its new guide to the 10 gubernatorial candidates

Also this week, Spotlight PA and its founding members hosted a debate with five of the Republican candidates for governor. You can watch the debate here and read our recap of the major takeaways

Next week, we're hosting two U.S. Senate debates — one with Democrats on Monday and the other with Republicans on Tuesday — that will be streamed live on YouTube and Facebook
"I came up with that because it’s many men and women, but we all had the same heartbeat as far as getting home to our loved ones."

—Bradford Gamble of Philadelphia explains his “One Heartbeat" T-shirt, advocating for better "compassionate release" laws for state prisoners
» Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor

» A guide to the often overlooked race for Pa. lieutenant governor

» Big donations to GOP guv candidates: Who gave and how much?

» Tell Spotlight PA what election coverage matters the most to you

» Pennsylvania’s 2022 U.S. Senate race: What we know so far
» To successfully use Pennsylvania’s ‘compassionate release’ law, he had to choose to die

» Spotlight PA wants your help flagging school health hazards
Three takeaways from our ongoing school health survey

When the coronavirus pandemic slowed down in early 2022, Spotlight PA reporters began to wonder what types of health and safety inspections may have fallen through the cracks over the past two years. With students returning to classrooms and school administrators struggling with staffing, we started digging into the status of Pennsylvania schools. 

We quickly realized that untangling the web of school-related health and safety inspections wasn’t going to be easy. As our recent story pointed out, those checks are handled by a variety of local, state, and federal agencies, and those records aren’t kept in a statewide database.

So we turned to our readers for help and launched a survey — in Spanish and English — asking you to tell us about your biggest school infrastructure and health concerns. 

Here are some of the top worries you have shared with us so far, as well as a few facts we’ve learned along the way: 

  1. Construction funding is scarce: Finding the money to fund school infrastructure projects isn’t a new problem, and you can’t talk about it without mentioning “PlanCon,” the nickname for a state program intended to help public schools pay for major construction projects. Cuts to state education funding and moratoriums on the program over the past decade created a backlog of projects, as this 2020 Research for Action report outlines. Recent updates to PlanCon added ways to help schools tackle maintenance issues, but some lawmakers want to add more funding to the state’s education budget to support school construction projects. 

  2. Maintenance problems pile up: Survey respondents have shared stories of rats and other vermin, leaky roofs, and faulty electrical or plumbing systems — problems indicative of long-term struggles to maintain buildings. These issues often occur in the same building or in multiple locations throughout a school district. And ongoing issues sometimes are tied to a shortage of maintenance or custodial staff, survey respondents said.

  3. COVID added to air quality problems: Mold and asbestos, which both affect air quality, are long-standing problems in aging school buildings. Education policy experts and survey respondents told Spotlight PA that the coronavirus pandemic — an airborne virus — exacerbated air quality concerns. Now many schools in Pennsylvania and across the country are looking to use billions of federal pandemic relief dollars allocated to schools to finally address big-ticket repairs like replacing cooling, heating, and air ventilation systems — maintenance that may have been postponed for years. 

The survey will stay open through early May, so feel free to weigh in now or share it with your networks. We want to hear from people across the state who interact with any type of education facility serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, including public, private, and charter schools, as well as career and technical schools or intermediate unit facilities. We’ll use that information to report on patterns of school infrastructure problems throughout Pennsylvania. Jamie Martines, Spotlight PA
CONFINEMENT CRISIS: Twenty-nine people died in Philadelphia jails during the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented rate, The Inquirer reports. And while the mayor's office defends the city's prison system, prisoners, outside observers, and even staff say conditions have gone from bad to worse. Just last week a 35-year-old man was sexually assaulted and killed in a unit that was left unsupervised for hours.

INCUMBENT SNUBS: Progressive Democrats already holding office in Pennsylvania are getting spurned in a key election year by the party's own machinery. WHYY reports local Democratic committees have endorsed less progressive options in races from Philly to Pittsburgh. At the same time, Republican incumbents are facing a wave of challengers galvanized by anger over pandemic restrictions and mail voting

META MONEY: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg won't be donating any of his fortune to help Pennsylvania counties run this year's elections, the AP reports. Zuckerberg spent millions to help election offices in states like Pennsylvania pull off 2020's historic contest, but a conservative backlash followed after Trump's loss. It continues in Harrisburg today.  

NO CONTACT: Vinckley Harris was taken to Allegheny County Jail for failing to appear for a hearing on theft charges. Days later he was dead after a medical emergency in custody led to a surgery and a Do Not Resuscitate order. But the Pittsburgh Institute of Nonprofit Journalism reports Vinckley's wife was unaware and unconsulted.

OPEN RECORDS: A federal judge has ordered the FBI to turn over documents related to its 2018 dig for a fabled cache of Civil War gold in Elk County. A local band of treasure hunters that led the FBI to the site sued for access to information about the agency's resulting excavation. The FBI says no gold was found. The locals are skeptical.

» LNP: Bird flu outbreak leads to mass euthanization, quarantine zone

» FOX43: Only drop box serving 344K voters removed in Lancaster

» TRIBLIVE: Pittsburgh eyes new Airbnb rules after mass shooting

» WITF: EPA cracks down as Chesapeake Bay cleanup progress lags

» WHYY: Gov't vows to retry Philly council member after bribery mistrial

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org. Love the riddler? Chip in and become a member of Spotlight PA so we can keep the good times rolling.

MARRIAGE STATUS (Case No. 143)Jack is looking at Anne. Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, George is not, and we don't know if Anne is married. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Envelope (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Joseph M., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Beth T., Jon N., Philip C., Annette I., Susan N.-Z., George S., Donna D., Fred O., Don H., Michelle T., Michael H., Eddy Z., Mary B., Jay G., Elizabeth W., Jim R., and Patrick D.
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