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Jay-Z jumps into the school voucher fray

Plus, Penn State football improved academic performance.

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.



June 13, 2024 | spotlightpa.org
NEW ALLY

A series of events intended to get Philadelphians to support using taxpayer money to fund private school vouchers is bankrolled by an unexpected figure: billionaire rapper Jay-Z.

His company’s entrance into the rancorous funding debate comes amid sustained lobbying by advocates for vouchers

Also this week, Pennsylvania’s public school districts could save roughly $530 million annually if the legislature makes long-sought changes to how cyber charters are funded. Democratic and Republican lawmakers told Spotlight PA such reforms could be included in this year’s budget.

Finally, our Election 101 series is back with everything you need to know about recounts.

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Penn State football improved academic performance, new data show

Penn State’s football team improved its academic rating in the 2022-23 academic year, after earning its worst score in a decade the year before.

The NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) measures a collegiate team’s scholastic performance. A player who receives “athletically related financial aid” can earn up to two points — one for being enrolled and the other for being academically eligible in the next semester, according to the NCAA. A team’s score is calculated by dividing points earned by total possible points and multiplying that figure by 1,000.

A team’s four-year average must be above 930 to avoid NCAA discipline, which can include limiting practice time or being barred from postseason competition.

Penn State football scored 959 for the 2022-23 academic year, a significant improvement from the prior year. It ranked 12th of 14 Big Ten teams. 

“Each annual APR report consists of a different cohort, and each year the APR cohort could be impacted for various reasons (transfers, delayed graduation, etc.),” a Penn State Athletics spokesperson wrote in an email to Spotlight PA. “[Intercollegiate Athletics] has always, and under Pat Kraft’s leadership will continue to invest heavily in academics.”

During the 2021-22 academic year, Penn State football earned 914 — its lowest rating in more than 10 years and the lowest score in the Big Ten that year. 

Spotlight PA first reported on the football team’s low score last summer. In response, Coach James Franklin promised to “spend a lot of energy and resources” on improving the team’s academic performance, according to AllPennState.

However, reference to the score sparked pushback from some Penn State football fans, who pointed to the football team’s NCAA graduation success rate. That score tracks the percentage of student athletes who enrolled at Penn State, did not transfer elsewhere, and graduated within six years. According to the most recent available data, 93% of football players who enrolled at Penn State between 2013 and 2016 graduated.

In August, Brandon Short, an alumni-elected university trustee who played football at Penn State in the late-1990s, told Blue White Illustrated that Spotlight PA’s story on football academics was written to “to create a negative narrative” and “intentionally undermine football.” 

The trustee said the university was appealing the team’s score and could recoup 13 points lost because players transferred or were otherwise ineligible.

In September and October, university leaders declined multiple requests from Spotlight PA to confirm whether it was appealing the score. The football team’s score for the 2021-22 school year remains unchanged, according to the NCAA.

This week, a Penn State Athletics spokesperson said the university’s appeals were denied. Wyatt Massey, Spotlight PA

🤔 NEXT QUESTION: Are you on top of the news? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: Which artist is facing backlash for their school voucher support?
WEEKLY RUNDOWN

» AP: PA Senate moves to outlaw the distribution of deepfake material

» CAP-STAR: Education funding reform bill passes PA House 

» MORNING CALL: LVH-Hazleton put newborn babies in danger

» TRIBLIVE: Ex-cop gets pension payment after pleading guilty

» WFMZ: Allentown hires ex-FBI agent to probe city hall discrimination 

» WHYY: 19% of PA water systems have PFAS levels above EPA standard 

» YORK DISPATCH: York Co. among top for child lead poisoning

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THE RIDDLER
Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

HEAD COUNT (Case No. 260): Using only your mind, tell us how many 9s there are between 1 and 100?
 
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: A secret. Find last week's clue here

Congrats to Hugh H., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Annette I., Michael H., Roseanne D., Beth T., Kevin M., Jeffrey F., James D., Harriet Z., Cliff A., Norman S., Marvin S., Mary B., Fred O., and Alan B.
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