Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

Wolf's $1 billion plan for fairer school funding


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
February 19, 2021
School money, policing poll, health disparities, insurrection charges, pollution control, Black history, and Philly's last lesbian bar. It. Is. Friday.

Five years after Pennsylvania passed a new school funding formula, one touted as a major step toward equity, Spotlight PA finds little has changed. 

Part of the problem: Only a fraction of state education funding actually goes through the formula. Another issue is a policy known as "hold harmless."

It's a guarantee that means shrinking districts have seen their subsidy shares continue to grow, while expanding districts — many that serve Black, Hispanic, or Latinx students — have not seen proportionate boosts.

Gov. Tom Wolf has announced a plan to fix that, one endorsed by public education advocates but deemed "dead on arrival" by Republican legislators.  

THE CONTEXT: Wolf's proposed billion-dollar solution is meant to help growing schools in urban centers with higher costs while also protecting shrinking rural districts.

But it would be bankrolled by a hefty tax increase on high earners — a nearly impossible sell to lawmakers who believe school taxes are too high already.

“A large part of the problems that districts face are quite frankly from bad decisions being made somewhere along the line, not necessarily amongst those today, but it could have been bad decisions 20 years ago,” said Rep. Curt Sonney (R., Erie), chair of the House Education Committee.

Meanwhile, Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens For Children and Youth, said growing districts are “just waiting for their shot because we keep pouring money into these other districts.”

» If you learned something from today's edition, pay it forward and become a member of Spotlight PA so someone else can tomorrow.


“I'm down to my last, like, $1,200. I'm gonna do spaghetti dinners starting in March, take-out only. I'm gonna do enough just to pay the utilities and the taxes.”

—Ron “Moondog” Esser, owner of Moondog’s in Blawnox, on the struggle to keep indie music venues like his going during the pandemic
VACCINE UPDATE: Winter weather is delaying COVID-19 vaccine shipments to states like Pennsylvania, and some providers are running low as a result. Penn State Health is projecting it will "run out of vaccine by the end of the day Tuesday." For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
POST IT: A Huntington County opossum just had to try a bit of food from this homemade bird feeder (please note the pink toes and pink nose). Thanks, James GSend us your hidden gems (or snow pictures!) using the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.

POLICE POLL: A poll of 1,300 Philadelphians — most of them white — found 90% in favor of shifting some police funding to social, health, and housing programs. Three-quarters said police were "bad" or "very bad" at preventing violence in their neighborhoods, and a majority said police were not helpful when called, WHYY reports. In City Hall, police spending is likely to be a focal point this budget season, with sustained calls for cuts and the city facing a $450 million, coronavirus-fueled shortfall, per The Inquirer

UNEQUAL: Residents of low-income, racially segregated neighborhoods are more likely to die from the coronavirus, a Duquesne University study has found. The nationwide research cites a direct correlation between the size of a county's "disadvantaged" population and its number of COVID-19 deaths, according to the Post-Gazette. And while Black and Latino Pennsylvanians continue to be overrepresented in COVID-19 cases, PublicSource reports they've also been underrepresented in the vaccine rollout

CHARGES: Unsealed grand jury documents say Michael J. Lopatic Sr., of Manheim Township, repeatedly punched a police officer in the head during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol before tearing a body camera off another, LancasterOnline reports. The 57-year-old former Marine was joined on the FBI's list of Capitol breach defendants this week by Leo Brent Bozell IV, a Palmyra man seen wearing a Hershey Christian Academy sweatshirt in photos from the scene, according to PennLive.

POLLUTED: An unprecedented cleanup effort is underway at the site of a now-defunct South Philly refinery. Experts say it will take one decade and hundreds of millions of dollars to remedy 150 years of industrial pollution at the site, which was rocked by a massive explosion in 2019. Reuters reports the herculean effort is "a glimpse of what lies ahead if the United States hopes to wean itself off fossil fuels."

HOME SCHOOL: Gov. Tom Wolf has an idea to help with Pennsylvania's brain drain and the student debt crisis: scholarships to qualifying full-time undergraduate students at 14 state universities. The catch? They must agree to stay in Pennsylvania after graduating, Fox43 reports.

BLACK HISTORY: The Montford Point Marines were the first African Americans to serve in the Corps after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt desegregated the military branch at the height of World War II. Their story will be told Tuesday in a webinar hosted by Temple University and a local group dedicated to keeping their memory alive.

MAKEOVER: Longwood Gardens, 1,000 magical acres in Chester County, will undergo a $250 million makeover that includes the construction of a new conservatory. But you don't have to wait to check out the “Voices in the Landscape” exhibit, designed to honor and celebrate "the strength, resilience, and contributions of the African American community through the lens of horticulture."

DWINDLING NUMBERS: Philly’s only lesbian bar is shutting down, Billy Penn reports. The decision to close Toasted Walnut comes as pandemic losses deepen and owner Denise Cohen confronts mounting medical bills related to diabetes and uterine cancer treatments. “Toasted Walnut was my dream,” Cohen said. “It’s a loss. It’s still numb.” It's believed there are just a handful of lesbian bars left in the U.S.

DOG DAYS: Companion bills introduced by Democratic state lawmakers would raise Pennsylvania's dog license fee for the first time in 25 years. Officials say Pennsylvania's Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement is severely underfunded, with around 90% of its revenue coming from license fees and a $1.4 million deficit looming.

SALT BAES: An average of 844,000 tons of salt are dropped on Pennsylvania roads and highways each winter. Where does it come from? LancasterOnline went searching for the source and found much of it originates in mines or "underground crystal salt seams," to be specific
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Fingerprints 

Congrats to our daily winners: Kim C., Ron B., Hugh B., Lynne E., Debbie D., Dianne K., Suzanne S., Art W., Gloria G., Dennis M., George S., Joel S., John C., Heidi B., Karen W., David I., Carolyn T., David W., Carol D., Christopher R., Mary Ellen T., Tom M., Lil N., Irene R., Dixie S., Yvette R., Susan D., Jill G., Neal W., Ron P., and Craig W.
Like PA Post? Share it with a friend.

Love PA Post? Chip in to support local journalism.

Forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here.
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

Copyright © Spotlight PA / The Philadelphia Inquirer, All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
225 Market St., Suite 502A
Harrisburg, PA 17101

You're receiving this email because you subscribed to PA Post, which has combined with Spotlight PA to create Pennsylvania's largest statewide newsroom dedicated to accountability journalism.

You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.