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Wolf's plan to fix 'broken' charter school law


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 1, 2021
Reform schools, relief bill, eviction cases, migrant detentions, fracking ban, working through it, and a forgotten Philly masterpiece. It's Monday. 
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Calling Pennsylvania's charter school law "among the worst in the country," Gov. Tom Wolf is renewing his push to overhaul how Pennsylvania regulates and funds the institutions at a time of explosive growth for the industry, USA Today's Capitol Bureau reports.

The governor on Friday endorsed reform legislation, introduced by Democratic lawmakers, he says would bring equitable funding, accountability, and transparency to charter schools, including cyber charters that have seen enrollments surge during the pandemic

Wolf says the proposal would save $229 million by standardizing charter school tuition rates — which traditional districts pay and which vary widely across the state — and by applying leaner funding formulas along with new performance standards. 

Critics of the proposal say the outlined cuts will have adverse impacts on the roughly 170,000 students served by charter schools across the state, many from impoverished and underperforming traditional school districts.

THE CONTEXT: As Spotlight PA recently reported, Wolf is refocusing his efforts on addressing flaws in Pennsylvania's funding of its schools with an emphasis on helping cash-strapped traditional districts, many navigating bleak financial realities only worsened by the pandemic.

Many of those same districts have long railed against Pennsylvania's charter school funding formula, saying it takes money from needy schools and applies it to charter schools with little oversight — in essence a self-fulfilling prophecy that points to the failures of traditional districts while siphoning off money that could be used to improve them.  

Wolf is in agreement, saying last week: “When the charter school law was drafted, the intent was to bolster our education system. Instead, that outdated law has become, in some cases, no more than a license for draining funds from traditional schools while providing a poor education to students.”

But any attempt, like this, to reform charter school funding will almost certainly have to go through a powerful and deep-pocketed charter-school lobby first.


”It’s one step closer to us returning to normal." 

—Health Commissioner Thomas Farley on Philadelphia's decision to begin rolling back some key coronavirus restrictions starting today
VACCINE UPDATE: Johnson & Johnson's single-shot COVID-19 vaccine has been approved by a CDC advisory panel, with doses already being added to the national supply chain. Meanwhile, a Republican-backed bill in Pennsylvania would give workers the right to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine or test if required by an employer. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
POST IT: Thanks, James B., for this moon shot (which is giving us some Halloween vibes) taken in Berks County. Send us your hidden gems (or snow pictures!), use the hashtag #PAGems, or tag us on Instagram at @spotlightpennsylvania.

RESCUE PLAN: A new $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill includes $1,400 direct checks, $30 billion in emergency rental assistance, money to extend unemployment benefits, and billions to boost vaccine distribution. The bill passed the U.S. House on Saturday with a contested minimum wage provision intact but facing an uncertain future in the U.S. Senate, where the bill is headed now. Pennsylvania's two senators, meanwhile, have been split on the efficacy and wisdom of the plan since the idea was first floated, The Tribune-Democrat reports. 

EVICTION EMERGENCY: More than 800 renters in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties already lost their housing or face imminent threat of eviction despite COVID-era moratoriums. The Citizens' Voice and Times-Tribune report many "lost their chance to stave off eviction because they did not follow the procedure required to enact the safety net" or because they violated lease conditions, freeing landlords to take action against them. A Spotlight PA investigation found Pennsylvania failed to deliver millions in coronavirus rent relief in 2020, using the money to instead plug budget holes and cover state prison costs.

RELEASED: U.S. Sen. Bob Casey's office says all families held by ICE at a Berks County detention center for migrants have been released while awaiting their asylum hearings, per the Reading Eagle. CNN reported ICE officials were planning to release some migrant families in detention to accommodate a growing number of arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border. Immigration-rights advocates cheered those released from the Berks County Residential Center in Bern Township and continued calling for the facility to be permanently shuttered, something it's unclear the Biden administration has plans to do

FRACKING BAN: A decision to formally ban fracking throughout the Delaware River Basin — home to 5.5 million Pennsylvanians — is being called historic by environmentalists and illegal by opponents. Delaware River Basin commissioners voted for the permanent ban last week, pointing to the more than 13 million people who rely upon the watershed for their drinking water, StateImpact reports. The move represents a doubling down by the commission in the face of legal challenges.

WORKING CLASS: The economic impacts of the pandemic have not been uniform. They vary by race, ethnicity, and community. A new interactive project from the Post-Gazette looks at how businesses in four distinct and demographically different Pittsburgh neighborhoods are weathering the storm. The news outlet found redevelopment plans interrupted, urgent adjustments, closures, against-the-odds openings, owners holding on after the longest year of their lives, and everyone waiting for the new normal to begin. 

KANGAROO JACKED: State officials who confiscated a kangaroo from a Quakertown woman don't have to tell her where it is now. Why? Because she was stealing the animal from a Bedminster zoo when officers arrested her and took the kangaroo away. The Morning Call says the woman's request for more information on where the animal is now was denied last week over security concerns.

MORE MURALS: Dwight Schrute and John Lennon are getting some company in Scranton. The Electric City wants a more electric public art scene, and a local economic development group is working to add long-lasting public works of art — and, in turn, tourists — to a downtown scene with popular Schrute and Lennon murals already, the Times-Tribune reports. 

MASTERPIECE: West Philly author Fran Ross' "Oreo" was released in 1974 and quickly forgotten. Decades later, the book is viewed as "an out-and-out masterpiece, a virtuosic tour de force," with movie rights added to the mix, The Inquirer reports. But little is known about the enigmatic and intensely private author whose genius we're only now beginning to understand.

HORROR SHOW: The Living Dead Museum lives on. Dedicated to honoring George A. Romero's seminal 1968 zombie film “Night of the Living Dead" and the director himself, the museum closed its Evans City doors in October —amid a pandemic slowdown — before rising again at the Monroeville Mall near Pittsburgh. It's a natural fit, or supernatural fit, as the Post-Gazette explains.

'CAPTAIN AJAX': Pittsburgh had a Black mayor once. His name was Ajax Brown, aka "Captain Ajax," and he was de facto mayor for three days and seven hours between administrations in 1901. "His time in the mayor’s office might have run out, but he had already left an indelible mark on the city," historian JaQuay Edward Carter writes in Very Local Pittsburgh.
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.

Friday's answer: Continent

Congrats to our weekly winner: Mark O.

Congrats to our daily winners: Neal W., Craig W., Dixie S., Beth T., Jessica K., Mary Ellen T., Jill G., Susan D., David I., Irene R., Al M., Bob R., Dennis M., Heidi B., Becky C., George S., Bobbee W., Suzanne S., Paul H., Carol D., Joel S., Christopher R., Patricia R., Hugh B., Sharon L., Anne R., Cindy P., Nancy S., Karen W., Rick D., Anna T., Gloria G., David W., Bette G., Mark O., Kim C., and Ron P.
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