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The toxic 'forever chemicals' in Pa.'s water


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 5, 2021
School money, Pennsylvania pot, gender gap, blight bank, chemical testing, candidate Street, and space racers. It's Monday, welcome to the week.  
THE PUSH TO 2,000: We're nearing 2,000 Spotlight PA members! Help us reach this historic mark by contributing any amount right now to support our investigative journalism. Put us over the top  »»

A historic lawsuit meant to address funding disparities in Pennsylvania public schools has a tentative start date, seven years after it was originally filed.

The suit first brought by school districts, parents, and advocacy groups in 2014 says the state's funding formula shortchanges students from low-income communities and is a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution's requirement that “a thorough and efficient system of public education" be provided to all. 

Maura McInerney, a spokesperson for the plaintiffs, told reporters Friday that, on average, the poorest school districts in Pennsylvania receive $4,800 less per student than the wealthiest school districts, with Black and Latino students disproportionately impacted.

The legal case, stalled by a judicial back and forth, now has a tentative Sept. 9 trial date.

THE CONTEXT: An analysis commissioned by the litigants found $4.6 billion more is needed for all students to be educated to the state’s own standards.

As Spotlight PA reported, the study's conclusions, based on state data over the past decade, depicted widening gaps in education spending between affluent and poor communities — and parallel divides in academic performance.

Gov. Tom Wolf, one of the defendants in the state school funding lawsuit, has proposed a $1 billion plan bankrolled by a personal income tax hike on high earners to close the gap and grow educational investment in a state currently ranked 47th in the nation for K-12 spending. 

But the plan saw little early support from the state's Republican majority, and while there are now billions of earmarked federal COVID-19 relief dollars headed to Pennsylvania, advocates say long-term changes are necessary — and a seven-year-old lawsuit may finally force the issue.


"It is inhumane to believe one mistake should define a man’s life."

—Christopher Miyares, the Black man accosted by an armed John Fetterman, on what that 2013 incident should mean for the lt. gov.'s U.S. Senate bid
VACCINE UPDATE: A costly mistake at a Baltimore manufacturing plant ruined 15 million COVID-19 vaccine doses last week. Meanwhile, GOP senators in Pennsylvania are preemptively drawing up legislation that would bar proof of vaccination status from being used to regulate access to routine activities here. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» FIGHTING MISINFORMATION: Join Spotlight PA at 5 p.m. April 20 for a conversation and reader Q&A about how partisan groups are masquerading as local news in Pennsylvania and undermining public trust. RSVP FOR FREE

POST IT: Looking up at Pittsburgh's 40th Street Bridge — aka the spot where George Washington almost drowned once — from the Millvale Riverfront Trail. Thanks, Cas H.Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
SLOW GROW: The neighbors are doing it, but Pennsylvania is on the fence about legalizing recreational cannabis. Well, lawmakers, at least. While a majority of Pennsylvania voters support adult-use cannabis, the Capitol reception remains lukewarm, even as New York, New Jersey, and other states get on board. Spotlight PA talked to a rare Pennsylvania Republican backer who said the public, not the money, may tip the scales.

BIGGER BURDEN: One year into the pandemic and the disproportionate burden it has placed on women is increasingly clear. WHYY reports women lost decades of economic progress in the last year, making up nearly two-thirds of the essential workforce and shouldering much more with less support. “Initially, I didn’t want to show how much I was struggling,” a Philadelphia doctor explained.

BANK FAIL: Pittsburgh's land bank is losing its fight against blight, seven years and hundreds of thousands of dollars after its creation. The Post-Gazette details what went wrong with the program meant to get eyesores back on the tax rolls, including thousands of city-owned properties. Ultimately, the paper says the program created as an urban blight remedy "failed at every level."

'FOREVER CHEMICALS': Pennsylvania will spend half a million dollars to test drinking water at 400 sites across the state for the toxic "forever chemicals" known as PFAS, per WKBN. The state is testing for 11 varieties, but there are thousands more. Testing will focus near military bases, fire training sites, and landfills. A DEP study of 114 Pennsylvania water systems found one-third had PFAS, but none above the federal limit.

NEW BID: State Sen. Sharif Street has officially filed his statement of candidacy in the Democratic primary for outgoing U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's seat, PoliticsPA reports. The Philadelphia lawmaker said his exploratory committee will launch this Friday. He'll join Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta in the race, but says he'll steer clear of Twitter in favor of old-school retail politics
SPACE FORCE: A Pennsylvania billionaire will be joined by an Air Force vet, a cancer survivor, and a geoscientist on the world's first all-civilian rocket ride around the Earth. Jared Isaacman, CEO of an Allentown tech company, sponsored the private SpaceX rocket flight that's due for liftoff later this year, Business Insider reports. None of the crew members have been to space before.

FOR THE BIRDS: Months after an estimated 1,000 birds collided with Center City buildings, Philly's skyline is hitting the dimmer switch to keep it from happening again, The Inquirer reports. The voluntary program cuts back on lights that throw migrating birds off course, leaving them exhausted and confused. Bonus: Here's a high-def bird's-eye view of the flight path.

THROWBACK SNACK: Hersheypark has two new food stops inspired by the soda fountains and candy shops of yore. Wainscoting, inlaid mirrors, diamond pattern flooring, and Bentwood chairs abound, as do king-size sundaes, grilled cheese, mega cookies, and Comet Bars. PennLive has a look at the new digs and their big menu items.

FEUDAL STATES: How did New Jersey spend April Fools' Day? Officially banning Pennsylvania drivers from the Garden State's roads and full-service gas stations. Pennsylvania's official Twitter account responded with mockery that was all in the good-natured spirit of the holiday ... probably.

MOMENT OF ZEN: Decompress for a second with a foggy, rainy view of the Susquehanna River near Lancaster — or just listen to it babble in the background
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: Universal 

Congrats to our weekly winner: Bob R.

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Mary Ellen T., Yvette R., George S., Dixie S., Susan D., Frank M., Jessica K., David I., Bette G., Irene R., Suzanne S., Beth T., Joel S., Karen W., Elaine C., Craig W., Elizabeth W., Kim C., Dennis M., Tom M., Lance L., David W., Mary Kay M., Kevin H., Carol D., George L., Christine M., and Patricia R.
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