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Flawed study cited in landmark school funding trial

Plus, do you know your pore rights?

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A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
April 26, 2022
Funding find, debate nights, Fetterman foil, RGGI suit, 'pore rights,' financial statements, and a New England Heinz House. It's Tuesday.
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A study that Pennsylvania lawmakers used to bolster their defense in a landmark lawsuit over school funding disparities was wrong, Chalkbeat reports, and the updated version yields an adverse conclusion.

The Urban Institute updated the study to fix how it accounted for funds flowing to charter schools and now says it found signs of a regressive funding formula that shortchanges the state's poorest students, who received slightly less funding for their schools than wealthier students over time.

That imbalance is central to the case brought by six school districts against GOP legislative leaders, Gov. Tom Wolf, and others. By allowing the gaps to continue, the plaintiffs say Pennsylvania leaders have violated the state constitution's guarantee to equal access to a quality education.

While Wolf is a defendant, he has not contested the case's claims. But Republican legislative leaders have, arguing in a months-long trial this past winter that studies like the now-updated one from the Urban Institute — a D.C.-based think tank — undermine the plaintiffs' claims.

THE CONTEXT: Before the update, the Urban Institute found that poor students in Pennsylvania received 4% more funding than non-poor students in the 2018-19 school year, while Black and Hispanic students received 7% more funding than students of other racial and ethnic groups.

The revision says poor students in the state actually got 3% less, and Black and Hispanic students received 6% less than other students.

To support better outcomes for low-income pupils, education experts say more dollars should be flowing to them, Chalkbeat adds. 

A judge is expected to rule in the case this summer. It's unclear if this evidentiary update will have any bearing on that decision.

Chalkbeat says both plaintiffs and defendants declined comment.

The ties between school funding and educational outcomes have long been a political flashpoint in Pennsylvania — one reignited this budget season by a single sentence in an otherwise dry budget report, per Spotlight PA.

At the same time, there is no proof that a massive corporate tax break meant to help low-income students escape failing public schools is working as promised. Spotlight PA found that lack of oversight is intentional.

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"Regarding some reports we heard overnight, the 5th Ward DID NOT vote to endorse any candidate in the US Senate race."

The Twitter account of Philadelphia's Ward 5 Democratic Committee refuting U.S. Senate candidate Conor Lamb's endorsement claim
» Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor

» 5 takeaways from Spotlight PA's Republican gubernatorial debate

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

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

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

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election and voting coverage now.
A snapshot from Ole Bull State Park in Potter County, via Don H. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
DEBATE NIGHTS: Five candidates running in Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate primary election for the Republican nomination will gather tonight at Dickinson College for a debate hosted by Spotlight PA and its founding members. It's the second debate in the GOP primary contest in as many days. A debate involving the four candidates from the Democratic primary for U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey's open seat was hosted by Spotlight PA on Monday. Here are the highlights, via TribLIVE.

OPPO RESEARCH: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has a strong lead in Pennsylvania's Democratic U.S. Senate primary. But if he wins the primary, some Democrats worry that a nine-year-old incident, in which Fetterman pulled a shotgun on an unarmed Black man, could depress crucial Black turnout in November, per NBC News. The other man involved in the encounter has said it shouldn't count against Fetterman, who was pressed on the issue once again at last night's debate.

FEE FIGHTERS: Coal-fired power plants, coal mines, and labor unions have sued to block the Wolf administration's newly enacted carbon fee on power plant emissions, the AP reports. The regulation took effect on Saturday, making Pennsylvania the first major fossil-fuel state to adopt such a measure. But the lawsuit argues the fee is, in essence, an illegal tax because it bypassed legislative approval.

PORE RIGHTS: The push to make hydrogen the next big fuel source could lead to a Pennsylvania land rush, the Post-Gazette reports. There are a number of ways to produce it, including with natural gas, which is plentiful here. The resulting carbon emissions would be captured and pumped underground into the pores of reservoirs that landowners may not even realize they own. Do you know your pore rights?

WEALTH GAPS: PublicSource dug into the personal finances of the three Democrats vying for Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle's open seat in Pittsburgh and found big differences between them. State Rep. Summer Lee (D., Allegheny) and Pitt law professor Jerry Dickinson make $90,000 and $165,000 a year, respectively, own one home each, and have more debts than assets due to their student loan activity. Attorney Steve Irwin, meanwhile, owns four houses and a golf course. 

STAR PUPIL: Coming from a Pittsburgh high school with a low rate of college grads, Sean Russell has been accepted to Yale, Harvard, and Stanford Universities. PublicSource reports the achievement is drawing attention to a potentially game-changing program for students in struggling schools.

HEINZ HOUSE: A Massachusetts couple with a collection of more than 300 Heinz ketchup bottles inside their home also had a six-foot tall tribute bottle carved from a tree on the outside. A 2016 Bedford Citizen article delves into the couple's affinity for the Pennsylvania condiment company.

FOOD FAME: The Shakers — a religious movement that established footholds in Philadelphia, New York, and New England — is now inspiring high-end restaurants. Eater spoke with "one of the last" Shakers in America and it turns out he's not a fan of the development.

SWING STATE: After record highs in spots over the weekend and above-normal temperatures almost everywhere, a cold front is coming with showers today. After highs in the 80s, they'll be closer to 40 degrees tomorrow.

TIL: There is a 31-foot tall pyramid in Franklin County that weighs hundreds of tons and marks the birthplace of former President James Buchanan. If that's not your style of tribute, there's also a bobblehead

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.

*This week's theme: The five senses
Yesterday's answer: Astigmatism

Congrats to our daily winners: Irene R., Michelle T., Eddy Z., Craig W., John A., Becky C., Bonnie R., Don H., Patricia M., Jodi R., Deb N., Wendy A., Clara L., Barbara F., Mike B., Susan N.-Z., Al M., Doris T., Ted W., Susan D., Daniel M., Pat B., Kim C., Regina C., Bruce B., Diane P., Bette G., Elaine C., Jim A., Lauri R., Kimberly S., Kenneth J., Steve D., George S., James B., Johnny C., Elizabeth W., Dianne K., John F., Kevin M., Kyle C., Suzanne O., Sandy B., Maureen G., Chris M., Fred H., Bill S., Nancy S., Mike K., Barbara O., Jude M., John P., Beth T., Vicki U., Lewis M., David W., John H., and Sharon P.
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