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Why so many rural Pa. schools are shutting down

Plus, the push for a four-day Pennsylvania work week.

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Your Postmaster: Spotlight PA Staff
Friday, April 7, 2023
Student spending, Medicaid misses, Casey's team, Luzerne return, primary charges, future crisis, and 'culturally competent tax services.'

Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court ruled in February that the state is violating its constitution by underfunding poor school districts and ordered the disparities fixed. But it's already too late for some schools. 

Spotlight PA looked at 55 districts in north-central Pennsylvania, where 38 primary schools closed over the past decade, leading to more crowded schools, longer commutes, and larger class sizes.

Enrollments in the region have dropped faster than the rest of the state, but district officials and experts said there are other reasons for the closures, including the rise of charter schools and a lack of state funding.

Read the full report: Almost 40 elementary schools have closed in rural north-central Pa. in the past decade. Here’s why

THE CONTEXT: All but five of the 55 school districts face per-student funding shortfalls, some of which exceed $2,000, according to Matthew Kelly, an education professor at Penn State who studies funding policy. 

In 2012, the Clearfield Area School District Board of Directors voted to close Girard-Goshen Elementary School, with the superintendent citing a revenue shortfall in the face of a necessary $1.5 million roof repair.

There are a variety of reasons why rural schools shut down, but Spotlight PA found the two major ones are budget shortfalls and shrinking student populations. And with property taxes making up the lion's share of funding for Pennsylvania school districts, the pressure is particularly acute in communities where property values and, in turn, tax revenues are lower.

“The pie is too small,” said Kelly. “It’s not enough money, and then the way that the money that is there is being distributed is still not connected enough to what the actual costs districts are encountering are."


"I'm ashamed that they haven't had the courage to pass this."

—Caleb Kauffman, of Lancaster County, on the legislature's continued failure to provide legal relief for survivors of childhood sexual abuse
» How Spotlight PA will cover Pa.'s 2023 primary election

» A guide to Commonwealth, Superior Court candidates

» A guide to the Pa. Supreme Court candidates

» Guía completa de los candidatos a la Corte Suprema del Estado

» Court decision does little to clear up ballot curing confusion

» Supporters hope Pa.’s new legislature will embrace open primaries

» How unequal policies disenfranchised Pa. voters in 2022

» Register to vote in the May 16 primary here; deadline May 1

» Request your mail ballot for the May 16 primary; deadline May 9

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election and voting coverage now. Become a sustaining monthly donor and get your gift matched 12X! 
PRIMARY PRIMER: Join us next Thursday, April 13 from 6-7 p.m ET via Zoom for a free panel on Pa.’s Supreme Court candidates and why the 2023 election matters. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org

A crocus grows in Johnstown, via Theresa C. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A purple flower growing through the slats on a wooden bench.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.RENEWAL TIME: Pennsylvania says 598,000 Pennsylvanians have not completed their most recent Medicaid renewal amid a statewide purge of the rolls brought on by the end of the federal government's pandemic-era continuous enrollment policy. Spotlight PA reported that advocates for health care access also worry that a shortage of state support staff could mean thousands wrongly lose their coverage.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.HE'S RUNNING: Politico reports that U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) is quietly assembling a fully operating campaign-in-waiting ahead of a 2024 reelection bid he's yet to publicly announce. The contest is set to be one of the most expensive and closely watched in the country. Casey's primary is expected to be an uncontested non-event. But the Republican primary for the seat could get ugly.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.BALLOT SUPPLY: Paper ballots are returning for the May 16 primary in Luzerne County, where a shortage caused an Election Day 2022 debacle that's drawn national, and more recently congressional, scrutiny. County officials have ordered enough ballots to cover 100% voter turnout this time, Times-Leader reports. Spotlight PA and Votebeat explain why election issues have long plagued the county.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.ELECTION COUNTS: Greene County Commissioner Mike Belding and attorney Robert Eugene Grimm have been charged with misdemeanors after candidates decried the process used to position candidate names on primary ballots there. The Observer-Reporter says the charges were filed by a chief detective for Greene County DA David Russo, who's running in the primary himself and feuding with Belding.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.WATER WORRIES: After a chemical spill imperiled Philly's drinking water last month, WHYY says a long-term threat may be looming, writing: "In the decades to come, rising seas combined with a record drought in the Delaware River watershed could make the part of the river where Philly draws more than half of its water too salty to drink." UPenn professor Allison Lassiter said the concern is valid.
🏆  TEST TIME: What a week! If you're confident you've been following the news closely, there's only one way to prove it: Put your knowledge to the test with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz.

FOUR DAYS A WEEK: State Rep. Josh Siegel (D., Lehigh) is proposing a $5,000-per-employee tax credit to incentivize businesses to try out a four-day work week: "The tax credit only goes to businesses with up to 50 employees, so we're not helping multinational corporations."

HELP WITH TAXES: Esmirna Jiménez came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in 2016. Seven years and one online MBA later, she's providing "culturally competent tax services" to immigrants in central Pennsylvania. Friendly reminder: Your state and federal taxes are due April 18.

BASEBALL PROBLEM: Pittsburgh Catholics heading to today's Pirates home opener have been warned by the diocese: It's Good Friday and hot dogs are verboten. No St. Patrick's Day-style dispensation is being offered.

POTHOLE CAM: Stick your head inside a huge pothole, courtesy of Delmont, Westmoreland County and redditor u/Pnobodyknows.  

SOLD OUT: The Anthrocon furry convention returns to Pittsburgh in June. KDKA-TV reports hotel rooms for the event sold out in 24 hours.

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. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Yesterday's answer: Ambidextrous

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Eric F., Wendy A., Robert C., Ada M., Elaine C., Susan D., Daniel M., Don H., Judy M., Jon W., Susan N.-Z., Sarah B., Tom P., Jane R., Barabara F., Judith D., Mark O., Nancy S., Becky C., Beth T., Kim C., James B., Janet T., William Z., Stanley J., Vicki U., Dennis M., Dianne K., Tom M., Bill S., Elizabeth B., and Kimberly D.
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