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Former health official now a top lobbyist for UPMC

Plus, GOP leaders mount a school funding defense.


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February 22, 2022

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Legal briefing, revolving door, rising emissions, more medicine, bank on it, gymnastics allegations, and Pennsylvania "the mooch." It's Twos-day.
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Attorneys for the GOP legislative leaders named as defendants in Pennsylvania's landmark fair-school-funding trial have rested their case after calling 10 witnesses to counter claims that state spending has led to unconstitutional disparities in communities statewide.

Here are highlights from WHYY's breakdown of the proceedings

  • While defense witnesses touted school funding from sources other than the state, namely local property taxes, plaintiffs say that reliance only heightens disparities between poorer and more affluent districts. 
  • The defense argued that a fair funding formula guides state money to districts where it's needed most, but plaintiffs note the formula only applies to a fraction of the state's education budget, limiting the impact.
  • The defense called an expert witness who described no meaningful connection between school spending and student performance, but the plaintiffs challenged the merits of a study central to the claim.

Chalkbeat reports the defense also used witnesses to highlight GOP-preferred alternatives to funding changes — namely charter schools and private school scholarships bankrolled by corporate tax breaks.

THE CONTEXT: Such scholarships aren't new in Pennsylvania — a program backed by a corporate tax break worth an estimated $280 million annually has been in place here since 2012. But they also haven't proven effective.

That's because lawmakers have prevented data collection that would help gauge whether the scholarship program is helping low-income students escape failing public schools as promised, Spotlight PA previously reported. 

In the school-funding trial, the plaintiffs are expected to begin putting rebuttal witnesses on the stand today. A judge's decision could still be months away.

Whatever the outcome, the losing side is expected to appeal, WHYY reports, potentially kicking the case up to the state's highest court.

With love and gratitude to all the excellent reporters and editors at Spotlight PA and PA Post, daily delivering truth amidst the frantic, fuzzy processes of commonwealth government, and the give and take of local issues all over PA. PA never had it this great!

And a special shoutout to Kate Huangpu, for nimbly, with clarity, guiding us readers through the messy legislative redistricting/mapping process wending its way through the Hallowed Halls of Harrisburg. Thanks, Kate! From Don H.
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"This defendant leveraged his position and used foreign soldiers to intimidate and coerce someone who was a threat to the success of his corrupt scheme." 

—FBI agent Jacqueline Maguire on the indictment of Pennsylvania businessman Ross Roggio, who's accused of torturing an employee in Iraq
» MISSING PIECES: The CDC has withheld critical data on booster shots, hospitalizations and, until recently, wastewater analyses, The New York Times reports, depriving state and local health officials of important information.

» CALL THE GUARD: In a piece about the National Guard's role in the omicron response, a Pennsylvania Guard member tells the Washington Post about caring for a patient who died before her family could say goodbye

» SALARY CAPS: A Pennsylvania bill that would cap how much agencies that supply traveling nurses to in-need hospitals can charge those hospitals is among the proposals outraging a vital workforce, The 19th reports.

» FULL EFFECTS: A study counts 19,776 excess deaths in Pennsylvania in the first year of the pandemic and 18,880 in the second, data that one expert says show "the indirect and downstream effects of a disaster."

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
It's morning in Pennsylvania. Thanks for sharing, @yatskoSend us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
CONFLICT CONCERNS: Pennsylvania's former acting secretary of health, who was also a top staffer to Gov. Tom Wolf, is joining UPMC as a lobbyist. Capital-Star reports Alison Beam's new role as the vice president of government affairs for the health-care giant is raising concerns among good-government advocates wary of the revolving door between public service and the private sector.

NUCLEAR OPTIONS: Pennsylvania is one of three states with shuttered nuclear power plants reporting a rise in emissions from electricity production. Politico reports that while all three states expanded renewable energy power generation, natural gas filled the void, prompting emissions to rise by 3% in Pennsylvania alone. Natural gas surpassed nuclear in 2019 as the state’s largest power source.

LIFESAVING MEDICINE: Advocates for medications that help people with opioid use disorder cope with withdrawals and cravings are touting a pilot program in Pittsburgh that allows rapid access to one such medication via paramedics, CNHI reports. But they're calling on state lawmakers to let the paramedics dispense larger quantities. The advocacy comes as some county courts have restricted access

BANKING BUSINESS: Philadelphia's plan to get into the banking business would make it one of the first U.S. cities to do so. Supporters say it could level the playing field for Black and brown entrepreneurs and provide financial services to disadvantaged residents. Billy Penn reports critics question "whether funds deployed by a public bank would truly be independent from political influence."

FORMAL ALLEGATIONS: Nearly a dozen athletes have accused coaches at Allentown's elite Parkettes Gymnastics Club of abuse. The complaints were lodged with the U.S. Center for SafeSport and cover weight-shaming, dangerous training exercises, and lewd and sexually inappropriate remarks. Three gymnasts who trained there between the mid-2000s and 2017 told their stories to the Morning Call.

PLANT CLOSURE: The closure of an East Lampeter Johnson & Johnson plant that makes Pepcid and Imodium products is set for December. The company didn't offer a tally of employees there. LNP counted 120 in 2011.

TEAM MOOCH: Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez says New Jersey is a "maker" state and Pennsylvania is a "moocher" state, reviving SALT deduction fights of the past and a familiar gripe about federal spending.

TIL: John Lennon (sort of) did the weather report for Philly's WPVI once, as PhillyVoice recalls. And longtime WPVI anchor Larry Kane accompanied The Beatles on tour and saw every U.S. show in 1964 and 1965.

COUNTY CLASS: Lancaster County could begin the process of bumping its third-class status to "second class A" as soon as today. But first, LNP explains "the mostly pointless way Pennsylvania sorts its counties."

MAGIC NUMBER: According to CNN, the famous "57 varieties" slogan on every bottle of Heinz Ketchup is completely made up. The station says Pittsburgher H.J. Heinz just thought the number sounded cool.

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: Literary devices, terms

Yesterday's answer: Anachronism

Congrats to our daily winners: Don H., Bonnie R., Patricia M., Suzanne S., Elaine C., Kim C., William S., Doris T., Elizabeth W., Eddy Z., Susan D., James B., Susan N.-Z., Christine C., Judith D., Edward G., Bill S., Vicki U., Dianne K., Ann E., Jill A., and Pat B. 
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