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Fixing Pa.'s 'broken' school funding system

Plus, tentative deal to avoid a big UPS strike.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Wednesday, July 26, 2023
School money, serious flaws, strike averted, exhumation request, radioactive waterways, and Trump returns to Erie and a five-year-old debt. 

The window to challenge Pennsylvania's landmark school funding ruling has closed without a challenge being made, meaning the court's seismic decision is final. But the resulting work in Harrisburg is just beginning.

WHYY reports Pennsylvania's Basic Education Funding Commission will work to determine how much money is needed and where to fix the unconstitutional funding disparities raised by the case. Then lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro will need to find the cash.

Lawyers for the various petitioners whose lawsuit brought about the now-solidified legal ruling say they’re prepared to go back to court if lawmakers don’t sufficiently address the issue, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. 

Read more, via The Inquirer's archives: A perfect school funding system is hard to find. As Pa. searches for a fix, here’s what other states do.

THE CONTEXT: As Spotlight PA reported on the heels of the February decision, a fix could take years and cost billions of dollars. Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer did not prescribe a course of action.

Public school advocates want a new funding method that's less reliant on property taxes that reinforce wealthy and poor district divides. 

GOP legislative leaders, meanwhile, argue money is only part of the problem as they continue to promote alternatives to public schools via a contested voucher push that has upended this year's budget deal.

According to The Inquirer, lawyers for the petitioners said they do not believe vouchers are part of the solution sought by Judge Jubelirer. Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, senior attorney with the Public Interest Law Center, said Monday that “vouchers don’t move us one dollar closer to that.”


"I've urged the Senate to come back and just do its simple job. It will take literally one minute for them to hand me the bill, and then I'll be able to sign it."

Gov. Josh Shapiro on the state budget during a stop in Erie County Tuesday; the Senate's president pro tempore said this a few days prior
Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania: The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now to Spotlight PA.
» Mumin: $5.9B in aid imperiled by budget delay, via @StephenJ_Caruso

» Legislator calls for pay pause during budget impasse, via PoliticsPA

» Who's vying for Innamorato's former state House seat, via WESA

» Adult mental health funds shifted to youth in stalled budget, via WESA

» Rep. Lee backs gender-neutral U.S. Code language, via The Advocate

» How Local Gov't Works: Join us Thursday, Aug. 3 from 6-7:15 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free panel on oversight issues in local governments, how to hold officials accountable, and where you can turn to address issues with municipal services. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org


Backyard rudbeckia blooms in York, via Jean G. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

Closeup of a group of yellow flowers with dark-colored centers.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.FIVE TAKEAWAYS: A yearlong investigation by Spotlight PA and The Centre Daily Times found serious flaws in Penn State's system of compliance offices and reforms implemented in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Here are five takeaways from the reporting, which uncovered an ethics office in turmoil, lingering federal and state concerns, and mounting distrust in the processes

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.UPS DEAL: A tentative deal between UPS and the Teamsters includes wage increases for full- and part-time workers and comes days before a massive strike was set to commence. Also in the deal, which still needs formal rank-and-file approval: heat safety measures agreed to last month. Pennsylvania couriers told WPSU their trucks can reach 150 degrees in the summer without air conditioning.
  • RELATED: 1,400-person strike at Wabtec locomotive plant in Erie passes the 30-day mark, via Capital-Star
Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.DEFENSE STRATEGY: Lawyers for convicted Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers want to dig up the body of his late father to prove paternity, WESA reports. The development comes as the defense focuses on Bowers' traumatic childhood and family history of mental illness, including his father's schizophrenia, in an attempt to spare his life. The prosecution has challenged the genetic links.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.RADIOACTIVE RUNOFF: There are higher levels of radioactive materials in rivers and streams near Pennsylvania wastewater treatment plants that handle runoff (aka leachate) from landfills where fracking waste is disposed, a new study found. The Allegheny Front reports over 30 landfills in the state accept fracking waste like drill cuttings. And the treatment plants aren't testing for the contamination.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.PA NEWS BRIEFS: The second-largest employer in the Philadelphia region, Jefferson Health, plans to layoff about 400 people or 1% or its workforce, via WHYY; Pittsburgh's attempt to reduce minor traffic stops lowered them overall but not the racial disparities therein, per PublicSource; and a Pennsylvania case before the U.S. Supreme Court has made suing businesses easier, per Reuters.
Investigative journalism that gets results: Spotlight PA's vital work depends on you. Donate now.

COLD CASE: Police say a former pastor has confessed to the kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Gretchen Harrington in Delaware County nearly 50 years ago. NBC10 reports David Zandstra, now 83, is fighting extradition to Pennsylvania. A book on the case helped bring about his arrest. 

TRUMP DEBT: Former president and 2024 White House aspirant Donald Trump returns to Erie for a rally this weekend, and the city's mayor plans to bill the campaign for related costs in advance with a $35,000 bill from a rally Trump held there five years ago still unpaid, the Times-News reports.

BIG BALLOONS: Maryland's "largest hot air balloon festival" is coming to Pennsylvania. The Chesapeake Bay Balloon Festival is set for the Mason-Dixon Fairgrounds in York County Aug. 4-6. The pivot comes after an 11th-hour cancelation by officials in Maryland citing safety concerns.

BUG SHIFTS: Some corners of Pennsylvania are reporting fewer spotted lanternfly sightings this year, and scientists want to know why. One working theory involves recent bouts of Canadian wildfire smoke suppressing the bugs, but a Penn State expert told WGAL why that's probably not it.

LONG DISTANCE: Abbott Elementary star Sheryl Lee Ralph lives on the other side of the country from her husband, Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. Vincent Hughes, and told AARP magazine why it works. Also in that profile: Ralph was the youngest woman ever to graduate from Rutgers.

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 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.
Yesterday's answer: Thunderous

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Craig W., Vicki U., Barbara F., Jon W., Don H., Marty M., Mark O., Susan D., Starr B., Joel S., Eric F., Jane R., Kimberly D., Elaine C., Susan N.-Z., James B., William Z., Tom M., Dan A., Christine B., Stacy S., Stanley J., Dennis M., Wendy A., and Elizabeth B.
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