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Major school funding ruling could cost Pa. billions

Plus, Doug Mastriano's new chief of staff.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
Friday, February 10, 2023
Multibillion-dollar question, House votes, Mastriano hire, anxious at home, Santos case, Super Bowl wager, and Marty the robot makes his move.

Days after a Commonwealth Court judge ordered Pennsylvania's "unconstitutional" public school funding system fixed, big questions remain about what that might look like come budget season.

Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer's ruling says changes don't need to be "entirely financial," adding, "The options for reform are virtually limitless."

But policymakers, attorneys in the case, and education experts agree that money will be a major part of the solution. And if the ruling stands, it means new Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro and the divided Pennsylvania legislature will be faced with an enormous task.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Shapiro, lawmakers may face multibillion-dollar budget question after school funding ruling.

THE CONTEXT: It's unclear exactly how much money will be needed to fill the gap. Estimates provided around the case range in the billions. 

Donna Cooper, a former top policy advisor to Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell who now advocates for increased education funding, said "the commonwealth is likely to need new sources of revenue" to achieve it.

Possibilities include closing tax loopholes, increasing the personal income tax (Pennsylvania's is among the lowest in the U.S.), and more lucrative taxation of natural gas drillers than is currently in place. 

Stan Saylor, a former GOP state lawmaker who chaired the Appropriations Committee, said a related legislative agreement could take time, adding, "I don't see it getting resolved" by June's budget deadline.


"Some of them found out when they went to pharmacies to pick up their prescriptions, and they were told that their insurance was inactive."

—Manasa Gopakumar on Temple University's decision to withdraw free tuition and deactivate health-care accounts of striking grad students
🏆 TEST YOURSELF: Another big week of Pennsylvania news is in the bag. Test your grip on the latest headlines from Harrisburg and around the state with this week's installment of The Great PA News Quiz.
As seen in Philadelphia by Christine K. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
Small birds perched on a snowy bench.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.NEW TIMELINE: In a video released on Thursday, State House Speaker Mark Rozzi (D., Berks) said he plans to call Feb. 21 House votes on two bills involving legal relief for survivors of childhood sexual abuse: A delayed constitutional amendment and a statutory bill that he said could be signed into law as soon as March. He's urging support from his colleagues in the Senate, which returns on Feb. 27.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.OFFICE SPACE: PennLive (paywall) reports that state Rep. Tom Mehaffie (R., Dauphin) has lost his Capitol office, and he believes it's punishment for not falling in line with his party's plan to force a voting session last month. Mehaffie said his name was removed from his old office this week and that so far he hasn't been assigned a new one by House GOP leadership. A spokesperson declined comment.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.CHIEF OF STAFF: Dan Cox, the far-right Republican candidate who was defeated in last year's race for Maryland governor, has been hired to serve as chief of staff to far-right Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin), The Baltimore Banner reports. Cox said he'll commute to Pennsylvania. Both men championed 2020 election conspiracies and both were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.SAFETY CONCERNS: Pennsylvania and Ohio residents living near a volatile train derailment steps from the state line have been given the all-clear to return to their homes. Environmental testing deemed it safe to do so, but some remain worried despite official reassurances. Testing on rivers, streams, and water wells will continue in the area and the nearby Ohio River, a source of drinking water for millions.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.BAD CHECKS: Politico reports embattled U.S. Rep. George Santos (R., NY) was charged with theft for writing $15,125 in bad checks to dog breeders in Pennsylvania's Amish country in 2017. Days after the checks were passed, Santos held an adoption event at a Staten Island pet store with his animal rescue charity. But the charges against him were dropped after he said his checkbook was stolen.

FETTERMAN UPDATE: The office of U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D., Pa.) says doctors found no signs of a new stroke during his hospitalization this week but will continue monitoring him for signs of seizure activity. Fetterman sought treatment after feeling "lightheaded" during a Wednesday retreat.

JET SETTING: Pennsylvania's richest man, political megadonor Jeffrey Yass, is flying 100 people connected to his Bala Cynwyd trading firm to the Super Bowl on Sunday. Yass is looking to build a sports-betting empire of his own, Inquirer columnist Joseph N. DiStefano writes (paywall). 

FLAG FOOTBALL: A Kansas City Chiefs flag will hang in Gov. Josh Shapiro's office in the Pennsylvania Capitol if the Eagles lose Sunday's Super Bowl. If they win, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson knows what to do.

HOKE HOUSE: A plan by the Rutter's gas station chain to demolish a 1750s-era, Georgian-style house in Spring Grove borough has sparked an outcry. YDR (paywall) reports an official decision is expected next week.

ROBOT RUN: GIANT's in-store grocery robot Marty made a run for it this week and got as far as the parking lot before being corralled.

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: Subterfuge

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Don H., Lynne E., Barbara F., Mike B., Eric F., Becky C., Susan D., Ted W., Dan A., Chris M., Beth T., Adrien M., Marty M., William S., Jon W., Jane R., Susan N.-Z., Teresa J., Starr B., Vicki U., Bill M., Stanley J., Amy Z., Elizabeth W., Dennis M., Daniel M., Elaine C., Cassandra N., Dianne K., James B., Ben P., Perry H., Bill S., Vanessa J., Keith W., John P., Kathee M., Kimberly D., John F., William Z., Joel S., Kim C., David P., and Patricia R.
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