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Unproven program gets budget windfall, a PSU extortion plot, and Jim Thorpe reclaims the gold

Plus, the fight over Pa.’s state House map continues.

A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 18, 2022
Unknown impacts, 2020 maneuvers, redistricting appeal, monkeypox vaccine, PSU warrants, and Jim Thorpe's gold restored. Hi! It's Monday!
Pennsylvania's new $45 billion budget includes a historic investment in the state's popular private school tax credits, but critics of the hike say there's no way of knowing how well the program even works. 

A lack of transparency baked into state law has made it impossible to determine whether the program actually improves outcomes for students who receive the private school tuition assistance, critics caution.

"We have zero quantitative data to see if it's effective," state Sen. Lindsey Williams, a Democrat from Allegheny County, explained. 

Spotlight PA reports that the budget's $125 million in added funding for state educational tax credits represents the largest one-time boost for the program since its inception nearly two decades ago.

But skeptics question the wisdom of supercharging funding for an initiative that's been singled out for a lack of accountability.

THE CONTEXT: The lack of data collected on the program, which funds private and parochial school scholarships, isn't accidental but rather the result of an explicit effort by lawmakers to limit such information.

Bills to remedy its secrecy, or to make the program more efficient, have languished in the GOP-controlled state legislature.

Supporters call the program a lifeline for students who attend low-performing public schools. But without more data, the state's Independent Fiscal Office said a "thorough" analysis remains impossible.

Gov. Tom Wolf, who signed the 2022-2023 budget into law, has said that he believes the program needs to be more accountable.

When asked why the governor signed off on its biggest funding increase ever, spokesperson Beth Rementer said: "Unfortunately, Republicans refuse to move legislation that would adequately address this [accountability] and they insisted on this increased funding in the budget."



"If you're anti-abortion, I don't have time for you. I'm not going to live back in the 1950s." 

—Renee Dennis of Ridley Park who switched her voter registration from Republican to Democrat following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
A roadside sign in Hershey with a mnemonic device of sorts for confused passersby, via Robert N. Send us your Pennsylvania photographs, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
FAKE ELECTORS: Politico reports it was a Trump campaign operative who delivered a slate of false, pro-Trump electors to the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R., Pa.) in a bid to get the names to then-Vice President Mike Pence and have the 2020 election overturned. In related news: Axios reports U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) was in the room for a White House strategy session on pressuring Pence to act.

MAP APPEAL: The fight over Pennsylvania's new legislative maps isn't over. House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R., Centre) filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court last week that argues the state House districts were unconstitutionally drawn using race as a primary factor, via Morning Call. The redistricted map lessens the GOP's advantage and contains "opportunity zones" for candidates of color.

VIRAL FRONT: Pennsylvania has received more than 3,000 doses of the monkeypox vaccine in recent days, per The Inquirer, but questions remain about whether there's enough supply to contain the state's share of a growing global outbreak. One of Philly's LGBTQ-focused health centers is seeing signs of communal spread. Some 1,400 cases of the virus, none fatal, have been reported in the U.S. since May.

PSU EXTORTION: At least two male Penn State student-athletes were targeted by a sexual extortionist who threatened to publicize explicit photos of them if the athletes didn't send more, per StateCollege.com. Investigators believe there are more victims, including in other states. The information was revealed in newly released search warrants that Penn State officials sought to keep hidden.

LEGAL ACTION: Homosexuality has officially been removed from the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, WHYY reports, the update coming more than a year after the provision was brought to light by activists in Upper Darby. Pennsylvania still lacks protections against LGBTQ discrimination in state law, making it the only state in the northeast without such measures on the books, as Spotlight PA previously reported.
CRISIS CALLS: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is now reachable any time by calling or texting 988. But Axios reports Pennsylvania is one of more than two dozen states that haven't enacted funding legislation.

GOLD RESTORED: Nearly 110 years after being stripped of Olympic gold medals for violations of amateurism rules, athlete Jim Thorpe, namesake of the town in Carbon County, has had his wins posthumously restored.

CODE WORD: Pottstown churches are appealing citations they received for offering free meals and other services in violation of the borough zoning code's definition of the word "church," The Mercury reports.

RESCUE DATE: Six of the nine men who were rescued from a flooded Somerset County mine in 2002 gathered at Jennerstown Speedway over the weekend to mark the 20th anniversary of the ordeal, per the AP.

SAY WHAT? Pittsburgh Orbit has a fun roundup of mystery signs, those roadside placards that are "set out for the world to consume [without it being] entirely clear what the message is or who it's meant for."
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: Bugs 🐜🕷🦟

Friday's answer: Bridegroom

Congrats to our weekly winner: Ruth M.

Congrats to our daily winners: Lynne E., Susan D., Charity M., Craig W., Starr B., Jill M., Mary Jo J., Mike B., Elaine C., Susan N.-Z., Patricia M., Don H., Beth T., Mark O., Kim C., Barbara F., Susan R., Sean M., Becky C., Barbara O., Tish M., Wendy A., Michelle T., Chuck M., George S., James B., James N., John A., Daniel M., Jim A., Dianne K., Bill S., John P., Kevin M., Michael B., David W., Rick A., Al M., Eugene M., Ana G., Daniel S., John H., Karen M., and Kimberly D.
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