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Pa. officials spent $12.6M on school funding fight

Plus, how Pa. could become first state to pass universal parental leave.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2023
School funding fight, paid leave, budget amendment, full House, urgent needs, no relief, and Anthrocon returns. Thanks for checking in.

The state legislature and governor's administration spent more than $12.6 million since 2019 fighting a challenge to the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's school funding system, a legal fight they ultimately lost.

The price tag, revealed through records obtained via a Right-to-Know request, is one of the highest paid for outside lawyers in decades, two state officials privately acknowledged, and would only grow in the event of an appeal. 

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro doesn't plan to do so, but neither the state House nor the state Senate has officially ruled it out.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Pa. officials spent $12.6M on private lawyers to fight challenge to state's education funding.

THE CONTEXT: The money went to three private law firms, with legal bills starting to spike in late 2021. That is when a four-month-long trial in the case began in Commonwealth Court. Among the expenditures:

  • The GOP-controlled state Senate spent $3.1 million on legal fees since the start of 2021. The money went to lawyers for K&L Gates, which charged the chamber $475 per hour for work by its attorneys and $280 per hour for services provided by its paralegals.
  • That is on top of another nearly $1.6 million the chamber paid K&L Gates lawyers in 2019 and 2020, according to a prior analysis.
  • GOP leaders in the state House shelled out nearly $2.5 million since 2021 to Dilworth Paxson LLP. The firm charged $238.50 per hour for work by its associates and $595 per hour for work by its senior lawyers. The state House paid Dilworth Paxson an additional $1.5 million in 2019 and 2020.
  • And the governor's administration paid out just over $4 million since 2021 to Blank Rome LLP, whose partners charged $495 per hour.
Keep reading for coverage of House Democrats amending Gov. Shapiro's budget proposal to increase education funding and more.

"It is premature to speculate as to the prospects for consideration. But ... what I am looking for in potentially considering any gun-related bills is enforceability and ensuring due process in accordance with constitutional protections."

State Sen. Lisa Baker (R., Luzerne) on the prospects of gun bills recently passed in the Dem-majority House getting a vote in the committee she chairs; sources say Gov. Shapiro offered House Democrats a "pep talk" Monday highlighting action on guns and LGBTQ protections
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Photog Don H. writes: "Colonel Edwin Drake at the Drake Well Museum & Park in Titusville. The real gem is his toothbrush, which remains in excellent condition." Have a photo to share with the whole state? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A wax figure of a 19th century man in period clothing. He is seated in a chair next to a top hat on a table.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.PAID LEAVE: Jacobin reports Pennsylvania could become the first state to pass universal parental leave with a bill that's slated for a House committee vote today. But the outlet says a work history test in the current draft could exclude 1 in 3 women of childbearing age. Majority Whip Dan Miller (D., Allegheny), the bill's prime sponsor, didn't immediately return a request for comment from PA Post.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.AS AMENDED: Spotlight PA's Stephen Caruso reports House Democrats have passed an amended version of Gov. Josh Shapiro's proposed $44.4 billion budget that ups new education spending from the $1 billion he proposed (with controversy) to $1.7 billion, among other hikes. Democrats point to higher-than-expected tax collections, but House Republicans worried about recessions are opposed.Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.CAPITOL BRIEFS: An East Palestine-inspired rail safety bill passed the state House 141-62 on Monday; a bill authorizing parking protected bike lanes on state roads passed out of committee with no debate after a similar measure earned a veto last year over GOP amendments; and the state House got back to a full 203-member complement with the winners of May 16 special elections — Republican Michael Stender Jr. and Democrat Heather Boyd — taking the oath of office.Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.GROWING NEED: A survey of mayors in 117 U.S. cities found demand for mental health services on the rise and few of the resources needed to respond. In Harrisburg, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania wants a boost for county-level mental health funding in the next state budget to support better pay for staff and a specialized presence in emergency rooms, Capital-Star reports.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.RENT RELIEF: Amid a housing crisis in the Lehigh Valley, Northampton County is no longer taking applications for a COVID-19-era program that provided direct payments to tenants who were at risk of eviction due to the pandemic, the Morning Call (paywall) reports. Some fear a repeat of the 8% jump in eviction filings seen in neighboring Lehigh County in 2022. Lehigh ended its rent relief program that August.
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CAPITAL CASE: Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf will seek the death penalty against 22-year-old Alex Torres Santos, who's accused in a shooting that killed three people — ages 8, 9, and 19 — in Lebanon last week. A 16-year-old is also charged and a third suspect sought. 

CHAIN MAIL: E-scooter rental company SPIN is offering a $100 credit to Pittsburgh riders who send a letter of support to their local city councilor. One official laughed off the plan, while others scoffed, per WESA. A bill is pending in the state Senate that would extend Pittsburgh's e-scooter pilot program and permit them in other towns, along with local restrictions.

PRIDE IN PA: Pride parades stepped off in PittsburghPhiladelphia, and Delaware County (for the first time ever) over the weekend, but it's not just more urban areas. Pride festivities are also slated this year for Franklin County, the Schuylkill County Fairgrounds, and Knoebels Grove.

ANTHROCON: As Florida's largest furry convention navigates a new state "Protection of Children" law by banning people under 18, one of the world's largest furry conventions returns to Pittsburgh this month with parental consent required, as it has been at Anthrocon for years.

TAKE FIVE: Combine various emoji into unhinged hybrids like these with Google's Emoji Kitchen. If you have an Android phone you can do it live in the text message app. If not, you can play around with it here.

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: Clothespin

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Barbara F., Susan N.-Z., Kimberly D., Don H., Craig W., Elaine C., Lynne E., Stacy S., Jon W., Susan D., Dennis M., Tom M., Dianne K., William Z., Dan A., Kim C., Wendy A., and David W.
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