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School vouchers in PA get new ally: Jay-Z

Plus, the proliferation of dark money news.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Today: Jay fray, lead levels, off-the-record, fracking fallout, phones in schools, news wave, and Santos in the Poconos. Thanks for checking in.
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Rapper Jay-Z has entered Pennsylvania’s heated debate over using taxpayer money to fund private school vouchers, a key sticking point in last year's state budget process and possibly this year's as well.

His company is paying for a series of events intended to get Philadelphians on board, and drawing sharp criticism in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Jay-Z joins Pennsylvania's richest person, Jeff Yass, as the latest billionaire to try and drum up support for the option here. Spotlight PA adds:

Jay-Z is also close with Michael Rubin, a Philadelphia billionaire who co-heads REFORM and has put his money behind private education before. Rubin, rapper Meek Mill, and comedian Kevin Hart have together donated at least $24 million since 2020 to provide scholarships for Philadelphia students to attend private schools, according to media reports. In at least one case, the three ran the money through a group that helps donors claim a state tax credit that reduces their annual tax payments for donating to private schools.

Read the full report: Jay-Z enters one of Pa.’s messiest political fights.


“It is incredibly rare for a pension to just disappear. That being said, it is very difficult to trace them.”

Attorney Tyler Compton on the dozens of employees of defunct Philly retailer Wanamaker's who never got the pensions they were promised
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QUEERING THE NEWS: Join us Thursday, June 13 from 6-7 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free discussion with a panel of experts on Pennsylvania’s queer media landscape — past, present, and future. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
Great blue heron at Bullfrog Pond in Dauphin County, via Robert N. Have a photo of your own to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania
A big bird stood on a narrow branch.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.
IN THE BLOOD: York County has the fourth highest rate of child lead poisoning in the state — behind Philadelphia, Allegheny, and Berks Counties. More than half its homes were built before lead-based paint was banned nationwide in 1978. Now, roughly 250 kids are poisoned there annually, and that's likely a significant undercount since only 12% are ever tested, the York Dispatch (paywall) reports.
Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.
UNREPORTED: Medical debt would be stripped from the credit reports of millions of Americans under a rule change the Biden administration says would lead to the approval of about 22,000 more mortgages annually. Democrats say Pennsylvanians had an estimated $1.8 billion in medical debt in the collections stage in 2020. This survey found about 690,000 adults here report medical debt in a given year.
Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.GASLAND: Pittsburgh-based EQT is the largest natural gas producer in the U.S., with more than a third of its production coming from one Pennsylvania county: Greene. But the fallout from a 2022 "frack out" near New Freeport is testing the company's "good neighbor" tagline, as PublicSource reveals deactivated monitoring tools after the eruption and offers of clean water for silence and legal immunity.
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.
PHONE-FREE: A magnet school in Philadelphia had students put their phones in a pouch at the front of the class to improve focus. The Inquirer (paywall) explains why the teachers say they're never going back. Republican lawmakers in the state House and state Senate have legislation that would lock up student cellphones during school hours statewide. Here's what Harvard experts had to say.
Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.NEWS BALANCE: Pennsylvania is among the states most frequently targeted by the dark money backers of partisan media outlets — like these — disguised as impartial ones, News Guard reports, via Axios. The latter writes that the number of such outlets has officially surpassed the number of real, local daily newspapers nationwide.
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SUMMER OF GEORGE: Former U.S. Rep. George Santos (R., NY) has been cleared for weekly travel to Tobyhanna in the Poconos this summer while awaiting trial on federal fraud charges, via ABC News. Gov. Shapiro's press secretary didn't waste a chance to make a PA tourism plug.

CAPITOL CREATURES: Tuesday was Zoo Day at the state Capitol, bringing zoo representatives — human and not — to charm lawmakers, or, in the case of this snake, terrify the state Senate's president pro tempore.

CHAMPS ARE HERE: Winners from the inaugural PIAA Girls’ Wrestling Championship in Pennsylvania were honored this week by the state Senate and a former grappler who's now in office, WHTM reports.

HIGH HEAT: The first heat wave of the year is coming, and Pennsylvania has free air conditioning units available to people who received LIHEAP or weatherization assistance in the past year, per WHYY.

NEPA CRICKET: The NEPA Cricket Club started with "three or four guys" in 2008 and now counts more than 100 members. It also recently upgraded from playing on a school parking lot to a proper pitch, WVIA reports. 
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