Editorials from around Pennsylvania:
FAULT LINE OF UNION-BACKED CHARTER SCHOOLS POINTS TO BIGGER FAILINGS, July 11
A charter school founded by union boss John Dougherty to help prepare minority students to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union and thereby help diversify this overwhelmingly white union has no records of any students entering the union’s apprentice program upon graduation . 15 years after the school was created.
According to a recent Daily News/Inquirer report, Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter School may not have helped minority students get well-paid union jobs, but it has enabled members of Doughterty’s family to get well-paying charter school jobs, including his daughter, who makes $115,000 as the school’s CEO. The school does boast a high graduation rate, and nearly 50 percent go on to college, though no one knows how many graduate from college.
The minority participation in unions is abysmal in this city, and union and political leaders have made noises for years about how to improve. That’s why the lost opportunity of a taxpayer-funded charter school to help increase diversity is such a disappointment.
But more troubling is what this report underscores: the lack of oversight into the performance of charter schools and the paucity of data that measure how well they are doing as an alternative to conventional public schools.
It’s been 20 years since the state authorized the creation of charter schools, and despite the fact that state Auditor General Euguene DePasquale has called it the worst charter law in the country, state lawmakers have accomplished no meaningful reform.
The most recent attempt of “reform,” in House Bill 97, has elements that would standardize aspects of charter operations, but also contains problematic changes; it appears to be at a standstill. Other recent attempts have done nothing to address financial and oversight issues of charters, such as how school districts get reimbursed for the large revenue holes that increased charter enrollments create. Other “reform” attempts to loosen enrollment caps and lengthen the time period between charter reauthorizations could, in the absence of meaningful oversight, be disastrous.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers seem obsessed with expanding charter schools _ without having a clue about how they operate or caring about how to improve them.
For example, the state Department of Education is supposed to collect data about charter schools; it hasn’t posted updates on academic performance since 2011. And the last time annual reports on each charter school were posted was 2013/14.
Last year, Gov. Wolf announced that the creation of a charter school division within the Education Department. We’re still waiting.
The School District of Philadelphia has upped its game on charter management. It creates a school progress report for how each charter is performing in four major categories: achievement, progress, climate, and college and career. It also assigns an overall score for each school, which indicates action to be taken: intervene, watch, reinforce and model. (Electrical and Technology Charter has a score of 49, putting it into the “watch” category.)
If lawmakers were serious about improving education, they would demand as much information as possible from all schools, including the number of high school graduates who go on to graduate college. That data, too, is nearly impossible to find.
Then again, given a new Pew Research Center study published this week that 58 percent of Republicans now believe colleges and universities harm the state of the union, that might explain why our Republican-dominated Legislature may be so indifferent to improving education at the primary and secondary levels
_The Philadelphia Daily News
WHITE HOUSE CONFERENCE MAY HELP COMMISSIONERS OPEN DOORS WITH FEDS, July 12
County commissioners from Cambria, Somerset and Bedford counties will be among the leaders expected to attend a give-and-take conference at the White House on Thursday.
Mark Wissinger and Tom Chernisky from Cambria County, John Vatavuk, Gerald Walker and James Yoder from Somerset and Josh Lang and Paul Crooks from Bedford have been invited to the Keystone County Commissioners’ White House Conference.
The purpose of the confab, according to a press release from the White House, is “to develop a working relationship between the White House/federal agencies and the county commissioners of Pennsylvania.”
“I look at it as a networking opportunity with federal agencies,” Vatavuk told reporter Jocelyn Brumbaugh.
Topics that area leaders hope to discuss with federal officials are infrastructure, jobs, turnovers in social agencies, the opioid epidemic and veterans’ issues.
The opportunity is exciting and the takeaway could be invaluable. The commissioners may learn about alternative funding avenues and resources with which they may not be familiar or links to other agencies that may offer help to other problems.
Representatives from several federal agencies are expected to attend the conference.
“One of the primary goals,” the release read, “will be to ensure that you are introduced to and connected with appropriate officials at each agency to ensure efficient coordination between the federal agencies and the Pennsylvania counties.”
The Somerset contingent is particularly interested in federal spending plans that could shift money to Pennsylvania to help complete Route 219 south to the Maryland border and an interchange with Interstate 68.
“If we can make a few federal contacts, that’d be great,” Walker said.
Chernisky and Wissinger hope to gain insight into the federal government’s approach to economic development.
“We are looking forward to working with the administration to bring jobs to our county,” Chernisky said, “developing infrastructure and working to combat the opioid epidemic.
“Jobs are not Democrat or Republican. We have to work together to solve problems.”
Added Wissinger: “The more people we can meet to let them know what we’re coming up against – I see that as nothing but positive.”
For one day, the region’s leaders will have the ear of the federal government.
We hope their messages hit home with the federal agencies and individuals they will meet with and the commissioners return home with answers to the area’s problems.
_The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown
POLICE COMMANDERS SHOULD OBEY CITY RESDENCY RULE, July 11
Pittsburgh’s 12 police commanders are an elite group who should be fully invested in their work and the city’s future. Instead, at least some of them want the right to head for the suburbs when their shifts are over. The commanders would send a terrible message if they tried to join the police union so they could live outside the city.
In May, the state Supreme Court ruled that patrol officers and other police union members, such as sergeants and lieutenants, may live anywhere within 25 air miles of the City-County Building, Downtown. That unfortunate ruling cast aside the city’s residency requirement for police and ended a long battle between the union and Mayor Bill Peduto, who rightly wanted officers to live in and otherwise be part of the city neighborhoods they serve.
Officers gave various reasons for wanting to live outside the city, including access to better schools. However, they accepted the residency requirement when they joined the force, and the city has good reasons for wanting them to stay. Officers are middle-class workers who support the city’s tax base. They add value to their communities as football and baseball coaches. Their presence deters crime in the neighborhoods they call home. At a time when police-community relations are fractured in many parts of the country, it is especially good for officers to live in the neighborhoods they patrol.
How much of those benefits will be lost because officers move out of the city? It is too soon to say. Since the ruling, 35 officers have moved out, Mr. Peduto’s office said.
The Supreme Court ruling affected only police union members, not commanders, whom the city correctly regards as management personnel. Police Chief Scott Schubert was once a commander. Commanders oversee the police zones and specialty units, not only directing patrol officers and supervisors but helping to craft bureau policy. As such, they should have a clear view of the big picture, supporting Mr. Peduto’s efforts to improve police-community relations and understanding the importance of living where they work.
In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, however. commanders began expressing interest in joining the union themselves. Members of the union will vote Tuesday on whether to accept the commanders into their ranks. If a majority vote yes, the union will seek the city’s cooperation on moving them into the union. The union raised the possibility of a legal challenge if Mr. Peduto refuses.
Mr. Peduto should say no and, while another fight with the police union is not something the city needs, the mayor should stand firm even if the union makes good on its threat to pursue the matter legally. If they want to continue to work for Pittsburgh, and hold positions of high importance in the police bureau, commanders should live here, too.
_The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
KEEP BAY CLEANUP ON TRACK, July 12
The only thing worse than a bad idea is a bad idea that comes at a bad time.
Unfortunately, that is a more than apt description of the Trump administration’s plan to cut federal funding for continued cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. All of it. All $73 million.
The proposal would cripple the Chesapeake Bay Program, which coordinates cleanup efforts among six states _ including Pennsylvania _ and Washington, D.C.
And it comes at a time when the commission and bay advocates are cheering real success after decades of fits and starts.
Only a generation ago, the nation’s largest estuary _ home to clams, oysters and crabs _ was not only polluted but dying. Runoff from farms and other agricultural lands throughout the bay’s watershed had taken its toll, not to mention direct dumping of sewage and waste, and other factors. So-called dead zones _ areas where runoff-generated nitrogen and phosphorus block sunlight and decimate fish and crab populations _ were expanding throughout the bay.
President Ronald Reagan made restoring the health of the bay a signature initiative in his 1984 State of the Union Address. Still, cleanup efforts long failed to gain traction.
But a plan put in place in 2010 by Pennsylvania and other watershed states _ Delaware, Maryland, New York, Virginia and West Virginia, along with D.C. _ provided the impetus for action, and, thus far, success.
Aggressive pollution-reduction efforts have diminished runoff to the point where, last summer, scientists recorded no dead zones in the bay, according to NPR. Signature Maryland blue crabs are on the rise, spawning sturgeon have returned to the bay _ even dolphin sightings are no longer a rarity.
Though welcome, these gains are also fragile. Pulling the plug on funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program could spell a dark chapter in this fledgling success story.
As Pennsylvania Director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission Marel King told the Dispatch, with measurable progress finally at hand, the bay cannot afford a year _ let alone several years _ without federal assistance.
That means congressional budget writers, state lawmakers and watershed leaders must combine advocacy with action:
Federal lawmakers from all six states must speak with one voice in insisting Chesapeake Bay funding is restored to the still-in-the-works federal spending plan.
Governors from the six states _ a powerful bipartisan coalition that includes Democrats Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania and Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Republican Larry Hogan of Maryland – must use their pulpits to preach the need for continued federal assistance.
Scientists and other advocates must continue to spread the word – to the public and, especially, congressional lawmakers who will vote on the budget _ of the economic and environmental returns being delivered by investment in the health of Chesapeake Bay.
Cleaning up the massive Chesapeake Bay is exactly the kind of initiative that requires and deserves federal assistance. Congressional representatives, stakeholders and state leaders must combine forces to make sure that assistance does not disappear.
_The York Dispatch
A CIVIC DUTY TO KNOW CIVICS, July 7
We’d be horrified if kids were graduating from high school without knowing how to read, write, and do basic math _ essential tools in everyday life.
Indeed, we expect schools to produce graduates who at the very least have mastered these elementary concepts, since they are absolutely necessary for full engagement in the world around us.
So why aren’t we horrified that kids are graduating without having mastered the elementary concepts of civic life? By that we mean an understanding of American government and knowledge of American history. We know these deficiencies exist because national studies have revealed that fewer than 25 percent of high school students are able to answer basic questions about our nation’s government and history.
Fortunately, two people who are horrified by the growing ignorance of civic life _ and have the ability to do something about _ decided to act.
State Sens. John C. Rafferty, R-Montgomery, and Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, are behind legislation that would require high school students to have a basic understanding of American history and government. Senate Bill 723 requires students to take a test identical to the civics portion of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ naturalization test, which immigrants must pass when applying for citizenship.
In its original form, the bill made passing the test a graduation requirement. The bill has since been amended and the graduation stipulation was stricken from the measure, though the test remains a required part of the curriculum.
Why would-be citizens have to pass the test but citizens get a bye seems illogical to us. We wholeheartedly agree with the authors of the measure that an understanding of civics, government, and American history is essential to “prepare and encourage” students to be “responsibly engaged citizens.”
Seventeen other states agree. That’s how many have adopted similar legislation, including the graduation stipulation. An additional 19 states are considering joining the fold.
Commenting on his desire for students to understand the fundamentals of U.S. history and government, Rafferty said: “It appears to me that complaints about our government are at an all-time high, and yet understanding of our government is at an all-time low … It is fundamental for a republic that the citizenry be informed and involved. A knowledge of civics is essential for a democracy to survive.”
Dinniman, who serves as minority chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said: “These are basic principles regarding our rights, freedoms, and history that every American should know, which is why we’re making the test identical to the one given to naturalized citizens.”
Senate Bill 723 calls for results of the test to be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Education annually to help inform and guide the overall state approach to social studies curriculum. The bill now goes to the Senate floor for full consideration and would take effect in the 2019-2020 school year.
Lawmakers have a civic duty to pass it.
_The Bucks County Courier Times