Editorial Roundup: Pennsylvania

Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice. August X, 2022,.

Editorial: Assess state recycling performance

Pennsylvania led the nation in 1988 when it adopted a progressive new law that vastly accelerated waste recycling, and there is little doubt that the law has kept millions of tons of reusable materials out of landfills.

But 34 years later, a study by the nonprofit Pennsylvania Resources Council raises the valid question of whether the law has met its four main goals.

The law called for reducing the overall waste stream by 25% through recycling by 1997. The study couldn’t determine if the state has achieved that because the state does not calculate the rate.

The most important missed goal is the failure to produce products made from recycled material, which ultimately determines how much waste is recycled. Even if materials can be recycled, they end up in a landfill if there is no market to make them valuable.

It is clear that the law did not achieve its goal to reduce the weight and volume of waste generated per person. Waste generation has grown in Pennsylvania each year since the law passed.

The fourth goal is to increase recycling awareness and education, which must be considered a success. In many ways, recycling is second nature to millions of Pennsylvanians — even when they have no way to know if the materials that they attempt to recycle end up in new products or in a landfill.

The state government itself has a mixed record on recycling. It promotes the practice and helps to fund recycling programs, but state agencies themselves don’t necessarily emphasize recycled products when they buy materials.

Even though the Legislature did not renew a benighted law that had prevented local governments from enacting bans on single-use plastic bags, it struck a major blow against recycling in its zeal to do the natural gas industry’s bidding. It enacted an unprecedented $1.7 billion tax credit for construction of a chemical refinery in Beaver County that will produce plastic from natural gas byproducts, much of which will be used to produce single-use plastic bags.

The Legislature should embrace the new report, launch a comprehensive examination of recycling and adjust the law to make it more comprehensive and efficient.

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Uniontown Herald Standard. July 31, 2022. '

Editorial: Charter school laws need to be reformed in Pennsylvania

It’s highly unlikely that anyone turns cartwheels when they pay their property taxes, but the idea that the money is going to the school up the street to educate neighborhood children can provide some solace.

The reality, however, is that a chunk of those resources are being diverted from local educational needs and being sent to charter and cyberschools that are located many miles away, don’t have the same level of transparency as public schools and frequently have worse educational outcomes than their public counterparts.

How is this fair?

It’s not, and last week officials from five public school districts across the region sounded the alarm, outlining the relentless drain charter and cyberschools have on their budgets, and urging state lawmakers to reform laws around charter and cyberschools. That it did not happen with the 2022-23 budget that was approved a few weeks ago stands as yet another missed opportunity.

A brief explanation is probably in order: In Pennsylvania, if a student decides to enroll in a charter or cyberschool, the per-pupil allotment from their home district follows them. It goes along even if the student is attending a cyberschool that, obviously, does not have the same fixed costs as a brick-and-mortar school, such as building maintenance, food, cafeteria personnel, buses or drivers.

Take the case of the Ligonier Valley School District in Westmoreland County. Over the last decade, the district has forked over almost $18 million to cyber and charter schools for tuition costs. Since then, the district has increased its millage rate by almost 17 mills, bringing in an additional $24 million. This means that 72% of the district’s tax increases have gone toward cyberschool tuition. Only salaries and benefits, transportation and debt service take up larger slices of that district’s budget.

And during on an online press conference hosted by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Chris Juzwick, the assistant director of finance for the South Fayette School District, explained that when he worked for the Carlynton School District outside Pittsburgh, the district had to pare away art, music and physical education teachers even as they had to keep on handing over precious resources to cyber and charter schools.

The overwhelming majority of school boards in Pennsylvania have approved resolutions imploring that rules surrounding charter and cyberschools be changed, and it’s time for those calls to be heeded. If taxpayer money is pouring into their coffers, cyber and charter schools should be just as transparent and accountable as public schools. Their performance academically needs to improve. And cyberschools in particular should stop receiving more in tuition money than it actually costs to educate each individual student.

During the press conference, Dr. Janet Sardon, who leads the Yough School District in Westmoreland County, explained that cyber and charter school tuition payments make “our mission and what we’re doing in the best interest of kids much more difficult to achieve.”

Is anyone in Harrisburg listening to her?

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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Editorial: Universities need to commit to stopping tuition increases

Pennsylvania’s state-related universities need to address what their response is to their gift from the governor.

The state has four universities that fall into this category of public but not really public, private but not really private.

They also are some of the largest in Pennsylvania. Penn State — the commonwealth’s land grant university — is one of the biggest in the country, with 24 campuses and total enrollment about 100,000. Then there is Temple, with eight campuses and about 40,000 students, and Pitt with five campuses and about 35,000 students. Lincoln University is the smallest, with two campuses and just over 2,000 students.

The state-related designation is a weird limbo that lets the schools exist without state control but still ask for state money. It opens them up to a degree of transparency but not subject to the same scrutiny as the schools of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

The relationship opens them up to being political soccer balls — kicked away when government doesn’t want to deal with them and used to score points when convenient.

This year, they got to do both. The education funding was — as it often is — part of the annual showdown over passing a budget. But after that happened, another revelation was made. Gov. Tom Wolf is giving a $40 million discretionary boost to the schools.

And yet every one of them is raising tuition.

Penn State, Temple and Pitt have some of the highest in-state tuition rates in the country for public schools. In the past 30 years, college tuition has ballooned, rising at about twice the level of inflation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

They know this is a problem. They know students are graduating with crushing debt loads. They have made nods at addressing it, enacting freezes now and then. Penn State’s increase doesn’t impact any students from households making $70,000 or less.

But overall, the tuition increases came, despite requests from legislators to freeze them.

The universities — particularly the big three — need to make real, binding commitments to holding the line on tuition, both as necessary relief to the students and a responsibility to the taxpayers.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 30, 2022.

Editorial: Reading, writing and guns for teachers

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, grabbed some headlines this week, and possibly garnered some votes, with a plan to arm school teachers and employees. Under Mr. Mastriano’s bill, school employees who meet certain requirements could decide to undergo training that would allow them to carry a gun in school.

Despite the growing urgency to maintain safe schools, arming teachers and school employees remains a risky idea that Pennsylvania should reject.

Mr. Mastriano’s bill, now in the Senate Education Committee, calls for certified firearms training of up to 30 hours, as well as a concealed carry permit, to carry a firearm on school property.

License-to-carry permits in Pennsylvania reveal absolutely nothing about the ability of any of their 1.5 million holders to handle firearms. Incredibly, Pennsylvania requires no training for a concealed carry permit.

Nor do classroom, range or simulated tactical training adequately prepare people to make split-second, life-or-death decisions, or handle shooters who shoot back. Even law enforcement officers don’t always handle active shooters appropriately, as the tragic mass murder in Uvalde, Texas, showed. Nineteen elementary school students and two teachers were killed on May 24 while local law enforcement failed to respond swiftly.

If some cops don’t get it right, why should the public expect English teachers and counselors to?

Politicians and school administrators have debated the value of arming teachers and school staff for two decades. The idea has recently gained traction following a series of deadly mass shootings in schools.

More than half of the nation’s states now permit school employees to carry firearms on school grounds. Last month, neighboring Ohio enacted a law that would enable school staff to carry a gun into school, with just 24 hours of training.

But guns and classrooms don’t mix: Weapons can discharge accidentally. They can get into the hands of curious or suicidal children or potential killers. In the chaos and turmoil of a gunfight, school staff could injure or kill children or other school employees.

Not surprisingly, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, representing more than 187,000 teachers and other education professionals, opposes the bill.

For some gun rights advocates, the answer to gun violence will always be more guns. If that were true, the United States, with more guns than people, would be the safest nation in the world, instead of leading most of the world — and all economically comparable nations — in gun violence.

Limiting entry points to schools, developing disaster plans with local first responders, in-school security or police officers, and lockdown drills are among the many more prudent ways to bolster school safety.

The risks of Mastriano’s Senate Bill 1288 bill outweigh any potential rewards.

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