Editorials from around Pennsylvania

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania's newspapers:

Require data on tax-credit scholarships

The Citizen's Voice

Sept. 11

Advocates of Pennsylvania's two backdoor voucher programs, which provide public tax credits for private contributions to private schools, say that they help poor kids who are trapped in poorly performing public schools.

Well, some of the contributions do so. But as demonstrated by the Keystone Crossroads, a left-leaning policy think tank in Harrisburg, some of the money helps kids who are "trapped" in some of the state's toniest neighborhoods amid some of its best-performing public schools.

Under the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit programs, the state awards tax credits to companies that contribute to nonprofit scholarship organizations, most of which are attached to private schools, including religious and secular institutions. The tax credit is 100% for the first $10,000, 75% for anything above that, and 90% for maintaining the contributions for two consecutive years. Credits are capped at $200,000 a year per donor, for two years.

The new state budget increased the total amount of the tax credits to $240 million per year from $210 million a year.

Leaders of the Republican legislative majorities wanted to increase the amount this year by $100 million and automatically increase it every year relative to an inflation index.

The Keystone study demonstrates why better standards are needed before the contribution amounts increase again, and why they never should be subject to automatic increase without annual reviews.

The programs unquestionably help many needy students get into better schools. But that is not exclusively the case.

Keystone compared the contributions received by 151 schools that administer their own EITC/OSTC programs, and compared it with the demographic data that the schools report for other purposes to the state Department of Education.

It found that 57 of those schools reported that they had not enrolled any low-income students, and that another 15 reported low-income enrollment of less than 5%.

The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, for example, reported zero low-income enrollment and $500,000 in EITC/OSTC contributions eligible for publicly funded tax credits.

Whereas the Gesu School in North Philadelphia reported 80 percent low-income enrollment and $816,000 in tax credit-based contributions, Villa Maria Academy in Malvern — where tuition is $23,000 — reported enrolling no low-income students as it collected $141,200 in EITC/OSTC contributions.

The state administers the tax credit programs but does not require the schools to calculate the number of low-income students who receive the scholarships.

Both tax-credit programs inherently are controversial because they use public resources to cover private contributions to private, often religious schools.

Since the objective of the programs is supposed to be providing alternatives to students who need but can't afford them, lawmakers should require detailed data on the family income status of scholarship recipients.

Eligibility levels are generous. Families of four with incomes up to $116,000 are eligible. Although families with that income might not be able to afford $23,000 a year for high school tuition, the schools that charge those rates often are in proximity to outstanding public schools, rather than distressed and poorly performing schools from which the programs are supposed to provide relief.

Before lawmakers act again to divert more public money to private institutions in the form of tax credits, they should make sure that the public has comprehensive, detailed information on the institutions and students that benefit from the programs.

Online: https://bit.ly/2lKMTHy

___

Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania are thankful Dorian spared their island, but they're still suffering from Maria

Harrisburg Patriot News

Sept. 11

The Puerto Rican community in our state breathed one collective sigh of relief after Hurricane Dorian took a turn and spared the island another catastrophe.

Many are not sure the island could have survived another direct hit from a monster storm. That's because Puerto Rico still hasn't gotten over Hurricane Maria, the Category 5 hurricane that struck in September 2017, killing almost 3,000 people, destroying thousands of businesses and homes and costing an estimated $91 billion in damages.

More than 350,000 homes alone were destroyed in the hurricane. Power remained out for months for 1.5 million people. Schools were closed and blue tarps were the only shelter for thousands of people. They still are for an estimated 30,000 people.

The People for Puerto Rico, an advocacy group in Pennsylvania, is dedicated to making sure they are not forgotten. They are staging a March for Puerto Rico in Philadelphia on Sept. 21 to call attention to the ongoing plight of people in Puerto Rico and of those forced to leave their homes after the hurricane.

Puerto Ricans from throughout the state will participate in the march that will begin at 10 at the North Apron of City Hall. Philadelphia Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez' will unfurl a 60x40-foot Puerto Rican flag, and at 11 a.m., marchers will continue up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the Washington Monument statue in front of the Art Museum to commemorate those who died.

The group also wants "to remind the world that Puerto Rico is still suffering, and to call on the U.S. government to send aid and repeal the Jones Act."

The Jones Act requires American vessels with mostly American staff to transport goods between two U.S. ports. Waiving this requirement would speed up delivery of supplies to Puerto Rico, especially during a catastrophe like Maria.

The group particularly wants to call attention to what they see as deplorable negligence in the federal government's response after the disaster struck.

"In the days and weeks that followed, Puertorriqueños struggled cope with the aftermath, and Puertorriqueños outside of Puerto Rico struggled to provide help," the organization says. "Disaster assistance from the United States was irresponsibly slow and contributed to the death of nearly 3,000 people.

Much of the money promised from the federal government to help with recovery still hasn't arrived. About 42.6 billion in federal funds was slated to help with rebuilding efforts, according to federal data.

But Puerto Rico has received only about $13.8 billion so far.

Living conditions were so dire in the months after the hurricane that it's understandable those who could left the island. Many are now our neighbors, struggling to find new jobs, making new friends and settling in new homes - nostalgic for the culture and community they left behind but facing the reality that Maria destroyed the life they once enjoyed in Puerto Rico.

Almost 160,000 Puerto Ricans left the island after Hurricane Maria, with many of them relocating to Pennsylvania. The commonwealth now has the third largest community of Puerto Ricans who relocated after the hurricane after Florida and New York, and Puerto Ricans represent 49 percent of the state's Latino population, the largest group.

As Norman Bristol Colon, executive director of the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, pointed out during a recent forum sponsored by the Governor's' Office on Latino Affairs that relocating has not been easy for Puerto Ricans who left after Hurricane Maria. Even the educated professionals who had strong support from relatives in the areas they settled have faced serious challenge. Highly educated people such as doctors, lawyers and teachers have had to secure new professional certifications, new training and new contacts to try to earn a living in their fields.

Many are working below their education and abilities, hampered by less-than-fluent English or cultural barriers.

But for the majority who fled the U.S. mainland and lack not only fluent English but education, the struggle has been even harder to make a new life. According to state statistics, more than 64 percent of Puerto Ricans over 25 years old who came to Pennsylvania have only a high school diploma or did not finish high school.

The median household income for Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania is only $33,201, about $23,706 less than the state average. Almost 30 percent live in poverty.

These are the issues People for Puerto Rico will be raising in their Sept. 21 march. They also will be reminding us these folks are our folks, and they are still reeling from the trauma of a catastrophic hurricane. Let's not forget, their young soldiers have died for our country in war after war and they proudly salute the same flag.

They didn't need another big storm. In so many ways, the country and its people continue to suffer the effects of the last one.

Online: https://bit.ly/2kGnIWu

___

Commissioner says she didn't know L.A.P.D. "King" T-shirt was racist. That tells you everything.

Philly Inquirer

Sept. 11

Tuesday's City Council hearing about the Plain View Project that exposed racist and offensive Facebook posts by 330 active duty Philadelphia police officers inadvertently provided the perfect illustration of the sorry state of the city's police department: The hearing began with an apology from the acting commissioner for her racist action in the past, well before Facebook was even invented.

Acting Police Commissioner Christine M. Coulter was the first to testify, and started her remarks by apologizing for a photo in which she is seen wearing a T-shirt in the 1990s that read "L.A.P.D. We Treat You Like a King," a reference to the infamous and racist 1991 beating of Rodney King. She explained that, at the time, she didn't see the reference but looking back at it now she understands why the shirt is offensive and she would have acted differently.

It's extremely improbable that as a police officer, the words "King" and "L.A.P.D." didn't immediately remind Coulter of the most high-profile policing case of the 1990s. King's case drew national interest, including front-page coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. By pleading ignorance, Coulter shed light on the willful blindness that made it possible for the police leadership to ignore more than 5,000 offensive public posts until the Plain View project exposed them. Since June, 15 police officers have been fired.

Coulter and Managing Director Brian Abernathy said that the city is providing antiracism and diversity training and updating social media policy in response to the Plain View Project. Abernathy also said the city created a survey for residents to respond to online or in print about their priorities for the next commissioner to help inform the process. That's the extent of the public involvement in the hiring process. Both these actions fall short.

The racist Facebook posts by officers are a symptom, not the problem. They are a manifestation of an ossified culture that has not undergone fundamental change for decades. The most important thing that the city and the policy can do at this moment is to take the community more seriously. Members of the community must have a seat at the decision making table — not just in the policing policies that impact their community, but in the review process as the city picks a new commissioner.

This city's brief public survey inviting people to weigh in on how the city picks its next commissioner is a good idea, but to keep the survey from being a mere feel-good exercise, the city should figure out how to engage the public more deeply, such as ensuring the Police Advisory Commission has a vote at the hiring process, creating a commissioner-hiring panel that includes community members, and/or holding public sessions reviewing candidates and qualifications.

The darkness that wraps decision-making in the police is related to the darkness that the Plain View Project illuminated. What the Philadelphia Police Department needs now more than ever is sunlight. From investigation of problematic officers, hiring a new commissioner, or negotiating the FOP contract, the public must be included in meaningful ways. It's time for everyone to stop pretending that the police can police themselves.

Online: https://bit.ly/2kEWKhO

___

GOP targeting its own voters

The York Dispatch

Sept. 8

It's not just left-leaning voters that Republicans are willing to disenfranchise to maintain power.

Now that challengers to President Donald Trump have begun to emerge from within his own party, at least four states are taking steps to cancel their 2020 GOP primaries and caucuses.

It's a stunning admission of a) the party's willingness to subvert basic tenets of democracy; b) the dismissiveness with which the party is willing to treat its own voters; and c) the weakness of the party's erstwhile leader.

It should also put to rest any doubts that concerted GOP efforts nationwide to purge registration rolls, tighten voting requirements and diminish the number of polling stations have anything whatsoever to do with combating the nonexistent threat of voter fraud. (Nonexistent, that is, everywhere but North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, where a Republican operative's vote-rigging shenanigans forced the state to overturn the results of last fall's election. But we digress.)

Republican party leaders in South Carolina and Kansas voted on Saturday to cancel their 2020 presidential primaries. Officials in at least two other states — Nevada and Arizona — are contemplating doing the same. The moves are intended to show support for the president in the wake of several declared or contemplated primary challenges.

Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld and former Rep. Joe Walsh are already in the race. Former South Carolina governor and congressman Mark Sanford announced his bid Sunday, and former Rep. Mo Brooks also has discussed a run.

All deserve the opportunity to make their case to Republican voters. The days of back-room candidate selections (at least in this brazen a fashion) were supposed to have gone the way of smoke-filled rooms.

State-level party leaders are hearing none of that, however. They may have saddled themselves with a lazy, self-obsessed standard-bearer who's more interested in petty spats than the public good, but he's doing their bidding in terms of tax cuts and federal judges. So they're evidently going to do everything they can to drag him across the finish line.

It's nothing if not ironic: After whining for much of the 2016 campaign that the election was rigged, Trump sits back while his party rigs the 2020 election in his favor.

His challengers certainly aren't pleased. "Undemocratic BS," was Walsh's pithy and accurate description. "It's wrong and that's the kind of thing that should piss off Republican voters."

Yes, it should. Funny thing, though: The number of Republicans — voters, lawmakers, administrators — who have been willing to remain silent while the president and his administration run roughshod over mores, protocols, policies and even laws has been astonishing. From defending dimwitted if harmless misstatements about the path of a hurricane to refusing comment about suspicious changes in international military routes that benefit the president financially, the wagons have been circling furiously.

So instead we get lame justifications. South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick notes that Republicans in his state cancelled primaries in 1984 and 2004, and that Democrats did the same in 1996 and 2012.

Of course, Ronald Reagan (1984), Barrack Obama (2012), George W. Bush (2004) and Bill Clinton (1996) didn't face a serious primary challenge, so the argument is moot.

Trump, on the other hand, is a divisive figure who has done little to reach out beyond his faithful base either within or outside GOP circles. His vision, if he has one, remains a mystery more than two and half years into his presidency. His reckless decisions and insulting comments routinely diminish the office and the nation.

In short, he deserves to be challenged, not protected. He should be required to defend his record and spell out his agenda — not just in a general election, but among challengers within his own party. Registered Republicans deserve to decide on their party's candidate for the nation's highest office.

The Republican Party has been demonstrating for years its disregard for fair general elections. Now, they're taking their "undemocratic BS" one step further. Republican voters should refuse to stand for it.

Online: https://bit.ly/2kHsGSJ

___

Brazil needs our aid: As Amazon rainforest burns, where is the world?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sept. 11

Some of the fire gobbling the Amazon rainforest in Brazil could have been extinguished not just by water but by some world leaders putting first and foremost the survival of the world's biggest concentration of rainforest.

French President Emmanuel Macron could have apologized for implying Brazil's leader isn't concerned about climate change. President Donald Trump could have sent firefighting aid. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro could have doused his ego before he allowed it to flare and not taken so personally the French slight. His refusal to accept $22 million offered by the G-7 countries in firefighting aid was a bad decision, which he reversed the next day, conditioned on Mr. Macron apologizing. Ridiculous.

Two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil and has been burning for weeks.

The 2.6-million square miles of Amazon rainforest, often called "the Earth's lungs," store much of the world's carbon. The rainforest also is home to rare species of plants and animals.

It is estimated that nearly 5,000 square miles of forest have burned in 2019.

Brazil has called upon its military to fight the blazes. But that isn't sufficient.

World aid offered so far has been a pittance. When Notre Dame Cathedral was destroyed by fire in April, French billionaires quickly pledged to put up $500 million to repair and restore it. Aside from the G-7 offer, Canada has offered $15 million and aerial firefighting equipment. The United States has been unacceptably silent.

Global leaders are concerned about Mr. Bolsonaro's development of the Brazilian forest and resultant deforestation — and rightly so. But the most immediate issue is the raging fire. Egos and the legitimate concerns by world leaders should be put on pause. (A European Union trade deal with South America has been held up because of Mr. Bolsonaro's rainforest policies; Norway and Germany have suspended millions of dollars of contributions to Brazil's Amazon conservation fund because they don't trust Brazil's efforts to reduce deforestation.)

For the sake the world, the world must come to Brazil's aid and Brazil must accept it.

Online: https://bit.ly/2madiPb