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Pa. House Democrats propose $5.1 billion in new funding for the state's poorest schools • Pennsylvania Capital-Star

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Pa. House Democrats propose $5.1 billion in new funding for the state's poorest schools • Pennsylvania Capital-Star


Democratic lawmakers in Harrisburg took the first steps last week to provide $5.1 billion in new funding for Pennsylvania public schools to close a gap between the wealthiest and poorest districts that a court last year declared unconstitutional. 

The legislation in the state House, proposed by Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster), follows the recommendation of a bipartisan commission on education funding to comply with a Commonwealth Court judge’s order to fix the education funding system. 

The General Assembly has a constitutional imperative to end the funding disparity starting with the 2024-25 budget, Democratic lawmakers say. 

“The judiciary has spoken and we have a responsibility to address the unconstitutional nature of our education system,” House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) told the Capital-Star on Monday. “For me, I don’t know how we can deal with anything else without dealing with that.”

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But Harris’ Republican counterpart on the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), criticized the proposed legislation for not including revenue to pay for the plan. Grove said he also believes resetting the system through zero-based budgeting is the answer.

“Nothing in the Commonwealth Court ruling says we need more money,” Grove said.

House Democrats have a narrow one-vote majority and are likely to pass a budget that reflects their legislative priorities. But Republicans who control the state Senate fired an opening shot in budget negotiations last week clearly signaling their intention to slash Gov. Josh Shapiro’s $48.8 billion spending plan.

On May 7, the upper chamber passed a bipartisan reduction in the personal income tax and eliminated the tax on electricity that would add up to an estimated $3 billion reduction in revenue. 

The Senate also took steps to revive a school voucher program to provide tax dollars of up to $10,000 for private school tuition. An impasse over the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS) program stalled budget negotiations for nearly six months last year.

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A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

The fair funding proposal in Sturla’s forthcoming legislation is the product of more than a decade of litigation and days of hearings by the Basic Education Funding Commission, which include lawmakers from both parties in the House and Senate and members of Shapiro’s cabinet.

“Nothing in this piece of legislation should come as a surprise to anybody,” House Education Committee Chairperson Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh) said. “It is the work that the legislature has been doing ever since the fair funding decision came down.”

Commonwealth Court President Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer said in a Feb. 7, 2023, decision that the General Assembly has not fulfilled its legal mandate and has deprived students in school districts with low property values and incomes of the same resources and opportunities as children in wealthier ones.

The funding commission found that 371 of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts have an adequacy gap, meaning they spend less than $13,704 per pupil. That’s the median per pupil spending by the districts that meet the state’s academic performance standards.

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The decision, which lawmakers chose not to appeal, followed a four-month trial in a lawsuit filed in 2014 by a group of parents and school districts who claimed the state had failed the state Constitution’s mandate to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education.

Cohn Jubelirer, a conservative judge, did not instruct the General Assembly on how to fix the system, leaving the solution for the Legislature and executive branch to determine. 

Last year, the Basic Education Funding Commission held dozens of hearings across the state where students, parents, educators, and administrators spoke about the challenges and deprivation they faced in the state’s neediest districts, both urban and rural.

In January, the commission voted 8-7, largely along party lines, to adopt a report that determined there is a $5.4 billion gap between what schools receive now and adequate funding as determined by the spending of the state’s most academically successful schools.

The $5.4 billion figure includes $291 million that is the responsibility of school districts that have lower taxes despite less-than-adequate funding. The remaining $5.1 billion is the state’s responsibility. 

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Sturla’s bill would also include $1 billion in tax relief over the next seven years for districts that have hiked taxes in an effort to generate adequate funding, money to reset the baseline funding that all school districts receive, and it would reform how cyber charter schools are funded to provide several hundred million in savings for school districts.

“This is a very comprehensive piece of legislation,” Schweyer said. 

Republican budget maven Grove said the proposal doesn’t include the property tax increase and fails to provide a revenue source other than the state’s reserves. Shapiro’s office has projected that the state’s surplus and rainy day fund will total $14 billion at the end of this fiscal year on June 30.

“I’d actually like to thank them for being honest … on how much they want to spend over the next seven years,” Grove said of the Democratic plan. “If they want to spend the money over the next seven years it needs to come with a tax increase.”

Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, senior attorney at the Education Law Center, said Grove’s assertion that the Commonwealth Court order doesn’t require the state to spend more is incorrect.

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“What they’re hanging that on is this line [from the decision] that the remedy doesn’t need to be entirely financial,” Urevick-Ackelsberg said, adding that the ruling identified deficiencies in funding that affected the ability of districts to provide sufficient staff, instruments of learning and safe and modern schools. 

Harris, the House Democrats’ chief budget negotiator, said he is open to proposals from House and Senate Republicans.

“If there is another proposal that they have to address the Commonwealth Court ruling, we would love to see it. We can talk about that,” he said. 

But faced with an obligation to Pennsylvania’s students and the possibility of additional litigation if the Legislature fails to act, Harris said doing nothing is not an option.

“This is not a nice-to-have. This is a must-do,” Harris said.

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Pennsylvania

Here's What You Need To Know About The Newtown Memorial Day Parade

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Here's What You Need To Know About The Newtown Memorial Day Parade


NEWTOWN, PA — The Newtown Memorial Day Parade, presented by American Legion Post 440, is scheduled to step off at 9 a.m. from the Newtown Commons, 642 Newtown-Yardley Road.

At about 9 a.m., the parade will pause for about 30 minutes at the Newtown Cemetery where veterans will lay wreaths at two gravesites to honor the fallen.

The parade will then continue into town, pausing at the World War I monument at the Newtown Library Company and then at the Newtown Borough Hall where guest speaker Matthew Allen, Bucks County’s director of Veterans Affairs, will deliver a keynote address.

The parade concludes at the Newtown Legion Morell Smith Post 440 at 41 Linden Avenue.

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Temporary no parking begins at 7 a.m. on the following streets:

  • South Elm Avenue between Washington Avenue and Centre Avenue
  • Centre Avenue between Lincoln Avenue and Congress Street South Congress
  • Street between Centre Avenue and Washington Avenue State Street between
  • Greene Street Street Centre Avenue

Closures begin at 8:30 a.m. and will impact the following roads:

  • Washington Avenue between Terry Drive and Sycamore Street
  • Lincoln Avenue between Greene Street and Penn Street
  • State Street between Jefferson Avenue and Centre Avenue
  • Centre Avenue
  • Congress Street
  • Richboro Road between the Newtown Bypass and South Sycamore Street
  • South Sycamore Street between Washington Avenue and Cambridge Lane
  • Newtown Yardley Road between Terry Drive and Elm Avenue



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Thunderstorms with pea-sized hail to hit part of Pennsylvania Sunday

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Thunderstorms with pea-sized hail to hit part of Pennsylvania Sunday


A weather alert was issued by the National Weather Service on Sunday at 9:45 p.m. for strong thunderstorms until 10:45 p.m. for Clearfield, Cambria, Blair, Huntingdon, Somerset, Bedford and Fulton counties.

The storms are expected to bring pea-sized hail (0.25 inches) and wind gusts of up to 55 mph.

“At 9:44 p.m., Doppler radar tracked strong thunderstorms along a line extending from 10 miles northwest of Nanty-Glo to near Portage to 15 miles south of Bedford. Movement was northeast at 40 mph,” states the weather service. “Gusty winds could knock down tree limbs and blow around unsecured objects. Minor hail damage to vegetation is possible.”

Locations impacted by the alert include Altoona, Hollidaysburg, Ebensburg, Bedford, Nanty-Glo, Portage, Breezewood, Northern Cambria, Warfordsburg, Roaring Spring, Clearville, New Enterprise, Martinsburg, Lakemont, Everett, Bellwood, Patton, Cresson, Gallitzin and Claysburg.

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According to the weather service, “If outdoors, consider seeking shelter inside a building. If on or near an area lake, get out of the water and move indoors or inside a vehicle. Remember, lightning can strike out to 10 miles from the parent thunderstorm. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. Move to safe shelter now! Do not be caught on the water in a thunderstorm. A Severe Thunderstorm Watch remains in effect until midnight for south central and central Pennsylvania.”

Preparing for approaching lightning: Expert safety advice

Lightning strikes the United States approximately 25 million times each year, with the bulk of these electrical discharges occurring during the summer months. Tragically, lightning claims the lives of about 20 individuals annually, as reported by the weather service. The risk of lightning-related incidents escalates as thunderstorms draw near, reaching its peak when the storm directly looms overhead. However, it gradually recedes as the tempest moves away.

To ensure your safety during a thunderstorm, consider the following recommendations:

1. Lightning safety plan:

  • When venturing outdoors, it’s crucial to have a lightning safety plan in place.
  • Stay vigilant by monitoring the sky for ominous signs and listening for the telltale sound of thunder. If thunder is audible, it’s a clear indication of nearby lightning.
  • Seek a safe place to shelter, preferably indoors.

2. Indoors safety measures:

  • Once you’ve found shelter indoors, abstain from using corded phones, electrical appliances, or plumbing fixtures, and refrain from approaching windows and doors.
  • These precautions help reduce the risk of electrical surges, as lightning can follow conductive pathways.

3. Wait for the all-clear:

  • After the last lightning strike or thunderclap, wait at least 30 minutes before resuming outdoor activities.
  • It’s important to remember that lightning can strike even when a storm seems to have passed, so exercise caution.

When indoor shelter isn’t available:

If you find yourself outdoors without access to indoor shelter during a thunderstorm, take these steps to maximize your safety:

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  • Avoid open fields, hilltops, or ridge crests, which expose you to greater lightning risk.
  • Steer clear of tall, isolated trees and other prominent objects. In wooded areas, stay close to lower stands of trees.
  • If you’re in a group, ensure that individuals are spaced out to prevent lightning current from transferring between people.
  • Camping in an open setting during a thunderstorm is strongly discouraged. If you have no alternative, set up camp in a valley, ravine, or other low-lying areas. It’s crucial to note that a tent provides no protection against lightning.
  • Do not approach water bodies, wet objects, or metal items. Although water and metal do not attract lightning, they conduct electricity effectively and can pose significant risks.

In summary, when facing the threat of lightning, vigilance and preparedness are your best allies. By following these guidelines, you can significantly reduce the chances of lightning-related accidents and prioritize your safety.

Navigating heavy rain: Essential safety measures for wet roads

When heavy rain strikes, safety is paramount. Equip yourself with these guidelines from the weather service to navigate wet roads and avoid hazards:

Beware of rapid water flow:

  • Avoid parking or walking in close proximity to culverts or drainage ditches, as the swiftly moving water during heavy rain can potentially carry you away.

Maintain safe driving distances:

  • Adhere to the two-second rule for maintaining a safe following distance behind the vehicle in front of you. In heavy rain, allow an additional two seconds of distance to compensate for reduced traction and braking effectiveness.

Slow down and drive with care:

  • On wet roads, reducing your speed is crucial. Ease off the gas pedal gradually and avoid abrupt braking to prevent skidding.

Choose your lane wisely:

  • Stick to the middle lanes to minimize the risk of hydroplaning. Outer lanes are more prone to accumulating water.

Prioritize visibility

  • Enhance your visibility in heavy rain by turning on your headlights. Watch out for vehicles in blind spots, as rain-smeared windows can obscure them.

Watch out for slippery roads:

  • The first half-hour of rain is when roads are slickest due to a mix of rain, grime, and oil. Exercise heightened caution during this period.

Keep a safe distance from large vehicles:

  • Large trucks and buses can reduce your visibility with tire spray. Avoid tailgating and pass them swiftly and safely.

Mind your windshield wipers:

  • Overloaded wiper blades can hinder visibility. If rain severely impairs your vision, pull over and wait for conditions to improve. Seek refuge at rest areas or sheltered spots.
  • If the roadside is your only option, pull off as far as possible, preferably past the end of a guard rail, and wait until the storm passes. Keep your headlights on and turn on emergency flashers to alert other drivers of your position.

By following these safety measures, you can significantly reduce risks and ensure your well-being when heavy rain pours down. Stay informed about weather conditions and heed advice from local authorities to make your journey safe and sound.

Advance Local Weather Alerts is a service provided by United Robots, which uses machine learning to compile the latest data from the National Weather Service.



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Fetterman claims credit for freeing American dad who was arrested in Turks and Caicos over ammo in his luggage

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Fetterman claims credit for freeing American dad who was arrested in Turks and Caicos over ammo in his luggage


A Pennsylvania dad made a triumphant return home on Friday after being arrested in February the Turks and Caicos over ammunition that he had accidentally left in his luggage when he traveled to the Caribbean islands.

Now, Sen. John Fetterman (D-Penn.) is taking credit for helping secure the release of Bryan Hagerich, 39, despite the Pittsburgh-native facing up to 12 years in prison for the stray rounds.

Fetterman was the only Democrat to travel to the British territory as part of a delegation of lawmakers who pushed for the release of five Americans detained there — all of whom were caught with ammo in their bags.

“When we met with [Turks and Caicos] officials a few days ago, they made clear that they wanted this situation resolved,” Fetterman said in a statement after Hagerich’s release.

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Bryan Hagerich hugs his children after returning home to the US. AP

“They recognized that Bryan and the other detained Americans are not gunrunners – they are just people who made a mistake.”

The Pennsylvanian senator met up with Hagerich after his return back to the US on Friday.

“From my family to yours…welcome home, Bryan,” Fetterman posted on X, with a photo of the Pennsylvanian.

Last Monday, Fetterman trekked to the island chain with Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), as well as Reps. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Penn.), Michael Cloud (R-Texas), Josh Brecheen (R-Okla.), and Bob Good (R-Va.)

They met with the American detainees and local government officials to plead for leniency, contending that the individuals there had made an “innocent” mistake.

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Hagerich, a former professional baseball player and father of two, had been arrested back in February.

Hagerich claims the stray ammunition in his luggage came from a prior hunting trip. He pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

On Friday morning, a judge in Turks and Caicos suspended his 52-month sentence and directed him to pay a $6,500 fine.

The other Americans held in Turks and Caicos include Sharitta Grier, 45, of Florida; Michael Lee Evans, 72, of Texas; Tyler Wenrich, 31, of Virginia; and Ryan Watson, 40, of Oklahoma.

Bryan Hagerich spoke with reporters after landing in Pittsburgh. AP

All five US citizens had slightly different circumstances but had violated the island chain’s laws on ammunition. Both Evans and Wenwich have also pleaded guilty to the charges against them.

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Evans was permitted to travel home for medical reasons but is supposed to return to the island chain.

Fetterman conveyed optimism that the others will be released soon as well.

Palmer Hagerich, 4, was excited to see his father return home. AP

“I’m hopeful that [Turks and Caicos] expedites the rest of these cases and that the other detained Americans will soon be released and reunited with their families as well,” he said.

Hagerich expressed gratitude for his freedom.

“It’s just amazing how, just in the matter of 12 hours, looking at 12 years to now,” Hagerich told reporters Friday, per Fox News.

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“My biggest concern is coaching my kids’ baseball games tomorrow, and that is such a relief.”



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