Andy Dinniman

PA Laws Need to Change to Protect our Family Pets

How sad and senseless was the killing a couple of weeks ago, of two Bernese Mountain dogs in West Vincent Township?  My friend and blogger extraordinaire Carla Zambelli of Chester County Ramblings, has had a major impact on this story. Carla has used her social media skills and connections to seek justice for the dogs and to encourage legislation to protect the rights of our family pets.

As I understand what happened, the two family pets (Argus and Fiona) of Mary and William Bock and their five children, escaped from their fenced yard in Chester Springs. Apparently, the homeowner was unaware of a hole in the fence, caused by a fallen tree limb.  According to Mary Bock, from the time the dogs escaped the yard, until the time the pair were found dead in neighbor Gabe Pilotti’s yard was only about 15 minutes.

Pilotti originally told police that Argus and Fiona were after his sheep in an enclosed pen in his yard.  However, during the investigation, the police determined that the pair of dogs was not chasing the sheep when Pilotti shot them with his shotgun.  Using a single shotgun, means that Pilotti shot the first dog and then would have to remove the shell, and reload with another bullet to shoot the second dog.

Based on an old Pennsylvania state law that permits an individual to kill animals that threaten their livestock, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office originally determined that Pilotti had not committed a crime.  However a couple of days ago, District Attorney Tom Hogan reversed course and filed criminal charges against Pilotti – two counts of cruelty to animals and one count of recklessly endangering another person. Hogan said that the century-old state law did not protect Pilotti because the Bernese Mountain dogs were not attacking his sheep when he shot them.

Pilotti told the police that the dogs had not hurt the sheep and admitted that he did not try to scare the dogs off his property before killing them!  In fact, Pilotti admitted that Argus was not near the sheep and was actually walking towards him when he shot him in the head.  Because the direction Pilotti shot his gun was towards a private residence, the DA’s office added the reckless endangerment to the list of charges.

For regular readers of Community Matters, I have made no secret about my feelings related to guns and need for increased gun control legislation.  This senseless killing of family pets is just another example of what guns can do in the wrong hands and why gun laws need to change in America. Regardless of what happens with his pending criminal case, I am of the opinion that Pilotti needs a complete mental health examination before he is ever allowed to own a gun in the future.  Here’s a question – if Pilotti is convicted of this crime, does it affect his rights to own a gun? Unfortunately, I am confident that if he found ‘not guilty’, his retains his gun rights, just not sure what happens if he convicted.

Life is about making choices. Gabriel Pilotti had a choice when he found Argus and Fiona on his property.  Instead of picking up his cellphone and calling 9-1-1 or chasing the dogs from his yard, he chose to grab his shotgun … leaving a family grieving for their pets.  Pilotti will have to live with the consequences of his horrific choice.

Pilotti has been charged with the crime … now; Pennsylvania laws need to change to protect our pets.  As Carla writes on Chester County Ramblings, Punishment AND fines for animal cruelty need to be tougher all the way around.  It needs to mean more than an inconvenience.”

Thank you Carla for your efforts in seeking justice for Argus and Fiona. So their death was not in vain, along with Carla, I urge you to contact your local elected officials and help be the force behind getting laws changed to protect our family pets. Locally our Pennsylvania contacts are Sen. Andy Dinniman, Andy@psenate.com and State Rep. Warren Kamp, wkampf@pahousegop.com . Send them an email and ask them to support animal rights legislation.  According to Carla’s blog, himself an animal rights advocate, Sen. Dinniman is working a law that “would allow pet owners to civilly sue those who harm or kill their pets.”

PA Senate Bill 1438 Allows NRA Lawsuits & Provides Take Your Gun to Work Rights

Move over PA House Bill 1523 and make room for PA Senate Bill 1438.  For those following the proposed NRA-supported legislation that would allow someone to sue a municipality for their lost or stolen firearm regulations, the PA House tabled HB 1523 a few weeks ago.

I inaccurately assumed that the reason for the tabling the lost or stolen handgun reporting bill was that our Harrisburg legislators had a change of heart … and decided to support the towns and cities (Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Lancaster, Allentown, etc.) across the state with local reporting ordinances.  However, in a recent meeting with Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19), he explained that although the House was tabling HB 1523, a similar bill (SB 1438) would be on the Senate agenda when they returned to Harrisburg this week.

Senate Bill 1438 gives gun owners and membership organizations (which includes the National Rifle Association, NRA) legal standing to challenge any of municipality with ordinances that regulate firearms and ammunition. The language of the proposed legislation suggests the legal standing is regardless whether they live (or are connected to) Pennsylvania cities or towns with this kind of gun control ordinances.  By granting legal standing to the NRA, allows the pro-gun organization to sue local municipalities, just like individual gun owners.  Similar to the amended HB 1523, the proposed SB 1438 increases the scope and power of the NRA in Pennsylvania! Senate Bill 1438 has now moved to the Judiciary Committee for review.

If you own a car and it is stolen, you report it.  If you own a pet and it is lost or stolen, you report it. So … if you a responsible gun owner, why would you not want to notify the police if it were stolen?  All you have to say is the word ‘gun’ and some people immediately jump to the conclusion that someone is trying to take away their second amendment rights.

Today, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, mayors from the 30 Pennsylvania cities and towns with lost and stolen gun reporting ordinances are defending their local legislation, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. The mayors believe that their laws are helping to prevent crimes involving illegal guns.  According to Nutter, of the 316 homicides in Philadelphia last year, 85 percent were with guns, all of which were illegal.

As if the HB 1523 was not sufficiently overreaching when it came to the rights of gun owners and the NRA, the proposed Senate bill ratchets the gun owner’s rights ever higher. If I understand the language in HB 1438 correctly, this proposed legislation will block employers from not allowing their employees to bring guns to work.  If the proposed legislation passes, it could be ‘take you gun to work’ everyday and employers cannot set policy opposing it.  Wow.  Therefore, I guess this means that the employer has no rights when it comes to guns in the workplace but rather it is about the employee’s rights – that is, his or her rights to bring their guns to work.  Think about the various types of workplaces and the thought that this proposed legislation would legally permit employees to take their guns … schools, childcare, restaurants, movie theaters, etc.

As I have said before, this is not a Republican versus Democratic issue.  Based on the support for this type of pro-gun legislation in Pennsylvania, it has little to do with party affiliation but more about individual politicians and their constituent base.

Remembering that its election year and some of these politicians need to make sure that they are on the ‘right side’ of the National Rifle Association and, depending on the constituent base they represent, be seen as supporting second amendment rights.  So, here is an interesting thought – to get elected in Pennsylvania in 2012, do candidates have to pack a weapon?  Could it be that candidates fear that they may lose a vote or two if they are seen as supporting pro-gun legislation?  The arm-twisting of the NRA probably assures that some legislators stay on the approved course.

I still have to wonder, why gun control discussion has to be black and white.  Is it not possible to support the Constitution and the Second Amendment but also support some level of gun control in Pennsylvania?

PA Voter ID Law: Can Court Battles be Far Behind?

Yesterday the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed the controversial voter ID bill HB 934 with a vote count of 104 – 88.  With Governor Corbett’s signature, Pennsylvania is now home to one of the toughest voter identification laws in the nation.

As expected, legislators cast their votes largely along partisan lines.  Locally, Republican state representatives Warren Kampf (R-157) and Duane Milne (R-167) voted for the bill and Democratic state senator Andy Dinniman (D-19) voted against the bill. The law goes into effect today requiring all Pennsylvania voters to present a photo ID issued by state or federal government, a state university or a nursing home, when voting in national, state or local elections.

Rather than closing the chapter on the voter identification bill debate, the passage of this bill will undoubtedly open the floodgates to legal battles. This new voter ID requirement is going to cost Pennsylvania taxpayers more than the million of dollars to implement to address a problem that essentially does not exist.  Legal challenges to the law are inevitable and those costly court battles will further tap taxpayer funds … in a year that cannot afford such expenses.

In two separate cases this week, we saw Wisconsin and Texas, involved in battles over their new state voter identification laws.  In Wisconsin, Dane County Circuit Court Judge David Flanagan put a temporary injunction onWisconsin’s voter ID law.  A trial to determine whether the injunction will become permanent is set for April 16.  The temporary injunction means that the restrict law will not be in effect for Wisconsin’s April 3rd primary and elections.  The US Department of Justice blocked the new photo-ID requirement for voters in Texas claiming that many Hispanic voters do not have the proper identification.

Proponents of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID legislation claim that the law is needed to combat voter fraud, although there was no indication of existing voter impersonation fraud in Pennsylvania, which is the only type of voter fraud this legislation would address.

No evidence of voter fraud plague found in Pennsylvania but we now have a law to prevent such an occurrence. Looks to me like Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law is a “solution without a problem”.

Will Latest School Gun Violence in Ohio Make a Difference for PA House Bill 1523?

Today in Ohio, there are families making funeral arrangements for three children who died at the hands of another high school student allegedly using a semi-automatic gun stolen from an uncle’s home. This senseless tragedy once again points to why this country needs stricter gun control laws.

Young lives lost and families forever changed. Where is the outrage over this latest school shooting and national demand for stricter gun legislation? How many of our children have to die because of handgun abuse and assault weapon ownership?  Yet, the pro-gun activists will continue to argue against any laws that may place regulation on their gun ownership; defending their firearm rights at all costs.

Will the tragic shooting at Chardon High School– which left three teenagers dead and two others hospitalized – encourage gun reform in America?  Doubtful. For a few days as the shooter’s motives are analyzed, his childhood reviewed and his family scrutinized, there will be national attention and a renewed debate overAmerica’s gun laws.

For those of us that want stricter gun controls in this country, we can hope that the national discussion will lead to change, but as we saw in the aftermath of the high-profile shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, that probably will not happen. Although gun-reform legislation was introduced in Washington in the wake of Giffords shooting, it was never considered.

Do we really believe that is what our founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the second amendment of the US Constitution?  The amendment was designed to protect the right of the people to keep and to bear arms but could the writers have imagined the America of 2012? A country that protects the rights of Americans to own semi-automatic guns and assault weapons.

In a couple of weeks, our state house legislators will have the proposed PA House Bill 1523 on their agenda for discussion.  HB 1523 would penalize cities and towns across Pennsylvania for their commonsense reform that supports keeping illegal guns off the streets.  As amended, proposed HB 1523 legislation grants legal standing to the NRA, allowing the pro-gun organization to sue local municipalities with lost-or-stolen gun legislation, just like individual gun owners.

Illegal guns should to be off the streets of America– lost or stolen guns need to be reported. This week, a 17-year old shooter in Chardon, Ohio used a stolen semi-automatic gun to kill three high school students. Our children should be safe in their schools.  According to Kid Shootings, over 3,000 kids are killed annually by gunfire and 17,500 are injured . . .   every day eight children die from gunshot injuries in this country.  Where else in the world does this happen – only in America.

Will the latest school gun violence in Ohio, make a difference in the minds of Pennsylvania legislators as they review proposed House Bill 1523?

Expert Negotiators Named as TESD Teacher Contracts Talks Begin

Tredyffrin Easttown School District contract negotiation process with the teachers union, Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) is officially underway. The current 4-year collective bargaining agreement expires June 2012.  (Click here for current contract).

With a cooperative tone, both sides have issued their preliminary statements – the school board recognizing the quality and standard of the District’s teachers but reinforcing the severity of our economic times.  And the teachers union proudly applauding the school district as one of the best in the state and stating their desire to work together through the contract negotiations.  The TEEA however did voice concern that no school board director was part of the negotiating team.

Representing the school district for the teacher contract negotiations:

  • Dan Waters, TESD superintendent
  • Sue Tiede, TESD human resources director
  • Art McDonnell, TESD business manager
  • Jeffrey Sultanik, Fox Rothchild, Blue Bell*

* Sultanik’s law practice focuses on personnel and labor relations for municipal and school districts. He chairs his firm’s Education Law Group, which has provided legal services to more than 90 school districts throughout PA.  During his tenure as former president of the PA School Board Solicitors Association, Sultanik presented legislative testimony before the PA Senate Education Committee, May 2009.  Click here to read a copy of his testimony, ‘Public Hearing on Teacher’s Strikes in Pennsylvania and the Impact on Public Education’. 

Currently at the helm of the school district’s teacher union is TEEA president Laura Whittaker, a Conestoga HS social studies teacher.  Representing TEEA in the contract negotiations is Ruthann Waldie, a UniServe representative from the PA State Education Association.  Other members of the teacher negotiating team have not yet been announced.

As an aside, Waldie represented the Unionville Chadds Ford School District teachers union in their recent and very long (challenging) teacher contract negotiations. If you recall, the state intervened and assigned an outside arbitrator in the UCFSD negotiations.  Although the arbitrator was brought in to bring both sides together, there was a feeling from the UCFSD teachers union (a feeling that was shared by Waldie) that the arbitrator did not fairly represent the teacher’s side.  I share this information, to point out that neither Sultanik nor Waldie are novices to school district negotiations.

With two ‘A players’ (Sultanik and Waldie) in the school district/teacher union negotiating world representing the opposing sides, we’ll have to wait and see if the TESD contract process may put their skill and experience to a test.

Looking beyond T/E school district boundaries, did you see the suggestion of one Philadelphia City Council member to help fund the Philadelphia city school system?  With a larger than expected budget shortfall (nearly $80 million in the red!), Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown obviously supports the theory that difficult times require creative solutions.  Her proposed legislature would keep the city bars open an additional hour, until 3 AM.  This extra hour of liquor tax revenue would net the schools an extra $5 million.  I’m all for the ‘thinking outside the box’ ideas but somehow the use of  liquor and schools in the same sentence just seems wrong – isn’t there a better way?

Chester Upland School District has become the poster child for failing school districts in the state.  CUSD announced to the state in December that they would be out-of-money by early January and therefore, unable to meet their payroll, utilities, etc.  With the announcement, brought an offer from the CUSD teachers to work without pay, at least temporarily.  At the ninth hour, the federal court intervened, issuing a short reprieve and an order for the state to advance $3.2 million to the district. Although the state money has continued to keep the doors open and the teachers on the job, this band-aid solution was only worth a few weeks.

Come the beginning of February, Chester Upland School District will have used up their advance and once again, be out of money – CUSD needs approximately $20 million to finish out the school year. Gosh, don’t the kids in CUSD deserve to know that their schools will be open until the end of the year?

Finally, click here for a draft legislative proposal that several PA state legislators have recently made public.  Marked confidential, the draft proposal document is titled “Chester Upland Fiscal Distress” and dated November 4, 2011.  Interesting to note that this draft proposal was written prior to CUSD’s request to the state for financial help.  The proposal calls for the state to take over school districts in financial distress (starting with Chester Upland) and run the school district with the use of an oversight board – a ‘Special Board of Control’.

This special board would have the legal authority to cancel teacher contracts, turn district schools into charter schools, reassign or suspend staff and to close schools. To be clear, this is only a draft proposal and no formal legislation has yet been introduced – however, this draft would suggest that the ‘handwriting is the wall’  for the introduction of this, or similar legislation.

Looks like Chester Upland School District could become the model for all distressed school districts across the state. It is probably a fair assumption that how the state decides to handle the financial crisis in CUSD will be duplicated in every other failing school district in Pennsylvania.

Public Comment Period on Proposed Redistricting Ends Wednesday at Midnight

Just a couple of days remain for public comment on the proposed redistricting of Pennsylvania’s election district boundaries.  Wednesday, November 30 is the closing date for comments on the proposed redistricting maps.  Granted, these are preliminary maps but I get the sense that they are not likely to change. We have until midnight on Wednesday to email comments to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission at:

http://www.redistricting.state.pa.us/Contact.cfm

The General Assembly in Harrisburg decides the boundaries for the Congressional districts but the top four minority and majority leaders of the General Assembly make up the Reapportionment Commission that decides the boundaries for state house and senate districts with the help of a fifth member they appoint as a tie-breaker.  The process of redistricting in Pennsylvaniais unsatisfactory; five individuals conduct this entire process without any requirement for public input until the final plan is put on public view for 30 days before its passage.

The outcome of Pennsylvania’s 2011 redistricting plan should come as no surprise.  Although the Republican Party is in power for this redistricting process, given the next 10 years and the next census, the power shift could change to the Democrats. Regardless of which party holds the majority at the time of Pennsylvania’s redistricting, without some form of redistricting reform, sadly a similar politically driven outcome is all but guaranteed.

Redistricting reform is needed, including an independent nonpartisan redistricting commission for all electoral levels.  Such a commission would require people who would not have a personal stake in the outcome of the redistricting; unlike the way it is done now.  No elected or political party officials could serve on this independent commission; the new redistricting process should prohibit the inclusion of party registration data and voting history.

The realty is that sweeping nonpartisan redistricting reform is unlikely. Redistricting is a powerful tool for elected officials to protect their own and undermine opponents. Depending on who is in power at the time of redistricting is what determines the election boundaries — thus minimizing the role of the voters in the political process. By gerrymandering the districts, legislators have been able to choose the voters before the voters have had an opportunity to choose them.  Without nonpartisan redistricting, the cycle will continue . . . regardless of which party is in power.

Although it is too late for redistricting reform in 2011, you can still send in your comments to the redistricting commission.  Much has been written about the proposed redistricting changes, but if you are not sure how it will affect you, there is a good online resource. The Legislative Reapportionment Commission website includes interesting interactive maps of the voting districts across the state. You can see the overlay of maps from 1991, current 2001 and proposed 2011 for the House, Senate and Congress.  The maps detail the geographic boundaries and the changes in the districts as the population has shifted.  In addition to the interactive maps, the website contains the 2010 US Census population statistics.

http://www.redistricting.state.pa.us/Maps/index.cfm

Labor Day 2011 . . . No Holiday for the Unemployed

The first Monday in September, Labor Day, has come to mean the ending of summer . . . the closing of the swimming pool . . . a day off from work and a great excuse to have that last big backyard barbecue. Looking at today’s forecast, the traditional backyard barbecue may be an indoor event.

Labor Day originated in 1882 because of the labor movement and was to recognize the working person with a special day in their honor. Why choose the first Monday in September for the holiday? It was decided that this date would be halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. The idea became popular with labor unions and local governments around the county and gradually came to adopt Labor Day as an official holiday before it developed into a national holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed the law that recognized Labor Day as a national holiday for the working man.

I have always viewed Labor Day as an important day to celebrate. Beyond the last official day of summer, the day represents a time of remembrance of all the working people who contribute to the standard of living that as Americans we all enjoy.

Unfortunately, for many Americans, Labor Day 2011 is not a day of celebration but rather a reminder of their unemployment. A day set aside to honor workers, instead marks a time to reflect on those in this country that are without jobs. 

As the nation celebrates workers this Labor Day, many jobless Americans are losing hope.  We may hear politicians talk about Labor Day, some will march in parades, and others will take ads in newspapers saluting the American worker.  This is all very nice but no picture can be starker this Labor Day than the 14 million people in the US that are looking for work . . . that number represents 9.1 percent of our country’s labor force that wish they had a day to celebrate!

Corbett’s Budget – No Marsellus Shale Fee but $1.3 Million Restored Funding to T/E School District … Any Chance of a Rebate on 3.77% Property Tax Increase?

The fiscal year for Pennsylvania starts July 1 and for the first time in 8 years, a signed budget will meet the deadline.  The Pennsylvania House Republicans passed the budget and all that awaits is Gov. Corbett’s signature.

In the last few days, there was a major battle over the projected revenue surplus.  Expected to be close to $700 million, the Democrats wanted most of the money to go to the Department of Education to restore spending cuts to higher education and to school districts across the state.  There was support from the Democrats that the revenue surplus should also help restore the funding cuts to human services.  The Republicans argued that the $700 million should be held in reserve.  The battle is over on this one – the revenue surplus will go to the ‘rainy day’ fund; although some might argue that we are living in the eye of the storm now.

Some are suggesting that this budget is not a ‘no-tax’ budget as has been touted but rather a ‘tax-shift’ budget.  Using the ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ approach, the money is coming out of one pocket and going to another pocket.  Theoretically, Corbett can claim that his budget does not include a tax increase to the taxpayer, the end result filters down locally.  Pennsylvania taxpayers may not see an increase in state tax but due to the decrease in public education funding, school districts are forced to increase property taxes. Isn’t this shifting of the tax burden creating the same product?  Whether it is at the state level of locally, the taxpayer will see an increase in taxes. 

I received a copy of a ‘talking point’ statement circulated by the office of House minority leader Frank Demody (D). Among other things, it addressed the tax-shift notion of Corbett’s budget, claiming that, “. . . middle-class homeowners and seniors being forced to pick up the tab through higher local property tax hikes”.  I uploaded the statement – click here for an interesting read.

Although the education cuts are not as severe as were contained in Corbett’s draft budget in March, significant cuts remain – approximately $860 million from public schools and funding to higher education remains scaled back.  School districts will receive less funding than a year ago but certainly more than in the original March budget proposal. 

Sen. Andy Dinniman, minority chair of the Senate Education Committee released the figures on the Chester County school districts.  Collectively the 13 Chester County school districts will see state funding restored by $11+ million over the governor’s original budget. From Dinniman’s office, the followings list indicates the school district and the increase over Corbett’s proposal from March.

Avon Grove $ 280,716
Coatesville Area $1,987,156
Downingtown Area $ 949,310
Great Valley $ 750,487
Kennett Consolidated $ 405,560
Octara $ 120,294
Owen J. Roberts $ 785,118
Oxford Area $ 186,084
Spring-Ford Area $ 893,610
Phoenixville Area $ 825,756
Tredyffrin-Easttown $1,276,771
Unionville-Chadds Ford $ 827,233
West Chester Area $1,757,349

The timing of this information comes after the deadline for school district budgets.  The T/E school board passed the 2011-12 school budget with a 3.77% property tax increase for taxpayers just a few weeks ago.  The school budget passed 7-2 with school board members Debbie Bookstaber and Rich Brake casting the opposing votes.  At the time, Brake who serves as the board’s legislative liaison, offered that he believed that some state public education funding would be restored. Although Brake did not have a crystal ball, he was estimating the amount could be $900K to $1 million.  At $1.3 million in restored funding, T/E school district exceeded Brake’s expectation and was only behind Coatesville and West Chester on the county list.

For the record, T/E school district currently has $29 million in the fund balance.  The $1.3 million will be additional revenue for the 2011-12 school year. Based on the restoration of $1.3 million in state funding, presumably there is no mechanism for the school board to recalculate and lower the approved 3.77% property tax increase. I guess it is not possible for TESD to offer some form of a rebate back to the taxpayers.

We have learned that the state budget does not contain imposition of a fee or tax on Marcellus Shale gas drilling.  Further discussion of imposing a natural gas extraction fee is off the table until at least the fall.  Another topic that will take a break is the school voucher discussion.  Although temporarily on hold, legislators will most likely take up that discussion after their two-month summer break.  Transportation funding is also on hold until late summer or early fall.

A Sign of the Times . . . Corbett’s De-Funding Public Education Plays Out in Teacher Contracts, School Vouchers, Education Rallies . . . What is the Future of Public Education in Pennsylvania?

Gov. Corbett’s plan to de-fund public education in Pennsylvania in his proposed $1.2 billion funding cuts is becoming the backdrop for school district budget discussion statewide. Corbett’s education-funding proposal has left many communities wondering how they are going to make up their budget deficits and are looking to the teachers and non-instructional workers for help.

This week in Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, the teacher contracts appear to have stalled with both sides remaining at odds. If you recall, the teachers have been working under the conditions of the old contract, which expired last summer. Unionville-Chadds Ford School District is struggling with their budget and how to handle the $1.1 million reduction in state spending contained in Corbett’s proposed budget. The non-instructional district support staff agreed to a salary freeze but at this time, the teachers have not.

In Tredyffrin-Easttown School District, the school board sent letters to Tredyffrin Easttown Education Association (TEEA) and Tredyffrin Easttown Non Instructional Group (TENIG) unions asking the members to consider a salary freeze for next year.  Although I do not believe there has been an official response from either union, it is my understanding that TENIG will meet tomorrow (Thursday) for discussion and a vote on a salary freeze.  TEEA members will hold further discussions next week but I do not know if salary freeze is part of the discussion. 

In recent days, there have been many rallies around the state in support of public education. “Cut Corbett Not Schools” signs are seen all over Harrisburg – demanding that the legislature restore the $1.1 billion in education funding. There is a continued push by many to create a state-funded school voucher program (SB 1). Currently the proposed voucher legislation is stalled in the Senate; I think primarily due to the perceived cost of implementation.  The heated discussion of a state-mandated school voucher program continues to widen the divide between the teacher unions and the school choice advocates, who believe that vouchers are the answer to failing public schools.

The bitter debate raging in the state over Corbett’s proposed public education budget cuts has taken a toll on his approval ratings.  Less than four months in the governor’s mansion and today the Quinnipiac University polling is showing a big jump in disapproval for Corbett.  The polling indicated that 52% of Pennsylvania voters disapprove of the way Corbett is handling the state budget and 64% oppose his budget cutting of state and state-related universities.  (To read the April 27 Quinnipiac University poll, click here).

Aside from public approval ratings, what will Corbett’s proposed budget cuts mean for the future of public education? What lies ahead for school districts and our children across Pennsylvania . . . the elimination of art and music, language classes, increase in class sizes, scaling back full-time kindergarten to half-day, cuts to athletic programs? These are budget cuts that will require many school districts to impose higher property taxes, lay-off staff or impose pay-for-play requirements. Pennsylvania has become a battleground for public education funding . . . what does this say for the future of our children’s education?

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A reminder that tonight at 7 PM, State Senator Andy Dinniman will hold an education rally on the steps of the Chester County Courthouse (corner of High and Market Streets) in West Chester.

School Voucher (Senate Bill 1) Vote on Bill Delayed . . . What Does this Mean?

The proposed legislation to create a school voucher program for Pennsylvania (Senate Bill 1) was approved by the Senate Appropriation Committee on Monday, April 11 with a vote of 15-11 but a scheduled Tuesday, April 12 vote on the bill was delayed until April 26 at the earliest . . . what does this mean for the future of SB 1?  Sometimes, a delay can mean that a bill is in trouble, is that the case here?

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Gov. Corbett is not letting go of the proposed school voucher plan, or at least not easily. Apparently, in an unusual move (and rarely done by governors), Corbett appeared before the closed-door caucus of the Senate GOP to argue in favor of the school choice legislation.  I guess it was thought that by bringing in the ‘big guns’ the bill could be pushed through the Senate but it appears that idea didn’t work as planned.

SB 1 would allow students (based on family income eligibility) to attend private or parochial schools of their choice with state-paid vouchers. The projected costs associated with the implementation of a school voucher program are estimated by Senate Republicans to be at least $328 million by 2013.  However, there is pushback on that number by the Democrats, who estimate the annual costs are actually higher, their estimate is $385 million by 2013.

The stated reason for delaying the Senate vote to April 26 is that one of the co-sponsors of the bill, Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), is ill. However, that does not make sense because Williams could vote by proxy from his home.  My guess is that even with Corbett’s encouragement (arm-twisting?) it was determined that there were not enough votes for the SB 1 to pass the Senate on April 12 and the administration is hoping the delay to April 26 will provide persuasion opportunities. 

Guess we will have to wait until April 26 and see if there is a Senate vote on SB 1.  If the 26th comes and goes, it would appear that the proposed school choice bill is dead in the water. On the other hand, is it possible that the school voucher bill could fail in the Senate and be reincarnated in the House?

The outcome of SB 1 could prove interesting for Corbett, since this is the first major legislation that he has pushed since taking office.  Facing pressure in regards to his proposed funding cuts to public education, maybe the Governor will decide against further pushing of the school choice legislation.

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