Week In Review: PA House speaker to retire, education grants scrutinized


By PA Independent Staff

This week brought a surprise announcement from the Pennsylvania House Speaker, more questions about Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to bolster education with grant funding and a local twist to the paycheck protection debate.

Here’s a quick recap of what we covered this week:

Smith announces retirement

LOOKING BACK: Pennsylvania House Speaker Sam Smith surprised with his retirement announcement, the paycheck protection debate stewed again and the governor’s plan to increase education funding was examined some more.

After 28 years in Harrisburg and two terms as the top dog in the state House, Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, will retire from politics at the end of the year.

Smith’s decision to walk away from the game, which he announced Tuesday, was surely a complicated one, couched in political calculations and personal feelings. He narrowly won re-election in 2012 against an upstart conservative opponent and was facing the same opponent in what was sure to be one of the most watched Republican primary battles of the year in Pennsylvania.

Smith downplayed the coming election as a reason he’s retiring, but conservatives were targeting the speaker after Smith was instrumental in passing a $2 billion transportation bill that includes an increase in the state gasoline tax.

Chris Dush, a retired state prison officer and member of the National Guard, came within 500 votes of toppling Smith in the 2012 legislative primary.

Dush was planning to run again this year, with more money and an actual campaign behind him. He told PA Independent he hoped he was an example to other people in the state that it’s possible to take on the Harrisburg establishment and win – sometimes even without a fight.


Corbett ties education funds to targeted grants

If city schools hope for more money in the coming year, school leaders are going to have to jump through hoops to get at it.

Corbett is willing to funnel new money into education, but the cash won’t go through the normal pipeline that runs into Pennsylvania classrooms. His proposal ties new money to targeted grant programs, and that’s not sitting well with some lawmakers and school personnel who say they would prefer to see resources go into the basic education budget line item.

“We are worried that, at a time when we are facing reductions, we will have new money, but won’t be able to use it to stem personnel and program cuts,” said Jay Himes, executive director at the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials.

Check out more here.

Lawmaker wants to penalize online gamblers

State Rep. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, outlined plans to punish Pennsylvanians who gamble online — an interesting twist considering the state Senate has authorized a study that will examine Internet gaming.

Scavello believes online gaming poses a threat to children who could easily find the sites and especially dangerous to problem gamblers who could go all-in and lose from the comfort of their living rooms.

Scavello’s bill would make a first violation a summary offense that carries a possible $300 fine and up to 90 days in jail. A second violation would be a misdemeanor bringing a chance of a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail.

“I believe that if you hit people in their wallets, we can start to crack down on the lawbreakers,” Scavello said.

Check out the full story here.

Paycheck protection debate goes local

First, paycheck protection legislation stirred up the state Capitol. Now, the push to force public-sector unions to collect their own dues has hit the local level, too.

Commissioners in Berks County approved a resolution supporting legislation that would end the practice of the government deducting the funds from employee paychecks and sending it to unions. Lehigh County commissioners also asked the county executive there to negotiate an end to the practice.

Though two paycheck protection bills are idling in committee, union leaders said they haven’t let down their guard against legislation they believe is intended to silence middle-class workers.

David Fillman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13, said it looks as if local government employers are jumping on a “topic of the day” that hasn’t been a long-standing issue.

“We’re hoping this is a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing, but we have to deal with it,” Fillman said.


Philly stumbles on way to simplifying enrollment system

Philadelphia is taking halting steps toward simplifying its application and enrollment system for K-12 education in the city.

By consolidating the admission process, they join other districts around the country in making it easier for families to navigate choices and find a school to fit their needs.

But there are obstacles. The timeline for implementation of a full school-matching system is undetermined.

“There are still huge policy questions that have to be answered,” said Mayor Michael Nutter‘s chief education officer, Lori Shorr, at a School Reform Commission policy and planning meeting in January.

about this story here.

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