Friday, December 31, 2021

GOP's Fair Funding Defense Reveals its Classism


At first, I wasn't sure I had read it right. 

“What use would a carpenter have for biology?” 

The question had been asked by a lawyer named John Krill. He had asked it of Matthew Splain, the superintendent of the rural Otto-Eldred School District in McKean County.

Splain is also the president of the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, which is one of the plaintiffs in a much-watched case being now being argued in a Harrisburg courtroom.

In their lawsuit, Splain and his fellow plaintiffs assert that the Keystone State's ridiculously unfair system for funding public education is not only, well, ridiculously unfair, but also a violation of the state Constitution.

That Pennsylvania's school funding system is unfair was established right after the ironically named "fair funding formula" was adopted and immediately ignored for all but new school funding, meaning poorer districts, like Pottstown, get far less in state funding than the formula says they are entitled to receive.

As we've written in this space before, Pottstown gets $13 million less every year from the state than the formula says it should to put it s students on an even playing field with those in wealthier districts. 

Although the formula's money is still missing, the creation of that formula provided the basis for an apples-to-apples -- or rather a student-to-student -- comparison of school funding. And that's where the Constitution comes in.

The Pennsylvania Constitution includes a clause requiring that the state provide a "thorough and efficient" system of public education. 

Our state, ranked near the bottom on the national list of fair public education funding, is trapped in a system that relies heavily on property taxes, meaning wealthy school districts have more money to spend on education.

It means a lot of other things too -- like the state's elected officials get to hoard money and boast they haven't raised state taxes and then turn around and blame state-mandate-burdened school districts for local tax hikes.

It also means poorer districts-- often with  higher minority populations, which struggle to provide resources to students already starting school with all the disadvantages poverty imposes -- must then tax their lower-income communities at a higher rate just to provide basics.

All too often, extras like well-equipped athletic facilities, advanced placement courses or even adequate bathrooms are beyond their budgets.

The racial injustice embedded in this ongoing theft of student potential is so pronounced that POWER In Faith, a faith-based advocacy group fighting for fair funding, calls it, accurately, "educational apartheid."

So one might expect that the lawyer defending the system wedged in gridlock by the General Assembly's Republican majority would not be so tone deaf as to suggest that poorer students have no need of an adequate education.

Krill's question evoked the kind of whiny question we all used to hear asked in middle school: "Why do I need to know when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed?" or "When are we ever going to use algebra in the real world?"

Not to be outdone by petulant middle schoolers, Krill took their complaint to the highest levels of Pennsylvania jurisprudence and asked Splain to explain "what use would someone on the McDonald's career track have for algebra 1?"

After doubling down, to my amazement, he went for the tri-fecta.

“Lest we forget, the Commonwealth has many needs," Krill said. "There’s a need for retail workers, for people who know how to flip a pizza crust.”

First, join me in resisting the temptation to remark on the inevitably irony of a highly paid lawyer presenting himself as an expert on what working class folks need to know thinking that pizzas get flipped.

Our time together is short, so let's move on to the more disturbing implications of what Krill is saying.

It would seem that rather than argue that Pennsylvania does in fact provide the "thorough and efficient system of education" the Constitution requires, Krill, who represents Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-34th Dist., is essentially arguing "who cares if it doesn't? So what?"

There's a disturbing kind of circular logic at work here: "Why should we spend money making education funding equitable when our failure to do so will ensure you'll never need it?"

He might as well argue "why should Pennsylvania help feed low-income families when they're already starving their kids?"

Breathe.....

Let's forget for a moment that this is a country where children are told "you can be anything you want to be when you grow up. You could be president if you want." Because now, John Krill has already decided that kid's going to end up "flipping pizzas," whatever the hell that's supposed to be.


Let's forget for a moment that Thomas Jefferson believed "That talent and virtue, needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth, birth or other accidental condition; That other children of the poor must thus be educated at common expence."

Let's forget for a moment that John Adams believed "The education here intended is not merely that of the children of the rich and noble, but of every rank and class of people, down to the lowest and the poorest. It is not too much to say that schools for the education of all should be placed at convenient distances, and maintained at the public expense."

And let's forget for a moment that the prescient lawyer who argues poor kids can't succeed and don't need to learn stuff represents a public official who was first elected to his seat in 1998 -- no doubt entirely on merit -- only after daddy Corman retired from it; a true self-made man.

Let us never forget, however, that the courtroom defense the Republican majority selected to defend its policy of failing to follow the dictates of the nation's founders; of refusing to provide equity to poorer, darker-skinned schools; of failing to fund its own fair funding formula is quite simply that "some kids aren't worth it, and mostly, they're poor and Black."

The privilege-infused arrogance of that kind of thinking as a defense of a public policy that undermines the core of the American Dream -- that every child has an equal chance to succeed -- before they can even get up on their feet is not only morally repugnant, but destined to cost more than actually funding education fairly ever would.

After all, the classroom-to-prison-cell pipeline we have now in Pennsylvania continues to cost millions more than a classroom-to-successful-citizen pipeline ever would.


Just ask Benjamin Franklin: "general virtue is more probably to be expected and obtained from the education of youth, than from exhortations of adult persons; bad habits and vices of the mind being, like diseases of the body, more easily prevented than cured."

Thankfully, since old Ben isn't around to ask, we have Margie Wakelin, a lawyer for the Education Law Center representing the plaintiffs, who was on hand to follow up with Splain.

She asked why it might be useful to America to have a future "pizza flipper" know algebra or a future carpenter know biology.

Sadly, Splain had to spell out what Krill can't seem to understand: “We obviously can’t predict what our students will have interest in,” or what careers they might pursue, he said.

Further, giving a timely example of the founders' belief that having well-educated, well-informed citizens makes for a more stable Republic, Splain agreed with Wakelin that it's best "for a retail worker 'to understand basic biology of viruses during a global pandemic' — to decide whether to get a vaccine, what steps to take to keep a business open, or to send children to school for in-person learning," as The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.


Of course, a well-educated, well-informed citizenry in all walks of life capable of critical thinking is the lifeblood of a Republic and necessary for a society whose system of government requires voters to be able to see through the kind of venomous bullshit Jake Corman's lawyer was spewing in that courtroom.

And who could be against that? 

Certainly not the party that values children growing up with the ability to be self-made, to "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps" and to lift themselves out of poverty....

So yeah, I guess I did read it right after all.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

New Event Sunday at Pottsgrove Manor: Frost Fair


Blogger's Note:
The following was provided by Pottsgrove Manor.

Explore the history of the holidays at Pottsgrove Manor on Sunday, Dece. 12 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The 18th Century Holiday Frost Fair is a new program that invites the public to immerse themselves in an 18th century style market fair, complete with vendors, demonstrations, and games. Visitors can also explore handmade goods and seasonal crafts from local artisans at the holiday market. This event has a suggested $2 donation per person.

Gather the whole family and dress for the weather to start a new holiday tradition at Pottsgrove Manor’s Frost Fair. 

Learn about gingerbread recipes from the past and see how it was baked at the Bake Oven. Follow the sound of laughter and music to engage with Tucker’s Tales Puppet Theater, and play a fair game to win a prize at one of the three game booths. 

Explore what merchants in the 18th century sold, such as historic art made by At the Sign of the Black Bear alongside woodworking and weaving at Stone House History. Stop over at the hot chocolate tent for a sample of this historic drink, then laugh and make new friends at the tavern. 

Discover the history of Twelfth Night celebrations from the 1750s as the first floor of Pottsgrove Manor will be open for self-guided tours. Hearth cooking in the reproduction kitchen will highlight some of the favorite seasonal treats that you may want to include at your holiday table.

After dark, the interior of the house will be lit by candles.

Find a unique gift for everyone on your list from local artisans, set up in the holiday market. From ornaments to jewelry, pottery, and much more, there is something special at every stall. Hot food and sweet treats complete the day, but the memories of Frost Fair will last all season long.

Frost Fair is an outdoor, weather dependent event. Free parking and complimentary shuttle service will be available at Memorial Park. Follow signs for parking. 

Pottsgrove Manor is following all updated CDC guidelines for the mitigation of COVID-19 at the facility including appropriate mask wearing, social distancing, and capacity limits. All visitors must follow these guidelines.

ABOUT POTTSGROVE MANOR

Pottsgrove Manor exemplifies the restrained elegance of early Georgian architecture popular with wealthy English gentry during the mid-18th-century. Built in 1752 for John Potts, ironmaster and founder of Pottstown, the mansion was situated on a nearly 1,000 acre plantation, which by 1762 included the town of “Pottsgrove.”

As a successful ironmaster and merchant, John Potts, was appointed Justice of the Peace and Judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. He was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly from both Berks and Philadelphia Counties.

Although only four acres of original property remain today, Pottsgrove Manor has lost none of its original charm and architectural beauty. The sandstone exterior, elegant interior and fine furnishings reflect the eminence that the Potts family had attained before selling the property in 1783. The mansion has been restored to recreate the lifestyle and times of the Potts family. Pottsgrove Manor is open year-round for guided tours, as well as public programs, school tours, lectures, and workshops. A museum shop on site offers a wide selection of 18th century reproduction items, books, toys, and more.

Pottsgrove Manor is following all state and local guidelines for the mitigation of COVID-19 at the facility. Masks are required for all visitors indoors and recommended for unvaccinated individuals outdoors.

Pottsgrove Manor is located at 100 West King Str. in Pottstown. 

Pottsgrove Manor is operated by the Montgomery County Division of Parks, Trails, and Historic Sites. For more information, please call (610) 326-4014 or visit www.montcopa.org/pottsgrovemanor. Members of the public can also like Pottsgrove Manor on Facebook or follow us on Instagram for updates.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Holiday Luminaria at Schuylkill Canal Saturday


Blogger's Note:
The following was provided by the Schuylkill Canal Association.

The 2021 Holiday Luminaria will be held on Saturday, Dec. 11 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m..

This magnificent holiday light show will be held along the Schuylkill Canal up to Lock 60 and the Locktender’s House in Mont Clare.

Come to enjoy the entire evening or just to see the beautiful candle light reflect along the canal and towpath. Limited parking is available at Lock 60, luminaries will light the way to the Locktender’s House.

The accosication will be hosting an outdoor event this year and will have warm beverages and snacks available.

Holiday music will be provided by the string duo, Meadowlark. Santa will not be there but he will be dropping off some gift bags for the children.

The outside of the Locktender's House will be decorated for the holiday.

No admission fee is charged however donations will be gladly accepted. Only a steady downpour of rain cancels the event. The site address is 400 Towpath Road, Mont Clare, PA 19453.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Pottstown Music Concerts Held Thursday

 

Blogger's Note: The following was submitted by the Pottstown School District.

The public is invited to enjoy a night of free holiday music Friday night. 

The Pottstown School District Band Concert, featuring all district bands, will be held on Thursday Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. in the high school Davenport Auditorium. 

Hear holiday music from the 5-6, 7-8, and high school bands. 

The concert is sponsored by P Schools Music Association. 

Light refreshments will be available. 

Masks are required.

There will be no paper program handed out, but you can view it using a QR code.

Click this link to view it: https://spark.adobe.com/page/f0Fuqx2i1gpSf/

Friday, December 3, 2021

Ricketts Center to Host Holiday Story Reading Dec. 7


Blogger's Note: This post was submitted by Hearts of Humanity.

This event is designed to bring the Pottstown Library to the children and make the holiday season come alive through storytelling and imagery. 

Hearts of Humanity CDC has partnered with STRIVE and Friends of The Library to make the magic of the holidays and the loving spirit resonate even more with the children, as there are so many in need at this time. 

The event will be hosted on ZOOM as well, so that senior citizens can watch the event from the safety of their homes and listen to the stories, as well. 

The ZOOM information has been shared with the HUD Housing Director of the retirement towers on High Street across from the library. 

Holiday books and holiday book markers will be distributed as giveaways at The Ricketts for the event. 

Please join us and celebrate Pottstown and it's youth on Tuesday, Dec 7th from 4-5:30 pm for a wonderful Storytelling Time.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

PHS Seniors Getting the Jump on College Knowledge


Blogger's Note: The following was submitted by the Pottstown School District.

Pottstown High School seniors who are thinking about their plans for post secondary education are already doing some scouting of potential schools. 

School counselor Kelly Leibold and Susan Pritt, college and career counselor have taken students on a number of college fact finding tours. 

Seniors have made visits to the campuses of Lincoln University, Drexel University, University of Pennsylvania, Ursinus College, and Alvernia University. 

They enjoyed learning what each institution offered and explored the layout of each campus. 

Students also met with an admissions counselor to ask questions. 

Later this month they will visit Kutztown University and Montgomery County Community College. 

The knowledge they gain from their visits will be helpful on Dec. 15 when PHS will hold the Second Annual Instant Decision Day. 

More than 20 colleges will have representatives at the high school to offer on-site acceptance to seniors who apply at least three days prior to the event. 

This event is free and exciting as students have the possibility to acquire several acceptance letters before the end of the year and see their hard work pay off. 

"We are excited to be able to give our students an opportunity to be on a college campus in person and see first hand what to expect when they make the transition to the next level of their school education," said Pritt. 

These visits are helping us achieve Pottstown School District's mission; "Prepare each student by name for success at every level."



Saturday, November 6, 2021

Schrodinger's Vote for the Spring-Ford School Board

As of Saturday morning, there were still about 4,500 mail-in ballots still t be counted in Montgomery County.

As of this writing (noon Saturday), longtime Spring-Ford School Board member Tom DiBello has lost his reelection bid by a mere three votes.

But wait 10 minutes and it might change.

The latest Montgomery county results
in the Spring-Ford School Board race
As I write this, there were still 4,500 mail-in ballots to be counted in Montgomery County.

Including Chester County results from Spring City, totals, as of noon, had Democrat Abby Deardorff with 1,765 votes, Democrat Erica Hermans with 1,650 votes and DiBello with 1,647. 

Tom McMonigle, the other Republican vying for the two open seats in Region 3, so far has 1,633 votes.

There was hope, at least at this keyboard, that after last year's chaotic presidential election that mail-in voting procedures would have been tightened up for this year's local races.

Sadly, in Montgomery County at least, they seem to have gotten worse.

So I'll write eight words here I never thought to write. "I agree with Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale."

The latest Chester County results for Spring-City, which is part of the Spring-Ford School Board race for Region 3.

That was not easy. But to be clear, before anyone comes down with the vapors, I don't agree with him entirely.

I don't agree with him that expanding mail-in no excuse voting during a pandemic was a bad idea.

And I don't agree that it should be reversed. For the most part, mail-in voting is convenient and secure. 

I use it and prefer it. I can mull over the ballot, research candidates I know little about (judges) and take several days if I want without keeping anyone waiting in line for their turn.

Joe Gale, Montgomery County's sole
Republican commissioner
And since we refuse to make Election Day a national holiday -- I mean why would a country built  entirely around the idea of the people's ability to choose their government want to do everything it could to ensure the people's voice is heard? -- mail-in voting means fewer people miss the chance to vote because of work or other obligations.

Hell, you can vote at 3 a.m. if you want (not recommended) with mail-in voting.

And I certainly don't agree, as Gale argued recently, that Act 77 which made it all possible is in any way un-Constitutional.

Where I do agree with Joe Gale is his characterization of the handling of this year's mail-ins as "a fiasco."

The primary cause, in my view, is the issuing, last month, of 16,000 mail-in ballots which were blank on one side.

Image from screenshot
Chip Gallaher
“We sincerely regret that this happened and are working with the county and state to ensure impacted voters receive a new ballot,” said Chip Gallaher, CEO of NPC, the private company printing the ballots for Montgomery county.

Although they stopped production of the incorrect ballots, it was not before they were mailed out.

And despite the people who received them being informed, and instructed to destroy them and await new ballots, some folks filled them out anyway and sent them in.

Three points here: 

First: What is the penalty to NPC? 

Throughout all the re-assurances of transparency, corporate regret and our votes being secure, I have yet to hear the word "accountability."

I would hope there is a penalty clause in their contract for screwing up their most important responsibility. Otherwise, what is their motivation to get it right next time?


Again, whose fault is this? Is it the company that made the scanners that we taxpayers paid millions to buy? Is it because voters can't follow instructions and fill out the ballot the correct way? (Sadly, more believable). 

The front page of a sample ballot in Royersford,
which is part of the tight Region 3 Spring-Ford race.
Third: How does any of this increase voter confidence? Luckily, the incorrectly printed ballots were blank on the back side, where votes for judges were cast. 

This means, at least in the Spring-Ford race, that if any of the incorrect ballots received were from voters in Spring-Ford, their votes for the school board race are clear.

More broadly, consider the case of Berks County, which got the date of election day wrong -- TWICE! 

I often tell people who see conspiracy to ask themselves if incompetence meets all the same circumstances, as it is much more likely to be the case.

Nevertheless, in a political atmosphere in which the Trump-led narrative lie of vote tampering is already proving disturbingly long-lived, anything that undermines voter confidence is a serious problem.

Given that the mail-in ballot method is preferred by Democratic voters, the Democrats who control Montgomery County government in the third largest population center in the state are not doing themselves or their party any favors by failing to operate their mail-in ballot systems problem-free.

It just pours gasoline on the lie that the elections are rigged. 

Which brings us to me, and my peers in the media. We are also pouring gasoline all over the place.

For my entire professional career, and for several generations before I learned to type, election results have been known on election night, or shortly thereafter.

It was not always thus.

When our country was founded, slow communication and transportation meant the results of an election were often not known for weeks, maybe even a month.

Voters, for the most part, accepted this reality. But most of us, especially those who ignore history, base most of our views on our personal experience so any change in a lifetime of expectations, even if its happened before, is often viewed with suspicion.

As technology improved, and media became faster, the wonder of immediate results and "exit polls" became the norm.

Image from screenshot
But mail-in votes take time to count. And since Harrisburg refuses to let them get counted in Pennsylvania before election day, it means we have to wait for results.

We media-types should have learned from last year's election. Instead, on election night auto-pilot, I committed the customary crime of our modern times -- "this is the way I've always done it" -- and began to dutifully compile results, most of which were from election machines and cast on election day.

Not surprisingly, because this is the preferred method of Republican voters, this meant the first results showed the GOP winning everything everywhere.

At this point, my heartfelt thanks go to a person I've never met, except on Twitter. 

According to his Twitter profile, Alex Teplyakov is "PA House Democratic Caucus; Secretary & PA-157 Leader, Chester County Democratic Committee, Phoenixville, PA"

After I Tweeted that the GOP candidates had taken all the open Owen J. Roberts School Board seats, he reminded me that mail-in votes had not yet been counted in Chester County and, as they were, were already changing those results. 

"It's too soon to be writing headlines" he Tweeted.

He was right.

And sure enough, when those results were counted (Chester County managed to count all its mail-in votes with relative speed) the result was nearly the exact opposite. Democrats took three of the four open seats in OJR and my Tweet, despite being quickly deleted, had contributed to election misinformation -- the exact opposite of the local media's job.

All of which brings us back to Schrodinger's Cat, or in this case, his election result, and the lessons I keep learning from Twitter -- another phrase I thought never to utter.

If you are unfamiliar, or have never watched "Big Bang Theory," the example of Schrodinger's Cat was invented in 1935 by a German physicist in response to an article written by Albert Einstein and two other physicists.

I'll spare you the science. Here, courtesy of Wikipedia, is the relevant passage: 
"He proposed a scenario with a cat in a locked steel chamber, wherein the cat's life or death depended on the state of a radioactive atom, whether it had decayed and emitted radiation or not. According to Schrödinger, the Copenhagen interpretation implies that the cat remains both alive and dead until the state has been observed."
In other words, until you know, either answer to the question -- "who won the election?" -- is correct. The answer, which exists inside the box (in this case, the ballot box) already exists, but is unknown until the box is opened. 

Here's why this is relevant.

Responding to another Tweet, this one a typical screed about the election being rigged, I Tweeted: "It's called mail-in voting. These votes were actually cast before election day, but the legislature refuses to allow them to be counted until election day, and they take a lot longer. If they changed that law and allowed them to be counted earlier, this illusion would disappear."
Image from screenshot

Then I thought, "so why aren't you reporting it that way dummy?"

For years, The Mercury had the latest deadline on the newspaper chain's press and, given a frenzied extra hour, we prided ourselves on getting late-breaking election results into the next day's paper that our sister papers could not. I further patted myself on the back for staying up late to continue to get those results and post them on our Website and, yes, on Twitter, so that readers would continue to know by the next day who had won.

But accuracy is more important than speed and I, and the rest of the speed-crazed media, need to step back and recognize this new mail-in-ballot-driven dynamic. 

Reporting results as they come in certainly turbo-charges any journalist's adrenaline system, but the narrative we're presenting does not exist and does a disservice to maintaining confidence in the integrity of the election system.

The results aren't changing over time, as we report. They already exist. We're all just waiting for the Schrodingers in county election offices to finish opening the box. Then we'll know.

On the bright side, this means I may get more sleep on election night.